MR. Trump has been in the business of peddling racism. Because he is predisposed to this and because he wants to please his white base. While he praises white supremacists, many of them losers who can’t even find decent jobs and pass army-entry tests, he gloats while attacking the most gifted of black athletes.
Recently, he attacked Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors on a very personal level, then withdrew the White House invitation to the NBA champion Warriors, a traditional rite. Not that the invitation meant much to the Warriors, whose key men—Curry, Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr—are all known Trump critics. Durant said he would only visit the White House after Mr. Trump is gone.
But for a President to engage in a Twitter rant directed at Curry and the Warriors is a thing no normal President does. Steph Curry himself expressed amazement over Mr. Trump’s habit of singling out certain personalities for nasty attacks. Before the attack on Curry, he blasted the National Football League and players who take to the knee during the playing of the national anthem.
So, what did Mr. Trump get in return for his nasty tweets against Curry?
Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Curry’s arch rival, buried Mr. Trump with a mean tweet, that starts with “U bum”. If there was an “Ouch“ moment for Mr. Trump, that was it. Mr. Trump’s most retweeted tweet, the one that celebrated his own election victory, was only retweeted 335,657 times. As of September 24, Lebron’s “U bum” tweet had a total of 620,000. And the retweets keep coming.
Mr. Trump, who is particular about numbers and immensely likes the word “yyyuge” was apparently beaten on retweets by a popular basketball player, a player who so intensely dislikes Mr. Trump that he won’t even stay at Trump hotels despite previous bookings. The retweet of a tweet that called Mr. Trump, the leader of the West, a “bum”.
Lebron James made a stand against the overt racism of Mr. Trump and did it in a way much of the world noticed. It was an act of a citizen making a stand, a principled stand. He has been opposing Mr. Trump on a sustained basis. It imparts a universal lesson. What could these lessons be?
First, when a leader acts like a rogue, a citizen has to speak up. Being silent and being cowed – and intimidated to your very core – is perilous to democracy and emboldens the rogue leader to commit more acts of transgression and barbarity.
(Of course, when a leader does good, we have to praise and acknowledge the good leadership.)
Second, don’t mind what will get lost in the process of making a principled stand. Take the risk. As Curry himself said in his praise of James, the Cleveland star has so much at stake. When he dives into a political issue, James does so at his own peril. James offends the white establishment that does not recognize diversity at his own risk.
Remember what Michael Jordan reportedly said. Even Republicans buy sneakers and that was the reason he won’t take a stand on political issues. He is in the business of selling sneakers and that was – and still is – primordial to him.
Not James. Not Curry. Not Kerr or Greg Popovich, who is as outspoken as Kerr on political issues, for that matter.
Third, be like Steph and Lebron. Don’t be like Mike.
Fourth, even athletes have feelings.
Fifth, “Stick to sports” is for cowed athletes or the uninvolved. It was applicable during the time of Ali. Not now.
Question. Do we have athletes with the principled stand of Lebron and Steph? Or, like Bill Walton and Ali of an earlier era? Or, are our athletes still stuck in the “Stick to sports” paradigm? The answer is “No” on the first and still “No” on the second. I will deal with the second question first.
Our athletes have been interested in politics. In fact, athletes, in their prime or past their prime, run for public office all the time. We right now have a senator of the realm, Manny Pacquiao, who was boxing champion of many divisions and still an active boxer and a coach-player of our mediocre pro league. The Big J ran and won a Senate seat until voters got tired of his sub-par performance in the chamber. We can only hope that Pacquiao will suffer the same fate. Pacquiao does not even understand basic parliamentary rules.
Retired athletes have two post-sports destinations: politics and entertainment. Mostly in politics. You can find retired athletes at municipal councils, city councils, provincial boards, vice-mayoralty posts, mayoral positions, whatever and wherever. The urge to run for public office—and this is at the expense of more qualified but less popular candidates—is like a recurring disease, and eventually a nightmare to the constituents served.
The last great athlete (college basketball and Olympics) to serve with distinction was the late Ambrosio Padilla. But Senator Padilla got higher grades at the Ateneo than Jose Rizal. And he did not play for pay.
Athletes with principled stand? Zero in the Philippines.
Filipino athletes have been conformists. Not a single outlier with a contrarian voice has appeared on the landscape. They suck up to the powers-that-be and their corporate sponsors 100 percent of the time.
Can we produce a Lebron, a Bill Walton or an Ali? Not in a thousand years. To a man, our athletes do not even understand the meaning of the word dissent.