Fans often think of sports as place walled off from politics, an outlet from the real world where everything going on around us doesn’t matter. But our sports leagues are inherently political — they lobby! — and our athletes are people, living, breathing humans with opinions and views on the world. Sports are inherently political, as you’ll see from this far-from-comprehensive list of political statements the sports world made in 2013:
Athletes speak out for LGBT rights: From high school to the pros, athletes have spoken out in favor of LGBT rights throughout 2013, recording videos for groups like You Can Play, showing support for athletes like Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, and Brittney Griner, or joining groups like Athlete Ally. While much of their advocacy has remained rooted in sports, several have gone farther. Football players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo, for instance, co-authored a brief to the Supreme Court to oppose Proposition 8, the California law banning marriage equality that was eventually overturned. And Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, whose moms are gay, recorded his own video supporting marriage equality.
The sports world honors Mandela: Around the world, sports leagues honored Nelson Mandela when the former South African president and global political icon died in December. The English Premier League held a moment of silence before each match the next weekend, and countless athletes paid tribute in their own ways. The New York Yankees announced that they would honor Mandela, who spoke at Yankee Stadium on his first American tour after his release from prison, with a memorial in the stadium’s Monument Park.
Sergio Romo pushes for immigration reform: Sergio Romo made a statement about immigration reform in 2012 when he wore a t-shirt reading “I Just Look Illegal” during the San Francisco Giants’ World Series parade. This year, Romo, a Mexican-American, recorded a video specifically calling for immigration reform. “When I hear of a student being undocumented, I take it as kids going to school and trying to learn to get better. I don’t see any negative in that,” Romo said. “They deserve a chance to live their dream, and we all win if they do.”
Dwyane Wade and sons stand up for Trayvon: After George Zimmerman was acquitted in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, Dwyane Wade appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine with his sons, Zaire and Zion, with all three donning hoodies. Wade had previously posed, hood up, with his Miami Heat teammates, and his action around the Trayvon case — “We are all Trayvon,” the Ebony cover read — was a powerful statement from a prominent African-American athlete at a time when such a statement was needed.
Aaron Rodgers speaks out for Congo: In October, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke at event at the University of Wisconsin to raise awareness about the effect of conflict minerals on the people of Congo. Students at Wisconsin and other schools are trying to make their campuses “conflict free,” meaning they don’t buy any products that use conflict diamonds or other minerals, and the former MVP (and adopted son of Wisconsin) used his platform to push the cause.
Neymar supports Brazilian protests: With his home country erupting in protests over government corruption and spending on the World Cup, Brazil’s biggest soccer star stood up in support. “I’m Brazilian and I love my country. I have a family and friends who live in Brazil. For that reason, I want a Brazil which is more just, safer, healthier and more honest,” Neymar said. ” “I’m sad about what is happening in Brazil. I also had faith that it would not be necessary to get to the point of going on to the streets to demand better transport, health, education and safety, which is the government’s obligation.”
Athletes support equality in Sochi: A long list of athletes who will appear at the Sochi Olympics next year made their opinions known about Russia’s new anti-gay law, even as Olympic officials refused to do anything about it. The biggest challenge came from American distance runner Nick Symmonds, who won a medal at the Track and Field World Championships in Moscow and then dedicated the medal to his LGBT friends back at home.
Baseball players fight for workers: In May, the MLB Players Association offered support to organized workers who were fighting their employer — which manufactures MLB uniforms — over health care benefits. “Now is the time for all of you to stick together so that you can achieve your goal as well: a fair contract with good wages, good health care and respect on the job,” the union said in a letter to workers. “We take seriously our role as a union,” the late Michael Weiner, then the head of the MLBPA, said of the help. Less than three weeks later, the workers reached an agreement that preserved their health benefits and gave them a raise.
Teams support Obamacare: The NFL and NBA both denied opportunities to partner with the White House to promote Obamacare, but individual teams helped out. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers both planned enrollment events to help promote the law, while the Washington Nationals’ Teddy Roosevelt mascot and the D.C. United both promoted the new health care law as well.
Nike goes to bat for marriage equality: Nike has organized its own advocacy efforts around LGBT equality, releasing its #BeTrue clothing line, donating proceeds to the LGBT Sports Coalition, and signing openly gay athletes like Jason Collins and Brittney Griner to endorsement deals. It went even farther in Oregon, where the company is based, putting its support behind a constitutional amendment ballot initiative that would overturn the state’s ban on marriage equality. It’s biggest competitor in the apparel world — Adidas — also supports the amendment.
Leagues talk climate change: All four major American sports leagues plus the U.S. Olympic Committee spoke out about the dangers climate change pose to the planet and their leagues in 2013, sending letters to members of Congress and appearing in November on Capitol Hill, where they met with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), two proponents of climate change initiatives. “I think we’ve shown that we do support the EPA programs by joining up and partnering with them on many of their programs,” an NBA representative said.
Athletes complain about taxes: Hate paying taxes? Athletes like golfer Phil Mickelson and boxer Manny Pacquiao are with you. Both complained about the amount of taxes they owed on their winnings, which totaled in the millions of dollars. Conservative groups tried to make their problems seem indicative of broader tax policy issues in America. But as we explained, Mickelson and Pacquiao’s complaints don’t actually prove anything wrong with American tax policy.
The Dolphins form a PAC: After the Florida state legislature tabled a proposal that would give the Miami Dolphins hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate Sun Life Stadium, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had a plan: he started a political action committee that he will use to target opponents of the public financing plan. It’s a strategy we said would be likely more than a year ago, and we’ll see in 2014 whether it can work.