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Keith Strudler: Trump And The Big 10

In the odd chance that you were able to watch the entirety of that hellscape last night, you may recall one of Trump’s somewhat irrelevant throwaway lines amidst the avalanche of dystopian chaos. At one point, Donald Trump announced that he “brought back Big 10 Football,” and continued, “it was me, and I’m very happy to do it and the people of Ohio are very proud of me.” Now, I can’t collectively speak for the people of Ohio, although assuming they are still a subset of the larger American populace, I’d find it hard to fathom they’re particularly proud of the President this morning. But insanity withstanding, I believe Trump was inferring the college football loving people of the state of Ohio, more specifically those that root for Ohio State, should owe him a debt of gratitude for somehow magically convincing the Big 10 Conference to begin fall play in late October.

Like most of what Trump said last night, there was little truth to no truth to that statement. Perhaps the only verifiable facts are that one, the Big 10 will now play football after initially postponing play, and two, Donald Trump did harass conference leaders on Twitter to try and bully them to reverse course, a tactic that several Big 10 leaders have said had absolutely no bearing on their decision. Rutgers new president and former Stanford football player Jonathan Holloway called Trump’s messaging “cheap politics.” Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro said it was about science, not the President. And I think we all know the biggest pressure points came from the bursar’s office, not the White House. The Big 10, like last week the Pac 12, decided to play football for a long list of reasons, including money, enrollment, and the fact that their alumni were watching the SEC play and wondering, why can’t we do that. So Trump insinuating – no, actually claiming that he brought back Big 10 football would be like a 10-year-old boasting he caused an earthquake because he jumped up and down.

The insanity of last night aside, Trump’s erroneous statement both reinforced and intensified a widely discussed truism – that sports and politics are inherently interwoven. When Trump said the President of the United States can and should be involved in determining when and why college football should be played, it’s hard also believe that sports are simply fun and games. Although perhaps not ironically at this point, it’s seems like the people that want the government meddling in sports are the same folks that then want said participants to stick to sports. And if that dichotomy makes you consider the dehumanizing and often racist perspectives of certain sports enthusiasts, then you’re doing it right.

So, we shouldn’t try to pretend that sports and politics don’t mix, or that they haven’t basically since the dawn of time – or at least ancient Greece. But we should consider and be increasingly guarded about this cocktail being hijacked for partisan political purposes – something we’ve seen far too often as well over time.

Perhaps some of this blame lies at the hands of sport organizers themselves. When the NFL drapes itself in the American Flag and proclaims the Super Bowl the only American holiday, it’s hard to be isolated from the political process. The same was true for NASCAR and places like Ole Miss football, which until recently privileged the Confederate Flag as a marketing tool. When you roll in the grass with snakes, it’s hard to complain when you get bit.

That said, like everything right now, it seems a pivotal moment in the history of sports and politics. A moment where we should all remember where agency lies, and where it doesn’t. Donald Trump can claim he’s the master of Big 10 Football, or the NFL, or the chess national championships for all I care, but in the end, he isn’t. The only people who can truly have agency in sport are those who produce it. Which includes the coaches, administrators, owners, but most obviously, the athletes themselves, without whom there is no elite sport to play. They are the ones who can and will decide the place of sport and politics. Which right now, means renewed focus on social justice, voting rights, and who knows, maybe even player safety and well-being. That’s what the Big 10 should play for. One where they decide when and how to play – or not. One where Donald Trump is reminded of the agency he doesn’t have. And where his claims to ownership of their success rings as hollow as the rest of his insane ravings last night.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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