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Tough Political Climate On Immigration Seeps Into High School Sports


There was a basketball game last month near Gary, Ind. Two Catholic high schools were playing, and some students began to chant, Trump, Trump, and build a wall. They were chanting at the rival team which was mostly Hispanic. There was a similar incident in Iowa not long before that - also a high school basketball game, also involving a team made up of minority players. In both cases, school and community leaders quickly denounced the incidents, but we've been wondering what those incidents tell us about the campaign and maybe the country. Kevin Blackistone, sports columnist at The Washington Post and journalism professor at the University of Maryland is on the line via Skype.

Kevin, good morning. Welcome back to the program.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you David. How're you doing?

GREENE: I'm well, thank you. What did you make of those basketball games?

BLACKISTONE: Well, it's very disturbing. You know, time has shown that generally it is sports language and discourse that kind of seeps into our political discussions.

GREENE: Like using a term like, Hail Mary, or something like that.

BLACKISTONE: Exactly. And this time, we happened to see it the other way around, which tells me a couple of things. One, that the course - discourse of this political season has really reached deep into the fabric of our society when kids at a high school game have picked up upon it. And also, it's disturbing that they would pick up on the absolute worst part of this discourse and turn it into verbal weaponry against kids of color. That's very, very disturbing.

GREENE: And I guess it's really important to point out - I mean, this is obviously not something that Donald Trump or his campaign would have been responsible for, these are people just using his name in an environment like this. I guess I'm just so struck because not so, so long ago - I mean, I was going to my high school basketball games. I don't remember talking about politics or using campaign slogans or names of candidates at all.

BLACKISTONE: No, and it may be a reflection of social media, or it may be a reflection of the way that we've - we in the media have come to cover this political campaign. It has been 24-7 on any number of networks. It has seeped into late-night television as entertainment. It is everywhere. On the one hand, I would embrace this if in fact this means that teenagers who soon will be of voting age have become very, very interested in our political process, but on the other hand, I'm just very, very disturbed about the part of the campaign that they've picked up. And, you know, if you look to Europe or even South America to see how sports and politics have oftentimes been married into the hooliganism that you see in soccer that oftentimes has been organized around fascist politics...

GREENE: You're talking about some of the violent riots we've seen, like, at soccer games and so forth in Europe and South America.

BLACKISTONE: Exactly. And particularly, we saw it back in Yugoslavia when it was disintegrating in the early 1990s. I don't want to elevate high school - what I'd like to dismiss as high school pranks - to that level, but nonetheless, if you see it in high school sports, where will you see it next in our sporting landscape?

GREENE: All right. We'll have to stop there.

Kevin, thanks so much for joining us, as always.

BLACKISTONE: Thanks for the invite.

GREENE: That's Kevin Blackistone, sports columnist at The Washington Post. You heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.