‘Stick to sports’? Meet the soccer players who are refusing to – Yahoo Sports

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Veteran Major League Soccer midfielder Jeb Brovsky, who is currently out of contract after tearing his ACL in October, is glad to explain himself.

“I’ve always seen social media as an extension of self,” he said.  “There’s nothing about me that I don’t want the public to know, that I’m hiding. A lot of people disagree with me, but I do believe that if you have that belief and that conviction, you have to be authentic about that and put it forward.”

Austin da Luz, a midfielder for North Carolina FC in the NASL, feels the same. “I think it’s important for any citizen to speak out about things they believe are important or are going to affect their daily lives – especially now,” he said. “I would never pretend to be an apolitical person.”

“The country that we live in, it’s important to engage on these subjects,” echoed Toronto FC goalkeeper Clint Irwin. “I don’t think my opinion should stick out more than anyone else’s. But there comes a point where the sheer number of people speaking out is important. A vast amount of us has become apathetic. As President Obama said, ‘We get the politicians we deserve.’ And if we don’t vote, and if we’re not engaged, this is what we get.”

Irwin, who studied political science and philosophy at Elon University, embraces the chance to engage on non-soccer subjects. As a regular for most of his four seasons and change in Major League Soccer, he interacts with the media quite a bit. But the questions seldom stray outside of soccer. “A lot of the questions aren’t going to be on this week’s fresh political fight,” he said. “That’s more what I would like to give my thoughts on sometimes.”

While Irwin doesn’t mind talking soccer, spitting out platitudes can become tiresome. “It gets kind of rote sometimes,” he said. That’s where Twitter comes in handy, as an alternative release.

But Irwin imposes something of an embargo on himself, because he wants to consider things before he tweets, rather than reacting to news immediately. “It’s hard to sustain the outrage, at least for me,” he said. “It seems there’s this outrage loop where something comes out and people are angry about it and then new information comes out. I wait for things to play out and try not to be so reactionary all the time.”

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At its base, “stick to sports” is an odd thing to say to someone. We don’t tell plumbers to stick to plumbing, or accountants to accounting. If opinion was to be invalidated and suppressed because of the opinionator’s employment in an unrelated field, the world would be an awfully quiet place.

“I just think it’s silly,” said da Luz, who recently set up Playing for Pride, raising money with other male and female pro players in North Carolina for LGBTQ rights, which have come under assault in that state. “Unless I’m dribbling down the field and I stop to talk to the referee about gerrymandering or healthcare, I don’t really understand it. What I choose to speak about off of the field is totally my choice and nobody can take that right away from me.”

“When people say ‘stick to sports,’ all I really hear is that A, you don’t agree with me, and B, you’re not willing to engage with what I’m saying,” da Luz continued. “Which makes you the problem, not me. What I’m talking about outside the white lines, you have a choice about if you want to listen. I don’t really see that as a valid argument.”

Irwin argues that there’s no clear delineation between sports and politics any longer anyway, pointing out that the travel ban affected pro soccer players. “When you talk about stick to sports, well, things we’re talking about are affecting sports, affecting our lives,” he said. “It’s important that we stick up about it. We have a stake in this, in our country. We’re no different from any other citizen.”

Brovsky says politics is the subjection of discussion “quite a bit” in MLS locker rooms. Yet most shy away from it publicly. He’s an outlier in that he’s unbothered about brand-building and put off by artifice for the sake of being palatable to as broad a public as possible.

“My priorities are a little bit different, certainly, as I’ve gotten older,” Brovsky said. “When I first got into the league I shared that philosophy that a lot of athletes do – don’t ruffle feathers, you’re a rookie, just kind of tread water and don’t upset the establishment too much. That’s where I think a lot of athletes come at social media from. ‘One tweet, one message can ruin my entire career.’ But if you’re taking that hesitant an approach you’re not giving your authentic self.”

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Brovsky concedes that not being a major star means he doesn’t have quite as much to lose as others – unlike Jordan, he has no sneakers to sell. He has no portfolio of endorsements that could dump him. “I have to be honest and say I’m sure my attitude would change toward being so open about it,” he said.

Yet Brovsky and others believe that if you have a platform, you also have some responsibility to use it for what you believe is good. “We live in a world where we have a president who has openly attacked certain ethnic groups and alienated half of the country, instead of uniting it,” he said. “For me and a lot of American players, this social and political time that we’re living in kind of requires us to be more involved civically.”

Da Luz agreed. “The time for casual morality has passed,” he said. “We need more people in the driver’s seat, pushing things in a positive direction. The more people get involved and speak out, and the more conversations we’re able to have, the better off we’re going to be. No matter what side you come down on it – right now, I don’t think we’re in a great spot. And just telling people, ‘stick to sports; stay in your lane’ isn’t going to solve anything.”

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet. 

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