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As a kid, I loved playing sports. I still do as an adult. Posters of Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain covered my walls and I wanted to be just like them when I was a little girl. My sister Julia played basketball and my brother Steven played football, so athletics were quite commonplace in my household. Julia was the only girl on her team, so she was somewhat of a celebrity in our neighborhood. Everyone knew who she was by her pink Air Jordan sneakers and brightly-colored Scrunchies. Steven was a star quarterback. As a kid, I played forward when I played soccer. Once the final school bell had rung on a Friday, I couldn't wait for it to be a Saturday morning so I could release all my pent-up energy on the field. My father was a basketball and football coach, so involvement in sports was definitely a rite of passage. That was nearly 20 years ago. Nowadays, ESPN looks more like CNN or Fox News. In a video for PragerU, Outkick the Show host Clay Travis puts it this way:
"Unfortunately, the unifying power of sports is being trashed. Who's responsible? Ironically, the worst culprits are, ironically, the very people who cover sports in the first place." Travis also states, "ESPN replaced ratings bonuses with diversity bonuses, gave woke analysts like Jemele Hill, Max Kellerman, and Bomani Jones their own shows, and an anti-American former backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick more airtime than he got playing time."
Sports and politics are like Italian wine and Irish whiskey. The two subjects don't blend and never will. Nine out of 10 times, mixing the two ends disastrously.
It's not a cheap drone's job to start a brawl.
For a sport that's exactly the same in every country, soccer has been victim to more impromptu fights, both on and off the field. Who doesn't remember watching Zidenine Zidane headbutt Marco Materazzi in the chest on live television at the 2006 FIFA World Cup finale? For years, many spectators thought that the headbutt that fans felt in their living rooms was the result of a poorly-timed "Yo Mama" joke; that really wasn't the case. In a 2016 interview with For The Win, associated with USA Today, Marco Materazzi finally admitted who the comments were about. "My mother died when I was 15, I would never have insulted his. I spoke about his sister," the Italian soccer star stated. Materazzi expressed regret for what he said, but still believed that he, "didn't deserve that reaction."
At the time, Materazzi's insults about Zidane's sister were the cause of scandal on an international scale. It would take a now-viral incident involving a drone that would make the now-infamous headbutt look quite tame. October 15, 2014 was one of the many days in the sport's history that fans will never forget. After 40 years of not facing off against each other on the fields, the Republic of Serbia was defending their turf against Albania. The qualifying match for the European Championships took place in Belgrade. The match between both nations was highly anticipated, with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandr Vucic even inviting Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his family; this is customary, as Josip Broz Tito did this with Enver Hoxha in the mid-1970s. The public in both nations thought that the match would go as smoothly as it did in 1974. Surprisingly enough, the exact opposite happened. Just 41 minutes into the match, a drone carrying a map of Greater Albania was flown over the field. Below the map of Greater Albania the term, "Autochthonous," a slogan relating to the Albanian population in Kosovo. In an article for the British Broadcasting Center (BBC) titled "Belgrade Drone Brawl Enrages Serbia and Albania Media," the reactions of Serbian and Albanian media were described as "divided;" unsurprisingly, the riot enraged outlets in both nations. Oddly enough, the Albanian team was welcomed back into Tirana with "a hero's welcome;" the same article also reports that the Serbian outlet Politika was quick to point the finger at Edi Rama's brother, Olsi Rama. Politika also stated that, "His intention was obvious: To create chaos."
In a separate article from the BBC titled "Serbia Condemns Drone Flag Stunt at Albania Match," Serbian foreign minister Ivaca Dacic was quick to describe the drone incident as a "political provocation."
Olsi Rama was proven to be innocent, as he wasn't even in the booth at the time. Unsurprisingly, the idea of inciting politically-motivated violence couldn't be further from the truth; that was revealed to be the goal. In the COPA90 documentary Guns, Drones, and Burning Flags: The Real Story of Serbia vs. Albania, Albanian captain Lorik Cana stated, "We knew that it was going to be a game with a lot of tension, but we never felt our security would be in danger." The Paris St. Germain midfielder was like many other players that evening.
Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic was physically attacked by Albanian fans after he pulled the flag down, eventually suffering a broken arm. The Racing Club de Strasbourg defender said, "When we saw fans on the pitch attacking us, we knew that was something out of control, and I was really scared for my players. To be honest, we saw that they were coming from everywhere."
Journalist Ivan Petkovic from Beta News Agency was quick to point the finger at Ismail Morinaj, declaring, "He's a hero in Albania, but he's a fool in Serbia. It was great, until the drone came out." To justify his actions, Morinaj stated, "We are native here, and we know that Serbs came in the Balkans. If they want to live here, they have to respect us first. This was the idea of the flag." To prove Petkovic's point even further, Morinaj admitted on camera that he pulled the stunt "as a revenge."
Journalist Nick Ames went as far as to say, "All hell broke loose."
Although Morinaj faced death threats on social media, he was eventually arrested and charged with inciting violence. In order to understand how a drone was able to incite violence, we have to make sense of the sociopolitical and economic relations between the two countries. During the 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union were socioeconomic rivals and had no shame in showing so. At the same time, Albania and Yugoslavia were quickly picking up steam as international powers. While Josip Broz Tito turned Yugoslavia into the socioeconomic equivalent of modern-day Costa Rica, Enver Hoxha was plunging the Albanian people further into absurd levels of poverty. For a country that is roughly one-sixth the size of Chile, Hoxha's isolationist policies brought the Albanian economy to its knees. In contrast, Tito's policies allowed for mass growth, for a nation that was half the size of Brazil. Other than socioeconomic rivalries, the demographic gaps in both countries were widening; Yugoslavia was becoming more Westernized, while Albania was becoming more isolated. On top of that, the debate over which country Kosovo is a part of was becoming more and more heated.
According to the 2014 Seeker article titled "Why Do Serbia and Albania Hate Each Other?" Tara Long points out Kosovo had been "a semi-autonomous region of Serbia since 1974." Kosovo had within Serbian borders long before the youth counterculture movement was taking place in America; oddly enough, the divide could reach far beyond ethnicity. Although the ethnic divide is 50 percent Serbs and 50 percent Albanians, race is not the only factor.
In the 2012 Vice News documentary series Around the Balkans in 20 Days, Thomas Morton states that age demographics may be a factor in the "us-versus-them" mentality of both populations. Morton states that, "Our day on the Albanian side made it clear what the problem is. It isn't violence or genocide; it's demographics." Morton also acknowledges, "Albanian Kosovo is growing while Serbian Kosovo is shrinking, and all the beatings in the world aren't gonna change that." Although the us-versus-them mindset may extend across multiple concepts, inciting public violence based on political views is just going to erase decades of progress. Reopening old wounds will do nothing but make the trauma worse. Using fame to cause controversy doesn't do anything but create divide in the public.
Dear Colin Kaepernick, disrespecting our military isn't how you earn respect.
Every sports fan knows who Colin Kaepernick is. According to the Richest, the former Washington Redskins quarterback has a net worth of 22 million dollars, making him one of the highest-paid athletes in the National Football League (NFL). Unfortunately, all of the fame and admiration can easily get to someone's head when it comes to politics. For Kaepernick, this couldn't be further from the truth. In 2016, he began kneeling for the National Anthem as a protest against police brutality. Kaepernick was eventually removed from the Redskins roster—and Redskins coach Jay Gruden clearly shows no sign of wanting him back.
In an interview with NFL News titled "Jay Gruden: Redskins Unlikely to Sign Kaepernick," Gruden states, "It's just very difficult." Gruden did also hint that he didn't sign Kaepernick based on merit. Even though he may be out of work, Kaepernick managed to start a domino effect; even high school students are in on the action.
According to an article from Inside Edition titled "Teens Kicked Off Football Team for Protesting National Anthem," two Texas high school students thought it would be a good idea to kneel during the National Anthem. Their coach, Ronnie Mitchem, was a retired Marine; he was not having it when they decided to protest. Afterwards, the teens were immediately removed from the team. They had been given warning, but chose to ignore it. Mitchem stated in a Facebook post, "I want to be clear that I don't have a problem with people protesting if it is done the right way. But to disrespect the flag that gives us the right to protest is the wrong way to do it." Blatant disrespect and ingratitude towards the men and women who serve our country should never be celebrated by the sports media.
I had the chance to talk to some college students. Their responses were unexpected.
If any demographic is in the know about what's going on in the media, it would have to be college students. I spoke to two girls who gave me their perspective on sports intermixing with politics, and their opinions were the same, despite their differences.
It's a Thursday night, and Alejandra is laser-focused on perfecting her moves on the soccer field. She has a game coming up soon, so every kick and pass has to be perfected. By her skill set, it would be a dead giveaway that she's been playing since she was a child. "It's my passion. I would never stop playing," the young lady stated. Posters of Lionel Messi adorn her bedroom, and she shows them off with pride. "He's my favorite player. That's all I can say," she said. Her poster collection isn't the only sports memorabilia she shows off. She wears her Argentinian national jerseys like badges of honor. Alejandra's mother hails from Argentina, where—like most Latin American countries—soccer is king.
"Watching her play is something else," her mother Maria said. Maria lived in Argentina while it was under the rule of Jorge Rafael Videla, which was a truly dark time. She went on to state, "I am happy that I live in America. I don't know what would've happened if I stayed in Argentina."
When asked about sports and politics, Alejandra stated her opinion truthfully. "It's crazy. Now, it's okay to make a statement when it's not right. It's become like Walmart on Black Friday," Alejandra explained, chuckling. Alejandra plays soccer because she wants to, and not for any other reason.
Afterwards, I was also able to talk to Carla. Like Alejandra, Carla plays soccer for her local college. For her, every pass and play has to be perfectly on point, no matter what. When she puts on her cleats, she's a force to be reckoned with. "I play because soccer the same in every country," she stated. Carla is a native to Montenegro, which was involved in one of the bloodiest civil wars. For her, seeing violence was normalized. After moving to the United States as a teen, she shows gratitude for her new life. "I'm eternally grateful to live in America. I get to do what I love without having to fear for mine or my family's lives," she said. At every practice and game, Carla's boyfriend and number one fan, Marcus, sits front row. Marcus hails from Albania; Carla is a Montenegrin Serb. Serbs and Albanians have historically been sociocultural rivals in the Balkan region. To these two, ethnicity is nothing but a conceptual term.
"She's Serbian and I'm Albanian. That doesn't matter. I'm in the stands just to watch her and that's it. I don't care about her race," Marcus stated.
Carla added to his sentiment, saying, "Everything is political nowadays. There's always something that'll start a debate. Really?! It's insane."
Both young ladies may be as different as night and day, but they share the same opinion on things that don't mix.
In conclusion, politics and sports are like German beer and Spanish wine, because they just don't go together. Whether it's flying a cheap drone with violence-inciting propaganda or refusing to stand for the National Anthem, bringing politics into something people love is both foolish and devastating. Nine out of 10 times, the results will be disastrous. Sports and politics just don't blend, nor will they ever.