We have covered the fallacy of politicians' "stick to sports" mantra many times over the last few years.
But sports and politics are forever intertwined, and have been since long before Donald Trump bought his first rental property.
There is irony, however, when the politicians who like to tell players and teams to "stick to sports" abruptly flip the script and urge those players and teams to, well, play ball.
With the coronavirus pandemic presenting the biggest threat to a Southeastern Conference football season, the most powerful people in our Southern states — the college football coaches — perhaps had a hand in redirecting the narrative.
On Wednesday's front page, a wire service report chronicled decreases in key COVID-19 indicators (new deaths, new cases and positivity rates) in Sun Belt states. Debates about shutdowns, mask mandates and personal liberties have been fierce in this part of the country. We had quite the COVID surge going for awhile. And there were governors fighting with mayors, mayors tussling with mayors, and mask mandates inconsistently enforced.
And as many Southerners realized that wearing a mask might be their best ticket to Saturdays in the fall, President Trump got into the college football conversation as well by trying to get the schools in the Big Ten to play college football sooner rather than later.
In early August, the university presidents of the Big Ten schools voted to push football into spring of 2021. Personally, I think the Big Ten erred in deciding that early to punt. I believe they owed it to their players and fans to explore every opportunity to play.
But back to Trump. As president, his words have far-reaching impacts — from, as the song says, sea to shining sea. And just now, when it suits him, Trump has shifted from demanding that athletes stay out of politics (read Colin Kaepernick, for starters) to now urging teams in certain states to get on the field.
Whether Trump cares about the Big Ten contests is immaterial. He does care greatly about getting re-elected, and if Trump can get the Big Ten back to playing opposite the SEC and the ACC and contend for the college football playoff, it could be the trump card he needs in some battleground states that he won in 2016 by the slimmest of margins.
Check the numbers: Trump won the 2016 election and carried the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a total of right around 75,000 votes.
Trump won Pennsylvania by roughly 44,000 votes, or 0.7%. He won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes, or 0.3%. He won Wisconsin by less than 17,000 votes,or 0.7%. Those 48 Electoral College votes swung the election.
Getting Big Ten football back this fall would be an enormous feather in the president's helmet in those three states, no? In truth, just trying is going to benefit Trump in the eyes of countless voters who love the Wolverines, the Badgers and the Nittany Lions.
So, rather than the "stick to sports" mantra, let's try a new one: Let's play politics.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.