Heads Up

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Message from Naheed Bardai, Head, Middle Division

Naheed BardaiGrowing up in Toronto, I was a huge fan of most of Toronto’s sports teams: the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and then the Raptors.

I distinctly remember the significance of each franchise, at different moments, to the city and the country (at least from my Toronto-centric point of view). The Blue Jays winning the World Series and walking down Yonge Street in celebration, or the heartbreak of the 1993 Leafs loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Campbell Conference final, or the Raptors remaining as the only Canadian NBA team after the Grizzlies moved south from Vancouver in 2001. I remember sitting in my apartment in Bangkok, Thailand in 2002, frustrated because I couldn’t watch the Salt Lake City Olympic hockey finals. I called my parents and told them to put the phone beside the television so I could hear the game.

While professional sports have always been featured in the media, in the last couple of weeks they’ve gone well beyond the Sports sections of the media and into the mainstream of news for political reasons. As we’re around the mid-point of our fall sports season, and have our U13 soccer teams traveling to Victoria to participate in a national tournament, I thought it was the right time to talk about professional sports and politics during Wednesday’s assembly.

Should professional sports and politics mix? Is it possible to keep them separate, especially when sports are a billion-dollar industry and emanate directly from the contexts within which they exist? The argument I presented to the boys is that even if you believe sports and politics should remain separate, they can’t because sports are a microcosm and reflection of our society and all the complexity it entails. Indeed, sports are borne out of our society, not separate or in isolation from it. From the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where South Africa was barred for its apartheid policies, to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, to the boycotts of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, sports and politics have always been intertwined.

Today, we find many examples of the politicization of sports. I presented the boys with four examples. The first is how the United States military and Department of Defense have been paying many American sports teams for military tributes. The second is the controversy between U.S. president Donald Trump and NFL players, including the complicated relationship of many NFL owners who’ve donated to either Trump’s inaugural committee or campaign. The third is around Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the White House on Tuesday, Oct. 10 to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup, and Crosby coming under fire from citizens in his home province of Nova Scotia. The fourth is with Barcelona and Spanish international soccer star Gerard Pique, and the controversy surrounding him and Catalonian independence.

I left the boys with four questions to think about, and you may want to engage with them around these questions when you have some time:
1. Should athletes actively engage in politics?
2. Do athletes have a moral responsibility, given their position in society, to play an active role in changing society?
3. Does any person in a position of power have a responsibility to be politically active? A musician? An actor? An academic? A corporate chief executive officer?
4. What role will you play in the future in being an active member of society?

I want to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving and long weekend.