Revenge and backlash have always been the American response to defeat, especially in the case of civil rights. Despite the resulting muddiness, misdirection and outrage, the Georgia voting bill, signed into law last month, was clearly a response to defeat, just as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was. Sports have always been expected to provide a form of talcum to assuage the effects of backlash, the illusion that the games reflect a certain national unity through its diversions — the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series. My team, your team, our country.
Through the lens of civics and values, sports as an industry have not handled the difficulties particularly well. The 20th century was the sports century, and in it, the games have enthusiastically condoned racism, homophobia, war, sexism, sexual abuse, police brutality, domestic violence, performance-enhancing drug use, nationalism, and in the case of college sports, exploitation of athletes for decades. The games, and those who run them, however, have always been motivated by two primary concerns: reacting within the general mood of the country and, especially, responding to the concerns of corporate partners.