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How Politics Stick To Sports
FiveThirtyEight
 

In honor of Election Day here in the United States, we’re shaking up the format of the show a little this week. We briefly discuss whether or not Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash should have pulled Blake Snell out of Game Six — probably not for Nick Anderson, but it’s not like it was the kind of decision that the now-World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn’t have made. (They just capitalized on the Rays’ misfortune.) We also touch on Week 8 in the NFL, and what teams at least look sort of like favorites in this very odd year without clear favorites. Although all three hosts (and our model) still have to give the Kansas City Chiefs the benefit of the doubt, no one team looks quite like a sure thing. Except for poor Geoff’s New York Jets, that is, who made our survivor pool extremely difficult by having a bye week in which no one can bet against them.

But for most of the show, we talk about a project that FiveThirtyEight and ESPN collaborated on last week: a comprehensive survey of the political donations of wealthy sports team owners and an exploration of the money they use to influence the American political system. It’s a tricky topic with a number of counterintuitive nuances. There are definitely some owners who are ideologically motivated to support a particular party, but most are trying to navigate politics to help their business interests or create social capital. Those owners give to both parties, or to politicians that may at first seem to be odd matches. As polarization has ratcheted up the intensity of politics, however, it’s burned away the middle ground where leagues and owners could avoid intrinsic moral judgments (and the threat of fan or player boycotts) based on their donation history or party affiliation. No matter who wins the election, we likely aren’t going to see an easing of the tension between social activism and the Republican party, which means team owners’ political spending will still be fraught with the potential to alienate or anger their audience.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, we look at how sports stadiums and arenas were used as voting locations this year. Mostly, it seems like a lot of fun to be able to take a selfie in Fenway Park after voting (although it is unconfirmed if Lambeau Field allowed voters to take any Lambeau leaps). But there is politics inherent in using sports stadiums as voting sites, too. Our New York-based hosts would love to vote at least at Yankee Stadium (apologies to the Mets, but it’s kind of a pain to get out to Citi Field), but we’re not sure the trend will continue past 2020.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.

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