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Poor Curt Schilling. He is convinced that he is the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy dominating American sporting culture. According to Schilling, he was fired as a commentator for ESPN because he is a Republican. After campaigning for the re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004, Schilling’s political orientation is well established. His dismissal from ESPN has to do with social media posts rather than his support for the Republican Party. The former pitcher has offended Muslims with comparisons to Nazis and transgender people with his bigoted refusal to recognize their existence.

Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling and the Politics of American Sport—Ron Briley

Schilling was an excellent pitcher who played significant roles on championship teams in Arizona and Boston, and his baseball commentary is often insightful. The problem, however, is Schilling’s insistence upon commenting about subjects on which he has little knowledge or understanding. Nor does he have a grasp on the extent to which enforced patriotism prohibits the exercise of free speech in American sport.

Schilling is often praised for pitching through an ankle injury displayed on television by the blood on his white socks, but the pitcher knows nothing about the daily courage displayed by young people of the LGBT community who are attempting to express their identity but are all too often ridiculed by bigots such as Schilling.

Schilling is often praised for pitching through an ankle injury displayed on television by the blood on his white socks, but the pitcher knows nothing about the daily courage displayed by young people of the LGBT community who are attempting to express their identity but are all too often ridiculed by bigots such as Schilling. The bleeding sock pales in comparison with the courage required to withstand those who would mock your very existence.

The macho world of male athletics is slowly changing, and the type of gender and sexual innuendos that were once common on the playing field are beginning to draw rebuke and suspensions. For example, Andrew Shaw of the Chicago Blackhawks drew a suspension from the National Hockey League for uttering a homophobic slur. Shaw appeared to issue a sincere apology, and players seem to recognize that gutter speech that was once common in the locker room and playing field is no longer acceptable. Nevertheless, there are few male athletes willing to publicly acknowledge same sex orientation, and their acceptance by teammates remains somewhat problematic. And clearly people such as Schilling have little respect for a transgender presence in the locker room or bathroom.

In addition to what he perceives as a transgender threat to the safety of American children, Schilling is concerned by an Islamist terror threat. Following the 9/11 attacks, Schilling published an open letter to baseball fans in which he embraced American exceptionalism and the replacing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” during the sport’s traditional seventh-inning stretch. It apparently never occurred to Schilling, or Major League Baseball for that matter, that the exceptionalism celebrated in Berlin’s song, originally written in 1918, and popularized by Kate Smith during World War II might offend some Americans. After all, the song was employed in support of American military intervention during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War. And after March 2003, “God Bless America” was played at the ballpark to falsely connect the tragedy of 9/11 with the invasion of Iraq despite massive demonstrations against the military actions of the Bush administration.

As an announcer, Schilling has freely expressed his support for American military personnel stationed around the globe to ostensibly protect the American way of life; which critics might describe as based upon the exploitation of global resources in support of American and international corporations. As a color guard unfurls a giant flag, military jets buzz overhead, and the National Anthem or “God Bless America” is performed by military personnel, sports commentators wax patriotically about the troops serving the nation and protecting its citizens. In this orgy of nationalism, there is no room for dissent. American sporting culture is hardly neutral, and these opening ceremonies are political statements in favor of empire and militarism disguised as patriotism. Rather than blindly following the flag, real patriots should question whether the nation’s policies are consistent with its founding principles.

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Commentators employed by network corporate sponsors do not challenge American expansionism and capitalism, and athletes who espouse dissenting opinions are chastised for interjecting politics into the fantasy world of sport. When medal-winning sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their clenched fists in a black power salute during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the athletes were sent home by the U. S. Olympic Committee.

Seeking to follow his religious principles and insisting that he had no argument with the Viet Cong, Muhammad Ali refused conscription during the Vietnam War. He was stripped of his title and unable to earn his living as a boxer until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

Following the Iraq War, Carlos Delgado of the Toronto Blue Jays was booed in many ballparks for failing to support the troops and stand during the ritual singing of “God Bless America.” One ponders whether Delgado is still paying a price as despite 473 lifetime home runs, his candidacy for the Hall of the Fame failed to garner any support among sportswriters.

Schilling did not speak out in favor of Delgado or against the cancellation of a Baseball Hall of Fame celebration for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the film Bull Durham due to fears that its stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon might make comments against the war in Iraq.

One also wonders how Schilling might respond to fans refusing to participate in pre-game ceremonies commemorating American exceptionalism, empire, and militarism. Would he defend their rights to free speech and expression? Schilling’s political commentary advocating militarism in the guise of patriotism has enjoyed the full backing of ESPN, while his social media messages denouncing Muslims and members of the LGBT community have drawn the ire of the network.

Schilling seems to reflect the bigotry expressed by the tyranny of the majority in enacting legislation employing religious liberty as an excuse to discriminate. Thus, it is possible to celebrate some victory for equal rights in the former pitcher’s dismissal from ESPN for his comments so damaging to our transgender children and community, but the culpability of the American corporate sporting structure in advocating a political agenda for American exceptionalism remains unaddressed.

ron briley

Ron Briley