Back when basketball superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant were critical of former United States President Donald Trump, seasoned Fox Sports newscaster Laura Ingraham blatantly expressed her displeasure about these athletes making a political stand and told them to just “shut up and dribble.” This comment caused a ton of backlash from sports fans who felt that athletes weren’t just people tasked to play their respective sport but are also people who can utilize their platform to raise awareness on current issues persisting across the world.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Filipinos share the same hesitation to combine the world of politics and sports—save for retired sportsmen gunning for public office. Particularly in the local leagues, athletes would prefer not to share their political stances with the public for fear that many avid fans would respond negatively. This is due to the belief of some that sports and politics do not belong in the same conversation.
However, ahead of the 2022 national and local elections, the situation was different; Filipino athletes were more vocal and passionate about the candidates they were supporting. Aside from attracting attention through jaw-dropping performances, local athletes did not fail to garner significant attention from sports fans across the country by being open about their political leanings.
Maximizing their platform
Sometime last May 3, the country’s broad volleyball community organized Angatleta sa Araneta, a sortie of sorts at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, and gathered thousands of the sport’s fanatics to express their support for the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo and her Angat Buhay agenda. Sports fans and political supporters converged in one area to enjoy friendly games and clamored for the candidates whom they trust to lead the next administration of the country. Former UAAP athletes such as Alyssa Valdez, Mika Reyes, Deanna Wong, and Bea de Leon were the headliners of the event—all of whom have their own fan bases within the local sports scene. Their presence was a testament to their courage and fortitude in continuously expressing their viewpoints and sharing these with fellow citizens.
Conversely, there are other sports personalities like Arwind Santos and Michele Gumabao who also voiced their support for Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio. Supporters of the Marcos-Duterte tandem felt the animosity from several sports fans, but they carried on, unfazed by calls for them to rethink their stances. Relatedly, a number of FEU Lady Tamaraws volleyball athletes posted a photo showing their support for Marcos and Duterte-Carpio as well. Magnifying the importance of participating in elections is an admirable characteristic of past and current UAAP athletes. But, it needs to be done with critical thinking and responsible campaigning.
More than a game
As various presidential candidates held massive rallies and campaign efforts to deliver their message, the buzz of the elections soon filled sports venues. Fans and supporters of UAAP schools began to wear shirts, masks, and accessories that bore the colors of their preferred candidate. This movement started on the second-round tilt of the Men’s Basketball tournament between the DLSU Green Archers and the ADMU Blue Eagles. Students and alumni of both schools showed their support for Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan by urging supporters to wear pink and cheering in the chorus for Robredo and Pangilinan’s political campaign—regardless of the school they supported.
Some other schools like the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas followed suit, with their fans deciding to wear pink in every game as well and repeating the same chants that echoed throughout the corridors of the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Everyone has to understand that bouncing the ball on the hardcourt or spiking above the net is not the sole responsibility of athletes; beyond the fanfare, they carry a duty as citizens of the Philippines. In the midst of the Men’s Basketball Finals duel between the Blue Eagles and the UP Fighting Maroons, the UAAP even gave the athletes an opportunity to leave the bubble for a day to exercise their right to vote in their respective precincts.
As a democratic country, it was remarkable to see both UAAP fans and athletes fight for the common good. The fans were not afraid to receive brute criticism, and the athletes were in the same boat, too.
A majority of these famous personalities were not even paid or requested to show their support for candidates and share their viewpoints, but they knew through their own intuition that it was needed in hopes of contributing to societal change and development.
Partaking in the demonstrations at the SM Mall of Asia Arena every UAAP game day showed that uniting toward a shared goal of uplifting this country does wonders. These efforts may not have swung the tide in the elections last May 9, but they showed the willingness of Filipino athletes to engage with the masses and to be vocal about their stances—for their concern for the future of the Philippines.
As a person that greatly values every facet of sports, I make it a point to engage with multiple personalities that have been influential and have contributed to the industry. And with a myriad of topics I can discuss with them, I make it a point to talk about their stances on sociopolitical matters in the country.
Among those I was able to engage with is volleyball superstar Bea de Leon, who shared, “I’m a Filipino before anything. I have the right to say my thoughts, especially on what I believe this country is getting itself into.” This affirmed that UAAP athletes have and will continue to bank on their influence to spread awareness and to show concern for the country.
Personalities like the UAAP athletes will continue to express their stance and to use sports as a way for their opinions to permeate to their fans and supporters. That is one thing that is positive.
Another would be to accept that sports do not live in a vacuum finally. It is and always will be an affirmation that even a ball game is political—and that each court holds a battle that goes beyond the playoffs.
Our athletes, first and foremost, are citizens of the Philippines after all. No matter their sport, they are Filipinos first.