Don't look for Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, in front of a big screen for the big game this Sunday.
In a brief speech given on the Georgia Senate floor this past week, Mullis said he will not be watching any professional basketball or football because of all the political statements made recently by athletes. Several spoke up during a year of civil and racial unrest around the country.
Mullis — chairman of the Rules Committee — took some time Monday during a point of personal privilege to air his grievances about professional athletes who make political statements on the field or court.
"Why don't they play sports and leave the party politics for us," Mullis said. "I think that's the way it should be. I'm tired of watching political statements on the football field or the basketball court. Now, OK, they have the right to their political opinion, absolutely, but I have the right to not support people in celebrity positions who want to offer their position to try to turn the election cycle. They need to play football or basketball."
Mullis then commended what he called the "National Baseball League," while adding he sees less political statements made by professional baseball players as opposed to football and basketball players.
"I'm proud of those [players]," he said. "I'm proud of the Atlanta Braves."
Many — if not most — of the political statements made by athletes in the recent past have centered on racial justice. The percentage of Black athletes in the leagues Mullis criticized (74.2% for basketball and 70% for football) far exceed the percentage in Major League Baseball, where 7.8% of players are Black.
Georgia State Rep. Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone, is vice chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. In a statement, Jackson said Mullis' words suggested professional athletes do not have a right to free speech.
"Political statements are not owned by politicians alone," Jackson said. "To suggest otherwise makes one wonder why basketball and football were singled out as sports in which the athletes should just 'play sports' — as if those athletes have no other dimensions to their personalities or professions."
Mullis said he would not watch any professional sports on TV in his home and "will soon not be supporting the products that they are pushing on those sports networks."
Mullis called himself a grumpy old man "that means business" before concluding his brief speech.
Peacefully protesting and making political, public statements in sports was thrust into the spotlight when former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game in 2016.
When reporters saw Kaepernick on the bench, they asked him why he didn't stand.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color," he told reporters. "To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way."
Following Kaepernick's initial protest, the quarterback met with retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer. Boyer was the one who advised Kaepernick to take a knee instead of sitting down during the anthem as a sign of respect.
Since then — and especially after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 — athletes have used their platforms to speak out against injustice, racial discrimination, voter suppression and other areas of social conscience.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.