Politics is inescapable, even if we don’t always see it. political themes have consistently run through our popular art, whether literature, music, film, or even video games. Sports have often served as important conduits of political progress, such as in the process of integration.
Human beings are political animals. We leave our political droppings wherever we go. As much as we may cite sports as an escape, a way to get out of the harrowing headspace of our daily lives, we find it even here. Especially in the locker rooms.
That is what Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was on the NFL Network on Wednesday night to talk about, joining a panel led by Aditi Kinkhabwala, to talk about how politics is handled in the private spaces of the players’ workplace.
“My personal experience, when we do talk politics, I like to play devil’s advocate. That’s my only role in the conversation”, Villanueva offered. “When we do talk politics, I just want to find people and kind of, like Socrates would do, you just find consistencies, play devil’s advocate, have a great conversation, but never get into a fight, never get into something that matters so much”.
“At the end of the day, we’re all football players”, he added. “We really don’t understand that much. Half of us are going to be too lazy to go vote anyway. It’s more important always to have great friendships, and that’s what we use political talks and discussions for, to share values, to see where we come from, but never to try to convince another teammate to the extent that you would get into a fight”.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Villanueva’s experiences in the NFL have jaded his experiences in openly discussing politics as a person with a public platform, which serves as an avenue for unsolicited and often inappropriate criticism and vitriol. He became the face of a controversy in Week Three of the 2017 season, for reasons I’m sure you remember. Even earlier this year, he was criticized following a radio interview in which he declined to discuss that topic.
“When I hear politicians just completely lie all the time, and never fulfill any of their promises, and understanding the rhetoric that they’re using to try to get people to buy into this popularity contest”, he told Kinkabwala before trailing off in exasperation.
“I’m not a partisan. I don’t have a political affiliation. I’m very conscious about individuality versus collective mentality. To me, individualism is something that I rely on. I don’t want to be defined by a group’s ideas instead of my own”.
This calls back the message that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has repeatedly delivered this offseason. It’s important, especially at times like these, that when we act, we make sure that we are acting, and not reacting, and that we do so thoughtfully, with meaning and intention, and with a long-term vision.