Greg Cote

It was easy being a sports fan, once. Post-Kaepernick, it can demand a moral reckoning

NFL player Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans - and in doing so signaled an era in which sports fans often are required now to take moral stands on matters not really about sports at all.
NFL player Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans - and in doing so signaled an era in which sports fans often are required now to take moral stands on matters not really about sports at all. Getty Images

Sports are still simple, mostly. Being a fan has not changed much over time, mostly.

It's still about the dumbfounded postmortem dissection of those final seconds of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and what was J.R. Smith thinking, and how do you lose when LeBron James scores 51 points?

It's still about the delightful serendipity of a Canadian goose landing in the outfield during a Tigers game in Detroit, flying scared into a scoreboard, but being OK.

It's still about the reassuringly mundane stuff, like should the Dolphins have drafted a quarterback, and how far can a healthy Ryan Tannehill take them?

More and more, though, sports are not so simple, because so many sports stories written and consumed now are barely about sports at all.

So the Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo — that rising team's Pat Riley — is reported to have used secret Twitter "burner accounts" to defend himself, criticize and disclose medical information about his own players and take shots at other NBA executives.

He posed as fans to forward his own agenda.

Fans do that all the time, insulated from accountability by the protective anonymity of social media.

But it isn't often club officials do that. Well, that we know of.

(It's funny. A "burner account" is defined as "something temporary or disposable, often used to remain anonymous." Isn't that everything about social media?)

Colangelo is being investigated by the 76ers and could be fired because he has called into question his own trustworthiness. Would a prospective free agent star want to go to a club whose big boss might be in camouflage sniping from behind bushes at his own troops?

The allegations suggest Colangelo has violated the basic tenet of the Latin primum non nocere ("first, do no harm"), which every medical student learns from the Hippocratic Oath. Applied to sports: Before you do anything else, do not embarrass or harm your franchise's image.

What Colangelo is reported to have done is, more broadly, a self-serving manipulation of social media.

Trickled all the way down to sports, it isn't much different than Russian operatives using Facebook to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by preying on the gullible. It is the principle of manipulation all but guaranteeing that, after a deranged misfit shoots up a school with an assault rifle, somebody will disseminate a photo-shopped picture of the killer wearing a Trump or Hillary cap to further a political agenda.

Fake news is fake news, whether it's Russian meddling or Bryan Colangelo defending Bryan Colangelo while pretending to be a fan.

This bizarre story was still being digested this week when it came out that soccer star Jaelene Hinkle, 25, had declined an invitation to join the U.S. Women's National Team for "personal reasons" that turned out to be her unwillingness to wear an "LGBTQ Pride Month" patch on her U.S. jersey.

It's amazing what we can find to disagree on.

To me (and perhaps to you, although I assume nothing), being supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks is a simple matter of heart, of being inclusive and accepting and nonjudgmental. Anybody remember the "Golden Rule?"

But to Hinkle and some other devout Christians, being pro-LGBTQ is abhorrent to religious beliefs.

It is a gulf that apparently knows no bridge, much as we see now over the Second Amendment and gun rights. To me and many, the right to bear arms does not mean the right to bear military-grade killing machines.

Even on that, though, We The People evidently cannot agree.

On Thursday, by the way, a Milwaukee Bucks rookie, Sterling Brown, was violently thrown to the ground and Tasered during an arrest over a parking infraction. NBA commissioner Adam Silver called it "horrific." Three Milwaukee police officers have been suspended.

I say "by the way" with purpose, not to dismiss this example of police brutality as an aside that hardly matters, but rather to underline how sadly commonplace such incidents have become.

This is the America, and the kind of "everyday racism," that led Colin Kaepernick to instigate the cause that embroiled the White House in the matter of some NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism, profiling and social injustice.

It was Kaepernick's conscience and activism that, in 2016, further and perhaps forever blurred the line between sports and real life and accelerated the notion that being a fan wasn't as simple as it used to be. That it sometimes required moral reckoning.

Kaepernick, of course, remains unemployed despite being a young, gifted quarterback in a sport desperate for them.

His collusion suit against the NFL continues.

In sports, the scoreboard is no longer always enough to tell us who won.

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