Before the political ascension of Nelson Mandela, black South Africans associated rugby with apartheid. The Springbok's team and stadium were segregated zones; the squad's fans embraced defiant nationalism. But when Mandela put on the Springbok's team jersey at the stadium during the 1995 rugby World Cup, he was not "normalizing" apartheid, as some charged. He was attempting to heal a divided nation. To suggest, as is commonly done in the United States, that sports and politics should not mix, was regarded by Mandela as naive.
Sports and politics do mix. That's just a fact of life.
Closer to home: This Sunday, the New England Patriots will face the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. Controversy is swirling around the event not because sportswriters have unfairly "injected" politics into our yearly ritual, but because politics are present; in this case, because the Patriots' star player, coach and owner have all made political statements.
During the regular season, quarterback Tom Brady put one of Donald Trump's Make America Great Again caps in his locker. He also referred to Trump as "a good friend." Coach Bill Belichick wrote a letter to Trump that was read aloud at a rally. Owner Robert Kraft claimed the new president would be great for the "economic side" of America.
Brady, Belichick and Kraft have all attempted to walk back their earlier support of Trump. Brady told a radio program that he doesn't agree with everything Trump says or does. Belichick stated that his letter was "not about politics." And Kraft, who also wrote checks to numerous Democrats, explained that Trump was kind to him after his wife died.
But for all of the obligatory talk about "teamwork" from Brady, Belichick and Kraft, not one of them can explain how team solidarity is cemented — roughly 60% of the team roster is African American — by backing the man who did his best to de-legitimize the nation's first black president.
Some commentators have condemned the trio's foray into politics; others have supported their right to "speak their minds." Of course some of those supporters were enraged when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during pre-game national anthems to protest the treatment of African Americans by the police.
Many denounced Kaepernick, suggesting he should do his protesting off the field, or, as former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka suggested, out of the country. (Ditka later said he was endorsing Trump because it was time to defend the "winners and leaders in life.")
Setting aside the hypocrisy issue, the rich and the poor and the famous and the unknown are all entitled to their political opinions. And if you have a platform because you are wealthy or famous, and you choose to broadcast your opinions, you are going to be attacked.
Instead of imagining an apolitical athletic universe, let's just acknowledge that politics and sports in the United States have always been linked.
If you want a history of segregation and race relations in the United States, study the life of Jackie Robinson or Muhammad Ali. If you want to learn about the history of labor relations and unions, examine Curt Flood's role in challenging the so-called reserve clause in baseball that kept players tied to one team for their careers.
Let's also acknowledge that, sometimes, or maybe even all of the time, politics are a perfectly valid reason to prefer one sports outcome over another.
Fans will have numerous reasons to support the Patriots or the Falcons this Sunday. For some it will be regional loyalty. Others will choose a team because they like backing the probable victor, or conversely, because they like backing the underdog.
My choice is based on political anger. There are those who counsel acceptance and forbearance towards Trump. But I'm in the mood to protest, and I cannot stand to think of Trump calling his buddies on the Patriots to congratulate them on a well deserved victory, one "winner" to another.
Our previous president used to say, "Don't boo, vote." I can do both. Boo Patriots. Go Falcons.
Kelly Candaele has produced several documentaries on politics and sports, including "A League of Their Own," about his mother's years as a professional baseball player.