Sports were created out of man’s need for diversion and respite from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
It’s supposed to be fun and entertaining. In theory.
In reality, the sports realm remains in many ways a microcosm of the politics, strife and social concerns that we face on a daily basis at home and in the workplace.
Issues that recently have affected both areas include substance abuse, domestic violence, head injuries, sexual orientation and the use of Native American nicknames in team names and logos.
Sometimes, the societal issues that carry over into sports appear to have an unintended and unnecessary effect on the games themselves.
Last week, it was revealed that the University at Albany, an America East rival of the University of Maine, was forced to cancel a men’s basketball game at Duke University, located in Durham, North Carolina.
The move came in response to an edict from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in March issued an executive order that bans publicly funded, nonessential travel to North Carolina. Cuomo did so after a North Carolina law, House Bill 2, was passed that permits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and forces transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
Cuomo’s support of LGBT rights is commendable, but the imposition of a policy that essentially makes that decision for all New Yorkers associated with state agencies, including the UAlbany basketball team, seems unfair.
Duke is a private institution located in North Carolina, but it does not appear to have provided any support for the anti-LGBT measure enacted by the state legislature.
Duke athletic director Kevin White, who formerly held that position at UMaine, told ESPN, “As an institution, if not personally, we have gone on the record indicating that our state position on this [HB2] is very troubling, if not embarrassing.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the measure into law, referred to the boycott as “ridiculous” and suggested in comments to ESPN that New York teams should, “Play ball!”
Views on LGBT issues aside, that’s what should have happened here.
The UMaine men’s basketball team is scheduled to play a nonleague game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 3.
“It’s two college basketball teams getting together for two hours to play a basketball game,” said UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech. “For us, it’s as simple as that.”
For a program that has never reached the NCAA tournament, playing at Duke may provide a career highlight for the UMaine players.
“There’s nothing political about it either way. It’s just an opportunity for our students to go down there and experience a great college basketball atmosphere, arguably the best in college basketball, at Duke,” Creech said.
There is no threat of Gov. Paul LePage following in Cuomo’s footsteps in regard to banning travel to North Carolina. In May, LePage pledged his name in support of a lawsuit by 11 states against guidance from President Barack Obama’s administration that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.
LePage previously was among conservatives who asked a federal court in Virginia to block a transgender boy’s challenge of his school district’s bathroom-use policy, arguing he is “biologically of the female sex.”
Two governors. Two distinctly different views on LGBT issues. UMaine will play at Duke, while UAlbany won’t.
Sports, as a reflection of what’s going on in society, are never likely to be able to exist without being influenced by key issues affecting our citizens. But at times like these, we should remember that competition is not designed to be a platform for political or social expression, rather a sanctuary in which we can kick back, relax and forget about the difficult situations we face, if only briefly.