On Monday afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles, via their Twitter account, congratulated “the American people on a record voter turnout” and pledged their support to “both the current and incoming administrations in their collective effort to effectuate a cooperative, speedy and productive transition.” This is, in the context of any other presidential election, incredibly normal, even banal corporate behavior: acknowledging that a massive event in America just happened in the most vanilla, inoffensive fashion possible. The Washington Nationals, the night the election was called, had actually invited President-elect Joe Biden to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day of the 2021 season.
Like the Orioles’ congratulatory tweet, this was fairly boilerplate and unremarkable. But in the context of the world of sports, it was downright radical.
It’s difficult to find American institutions that have not accepted that Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the president-elect of the United States outside of (currently elected) members of the Republican Party. But you sure can find them in sports.
The year 2020, in the world of sports, will end up being known as much for the explosion of social activism as it will be for the pandemic. Whole teams boycotted games, including playoff games, to take a stand for racial justice. The most popular NASCAR racer at one point had “Black Lives Matter” plastered across his best-selling racing jersey — shoot, even Roger Goodell said it! — and you could find #BLM in the dirt behind pitching mounds in Major League Baseball. WNBA teams wore warm-up shirts directly endorsing a political candidate, and the NBA and its players poured millions of dollars into voter registration and LeBron James’s More Than a Vote campaign. This has been the most politically active year in the history of sports.
But now that the election has happened — and particularly now that Trump, his supporters, and, increasingly, the Republican political Establishment are contesting it with specious and nonsensical claims of voter fraud — the leagues and their teams have gotten very quiet. The Orioles and the Nationals are the only two MLB teams to even acknowledge that the election happened, and the league itself hasn’t said a word about the election. The NFL just went through a weekend of games in which it was fairly obvious that broadcasters were discouraged from discussing the election, and you certainly didn’t see any sort of “Welcome, President-elect Biden” messages like you did during football games four years ago. (One of Trump’s first national television appearances as president-elect was an interview at halftime of the Army-Navy game.)
Even the NBA, which has become the primary driver of social-justice activism in sports this year (and the past few years before this), has been absolutely silent since Election Day. Its final tweet about the election was this one, pointing toward James’s More Than a Vote organization. More Than a Vote has been tweeting regularly since Election Day, noting loudly that “Black Voters Decided This Election!” and even helping to inform, via a smart, funny video essay from WNBA player Renee Montgomery, how the counting of late-arriving ballots works.
But the NBA itself? Nothing. The only moment the election actually broke through to the world of sports was when the (fantastic) Clemson–Notre Dame college-football game on Saturday night was interrupted for Biden’s and Harris’s winning speeches. And all that did was make the teams’ fans angry.
Players themselves have celebrated Biden’s victory, of course, most notably James himself, who giddily posted a Photoshop featuring his most famous moment as a player.
But the silence of the leagues themselves is telling. (And, for what it’s worth, people are still yelling at the Nationals and the Orioles beneath their congratulatory posts.) The main reason for this is obvious: These teams (and leagues) are run by really rich old white guys, and really rich old white guys tend to be Trump supporters. Back in October, USA Today pointed out that for all the public support teams and leagues were giving their players during the George Floyd protests, they were heavily donating to Trump and Republican candidates. According to Sports Illustrated, of the 30 NFL owners, only three — including, amusingly, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who famously watched the 2017 Super Bowl with Trump — gave more money to Democratic candidates than Republican ones. Angels owner Arte Moreno said in the campaign’s waning days that it’s “very necessary” to vote for Trump.
This is all fine and good: People can donate to whatever candidates or parties they want to! What’s noteworthy, though, is that these teams and leagues, because they lean Republican, are now tied to Trump’s ludicrous claims that the election is not over: They’re as stuck to him as every other Republican is. The Orioles and the Nationals are owned by the Angelos family (famously considered the most liberal in all of baseball) and the Lerners (who explicitly asked not to be seated next to Trump at the World Series in 2019). They can join election officials and experts, media reports, Democrats and ordinary citizens, and the rest of the world in acknowledging the obvious. Republicans, because they live and die with Trump and his neuroses, cannot.
And thus leagues and teams are forced to play along with the delusion, pretending that we don’t have a president-elect when we do — and if they admit reality, in the context of sports, they look like they are the ones being political. So when you’re wondering when Republicans will stop indulging Trump and move on with certifying the results of the election, perhaps you can look to sports. Because as of now, they’re holding off, too.