Since the media no longer slavishly covers his every utterance, you might have missed ex-President Donald Trump's rant at the Turning Point Action conference in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend.
A familiar word vomit, amid all the usual lies and conspiracy theories about the outcome of the 2020 election, he reprised a well-worn trope trying to somehow link kneeling for social justice with subsequent mediocre sporting performance.
"Wokeism makes you lose, ruins your mind and ruins you as a person," he said. "You become warped. You become demented. Earlier this week, the women's soccer team unexpectedly lost to Sweden three to nothing, and Americans were happy about it!"
Befitting a woman who dominated tennis while simultaneously dealing with blatant homophobia, Martina Navratilova hasn't been afraid to enter the present fray on behalf of the new generation
Lusty cheers greeted those lines because, for once, he was partly telling the truth. Megan Rapinoe et al's shock defeat in the Olympic opener was widely celebrated by the Hezbollah wing of the Republican Party.
"Couldn't have happened to a nicer group of wahmen!" tweeted Breitbart. com, arguably the most influential conservative news website.
America First types, with stars and stripes in their online avatars and nativism in their hearts, delighted in a team of their compatriots losing to Sweden. The opponents hailing from the very sort of progressive, European, liberal democracy that Trumpers traditionally despise and genuinely fear only added to the weirdness of the moment. A strange kind of nationalism.
This is the way of it now. Like immigration, science, and the teaching of any American history that includes stuff like slavery, sport has become a permanent front in the never-ending culture wars between left and right.
Any athlete who dares open his or her mouth about the need to improve any aspect of society will be conscripted into the battle, denounced and vilified for being “woke” or promoting “cancel culture” or whatever the faux reactionary phrase du jour is.
That nomenclature didn't exist back in the early 1980s when Martina Navratilova was coming out and speaking out, both of which required inestimable courage. Her suffering at the hands of the English tabloids and plenty of others is detailed forensically in L Jon Wertheim's wonderful new book, "Glory Days - the Summer of 1984 and the 90 days that Changed Sport and Culture Forever".
As with taking the names of KKK founders off of schools in the south, the Cleveland Indians deciding last week they want to be known as the Cleveland Guardians lit the touch paper
Befitting a woman who dominated tennis while simultaneously dealing with blatant homophobia, she hasn’t been afraid to enter the present fray on behalf of the new generation.
"Asshole much?" Navratilova tweeted to Megyn Kelly the other week after the erstwhile talk show host went after Naomi Osaka. The tennis player's "crime" was taking a mid-season sabbatical to deal with her mental health issues but then still featuring on a number of magazine covers that came out in the past few weeks. Of course, Kelly, a savvy media veteran, well knew the lead-in time between a photo shoot for a glossy publication like Vogue Japan and its appearance on the newsstands is often many months.
Never mind then that Osaka posed for those pictures long before going public with her struggles, Kelly, the former darling of Fox News Channel, a woman who believes the January 6th insurrection wasn’t actually that serious, saw her chance to garner some publicity for her own fading brand. And she went for it, describing Osaka as “representing too many of the liberal pieties as a mixed race woman”, and believing her fawning treatment during the episode to be more damning evidence of “the wussification of America”.
As heartening as it was to see Navratilova coming to the defence of one of her putative successors, it’s also telling that so many on the right continue to question the veracity of Osaka skipping the French Open and Wimbledon because of depression and anxiety. As if, like climate change, those aren’t real, just convenient smokescreens deployed by an athlete who didn’t like hard questions at press conferences.
Outrage industrial complex
In a similar vein is the recurring anger on that side of the aisle over the issue of sports teams divesting themselves of names and mascots now deemed offensive. The right-wing outrage industrial complex regards this as part of the wider (and to them troubling) movement to acknowledge the nation’s history contains terrible events that should be recognised but not celebrated.
As with taking the names of KKK founders off of schools in the south, the Cleveland Indians deciding last week they want to be known as the Cleveland Guardians lit the touch paper.
Following its earlier decision to remove the Chief Wahoo logo, the club finally got rid of a name despised by many Native Americans and replaced it with a moniker related to four pairs of statues that stand sentry on the Hope Memorial Bridge crossing the Cuyahoga River.
A move that caused great offence to Trump, his media mouthpieces and political clones. The cranky maharaja of Mar a Lago labelled it a disgrace while Wendy Rogers, a state senator from Arizona, called for Americans to "stand up for our culture". Whatever that is in that context.
As with everything else right now, opposition to Cleveland's decision and the Washington NFL team dropping Redskins, divides neatly along political lines. A majority of Republicans oppose these gestures, are repulsed by athletes protesting, and, consequently, have called for boycotts of Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA over the past couple of years.
That the Democrats would be ceded the three national sports while the “true patriots” openly root against American women competing on the world stage is what passes for normal in this strangest of culture wars.