Why “Stick to Sports” is Disingenuous Bullshit

sTicK tO sPoRTs gUyS

The narrative of “sticking to sports” is not new. It is a narrative which history has over the span of millennia proven inaccurate. For as long as there have been competitive sports, they have been used for political purposes. The idea that the separation of sports and politics is feasible is incredibly naive at it’s best, and absolutely dangerous at its worst. Sports unites millions of people into a single audience; there are few more effective mediums than sports to convey a message. As of 2017, it cost $5 million dollars for a thirty second commercial during the Super Bowl which is viewed by over 100 million Americans. Politicians, Corporations and even the owners and the players themselves will inevitably find methods of interjecting politics into the sports we watch, whether the discussion is one we wish to have or not.

The Ancient Olympics are believed to have begun sometime around 776 BC [1]. Much like the modern counterpart, the Ancient Olympics were a competition between various city-states and kingdoms within ancient Greece for supremacy. Similarly to the Modern Olympics, these events were a big deal not only to the spectators and participants, but for the entities which were being represented. The games much like the ones played today were used politically to assert dominance over other rivals.

Over time, the Ancient Olympics declined in importance as more Romans came to power and started to exert their influence. Unlike the Modern Olympics, the Ancient Olympics events had ritual sacrifices during the event, offering sacrifices to Zeus and the other Gods [2]. While the exact end date for the Ancient Olympics is unclear, the prevailing thought is that they were ended in 393 AD by emperor Theodosius I. Theodosius decreed all pagan cults and practices be eliminated as he was attempting to steer the Roman Empire toward Christianity.

Interest in the revival of what ultimately would become the Modern Olympic Games came around 1833 after a bloody war with Greece gaining it’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. The first mention of the Olympics comes in a poem called Dialogue of the Dead by author and journalist Panagiotis Soutsos. In this poem, the ghost of Plato emerges seeing Greece in its current state and inquiring about the Olympic games [3]. To Soutsos, he saw the revival of the Olympic Games as a way to restore national pride in Greece. A Greek Merchant in Romania named Evangelis Zappas proposed funding an Olympic event in 1856 and Soutsos published an article unveiling the proposal to the public. By 1859, the first modern revival of the Olympic Games took place in Athens.

Similar games were held throughout the world and by 1894 the International Olympic Committee was founded leading to the first Olympics as we know them in 1896. As the number of events and countries expanded, so too did the nationalistic pride of the countries competing in the event. Forty years later in 1936, the Olympics would have multiple “stick to sports” moments which would foreshadow the deadliest war of all time. It would also be at this event, where politics within sports would reach the national stage and impact the world of sports in a way not previously seen before.

In 1931, Berlin was awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics right in the twilight of the Weimar Republic. In 1933, after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, many countries began to question the morality of having the Olympics hosted by the Nazi regime. Multiple countries attempted to start a boycott or to force a relocation the Olympics.

Sentiment in the United States for a boycott existed in fear that going to the Olympics would be seen as solidarity with the Nazi regime and its immensely expanding Anti-Semitic policies. Then US Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage made his “stick to sports” argument when he suggested that the Olympic Games should not reflect political views, but instead a contest of the greatest athletes. Ultimately Brundage won out and the United States attended the Olympics, but it is what Brundage did behind the narrative of “sticking to sports” which makes this so repulsive.

In April 1933, an “Aryans Only” policy was instituted in all German athletic organizations. In September 1934, he himself went to Germany to investigate whether Jews were being treated fairly in Germany. Though he was unable to meet with Jewish leaders outside of German influence, he concluded “I was given positive assurance in writing…that there will be no discrimination against Jews. You can’t ask more than that and I think the guarantee will be fulfilled.” [4] When faced with increasing evidence that Jews would not be securing a place on the German team, Brundage noted that only 12 Jews had ever represented Germany in the Olympics and it would not surprise him if none represented them in 1936. After Hitler promised the IOC that Jewish athletes would be allowed to participate in the Olympics for the German Olympic Team, the Olympics would end up moving forward. [4]

It should not be understated how awful of a person Avery Brundage was. Brundage was antisemitic and was more than happy to sit back and let Hitler do as he chose, as long as it benefited him (after climbing to the top of the US Olympic Committee, Brundage also climbed to the top of the IOC by 1952 where he was in office until 1972). Brundage sentiment toward the Jews can be summed up by quotes such as “The fact that the Jews are against us will arouse interest among thousands of people who have never subscribed before, if they are properly approached.” and “a large number of misguided Jews still persist in attempting to hamper the activities of the American Olympic Committee.”

The 1936 Olympics arrived and things went about as poorly as was anticipated. Hitler saw the Olympics as an opportunity to promote his government and its ideals of racial supremacy and antisemitism. No effort was even made to conceal this; the official Nazi party paper, the Völkischer Beobachter wrote that Jews and Black people should be banned from participating in the games. [6] Many Jewish athletes were benched in order not to offend the Nazi regime, including two American athletes in the 4 x 100 race Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman.

U.S. track coach Lawson Robertson and his assistant Dean Cromwell called a meeting the day of the 4 x 100 relay competition to tell Stoller and Glickman that they were being replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. Glickman recalls that the rationale was that the Germans were hiding their best sprinters in an all-out effort to win the 400-meter relay, and consequently Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe would replace them. Stoller remained silent, but Glickman immediately questioned his coach’s premise indicating that you can’t hide world class sprinters. Owens himself even spoke in favor of the men telling the coach to let “Marty and Sam run it.”. Owens was rebuked by Cromwell and said Owens would “…do as you’re told” [7].

Glickman went public indicating the decision was the product of “politics.” Robertson would argue that his purpose was to run the best available quartet and that the results of the race spoke for itself. The feud would continue for decades, but much of the evidence suggests that by sticking to sports, Americans buckled under Nazi pressure and kept the two Jewish athletes out of the games. In his suggestion to “stick to sports” Brundage had merely proven that politics co-existed hand-in-hand with sports.

There are numerous additional instances where “sticking to sports” simply didn’t happen. From “the gentleman’s agreement” which kept African American baseball players out of Major League Baseball until Jackie Robinson to the present day NBA players defending an oppressive Chinese government. Even the management of fake sports such as the World Wrestling Entertainment has gotten in bed with the Saudi government who killed a dissident journalist. The only people who stand to benefit from people sticking to sports are the ones telling you to do so.

Politics are an omnipresent theme throughout the history of sports; the idea that writers should merely “stick to sports” defeats the entire purpose of journalism: the activity or profession of writing and preparing news to be broadcast. When corporations or government entities tell writers to “stick to sports”, there is a strong chance that there is something very political going on behind the curtain.


  1. This is really well-written. I wish people understood that – as with anything, when someone tries to give you a lane to stay in, it’s because they’re threatened by what you say and trying to get you out of their lane.

Leave a Reply