And in 2020, President Donald Trump targeted NASCAR for banning Confederate flags from racing, which Trump apparently viewed as a bad thing.
If a strange new attack on the National Basketball Association by Sen. Marco Rubio is any indication, the GOP culture war in the sports world could now shift to the gun debate. This evolving fight reveals how GOP culture war demagogy on guns really works and why it may soon become harder to pull off.
The Florida Republican’s anger was sort of sparked by a Miami Heat announcer who spoke about 19 children murdered in Texas and then urged the audience to urge lawmakers to pass gun safety measures. Rubio called this “politicizing a terrible tragedy” and published the video:
Notice some in the audience cheered the proposal that the legislature enact gun safety measures. This may have really infuriated Rubio: a private business speech that could successfully persuade people to engage politically against the Republican position.
Let’s state that there is nothing wrong with Rubio criticizing the NBA’s dealings in China. Lawmakers from all sides regularly criticize private actors. Sports moguls wield great economic and cultural power and deserve serious scrutiny.
Revealing is Rubio’s anger at the NBA’s political speech. In a way, this is part of a broader trend: Republicans have escalated attacks on private companies and threatened legal penalties to keep them abreast of cultural issues.
Republicans have legislated against Disney for defying Florida’s don’t say gay law and have threatened corporations that oppose the suppression of GOP voters. This ugly trend collided with the sports world as Republicans beat up kneeling athletes and threatened MLB for defying Georgia’s electoral law.
What is striking in this context is the sheer weakness of Rubio’s argument against the NBA. Republicans could at least call kneeling athletes unpatriotic, and they could blow up MLB’s All-Star Game move for costing Georgia revenue. But all Rubio can say here is that the NBA is “politicizing” shooting.
This is transparent nonsense. are republicans Also Arguing for public order responses to the shootings. Some are absurd (fewer doors and more guns in schools) and others are inadequate (red flag laws), but Republican are Demanding answers because they know that asking nothing is not a political option.
counterpointGun rights advocates are doing themselves a disservice by not addressing gun violence
Given that, it’s ridiculous when they claim that it’s “political” for Democrats to demand their own answers. Just as the NBA crowd cheered the call to action to prevent more children from dying horrific violent deaths, the cry of “politicizing the tragedy” will not fool many voters.
More broadly, the intersection of the gun debate with GOP attacks on the sports world could put Republicans in tricky territory. What happens when the sports world becomes more clamoring for gun safety measures?
A key claim of the right is that gun safety regulations represent the fevered dreams of liberal elites out of touch with real heartland American culture. Republicans are already running countless ads about guns: female candidates lovingly wielding handguns, male candidates showing off their shooting ranges or their wives’ shooting skills, and so on.
In these ads, guns are primarily a cultural signifier. As one GOP strategist noted, Republicans are using the love of guns trumpet to signal solidarity with conservative voters in the gun-centric “cultural cold civil war.”
But when gun safety becomes more of a thing in the sports world, it could mess up those narratives in unpredictable ways. I spoke about this with Dave Zirin, a podcaster who has written numerous books on the intersection of politics and sports.
Zirin noticed some intriguing complexities. Attacks on the NBA, which is more associated with African-American athletes, draw on a decades-old tradition of attacking black athletes’ speech while glorifying their skills, which Zirin called “an old script.”
That could work underground for Republicans. But in the midst of mass killings of children, it’s harder to culturally demagogue gun laws. As more athletes champion such regulations, it becomes even harder to link them to effe-liberal coastal elitism.
If that were to happen, Zirin told me, “it would put Republicans in a position to defend the untenable in front of an audience that would be more likely to listen to athletes than members of the Democratic Party.”
Note that it was something of a cultural moment when Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr exploded in frustration over the recent mass shooting and angrily called for gun action. One has to hope that this trend will continue.
Zirin noted that when NFL players, NASCAR drivers, and other athletes “associated with White Americana” begin to speak out for gun regulations, “there’s a much greater chance that there will be a change in public sentiment, even strong”.
This is not to predict that this will happen, but it could happen. And it’s not obvious how Republicans would navigate the resulting cultural minefield.