Politics, religion, money and sports

There's an old adage that states you shouldn't talk about politics, religion or money if you want to get along with everyone.  Religion, I could immediately understand because of the divisions that are very prominent in the world of believers, non-believers, and denomination conflict.  The second, politics, should be outright obvious with the current state of affairs in the United States:  everyone's divided, there's hate and bile thrown at everyone about everything in a hyper-partisan manner.

Money, I never truly understood.  Talking business with a stranger does seem somewhat counter-productive, but money in general?  I didn't understand it.  I took it for what it's worth and just lived with the notion you are not supposed to bring up the topic.

Of course, the one great equalizer that people are allowed to speak about is sports.  That generates healthy and not-so-healthy debate about aspects of pro-sports:  On field / ice performance, team management, trade rumors, free agency, the ins and outs of the game....  It's a unifier.  It's a less hostile divisiveness as well (you have your team, I have mine, we'll agreed to disagree how much each other's teams suck).

But what happens when sports starts infringing on the three topics that aren't supposed to be discussed?  

Athletes are people too, they have interests and have opinions.  They have their political views, their religious views, their financial complications that the general public can't even begin to understand.  Let's accept that as a truth. 

But what happens when a player - a public figure who is supposed to embody the non-taboo subject of sports - crosses the line and starts talking about finances?  Or religion?  Or politics?

Religion in sports is the most exposed and prominent divisive issue tied to sports.  It's common for players to point to the heavens and thank the maker for blessings in on-field performance.  We've become almost numb to it.  Almost.  It's still a divisive issue and players who are up-front with their beliefs can earn our disdain just as much as they earn our praise for their abilities and faith.

Politics is another subject...  Some people took offense to Tampa Bay Rays players appearing with (not-yet-elected President) Barack Obama at a campaign appearance during the 2008 presidential elections. Players seemingly endorsing a candidate rankled some people - and not just in the partisan divide of "Why would they back THIS guy and not THIS guy?!"  The notion was that players should not go public and show support for anyone.  It's not that they can't vote, it's not that they can't have political beliefs - it's that sports is supposed to be the neutral ground of discussion and here is an incident where that neutral subject is compromised by players crossing the line themselves. 

And then there is money...

To have an honest and open dialog from a professional sports player is nice.  No clichés, no filler, just natural banter...  That's good, that's great.  Talking movies, talking music, talking personal life and local news... 

The thing that happens when you make that conversation about money is, you run the risk of crossing a line of haves and have-nots.  That's the offense.  And in a time like now, where the U.S. is struggling financially, where there is a high unemployment rate and a greater divide between the rich and the working class...  Well, people are going to get rubbed the wrong way when you bring up issues that are financially based.

Be it about the money difficulties of being an athlete, or an embarrassingly low attendance to a potential playoff-clinching game.

It's never going to be a winning discussion when you bring up money-related issues.  Tampa Bay Rays players Evan Longoria and David Price found this out Tuesday morning on the heels of comments (to the press and on Twitter) about the porous Rays attendance Monday night.  That's baseball, of course, but it's a subject that translates to any sport.  In the Rays case, it's seen as another conspiracy-theory-type-venting that's purposefully stated because of the Rays desire for a new stadium... 

...Which is a sore spot with locals in the Tampa / St. Pete metro area, thanks to the financial conditions as well as political divisions of the region.  Those are two strikes already standing against anyone from the Rays venting about anything stadium related. 

To jump to the chase, Big League Stew has a great article on what happened in the Rays case as Price and Evan Longoria mouthed off about attendance:

No matter their good intentions, no matter their honesty, no matter if they have reason to be upset - even if they were 1000 percent correct - what Longoria and Price did was a mistake.

It's a cardinal rule: You don't criticize your fan base. It's stupid. It's ignorant. It won't get you what you want. It makes you look entitled, spoiled, narrow-minded and short-sighted.

...

It's just bad policy, scolding people for not paying their own money to watch you.

Why am I posting this on a Lightning blog?.  Well, it comes back to a topic I never wrote about when it was a breaking story because I couldn't put my thoughts into words.  That topic, of course, was goaltender Dan Ellis and his incidents on Twitter.  For a very long while, I've wanted to state what I thought of things... And instead of tackling the subject, I avoided it because words escaped me. 

I've seen defenses of Ellis' remarks, I've seen ongoing joking and ongoing support of Ellis.  But I have not seen the definitive statement that explains why there was such a public incitement over Ellis' making financial remarks on Twitter. 

First off, if you take his last incident alone (the one that led to the Puck Daddy article, the #danellisproblems hash tag on Twitter and what not), you're missing context on Dan Ellis on Twitter.  You're missing Dan boasting about a new Jaguar he was buying (from the same auto dealer as 2010 NFL draft pick Ndamukong Suh), the tricked out rims he was getting, the new pool he was going to have installed at his home, the boasting about the waterfront homes he was looking at renting for the season in Tampa, etc, etc.

Tales of excess and glamour, being broadcast live to the thousands upon thousands of member of the general public (and able to be accessed by just about anyone) via Twitter.  That's nothing new when you compare to some of the other celebrity personalities on Twitter.  Yet, for a hockey player?  It seemed out of character.

A funny thing happened in August:  Ellis mouthed off a little more directly toward the public, commenting on being a specialist in his field, akin to how a brain surgeon is a specialist in their field.  This comment was not well received by the public.  Even worse?  Dan Ellis' own reaction to the public's reaction was not well administered.  There was triviality, there was childishness and immaturity, there was bridge burning with old fans from Nashville.  All in all it was an example why you need to be careful on what you declare (from a vaulted position) on social media. 

That context was never mixed into the overall reactions by the blogosphere or the mainstream media to Ellis' complaints about financial issues around September 3rd.  The media reaction was mostly about Dan saying financial stuff was easier to deal with in college than it is now.  With the above rhetoric included, it paints a much grander disconnect, in both a financial and business sense, between Ellis and the general public.  That, and the inability for 140 characters to truly convey a point.

 Ellis stated that he didn't think people could relate to the financial situation he faces, and that's an absolute truth...  And that's why we didn't ask.  Nor were we going to. 

When you are among friends and among an audience of people you know (family, friends), talking about the three no-no subjects are a lot less of a no-no.  You may still argue, you may still fight, you may still agree to disagree at the end of the discussion, but it's generally a safe-haven.

When you bring up these subjects in the public sphere, as Twitter is, you shouldn't be surprised when the general public does not take your statements as well as you meant them.  It's even worse when this comes from an athlete:  Someone from the neutral sphere, crossing the line and talking about those no-no subjects.  Athletes and sports are supposed to unite us in loyalty toward our teams, our colors, and our communities.  When we get lost in the rhetoric of politics, religion and money, sports can bring us back together.

The one saving grace for any athlete that offends the public, is winning.  Winning makes us forget.  Grand sports performances makes the public forgive.  Price and Longoria's statements will be brushed off in time (or until they are dug up by ESPN or Peter Gammons for the sake of beating the Rays attendance story to death).  Ellis has the season in front of him, and plenty of opportunities to make the general public revel in his abilities instead of recoiling from his rhetoric. 

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