Divide between politics and sports continues to shrink

Chris Haynes of ESPN joins Tim and Sid in-studio to discuss how the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has caused sports figures to speak out about their beliefs like never before.

At some point, it will happen.

At some point, Donald Trump’s culture war is going to intrude into the sports world beyond the anguished tweets and heart-felt statements from the likes of Steve Nash and Michael Bradley, or those drop the mic moments such as the one LeBron James came up with last week when invoking Trump’s name as a means of agreeing with the idea that, yes, All-Star voting sometimes makes about as much sense as any other vote.

Reaction was swift this weekend to Trump’s restrictions on immigrants from seven, uh, hand-picked Muslim majority countries (essentially, the ones in which Trump doesn’t have business interests). In the sports world that meant in the immediate sense that the NBA was forced to check whether there would be restrictions on the movement of Thon Maker and Luol Deng. British sprinter Mo Farah – Sir Mo Farah, wouldn’t you know – didn’t know if he could get back to the U.S. to see his family. And how this affects any U.S. effort to win a future Olympics or World Cup remains unclear.

In the case of the latter, those rumblings of a joint North American bid for the World Cup would pale against concerns about the workability of Mexico and U.S. federations tag-teaming to land a bid. But as is usually the case, money will speak and for that reason don’t bet that FIFA or the IOC develops a conscience. The NBA players have lawyers and a players association to take care of them. Farah had British foreign minister Boris Johnson and the C.E.O. of Nike to smooth over his concerns, reminding everybody once again that the rich and famous will be O.K. regardless of the next bit of lunacy dreamed up by Trump and his fellow travellers on the End of Times Express.

It wasn’t so long ago that Canadian and other foreign baseball players were put at a disadvantage because of visa limitations. Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash remembers visas being a "future consideration" in some trades, but by and large sports was a global business long before free trade became a thing. It will adapt to this stupidity on an administrative level.

The bigger issue is going to be how the culture of sports reacts to this uncertainty and tendency to go for low-hanging fruit. In this toxic environment, it takes just one ill-considered Tweet to create irreparable damage. My guess is some of your favourite players don’t hold the same view about these things as you do, and given how nuance-challenged we are these days, that’s concerning. Baseball must be particularly concerned, given the predominance of Latino players at a time when fear of ‘the other’ is a characteristic of U.S. society. That wall should be under construction before Opening Day, yeah?

As for what fans can do, particularly on this side of the border? My guess is that anybody bringing a “Refugees Welcome” banner — the way so many groups of soccer fans in Europe reacted to anti-immigrant sentiment — to a game at the Air Canada Centre or Rogers Centre would have it confiscated. So that leaves individual choices such as booing the U.S. national anthem or simply sitting down while it’s being played. Are we there yet? I don’t know, but I’m guessing we’re close. Make no mistake: sports is very much a part of our culture, and it’s not going to be able to avoid at least collateral damage.



God bless NHL players, eh? Put a group of them together, ask the right questions and you’ll end up with the biggest players in the game practically begging to go to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer to pay NHL owners for the privilege of risking injury.

I get that there’s an odd sort of self-assumed chivalry in being an NHL player. I get that they’re all good guys who have the best interests of the game at heart. It’s kind of quaint. Maybe even honourable.

And there they were over the weekend at the All-Star Break, the best if not necessarily all of the brightest stars of the game pleading their case, just as they did before commissioner Gary Bettman tried to use their naivety as a means of opening the collective bargaining agreement. I mean, you’d think they’d have learned: when you have something somebody wants, try to get something in return.

I understand that it’s a tough thing to create leverage in this situation. After all, NHL owners don’t want their players to go to begin with unless they get compensation from international governing bodies. It would be easier to use it for gain if the roles were reversed. It’s an odd player-ownership argument, a rare occasion where more money for the players isn’t the end-game. But the best thing the players can do is zip it, and let the union do its work. It’s pointless to pressure anybody over an ideal.


• This much we know about the Blue Jays search for relief help: they maintain an interest in Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Tony Watson. Watson has thrown more innings than any relief pitcher since the start of 2012 and is headed to an arbitration hearing after going 15-18 (3.86 and a 1.07 WHIP) in save opportunities after the trade of Mark Melancon.

The Blue Jays have also at least thought about dumpster-diving for Craig Breslow. And they have, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, had discussions with the Chicago White Sox about David Robertson. Robertson has effectively lost his closer’s job on a rebuilding team to the much cheaper Nate Jones and has $25 million remaining over two years.

We also know some things from the last time the Blue Jays dealt with the Pirates. They traded Drew Hutchison for Francisco Liriano and two top prospects. This gives the Pirates an option if they want to move Watson. We’ll take on all the money if you agree to throw in some other prospects (in this case, catcher Reese McGuire and outfielder Harold Ramirez). The more money you kick in, the less prospect capital we will require as a “sweetener.” My guess is that’s the only way the Blue Jays deal for Robertson too.

• Don’t be surprised if the Cleveland Indians deep-six their offensive “Chief Wahoo” logo by the end of the regular season, as a result of groundwork laid recently when Major League Baseball announced the 2019 All-Star Game will be held in Cleveland.

The Indians have gradually decreased the logo’s use in recent seasons but it still figures on merchandise. Sources have indicated that while commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t make a direct link between the game and getting rid of the logo, he has convinced the Indians it’s time to make the move and that Major League Baseball will help expedite the development of new branding in time to allow new merchandise without the logo.

• We could all use a little less America in our lives — OK, a lot less America — but if you’re a fan of Formula 1 the news that Chase Carey, previously with News Corp., and Twenty-First Century Fox, is the sports’ new C.E.O. is reason for massive happiness. F1 has been bought by John Malone’s Colorado-based Liberty Media, which also owns the Atlanta Braves, and has plans to breathe life into an increasingly monotone sport that has become enslaved by a clumsy dance between safety and technology.

Carey most importantly has talked about "historical pillars," saying he is committed to maintaining races at signature venues — Silverstone, Monza, Hockenheimring and Nurburgring — while expanding F1’s footprint in the U.S.. This is an odd time for the sport: it has spectacularly-talented, young and sexy drivers but is duller than it has ever been, bogged down by over-administration of rules and a lack of competitive balance. My only concern is that Carey tries to NASCAR it up, which will be disastrous. F1’s strength is its intellectual component.

Plus the fact it’s not one continuous left-hand turn.


One of the most intriguing aspects of Auston Matthews’ development will be how much of a physical presence he becomes once he grows into his body. Matthews has already shown himself to be a beast on the puck, but he doesn’t hit opposing players too often and the fact is he may not develop the type of edginess of past Leafs captains. He might be more Mats Sundin than, say, Wendell Clark. Which is O.K. No … it’s more than O.K.

But remember this: as my friend Greg Wyshinski points out, Matthews has never been ‘the guy’ at an elite level. Unlike many of his peers he was never the Big Man On Campus of a college team or the acknowledged dressing room leader of a Junior team. In fact, Matthews has mostly been one of the youngest guys in the room — notably during his last season before the draft, when he played with grown men in the Swiss League. In other words, Matthews just might have more growing up to do in a hockey sense than any recent first overall pick.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan

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