Is there any overlap between sports and politics? The former is a form of entertainment, while the latter deals with matters of public interest. However, they both generate strong feelings among those involved with them, whether directly or indirectly.
The past week has seen 2017’s favorite new neologism — “fake news” — infect sports coverage. Those who follow the NFL have likely seen the breathless coverage declaring the New England Patriots in the throes of dysfunction. Tom Brady allegedly leaned on the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, pushing him to jettison a talented, younger quarterback, all to the chagrin of Head Coach Bill Belichick.
The only problem with the story, pushed by ESPN? It does not appear to be true. Brady, Kraft, and Belichick all deny it, and the sources in question refuse to be named publicly.
In that way, sports imitate politics. Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury,” has quickly shot to the top of the best seller lists. Again, it is a breathless tale of a president whom those serving under consider a child and chump. But the author won’t share the notes and recordings of the interviews he allegedly conducted in support of his piece, and dances around the lack of corroboration.
Even unabashed Trump critics — such as late night television host Stephen Colbert — turned a skeptical eye towards Wolff’s story. Conjecture, rumor, and innuendo do not constitute credible reporting (even if some of it later turns out to be true).
Whether you love or hate the Patriots — or Donald Trump — you should question scandalous reports based on “leaks” from those hiding under cloaks of anonymity. Sometimes their stories will check out, their fear of public acknowledgment well-founded. However, others may be in pursuit of nothing but eyeballs on a website or dollars from book sales, journalistic rigor and honesty need not apply.
Of course, there are positive parallels between politics and sports as well. This Saturday night, New England will watch as the Patriots run onto the gridiron against the Tennessee Titans. The two teams will compete for four quarters, with one ultimately advancing to the conference championship. Yet, once the final whistle sounds, the cameras will cut to the two teams massing in the middle of the field. The players will hug, shake hands, wish one another luck — all because they are competitors, not adversaries.
The same holds true in politics. The new legislative session in Maine includes a wrinkle; the top three Republicans are all running against one another for the Blaine House. Senate President Michael Thibodeau, Majority Leader Garrett Mason, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette will all compete on the campaign trail, each trying to out muscle each other — and two other strong candidates — for GOP primary votes. But ultimately, they are competitors, not adversaries.
Across the political arena, we can take a cue from those on playing fields. A desire and drive to win is healthy. But no matter the score, it is just a game; those on the other side of the line of scrimmage are people as well.
In public policy, passionate advocacy is healthy; everyone wants prosperity, infrastructure, and a healthy society, even if there are sharp disagreements on how to best achieve it. Yet regardless of which worldview is ascendant — Republican, Democrat, Green, independent, Libertarian, or any others — at a particular moment, those on “the other side” are Mainers and Americans as well. They aren’t enemies.
So scrimp, scrap, and scrape in support of your ideas. But win or lose, hug it out. And remember to be skeptical of anyone peddling sensational, anonymous stories, even if they are on your “team.”
And, lastly, but most importantly, go Pats! That is something we can all (except Gov. Paul LePage) can agree on.