March 10, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, March 10, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Liberal bias in sportswriting? The worldview chasm between sports fans, athletes, and sportswriters
The world of sports in the United States is very, very big, and big at every level, going all the way down to the participation of children in those leagues all the way up to the pinnacle of professional sports in the United States: the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball. But even as we reflect upon how large a portion of our society is actually involved in sports, how big an audience is drawn to sports, we also have to recognize that those big professional leagues are at least in some trouble. In some cases they are reducing the capacity of their stadiums. In virtually all cases they’re increasing the price of their tickets, and we also note that big networks such as ESPN actually lost a record number of viewers just over the last 12 months.
But sports is still a very big world for Americans, but it’s also a world that we need to note is not worldview neutral. It’s not ideologically neutral. That has become particularly acute in recent headlines concerning the political and other stances taken by some leading athletes, both at the professional and the collegiate level. But what about sports writing? Here’s where I’m drawn to an incredible essay written by Brian Curtis at The Ringer. The headline,Show Full Transcript
“Sportswriting Has Become a Liberal Profession — Here’s How It Happened.”
Now in this case Curtis is writing about what he claims is the radical liberalization of the sportswriting world. Now just pause for a moment and recognize he’s all for it. Brian Curtis is himself a man of the left, but he does note that there could be a problem, and the problem, just to state the matter bluntly, is that many people who care a great deal about sports and actually produce athletes and sporting fans don’t recognize just how liberal the sports journalism, the sports writing profession, has become. In his words, it’s simply a brute fact.
“Today, sportswriting is basically a liberal profession, practiced by liberals who enforce an unapologetically liberal code.”
Now the background to this is the fact that sports journalists have been increasingly becoming journalists. They are associating with the larger world of journalism more than they’re associating actually with the world of sports, and this means that like that larger journalistic community, they’re tending to lean left, sometimes markedly so. One observer who is in a position to speak to this is Frank Deford, who became a columnist at Sports Illustrated in the 1960s. He told Curtis,
“You compare that era to this era, no question we are much more liberal than we ever were before.”
Curtis then writes,
“In the age of liberal sportswriting, the writers are now far more liberal than the readers.”
Craig Calcaterra, who writes for HardballTalk said,
“Absolutely I think we’re to the left of most sports fans. It’s folly for any of us to think we’re speaking for the common fan.”
Now just let that candid statement sink in for a moment. One of the realities Curtis points to is the fact that the digital age has changed just about everything, in particular Twitter. In times past, you knew sports writers primarily because of their articles about sports published in leading newspapers or sports magazines or similar kinds of media formats. These days we know what almost all of these journalists think because they tell us their political views, moment by moment, in 140 characters.
The background to Curtis’ article is also really, really interesting, because if you actually want to get a job in sports journalism, it turns out you’re going to have to be hired not so much by sports people, but by journalistic people, and those journalistic folks are likely to lean left, as we’ve seen over and over again. They replicate their own tribe. And furthermore, they’re increasingly driven by an ideological agenda they’re not trying to hide. That’s what Frank Deford was speaking about when he compared being a columnist at Sports Illustrated in the 1960s to today.
Deford is himself a liberal like Curtis, but he says back in the 1960s,
“We might have been more liberal than you would have imagined we were, but we didn’t bring it in our copy, you know? We separated our individual lives from what we wrote because that was what was expected.”
The key issue for our reflection is this, that was what was expected in the 1960s, it’s the opposite that is expected now. Curtis also points to the fact that it’s not just sports writers who are becoming increasingly political, but also many athletes. He says we are now in the second great age of athlete political activism. He dates the first great age, as he identifies it, of athletes becoming politically active to Muhammad Ali, but we’re talking there about over a generation ago. Now it’s increasingly clear that at least some professional athletes believe that it is their responsibility not only to lean left, but to be very clear in their political activism.
Interestingly, Curtis points out that one of the ways that liberalism is smuggled, that’s his word, into sports writing, is not in so much opinion pieces as news items, or what purport to be news items. Curtis points out that in news articles about the leftist political activism of professional athletes, the athletes are almost never criticized and are almost always celebrated.
Writing about Curtis’s piece at the week, Michael Brendan Dougherty has a very interesting observation. He points out that,
“The not-so-secret truth that liberal sportswriters increasingly hold the culture that produces athletes and their fans in contempt, or even find it dangerous and threatening. Fans are treated as a distracting nuisance, in thrall to their tribal affinities and over-invested in homegrown players or even in winning itself. How quaint.”
When we talk about the great worldview divide in America, most people think entirely of Democrats and Republican, liberal and conservative, urban and rural. But here we also have the sports players, increasingly the sports fans on one side and sportswriters on the other. They are increasingly inhabiting two very separate ideological worlds; they demonstrate two very different worldviews. I think Michael Brendan Dougherty’s point about the hostility of so many sportswriters to the culture that produces most athletes and certainly the culture that produces most fans is haunting. I think it’s also devastatingly accurate. I think we look at America today this is how we see the increased distance between the elites, whoever those elites may be, and the people who are actually filling the stadiums and, for that matter, filling the classrooms.
For Christians the most important aspect of this analysis comes down to the fact that here we have a very clear affirmation that there is no sector of the world that is truly worldview neutral, that is without the taint of ideology that does not rest upon certain presuppositions and is not out to make a very clear point. Sportswriters we should note are human beings, they have always operated out of a worldview, they’ve always had a political perspective. And maybe Frank Deford is right, most of them were even in the 1960s rather liberal. The point is, we didn’t know it because they those ideological positions to themselves. They’re not doing so any longer and that really is the big story here.
In praise of homemakers: Why societies should greatly esteem the sacrifice of those who raise children
Next, an important article from National Review, we shift from the world of sports to the world at home, the domestic sphere, and particularly to the role of mothers. We need to note that motherhood is now an essentially contested concept in this society. Motherhood is itself now deeply ideological, and the divide over motherhood is reflective of that larger worldview divide. Few things actually may reveal that divide more clearly than our conception of motherhood and the value of mothers, in particular mothers who stay at home, mothers who stay at home to provide the primary care for their own children.
Robert Stein’s article is really interesting at multiple levels. For one thing, it has deep insights in terms of economics, but the primary insights have to do with issues that are far more deeply moral, having to do with the role of mothers and the respect for mothers who stay at home. He writes, and I quote,
“President Trump is likely to pursue broad changes in economic policy, as well he should. Since the start of the economic recovery in mid 2009, the U.S. economy has been growing at a tepid average annual rate of 2.1 percent. By contrast, at a similar point in the expansions following the recessions of 1981–82 and 1990–91, the economy had grown at average annual rates of 4.5 and 3.6 percent.”
Stein goes on to report that some of the considerations that are very much discussed now at the White House include proposals to expand taxpayer support for child care, and also what the President has referenced as his ambition to get more non-working homemakers raising children into the workforce actually earning a paycheck. As Stein makes very clear, these proposals include subsidizing commercial daycare and cutting tax rates on the secondary or lower earner in married couples. But he has a really interesting issue here. He says in particular, increasing subsidies for commercial childcare appears to have growing bipartisan support. As he writes,
“Although some support it as a way to increase labor-force participation (and, therefore, economic growth), one gets the sense that raising economic growth is only the reason du jour and that the backers would favor subsidies for commercial child care even if real GDP had been sailing away at 4 percent for years.”
Now at this point the article gets much more interesting. He writes,
“There are plenty of reasons to improve government policy toward parents. Although fertility decisions are largely a matter of personal choice, they have major implications for society as a whole. For example, every government has a ‘call option’ — whether it’s explicit or not — on a country’s youth in case of national emergency. If there’s an emergency, we can quibble all we want about whether the government should draft soldiers or simply pay enough that we can organize an effective army of volunteers. Either way, the parents of these fighters are meeting a social obligation that others are not.”
Now just a moment. That’s a huge argument. Here Stein is making the explicit argument that the entire society actually depends upon persons giving primary attention to raising children, even if the one example he gives here is because at some future point we may need those children in the Army. But that’s really just a way of getting our attention. In the more urgent sense he writes this,
“Moreover, it’s up to every generation to raise enough kids to finance government-run pension systems such as Social Security and Medicare. Our kids’ future incomes will pay for most of these benefits. And raising kids often takes time away from money-earning activities. Once again, parents are subsidizing those who live child-free.”
That’s an even more important statement.
“Those who are raising children are effectively subsidizing those who are not.”
We’re living in an age in which increasing numbers of women celebrate the fact that they are childfree, increasing numbers of those who have reached adult age are not getting married or are delaying marriage. They are cutting back their expectations about having children and some of them, citing lifestyle expectations or, for that matter, the reluctance to offer economic sacrifice to raise children, they’re making clear that they’re going to leave that to others. Here Stein makes the very important moral argument that those who are raising children are subsidizing, especially as you look to the future, those who are not raising children. This is why it has been argued for years that government should respect those who are raising children. And they should respect the sacrifice of financial and economic investment in terms of the raising of children. They should recognize the sacrifice in terms of lifestyle expectations that also go with raising children.
Now people do not have children in order to get a tax benefit. That’s ludicrous, primarily because the tax benefit is actually abysmally small. But there should be the recognition on the part of society, at least in some way, to some degree, that those who are raising children are actually subsidizing everyone else. Stein then points to the fact that many modern-day libertarians, including libertarian economists who have a great deal of influence on our government, argue that the government itself should be constantly, uniformly neutral about whether or not a citizen should have children. Stein then writes,
“Many libertarian economists assert that government should be ‘neutral’ on the issue of raising children. But they’re essentially arguing that the government should be neutral about whether the nation exists in the future.”
No children equals no future. That’s a very simple and frankly irrefutable point of logic, because it’s also a point of fact. Stein also offers a really interesting economic analysis, especially when it comes to subsidizing childcare, because as he points out, that does have a tendency to move persons from being listed as non-wage earners to wage earners. But as he also makes clear, it’s basically just an exchange of money. Women who would be home raising their children entering the workforce and paying almost universally other women to actually take care of their children. This raises a good deal of economic activity. But as Stein makes very clear, it actually in most cases doesn’t raise the standard of living, it’s not a real expansion of the economy. It would give a president and his administration some bragging rights about increased economic employment base and, for that matter, increased wages, but it would be illusory. And as Stein makes the larger point, although not as strongly as he could have, this is morally injurious to the nation. Instead of subsidizing and respecting those who are having children and investing directly in the home full-time and raising those children, it instead would invest primary social and political energy in this country into merely increasing the so-called paid workforce. As if that’s the most important economic, not to say social and moral consideration.
Stein, of course, does not criticize women who are in the workforce, many of whom have to be in the workforce. He’s not actually making the argument that the government should somehow prevent women entering the workforce rather than staying at home as moms. But what he is arguing is that this society derives a benefit from those women who are, those mothers who stay at home with their children, and that social benefit, he said, needs to be recognized, and it’s a social benefit that would become undone if the primary governmental impulse and also the way our tax code and economic policies would be organized, would penalize rather than respect those women who decide to stay at home with their children.
The line in his essay in which he says that no one can actually be truly morally neutral on the issue of raising children, and he argues that making that argument effectively means that we should be neutral about whether the nation exists in the future, that’s fundamentally important. That’s the kind of candor you just don’t find routinely, even in many conservative arenas of journalism and discussion.
We often speak of the theological principle of subsidiarity, the understanding that as God has created all that he has given us in this good world, including the structures of creation, including marriage and family and community, the Lord has also made abundantly clear that we need to strengthen the most basic unit, the most fundamental unit, if society is also to be strong. That is to say that we should understand that the Christian worldview would privilege anything that would strengthen the raising of children and would be opposed to subsidizing and encouraging anything that would weaken the raising of children. At the very least this would demand very strong respect and appreciation for those women who are making the sacrifice to stay at home with their children, and of course it’s not just the women who are making the sacrifice in many cases, but it is the married couple and that should be respected. That is a demonstration of subsidiarity, strengthening the most fundamental unit, the most basic institution of society in order to strengthen the entire society.
You expand that arguments and it comes down to what Stein argued in his essay, and that is that those who are having children, even in the larger sense, are subsidizing those who do not. Also it would make very clear that we should be suspect of any national policy that would shift what’s invested in that most fundamental unit, the family, to any institutional context. We do understand that some institutional childcare is necessary, but that’s quite different than the government privileging institutional childcare over the care and raising of children in the home.
Those who say stay-at-home moms waste their education don't get the nature of education or motherhood
Next similarly, almost as if on cue, just in recent days an article appeared at The Federalist, this time by Anna Mussmann, she writes an article with the headline,
“No, Stay At Home Moms Don’t ‘Waste’ Their Education.”
She writes about the fact that so many in our society, especially in the political and ideological leadership class, look down on women who graduate from college and then stay at home to raise their children. They accuse them of wasting their education. Mussmann writes,
“Smart, educated women who decide to end, pause, or part-time their careers are often treated as defective parts in the machinery of egalitarian social justice, or as children who have asked for a plate of food and then thrown it in the garbage. The general argument is that an education, like a treadmill or a bag of flour, is wasted if it is not used (the definition of ‘used’ being, ‘used to make money’).”
Insightfully, Mussmann then writes,
“The thing is, though, anyone who castigates a woman for failing to cash in on her degree reveals a complete misunderstanding of two things. 1. The nature and purpose of education, and 2. The actual needs of society.”
She makes a very good argument here, a classical argument that education isn’t primarily about getting a job or earning money, it is primarily about becoming a person, an intelligent, thoughtful person, knowledge that is gained for its own sake. But of course knowledge is never only for its own sake. A mother who has invested in a college education actually has the background of that entire college education for the entirety of her experience as a mother raising children in the home. There is a qualitative difference that’s important here. That’s not to demean those who do not have a college education, it is to insist that mothers who have a college education and decide to stay at home with their children are fundamentally not wasting their education. In the truest sense they are putting that education to its highest and very best use. Who is more deserving of the primary benefit of a mother’s education, but her own children?
Mussmann makes the argument that education having turned into such a consumer product being commodified along with the rest of the economy, is often treated just in terms of utilitarian end. Education is only valuable if it leads to a job and that job has to make money, that job that vocation cannot be the raising of children in the home. But of course here there’s more even than Mussmann argues, because the Christian worldview, especially as was made clear by the Reformers, includes the fact that every Christian man or woman has a calling, a calling from God, a vocation, and that vocation is not merely a job. For one thing, no job is actually equal to our vocation, and secondly our vocation isn’t dependent upon a job. It is rather dependent upon faithfulness.
She also makes very clear that modern feminism and even the sectors which aren’t avowedly feminist, but have been rather influenced by the same pattern of thinking often suggest that women have simply made a mistake, they are fundamentally bad stewards if they get a college education and then do not spend the rest of their adult lives in the workforce. She says this,
“When women make sacrifices to stay home with their own children—the babies for whom they would die—they are likely to be highly motivated to be the sort of people who make a difference in their children’s lives. We need to trust women on this.”
Mussmann also makes the very important point that we can value stay-at-home moms without condemning working moms. As she says, a mother should be trusted in terms of making the decision that is right for her children. A couple should be trusted to make the decision that is right for their family. The issue here is that mothers who stay at home with their children dare not be castigated by those who say that they are wasting an education or not fully contributing to the society. Mussmann makes an excellent point when she says this,
“Being a good parent is not about competing with other women to magically give one’s child everything that seems good. It is about faithfully doing one’s best in all kinds of circumstances. Often that means making a careful, thoughtful choice about how best to put the needs of one’s own children first, whether by remaining in the workforce or taking time off from it.”
Each of these two articles on motherhood is important; they’re very complementary though there’s nothing that apparently ties the two articles together. They make a very important argument together. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that both of these articles had to be written.
Finally, I just have to note with a touch of joy the fact that Anna Mussmann is identified as the author of this article at The Federalist as,
“A stay-at-home mom, who writes during nap time.”
No doubt there are some moms right now who are listening to The Briefing during nap time. Know this; you are much respected and much loved.