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These are hard times for people who’d prefer to keep politics out of sports.
Here in the U.S., team owners and league commissioners are frantically trying to balance on what they see as a tightrope strung between loyalty to the players who line their pockets, and the public display of what passes for patriotism among the unimaginative — never mind that the players have been protesting not the flag, the anthem, or even the military, but the violent treatment of black citizens by police officers.
Meanwhile, on the brink of the opening of the NBA’s regular season, Commissioner Silver has said he’s concerned about how divided the nation is — a circumstance he’s addressed not by condemning those doing the dividing, but by saying he expects the players to stand during the anthem.
What’s next? Loyalty oaths?
Meanwhile, Spain. Or, more precisely, that part of Spain — Catalonia — populated by people who’d prefer to speak their own language — Catalan -- and assume a degree of autonomy with which the federal government is uncomfortable. Maybe you oppose independence for Catalonia. A case can be made. But how do you feel about heavily-armored, baton-swinging troops hammering on citizens standing in line to vote on the issue? How about when the troops pull women out of the polling places by their hair?
On Sunday, while those troops were kicking people in the street, F.C. Barcelona was scheduled to play at home. Having anticipated that gathering 100,000 fans in the stadium on voting day would involve some risk, the club had asked the league to postpone the game. The league said no. The club responded by staging the game in an empty stadium.
I watched the highlights. It was strange. You could hear the players talking to each other. When Sergio Busquets scored the home side’s first goal, he started to raise his hands toward the crowd to salute them, but of course they weren’t there.
The opposing team, Las Palmas, showed up in jerseys featuring a Spanish flag patch. The electronic board featured a single word: “Democracia.” On Tuesday, Barca’s players joined a strike in the city to protest the violent police action. So, politics spoken here.
Good luck separating sports and politics in Barcelona any time since the Spanish Civil War. And good luck separating them in the U.S. today.