Goodman: Calling for separation of sport and state


Meredith Goodman, Columnist

I like to keep my sports and my politics separate: what I deem the “separation of sport and state.” While reading The New York Times sports section this past week, there was a link to President  Barack Obama’s statement on violence in college and pro football. The article inspired me to discover just how much excess time and energy our federal government has spent on issues in professional sports.

The president’s statement was taken as part of an interview with The New Republic, an online news source. The interview started on the topic of preparations for Obama’s second term in office and quickly moved to gun rights, in light of the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn. After more discussion on gun rights and bipartisanship, a seemingly random question was proposed to the president.

“Sticking with the culture of violence, but on a much more dramatic scale,” began the interviewer, referring to the previous discussion of gun rights, “I’m wondering if you, as a fan, take less pleasure in watching football, knowing the impact that the game takes on its players.” The transition was jarring: The questions switched immediately from gun rights, a controversial issue, to violence in football, a legitimate concern, but not a presidential one.

It was confusing to see a question about football included with a question about how the president would “personally, morally wrestle with the ongoing violence (in Syria).”  It seems obvious that the violence of football cannot even compare with a brutal civil war. The inclusion of the question about injuries in football detracted from the more important matters of gun rights and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

This is not the first time President Obama has weighed in on football-related matters. While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Obama mentioned an eight-team playoff system for the college football championship in an interview with “60 Minutes.”

And it wasn’t just President Obama who voiced support for altering the playoff system. Congress, specifically the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, actually debated this issue in 2009. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) spearheaded the effort to create a Congressional hearing on the playoffs in 2009. Two Democratic senators also made brief appearances.

Congress has also spent enormous amounts of energy discussing doping and steroid usage in professional baseball and football. Shouldn’t these issues be decided by the National Football League and Major League Baseball, and not our federal government?

The pro baseball steroid scandal began in 2003, when many of my “Backyard Baseball” favorites, including Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, were accused of using steroids. These players were later investigated by Congress, which spent millions of tax dollars and more than 25 months in 2005, 2008 and 2009 investigating the baseball steroid scandal.

As an economics major, the phrase “opportunity cost” pops out at me throughout these anecdotes. While the president and several members of Congress are expending energy discussing and working on issues related to professional sports, they are losing the opportunity to discuss the issues that our federal government was elected to resolve – poverty, education and especially the economy.

Perhaps Congress spends so much time and effort on these issues because of the overwhelming bipartisan support they enjoy. Admittedly, I agree with the eight-game playoff system and investigating cheating in baseball. And most sports fans I have talked to do as well, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. These are remarkably bipartisan issues, mostly because they have nothing to do with politics.

I call on professional sports organization, such as the NFL and MLB, to step up and create their own committees to solve sports issues. After all, who would know more about problems such as steroid use and violence in sports: former pro sports players or members of Congress? In the future, I hope to keep my reading of the sports page blissfully free from political distractions.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].