American Sports Are Letting Down America by Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock is a sports columnist for, a TV and radio host, and a podcaster. A graduate of Ball State University, where he was a football letterman, he worked as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star from 1994 to 2010. He has also worked for ESPN, AOL Sports, and Fox Sports. In 2007, he became the first sportswriter to win the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Commentary. He founded ESPN’s “The Undefeated” website and helped create and host “Speak for Yourself” on FOX Sports 1.

The following is adapted from a Hillsdale College online lecture delivered in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 19, 2020.

Nearly 30 years ago, in a 1993 Nike commercial, professional basketball legend Charles Barkley fired the first shot at the “role model” concept popularized by Columbia University sociologist Robert K. Merton in the aftermath of the 1960s counterculture movement. “I am not a role model,” Barkley proclaimed in the half-minute spot. “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Barkley’s words landed with a force every bit the equal of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem knee 23 years later. Former Vice President Dan Quayle defended Barkley, while Barkley’s fellow NBA superstar Karl Malone criticized him in Sports Illustrated. Leading news magazines, including Time and Newsweek, published articles exploring the controversy. Newspaper columnists from coast to coast—on and off the sports pages—also weighed in. The topic still sparks debate today.

Of the many phrases and concepts Merton coined—including “self-fulfilling prophecy” and “unintended consequences”—“role model” has had the most impact. On the surface, the argument that young people tend to model their behavior after high-profile, successful adults is harmless. However, in retrospect, the elevation of athletes and other celebrities as primary figures in the formation of behavioral norms for young people helped create the conditions that are powering the destructive Black Lives Matter movement today.

Merton’s role model concept undercuts the importance of parents and nuclear families. That was the point of Barkley’s criticism. Feminists and other progressive critics of America’s “patriarchal” society—including the Black Lives Matter movement, whose Marxist-influenced statement of purpose opposes “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”—have used Merton’s concept to great effect. Muhammad Ali, Pete Rose, Farrah Fawcett, Barbara Streisand, Mick Jagger, Marvin Gaye, and Burt Reynolds infringed on territory primarily reserved for mom, dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and teachers.

Technology has helped advance the process, diminishing the influence of traditional authority figures and strengthening the reach of celebrities. Kids shut their bedroom doors, turn on their televisions, laptops, and game consoles, plug in earbuds, open social media apps, and disappear into a world far removed from mom and dad. With a mere push of a button they tune out the worldview of their families and tune in the worldview of athlete LeBron James, actress Lena Dunham, rapper Snoop Dogg, social media race-baiter Shaun King, and others like them.

On top of all this, we now see America’s enemies, particularly China, using these modern role models to promote racial division and destabilize our country—with those on the political Left as their accomplices. Today, they have coalesced around the Black Lives Matter movement to push America toward a level of racial dysfunction and animus not experienced since the Civil War.

It’s fitting that Charles Barkley fired the first shot against this trend, because American sports have become the Gettysburg of what some have called our “cold civil war.” And if China and the Left complete their radicalization of sports, our nation may never recover.


Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.

Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter-turned-statesman, spoke those words in an effort to heal the country he came to lead after spending a quarter century incarcerated for opposing apartheid. Mandela embraced sports’ power to bridge racial divides, looking on athletic competition as a kind of antibiotic for racial animus and discrimination. South Africa’s victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup and Mandela’s presentation of the Webb Ellis Cup to team captain Francois Pienaar stand as an iconic symbol of unity in post-apartheid South Africa. Clint Eastwood directed a movie, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, that memorialized the importance of the moment. It bears re-watching today.

Since sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and boxer Joe Louis scored a first-round knockout over German heavyweight Max Schmeling in 1938, sports have served as a powerful racial unifier in America as well. The victories earned by Owens and Louis punctured Hitler’s Aryan superiority myth, unified black and white Americans in celebration, and established Owens and Louis as this country’s first black national heroes.

Owens and Louis laid the foundation for Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey’s partnership with Jackie Robinson to integrate our national pastime, Major League Baseball, a decade later. Robinson’s successful integration of baseball, in turn, inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

Indeed, Barack Obama, America’s first black president—the world’s first black leader of a predominantly white country—credited Robinson’s career for his own political rise. “There’s a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me standing here,” Obama said in January 2017, while hosting the world champion Chicago Cubs at the White House. He continued:

There’s a direct line between people loving Ernie Banks, and then the city being able to come together and work together in one spirit. . . . Sometimes it’s just a matter of us being able to escape and relax from the difficulties of our days, but sometimes it also speaks to something better in us. And when you see this group of folks of different shades and different backgrounds, and coming from different communities and neighborhoods all across the country, and then playing as one team and playing the right way, and celebrating each other and being joyous in that, that tells us a little something about what America is and what America can be.

Yes, America is a shining example of sports’ transformative power. The games we play, the games at the center of our social behavior, combine with our founding principles to enhance the American experience. America’s enemies know this, which is why the culture war has moved to our arenas and stadiums. Sports are now in the same crosshairs as our Founding Fathers, under attack for past racial sins and unappreciated for their vital role in cultivating racial unity. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but by writing the Declaration of Independence he made the emancipation of slaves inevitable. American sports were once segregated, but no American industry can match sports’ empowerment of black men.

The black-player-dominated National Football League is the most powerful force in American popular culture. It provides the number one television show on five different networks—CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. In this era of have-it-your-way TV, where consumers record and watch shows when they want while fast-forwarding through advertisements, only live sporting events can be consistently counted on to deliver audiences that sit through commercials.

But while American sports have never been more influential, they’ve also never been more vulnerable to foreign influence. Their partnership with global brands and their desire to build global audiences have given foreign countries a pathway to manipulate American sports and culture.

Look at how China, with its 1.4 billion consumers, rules the National Basketball Association and its de facto parent company, Nike, the same way it rules Hollywood. Access to China’s consumers and Asia’s cheap labor (even sometimes slave labor) is the key to Nike’s economic growth. The Portland-based shoe and apparel manufacturer generates $40 billion a year in revenue. Its global reach, agenda, and revenue streams dictate the strategy of the $8-billion-a-year NBA. Many are unaware that Nike, and not the NBA, controls basketball. One could make a fair argument that the NBA is nothing more than the in-house marketing department of Nike.

Both Nike and the NBA kowtow to China, which explains their silence on the horrific human rights abuses inside China and the suppression of Hong Kong freedom fighters by China’s communist government. More important, Nike and the NBA’s China agenda helps explain why Nike pitchmen LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick enthusiastically smear the United States as inherently racist and evil. From Joseph Stalin to Fidel Castro to our own time, the communists’ favorite propaganda tactic has been to paint the West, and the U.S. in particular, as racist.

The militant social justice messaging of James and Kaepernick serves the interests of not only the Chinese Communist Party and globalist corporations like Nike, but also our political Left. Kaepernick’s National Anthem defiance in 2016 gave the Left an opportunity to politicize football, America’s new national pastime, and force it into the kind of “progressive” posturing already commonplace in the NBA and Hollywood. Arrogance, lack of foresight, and the advice of an inner circle that included former Clinton administration press secretary Joe Lockhart as the NFL’s vice president of communications, explain commissioner Roger Goodell’s laissez-faire approach to Kaepernick’s protest. Underestimating the determination of the Left and the power of social media to intimidate corporate America, Goodell and the NFL’s TV partners wrongly thought that the Kaepernick controversy would fade over time.

Instead, four years after Kaepernick first knelt, the Leftist mob has forced the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association to take their own knees and pay homage to the dishonest Black Lives Matter narrative on police brutality. The NFL plans to paint social justice messages across its end zones this season and to allow players to wear helmet decals with the names of alleged police victims. The San Francisco 49ers fly a BLM flag next to an American flag at Levi’s Stadium. MLB opened its COVID-shortened season with “BLM” carved into pitcher’s mounds, and the Boston Red Sox put up a 254-foot BLM billboard outside Fenway Park. NHL players are now regularly kneeling during the National Anthem. The NBA’s basketball bubble at Disney World is a virtual shrine to BLM: “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the court, players wear social justice messages on the back of their jerseys, and it’s major news when a player stands during the National Anthem.

The entire American sports world—a culture that traditionally celebrates victors, meritocracy, colorblindness, and patriotism—has suddenly immersed itself in black victimization and left-wing radicalism. This immersion threatens to do permanent damage to American culture as a whole. It has certainly undermined national pride. A country that no longer believes in its founding ideals cannot prosper and survive.


If our sports stadiums and arenas have become the Gettysburg of the culture war, Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick are playing the roles of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, fighting to divide the nation even further than it is. The mainstream media is only half right in casting them as modern-day equivalents of Muhammad Ali. Ali’s religious sect, the Nation of Islam, was certainly divisive: it championed black secession. But unlike the BLM movement, it also rejected victimhood. Its founder Elijah Muhammad and its spokesman Malcolm X promoted bootstrap self-reliance and were disdainful of liberal politics. “The worst enemy that the Negro [has],” said Malcolm X,

is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros and calling himself a liberal. It is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have. If the Negro wasn’t taken, tricked or deceived by the white liberal, then Negros would get together and solve our own problems. I only cite these things to show you that in America, the history of the white liberal has been nothing but a series of trickery designed to make Negros think that the white liberal was going to solve our problems.

Pro-BLM athletes today have moved beyond the idea of a role model that was debated in 1993—the idea of modeling behavior to be imitated, such as self-reliance, hard work, responsibility, and good parenthood. Through the power of social media, to which they are addicted, these modern role models exert influence by promoting commercial products and political causes. In the case of NBA athletes like Lebron James, this means turning their backs not only on the oppressed people of China and Hong Kong, but also on the poor and underprivileged in America among whom so many of these wealthy athletes grew up, and who they now condemn to victimhood and dependency with their political activism.

Charles Barkley was right 30 years ago. Parents, not athletes, should be role models. Today the situation is even worse, with sports further dividing an already dangerously divided nation, rather than providing the unifying and even healing force Nelson Mandela described. Predictably, there are now calls to boycott sports, and it seems inevitable that the TV ratings of the pro sports leagues will decline. This is unlikely to matter, however, to the suddenly-woke billionaire team owners and their handpicked commissioners.

As fans, we can only hope and pray that these feckless leaders will reconsider their embrace of the BLM cult—a necessary first step to returning American sports to what it has been in the past: a force for unity and a model of a diverse and colorblind meritocracy.

  1. On October 4, 2020 at 2:50 pm,
    OOTB Jerry says:

    BALL STATE….humm did they have a football team…. 🙂

    • On October 4, 2020 at 3:02 pm,
      OOTB Jerry says:

      Stonewall Jackson was not at Gettysburg……

      • On October 4, 2020 at 3:04 pm,
        OOTB Jerry says:

        Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863)
        Gettysburg battle was July 1963…… duh

        • On October 4, 2020 at 3:08 pm,
          Big Al says:

          Speaking of “like duh”. You have Gettysburg as July 1963. I will give you some credit though and simply call it a typo.

          • On October 4, 2020 at 3:15 pm,
            OOTB Jerry says:

            The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American …

          • On October 4, 2020 at 3:17 pm,
            OOTB Jerry says:

            I am a CIVIL WAR BUFF……….. 🙂
            I collect civil war guns, rifles, muskets, swords, even have a civil war kjv bible, soldiers bible…. 🙂

          • On October 4, 2020 at 3:19 pm,
            OOTB Jerry says:

            Ha……I see 19…ha, ha on me… duh…..

        • On October 4, 2020 at 3:09 pm,
          Big Al says:


          • On October 4, 2020 at 5:22 pm,
            OOTB Jerry says:

            Dang that is the longest dog leak, ……hope pooch is ok……. 🙂

      • On October 4, 2020 at 3:06 pm,
        Big Al says:

        I did think that was kind of an “interesting” observation. I will give a lot of credit to this man however because my beliefs are similar to many of his. He is of the same mind as all of our “foundation” guests.

        • On October 4, 2020 at 4:51 pm,
          OOTB Jerry says:

          I have no problem with the Man………I am glad BLACKS are speaking up , for the other blacks running around like morons…..This should have been happening a long time ago.

  2. On October 4, 2020 at 4:20 pm,
    cfs says:

    Trump said he was going to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization.
    Four months later, no follow thru? I wonder why not.
    Then he could go after Soros foundation funding.

  3. On October 4, 2020 at 4:20 pm,
    OOTB Jerry says:

    Sad ,sports have gone to hell in a hand basket…….I stopped watching years ago…..
    Only time I attended basketball games was when my daughter was singing the , Star Spangled at her college….BUTLER UN. and that was a treat…. 🙂

    • On October 4, 2020 at 4:49 pm,
      cfs says:

      Time Fascist Google was put out of business.
      Take your searching to Bing or Duckduckgo.

      • On October 4, 2020 at 4:54 pm,
        OOTB Jerry says:

        the relationship of Soros and Fact check and google was the topic, …..Not my need to fact check…..I kind of know the difference….. 🙂

        • On October 4, 2020 at 5:03 pm,
          OOTB Jerry says:

          But, I appreciate the tip ….on Bing and Duckduckgo….
          I really, like to connect the dots myself……

  4. On October 4, 2020 at 4:47 pm,
    cfs says:

    Meanwhile Trump is feeling quite chipper this evening:

  5. On October 4, 2020 at 4:59 pm,
    OOTB Jerry says:

    Bonzo…………this was for you

  6. On October 4, 2020 at 5:08 pm,
    OOTB Jerry says:
  7. On October 4, 2020 at 5:32 pm,
    larry says:

    sports…..people like to compete….that aspect was seized upon by institutions like the military…you know, no matter the setback get back up and prevail…ok fine….honestly, any sport engaged in during school times is of benefit in life…chess for instance is extremely beneficial and the worst that happens in a loss is humiliation…lol…..but until a better economic system is created, everyone must engage with others… sports are excellent at teaching the individual to dig in and hold their own….life is an endless engagement…or get super rich and build a dream cabin on your 10,000 acres in Alaska?

    • On October 4, 2020 at 7:06 pm,
      Matthew says:

      My favorite sport is still motocross but I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be.

      • On October 5, 2020 at 6:03 am,
        larry says:

        Matthew in all honesty…That ranks just below sheer cliff climbing on my list of avoid at all costs!…lol…It looks fun to drive around the cul de sac though…..I am trying to avoid breaks…after 65 those breaks can change a life trajectory….Be prudent…you are too important….

        • On October 5, 2020 at 6:56 am,
          Matthew says:

          I have to admit that the only bones I ever broke happened on the MX track but I still consider myself very lucky overall considering my airtime when I was younger.
          Here’s a young guy catching huge air:

          • On October 5, 2020 at 7:14 am,
            larry says:

            well i just dont use that much air anymore…holy chitty chitty bang bang

      • On October 5, 2020 at 7:17 am,
        larry says:

        My bearish weekly TAS profile top is around 3415…That price would be were sellers agree is good to sell on average….I will see the structure up there to consider a short…now we still have some fund buying ending…..

        • On October 5, 2020 at 7:17 am,
          larry says:

          /ES sorry

          • On October 5, 2020 at 7:42 am,
            Matthew says:

            Thanks. I could tell what you were talking about by the price. How about gold and silver, do you think they have seen their lows for the correction? I think silver has but am not yet as sure about gold.
            Oil is up 6% this morning.
            Commodities are going to blow away stocks over the coming decade or two.

          • On October 5, 2020 at 10:00 am,
            larry says:

            I cannot yet be a gold buyer…I need an oversold pattern to complete followed by a bullish candle formation….4 hour chart looks real bad…Leg F up and the slow stoch is showing me no torque…best i can call is a retest of the daily consolidation range of past few weeks…I need something more extreme to other than trade the 30 through one minute chart patterns….

      • On October 5, 2020 at 11:10 am,
        Ron says:

        Me too the older I get the faster i was

  8. On October 4, 2020 at 5:33 pm,
    OOTB Jerry says:
  9. On October 4, 2020 at 6:49 pm,
    OOTB Jerry says:

    Happy evening…………KWN
    So what are these assets? Here’s a quick quiz: Rank the following 6 assets/asset categories in order based on which gained most during the first 20 years of this century – 12/31/1999 to 12/31/2019. (Do it before looking at the correct answer below). In alphabetical order, they are:

    Bonds (as measured by an index of U.S. government bonds with expiration dates ranging from 5 to 30 years)
    Copper (measured by its price)
    Gold (as measured by its price)
    Iron ore (as measured by its price)
    Silver (as measured by its price)
    Stocks (as measured by the total return of the S&P 500, including reinvesting dividends)
    What is the correct order based on performance? Here goes:

    1. Gold – up 423%
    2. Copper – up 246%
    3. Iron ore – up 236%
    4. Silver – up 230%
    5. Stocks – up 224%
    6. Bonds – up 165%.
    It’s true. During this century’s first generation, while financial assets like stocks have gotten so much attention, commodities have done far better. And the biggest winner of all has been gold.

  10. On October 4, 2020 at 7:06 pm,
    cfs says:
  11. On October 4, 2020 at 8:05 pm,
    CFS says:

    The Fed has banks in 37 cities.
    There were 37 cities which had riots and buildings burned.

    Every single one was a city in which there was a Fed Reserve Bank. Coincidence (or not)

    In those cities with riot damage, between 40 and 50% of damage was done to black-owned property.

    Was this Racially motivated to maximize race conflict in destroying the US ?
    Just asking….

  12. On October 4, 2020 at 8:37 pm,
    cfs says:

    I told this forum Hunter Biden stashed his cash off-shore. (Just like his Father, Hillary, Obama.
    You think the IRS knows ?)

  13. On October 5, 2020 at 1:59 am,
    CFS says:

    i still think it will take until about August 2021 to get details sorted out.

  14. On October 5, 2020 at 6:52 am,
    cfs says:

    Another nail in the coffin of global warming that fake news will not tell you about.
    Remember the chloro-fluoro-carbons that kill ozone and create holes in the ozone layer, that give rise to global warming?
    Well, maybe not so much:
    We apparently changed our refrigerators to less efficient chemicals because the climatologists got that wrong too.

  15. On October 5, 2020 at 7:11 am,
    CFS says:

    The virus is REAL, but the news around it is FAKE:

    Do you NEED a vaccine if THERAPEUTICS essentially CURE most people?

  16. On October 5, 2020 at 7:20 am,
    cfs says:

    What happens when you have a pope that places Marxism above Christianity?

  17. On October 5, 2020 at 7:24 am,
    cfs says:

    What happens when a political party has many Islamic or Godless members ?

  18. On October 5, 2020 at 8:29 am,
    cfs says:
    • On October 5, 2020 at 8:44 am,
      Big Al says:

      Everyone needs to watch this and think seriously about it.

      • On October 5, 2020 at 11:33 am,
        OOTB Jerry says:

        I think we have been saying the DOJ………is a JOKE………..for months….now you are concerned….

  19. On October 5, 2020 at 9:00 am,
    cfs says:

    The smart virus mostly goesafter conservative Republicans….

  20. On October 5, 2020 at 9:18 am,
    cfs says:

    Is Trump’s recovery a symbol of America’s recovery ?

    A limey speaks out for Trump and puts egg on the faces of U.S. commentators.
    Meanwhile the BBC disgustingly attacks Trump – Fake news extreme.

  21. On October 5, 2020 at 9:59 am,
    cfs says:

    The CDC shut down randomized, double blind testing of HCQ. (Think Democrat deep-state)