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Bosa, Trump, and the Politics of “Who Cares?”
I was born in Vallejo, grew up in Vacaville, and lived in Santa Rosa before moving to Seattle. Throughout my life my teams have always been close to my heart, they haven’t always been easy to root for, either because of the product on the field, the ineptitude of management, and even sometimes the players wearing the jerseys.
To call Barry Bonds a jerk during his playing days would be kind, he was often aloof with the media and fans, standoffish with teammates, and generally difficult to get along with. Jeff Kent shared many of the same qualities, often putting him at odds with Bonds, so dramatically that tensions came to a head one sunny afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium when Bonds wrapped his hands around Kent’s neck and started to squeeze, having to be separated by teammates. Deion Sanders danced and high stepped all over the field, tried to show up the great Jerry Rice, and took on the personality of Prime Time. Chris Webber was a moody immature talent that put himself above the team and wasn’t ready for bright lights of the NBA. But looking back at these players with the eyes of a 41-year-old, it’s easy to identify the flaws that these men had, but as a teenager desperate for a winning team, it was equally easy to overlook them.
But even more important then that is to hear how their teammates felt about them. Kent and Bonds had a begrudging respect for each other knowing they were two of the best players in baseball. Following a second consecutive loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game, the 49ers aggressively pursued their division rival in Sanders knowing he was the missing piece to not only knock off the Cowboys, but to bring a championship back to San Francisco. Webber was a former first overall pick and eventually went on to have a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. Their teammates knew, personality aside, these guys were special, that they could contribute on the field in a way that few others can.
That’s exactly how the 49ers should view Nick Bosa. If the 49ers select Bosa with the second pick in the draft, he won’t be the first player to have openly conservative political viewpoints, and he certainly won’t be the last. It’s easy to view the 49ers as this liberal bastion in the otherwise conservative NFL. A young owner who openly supported his players when they elected to kneel during the National Anthem, players who are outspoken in the media on progressive issues and involved in the community, and headquartered in the middle of the progressive lap of the country, the Bay Area.
But at their base, it’s all a business. Jed York, Paraag Marathe, John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan, and every player, are businessmen. Winning is good for the bottom line, winning ensures that everyone gets paid, and Bosa will help the team win. How aligned do you think Justin Smith and Frank Gore were in their political beliefs, for example? I can’t say for sure, but I’m going to guess they were on opposite sides of the spectrum. But each one knew the other was integral for the team to have success. Do Tom Brady’s teammates care that he has a MAGA hat in his locker? When did we start treating professional athletes like children that can’t handle opposing views?
As fans, it’s easy to look at someone and what they post on Twitter or say in an interview and think, no way he mixes in the locker room that this team has. But if the Kareem Hunt situation, or Antonio Brown’s recent Twitter beef with JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown us, it’s that there’s always room for a player if they can produce on the field. Compared to other situations, political beliefs don’t even rank as something the team or future teammates should be concerned with.
An NFL locker room is a microcosm of society, 53 different people with varying backgrounds and personalities having to put aside any differences or personal feelings for the betterment of the whole. Jimmy Garoppolo grew up in suburban Chicago, Richard Sherman in Compton, DeForest Buckner in Waianae, their personalities are as different as the communities they’re from, but differences are put aside and common ground is found, and the team is better because of it. Bosa and his personality and beliefs can be added to the mix and instead of blowing up the locker room, bringing a new voice or view to the table is never a bad thing, at worse it starts a conversation that leads nowhere, at best it sparks a change.
Whether you agree or disagree with Bosa’s views, he deserves some amount of credit. At 21 he understands optics; he understands that his views may not be the most popular in the Bay Area and admitted as much at the combine when he was asked about his deleted tweets. Today’s players are quick to shift blame or sidestep responsibility. Anthony Davis wore a “That’s all Folks” shirt to his final home game in New Orleans, when asked about it the next day his answer was that someone else picks out his clothes for him; he wasn’t being passive-aggressive, he’s just grown man that can’t be expected to dress himself. Bosa made no apologies for his views, he just took them down with an understanding of how they would be perceived, then answered the questions that followed like a professional. And that’s what his future teammates will remember, that he handled it like a pro.
If the 49ers pass on Bosa for football reasons, that’s fair. But if they decide not to select him based on his political beliefs, then York, Lynch, and Shanahan will have to answer to the fans for why they’re not putting the best product they can on the field. Be as big of a jerk as you want, just keep knocking balls into McCovey Cove, high step goal line to goal line as long as you’re picking off Stan Humphries in the Superbowl, and as long as you get your arms around Russell Wilson in the backfield no one will care if you vote for Donald Trump in 2020.
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