Sports are rarely solely about the games, the wins and the losses or the championships. They’re braided into American culture, societal affairs and even politics.
Sports themselves, in other words, rarely stick to sports.
This is the derivation of a new weekly podcast featuring Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara. We’ll talk some occasional soccer with the reigning MLS defender of the year, to be sure, but we’ll delve more into the thoughts of a man who spends considerable time thinking about his place and responsibility in a nation sharply divided on a variety of issues.
In this week’s debut episode, we broached several subjects, including one that has sparked significant debate over the past two years.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The polarizing NFL free agent was the first athlete to kneel during the national anthem, his method of protesting social injustices, most notably police brutality. Athletes from multiple sports joined the protest in the ensuing days, months and years.
Opara gave appreciable thought to being one of them.
“I definitely did. Definitely did,” Opara said in the podcast. “I knew the fallback of what would possibly happen. I knew the encouragement that would possibly happen.
“I had a long, long look at what my options were. I remember actually sitting with my now-fiancee, and we were talking about it. I knew if I do this, this might be my last year in the league. And I knew that.”
Opara goes more in depth on his thought process during the podcast, expanding to say he spoke with other MLS players over a potential protest during the anthem.
The Star requested Opara’s participation for the podcast. He explained the reason for his concurrence during the first episode.
“It’s always interesting to hear when people try to devalue athletes for emotions or even just their intelligence of societal (issues) or book smarts or whatever,” Opara said. “I don’t know where down the line it became that we weren’t allowed to be humans; we weren’t allowed to have emotions. Last time I checked, we have the same liberties and freedoms that anyone else does.
“The whole thing has been crazy to me. It’s like the logic of ‘stick to sports.’ Why did this become a thing? Where down the line did I ever say that I must only stick to sports?”