Woody Paige: ‘Stick to sports’, or feel public’s wrath

Dexter Fowler, Gregg Popovich and I are human beings with thoughts, opinions and feelings.

But we’re supposed to shut up, keep our beliefs to ourselves and STICK TO SPORTS.

My friend, who owns a successful Denver delicatessen, told me Sunday morning that he is “distressed” by what’s going on in Washington these days. I replied: “STICK TO FOOD.”

I’m stupid, of course. I am a journalist, which makes me, apparently, the enemy of the American people.

I’ve always understood and respected separation of church and state in this country. However, I can’t find anywhere in the United States Constitution a demand for separation of sports and society. The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, or used to.

Dexter Fowler is one of the nicest gentlemen and hardest-working ballplayers I’ve ever covered. He played center field capably for the Rockies from 2008-2013, and also appeared in 54 games for the Sky Sox in ‘10, ‘11 and ‘13 (when he was struggling to hit or rehabbing). He never has been in trouble or caused controversy. Fowler was the only African-American who played that entire six-year span for the Rockies.

After being a contributor to the Cubs’ World Series championship, Fowler signed with the Cardinals in the offseason.

A few days ago Dexter, who is married to Iranian-born Darya Aliya Fowler, was asked about the President’s travel ban aimed at some Muslim-dominated countries. His entire response was: “It’s huge. Especially any time you’re not able to see your family, it’s unfortunate.” The Fowlers intended to take their daughter to Iran to visit her extended family.

Social media erupted with hostile reactions, especially from those who claimed to be St. Louis fans (and consider themselves baseball’s best). Fowler was called every imaginable obscene name and ordered to go back where he came from. The son of a successful businessman and an elementary school teacher, Fowler came from Atlanta.

“Stick to baseball” was a common theme.

Fowler’s choice of the word “unfortunate” was civil and thoughtful, and he didn’t apologize. “We’re people, too. We’re humans as well. … They think we’re robots, or we’re not individuals,” he said.

Gregg Popovich has coached the Spurs to 20 straight winning seasons, including five NBA championships. He is among the greatest and smartest coaches in basketball history, and also is one of the classiest men I’ve gotten to know well.

He played four seasons at the Air Force Academy and was the Falcons’ leading scorer as a senior. After graduation in 1970, he served five years in the Air Force, then became an Academy assistant under coach Hank Egan — while earning his Masters at the University of Denver.

Popovich has been an outspoken critic of President Trump, saying the day of the inauguration: “I hope he does a great job. But there’s a difference between respecting the office and the person who occupies it. That respect has to be earned. It’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids, and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist, and make fun of handicapped people.”

Popovich was accused of being anti-American, “a loser in life, a loser in the mirror” and “an uneducated (vulgarity).” “His (observations) were relevant to basketball in what way? Just stick to coaching, clown.”

I’m not nice or classy, but I’ve tried hard at my craft for a half century. I’ve covered civil rights marches, the aftermath of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination in Memphis and 9/11 in New York, five Republican and Democratic conventions, local, state and national elections, an inauguration, Columbine and the Aurora, Colo., shootings.

I made a few innocuous, not incendiary, remarks about the current political situation on TV and radio shows, on Twitter and in a couple of Gazette columns, and the feedback mostly has been vitriolic, which I’m accustomed to. Here’s an email: “You filthy-mouthed, blabbering blob who smokes weed in druggie Colorado, and you must be an illegal alien. You don’t know anything about politics or anything else. Stick to reporting sports.”

My great grandmother was a Native American, my great grandfather was from Tupelo, and I have a President’s name.

And Sri Lanka beat Australia in cricket by two wickets.


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Woody Paige

The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)