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HARPER: What happens when politics infects the sports pages?

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

An ESPN panelist describes the national anthem as a militaristic song that should not be played at sporting events.

The media focuses on an alleged "bullying" incident involving players for the Miami Dolphins, providing little context for what happened.

The District of Columbia Council votes that the Washington Redskins should change their name because it demeans Native Americans.

When students ask me about a future in sports reporting, I tick off issues they need to know about: business, law and trademark infractions. I obviously missed the memo about politics.

Let's go down the list one by one. First, during "Around the Horn" on ESPN, Kevin Blackistone, a panelist and journalism professor at the University of Maryland, called "The Star-Spangled Banner" a "war anthem."

The bombs bursting in air came from the British, who were attacking an American fort during the War of 1812. The U.S. forces survived the battle through bravery and courage. That's why we have a land of the free and a home of the brave.

Mr. Blackistone explained his position in an email to me: "I did and have objected to 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in large part because it is so representative of, and seeded, the mix of militarism and sports that I think has diminished the ravages of war in the public's mind while elevating mere sporting contests to a gravity well beyond their reality."

A longtime columnist and reporter for various news organizations before joining academia, Mr. Blackistone suggested alternatives to the anthem, specifically "America the Beautiful" and "Ballad for Americans," a song made famous by Paul Robeson, an actor and singer known for his support of the Soviet Union.

Second, the "bullying" incident happened when Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who is white, used the N-word and profanity in a voice mail to fellow lineman Jonathan Martin, who is black. Mr. Incognito, who appeared on Fox Sports to defend himself, has been suspended while Mr. Martin left the team to seek counseling and has made no public statements about the matter, which is being investigated by the NFL.

In a column, with the headline, "Violence, Greed and the Gridiron," Frank Bruni of The New York Times lamented the state of football, including the "bullying" incident.

"All of us have entered into a compact, a conspiracy. For the pleasure the sport gives us, we'll tuck away our reservations about its culture of violence. We'll turn a blind eye to the wreckage," Mr. Bruni wrote.

Christine Brennan, who has covered her share of sporting events for USA Today, provided a much more reasoned approach to the media hoopla. "There's only one thing we can know for sure, and it's this: We have almost no idea what happened, and might not know for weeks," she said.

Third, I find the "Redskins" an offensive name — one of the few times I have agreed with President Obama, who suggested owner Dan Snyder consider a name change. The District of Columbia Council's vote, which has no force of law, came last week.

I searched various databases and found seven major professional teams in the United States, including Mr. Obama's hometown Chicago Blackhawks, that use Native American names. Twelve colleges and universities use Native American names — some like Florida State with the approval of the Seminole tribe — as do countless high schools throughout the country. If politicians were truly serious about the issue, they should tackle the entire issue, not just the one in the nation's capital.

As a fan, I would prefer politicians and reporters stay on the sidelines on most of these issues as I seek some escape by following sports.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and "20/20." He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com. Twitter: @charper51

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