Monday, July 23, 2018
Sports

speaking out

One of the most outspoken and successful athletes in history, Martina Navratilova, was packing for a quick trip to Washington last week when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg offered a take on Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protest. Ginsburg called it "dumb and disrespectful," and added, "If they want to be stupid, there's no law that should be preventive."

Navratilova bristled, and had good reason to. While she also thinks Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality "may be somewhat disrespectful," she told me that athletes like him should be praised for speaking out on social issues — not shamed for it — especially when they do so in a peaceful way, as Kaepernick has.

"So many athletes are afraid to use their platform to do the right thing and speak what they feel, and that's very depressing," Navratilova told me when we met a day before she was a keynote speaker at a human-rights event at the State Department. "Sure, they are afraid of insulting people and losing money because of it, and everyone wants to make the maximum amount of money in their lifetime. But at the expense of who you are? I don't know. That just wasn't in my DNA."

Athletes across the country, in the professional leagues, at the college level and even in high schools, have joined Kaepernick in his protest. It's still a minority, but the sports landscape is changing faster than ever. Lately, it has changed by the week.

More professional athletes than ever are feeling bold enough to delve into issues once considered taboo in their field because no one wanted to upset the fans, who buy tickets, or the owners, who sign paychecks, or the coaches, who decide who will play and who won't.

Just look at LeBron James' endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and the WNBA's growing silent protests, which included some teams wearing T-shirts that support the Black Lives Matter movement. At this tense and delicate time in the United States, some athletes are using their fame for something bigger and deeper than sports. They don't have to, and shouldn't have to, but it's encouraging to see some who finally want to — and are doing something about it.

It's amazing to think it has taken this long for this point to come, and even more amazing to think that more than three decades have gone by since Navratilova — who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including a record nine Wimbledon titles — began using her power in sports as a pulpit to preach about issues she cared about. She said she could never have silenced herself, considering how and where she grew up.

Navratilova, who turned 60 on Tuesday, was born in Czechoslovakia, to parents she said were kicked out of their university for their anti-Communist views. When she was a child, she often read the newspaper her father brought home from work every day because she craved information about the world.

When she was 18, in 1975, she defected to the United States so she could play tennis "when I want and where I want," leaving behind her family — and a totalitarian regime — and remaining stateless for six years before the United States accepted her as one of its own. In 1981, after gaining U.S. citizenship, she came out as a bisexual and later identified herself as a lesbian, becoming one of the first openly gay athletes. It was a move she said cost her millions of dollars in endorsements.

After going through all that, speaking out on other issues became easy, she said.

"I was always controversial, being gay, so nothing was more controversial than that," Navratilova said, adding that it might have been easier to speak her mind than it would have been if she had played a team sport.

"Okay, sure, Michael Jordan could've said anything and he could've gotten away with it — but he didn't," she said. "But if you're not Michael Jordan, and the front office doesn't like you, or the coach doesn't like you, you're going to get cut. So I think it has to come from the management, to make the athletes feel safe enough to speak out."

She added: "Tennis was different. It was a meritocracy, so I never had to worry about losing my livelihood."

So Navratilova said what she felt — often loudly and clearly. She also has rarely, if ever, backed away from anything she has said, unlike Ginsburg, who in a statement Friday said she had been "inappropriately dismissive and harsh" about Kaepernick's protest.

Navratilova publicly criticized President George W. Bush about his conservative policies and said she was ashamed of him. And she criticized Bill Clinton for his "don't ask, don't tell," policy regarding gays in the military, saying he "wimped out."

Navratilova has also fought for causes like children's rights, animal rights and, of course, gay rights, and spoke at the 1993 march on Washington for gay rights. She also is a proponent of marriage equality, which makes sense because she got married two years ago, but had to exchange vows in New York City because it wasn't yet legal in Florida, where she lives.

On Thursday, though, Navratilova's subject of the day was human rights. At an event at the State Department convened to discuss how to improve human rights at large international sports events, she called on entities like the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, soccer's world governing body, to ensure that their events are safe and open to everyone, without discrimination, and said it was a responsibility they can't continue to shirk.

Nikki Dryden, a former Olympic swimmer for Canada who became a human rights and immigration lawyer, sat in the audience and couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"No other athlete of her caliber has ever spoken like this, with such conviction and with such power," Dryden said. "So many other athletes, even the retired ones, are afraid of tarnishing the IOC or their federation because they think it will tarnish their brand, even if they don't even have a brand."

In 2012, Navratilova opened a Twitter account. On her feed, there's a flurry of posts every day, sometimes every hour. But don't look for her to talk much tennis. She shouldn't have to.

Part of her Twitter bio says: "Like to talk politics, though some would rather I stick to tennis :). No chance!!!"

In July, she stopped reading her Twitter responses because some were too toxic. More times than she can count, she said, people have told her to go back to her home country, accusing her of hating the United States. They have said much worse, she said, things regarding her sexual orientation.

"Most of those hurtful tweets came from Donald Trump supporters because I tweet a lot about Trump," she said. "It cracked me up when some said, 'You dumb jock, you need to stick to tennis,' because I actually lived in a tyrannical autocracy. I know propaganda when I see it, and I can speak with authority on it."

I asked her if Trump had replied on Twitter. She said she didn't think so.

"It would be hard for him to insult me, how is he going to insult me?" she said, laughing. By saying, 'You're a loser? You were never that good of a tennis player?' I don't think so."

Point, Navratilova.

— New York Times

Comments
Swimmer Ryan Lochte suspended until July 2019 for use of IV

Swimmer Ryan Lochte suspended until July 2019 for use of IV

FORT LAUDERDALE — Ryan Lochte posted a photo for the world to see, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency noticed. It got him suspended — again. The longtime U.S. swimming star has been banned from competition until July 2019, which means the 12-time Olympi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs won’t have Jameis Winston on stadium mural to start 2018

Bucs won’t have Jameis Winston on stadium mural to start 2018

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is the face of the Bucs franchise but his portrait will not be on any of the player murals being displayed on corners of Raymond Jameis Stadium.As Winston prepares to serve a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Johnny Manziel traded from one Canadian Football League team to another

Johnny Manziel traded from one Canadian Football League team to another

MONTREAL — Johnny Manziel is headed to the Montreal Alouettes in a reunion with the coach who recruited him to Texas A&M. The Canadian Football League team acquired the former Heisman Trophy from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a blockbuster tr...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lavonte David, Cameron Brate are first Bucs on new stadium murals

Lavonte David, Cameron Brate are first Bucs on new stadium murals

It's an annual question for Bucs fans as training camp rolls around: Which players get the honor of those enormous 80-foot murals on each corner of Raymond James Stadium?And as the team rebrands for 2018, the first answers came Monday morning, with l...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs rookies report to training camp

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs rookies report to training camp

The Bucs rookies report to training camp today, followed by the veterans on Wednesday as football returns to One Buc Place.  Jameis Winston's suspension is the biggest story, with questions about how snaps will be divided among the qua...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Thomas Bassinger’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Marlins game

Thomas Bassinger’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Marlins game

ST. PETERSBURG — Takeaways from the Rays' 6-4 walkoff win Sunday over the Marlins at Tropicana Field:1. In six innings, Chris Archer had a season-high 13 strikeouts, but I wouldn't call his outing dominant. The Marlins scored four runs in the s...
Updated: 5 hours ago
‘Man, I feel good’: Rays’ Daniel Robertson describes his pinch-hit walkoff grand slam

‘Man, I feel good’: Rays’ Daniel Robertson describes his pinch-hit walkoff grand slam

ST. PETERSBURG — This is why you stay until the end.You hope to see something you've never seen before.RELATED: More Rays coverageAnd that's what happened Sunday at Tropicana Field. The Rays, who entered the ninth trailing the Marlins by three ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
South Tampa softball all-stars head to Southeast Regional

South Tampa softball all-stars head to Southeast Regional

TAMPA — Emilee Mezrah could have been on vacation in the Bahamas playing in the surf.Instead she’s on vacation in Georgia playing softball in the dirt.Beach vs. softball …"I chose softball," said Mezrah, a seventh grader at Coleman Middle School. "Ri...
Published: 07/22/18
Rays journal: Whoever you are, please put down the Matt Duffy voodoo doll

Rays journal: Whoever you are, please put down the Matt Duffy voodoo doll

Third baseman Matt Duffy returned to the lineup Sunday after sitting out Friday and Saturday because of back spasms. He went 0-for-3.The cause of those spasms? His drive to the ballpark."Just shifting my weight and turning the steering wheel," he sai...
Published: 07/22/18

Sports on TV/radio for Monday, July 23

TODAYBaseballYankees at Rays7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMBraves at Marlins7 p.m.FSFDiamondbacks at Cubs8 p.m.ESPNWhite Sox at Angels (in progress)11 p.m.MLB...
Published: 07/22/18