The players' voice

That moment when your team's young gun says something you don't want associated with your colours.

"Personally, I think that the coronavirus is being used obviously for a bigger agenda. It's being used for population control in just terms of being able to control the masses of people. Because of this virus, the whole world is being controlled." That was the words of Michael Porter Jr.

If that name is familiar to you, it's possibly because you've read it here. I wrote about MPJ (as he's known) recently, as I hoped that he was about to star for the Denver Nuggets. And while I thought development may not happen until next season, MPJ has broken out, and in the restart matches averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds a game. He made All-Bubble second team (sorry if that makes no sense, but it's a real thing). This is what many fans have been waiting for.

MPJ's a tough player not to like. A (former) vegan baller who has battled injury, missed his entire first year, had to battle for minutes, and now has suddenly bloomed in a bio-dome.

But, he's also an anti-vaxxer, and is worried about population control. I used to make fun of people with these kinds of beliefs until they started advising government policy around the world. Before the Donald Trumpisation of our society, I would've waved off MPJ's madness as some wacky shit that players believe.

And he's certainly not alone.  Many athletes believe in weird things. Shane Warne believes in aliens - but not evolution. Kyrie Irving spoke out about flat earth. I know athletes who I respect across different sports who have told me that positive energy can overcome cancer, another that concussion should be managed with spirituality and one explained how he'd done a seance, and he believed he was speaking to people beyond the grave.

I've spent enough time with athletes of all ages to know that they are very much like the rest of us, except for some key differences. They have more time. They can afford to hire more staff to help them, many basic tasks are looked after by their team. And then they travel a lot living in lifeless hotel rooms. And athletes tend to be believers. In higher powers, in luck, in fate, in themselves. All that belief and free time ends in weird internet rabbit holes. They are genetically engineered to be better at sports, they are socially designed to get hooked on bizarre theories.

And let's add in age. MPJ is 22. I probably don't agree with most things 22-year-olds say. I certainly don't agree with anything I said at 22, or probably 32. And. there are a lot of players on a team. The idea that you'll have the same morals as another human is absurd.  But what of 12, 15, 25, or 50 of them, I mean, come on.

But it's not just what a player says, it's often what they do. Maybe your team has a player who got involved in a brawl outside a nightclub, or dog fighting, is a drunk driver, perhaps it's tax avoidance, are coming back from a drugs suspension or old fashioned cheating. What do you do then? It's not that any of this is new, but it's harder to pretend it hasn't happened now.

These things won't affect all sports fans. My dad has the ability to ensure that any bad news surrounding his beloved Collingwood Magpies is some kind of wacky misunderstanding. But for many of us, we can't overlook this stuff.

And it's not just the players, it's the coaches, owners, administrators, often how the stadia are built, the nations involved, and how bids are won. How can you be a college sports fan in the US without thinking of the exploitation of these amateur athletes? When the World Cup is in Qatar, it will be played on a refugee burial ground. And the Olympics is at this point a pyramid scheme to keep a bunch of officials in highly paid positions. The NFL tried to fight their own players finding out what happens to their heads. Cricket actively tries to ruin interest in their sport for smaller nations.

A few years ago I put on a google alert for sports corruption. I stopped looking at it two months in when it was clear that I wouldn't actually be able to follow it. There was too much.

If sport was ever a distraction from real life, it's not now. Every problem from the regular world is right on the back page. Trans issues, nationality questions, politics, race and sexual assault are part of sports coverage. And I don't even know how much of this is new, I mean issues of race and sexual assault aren't recent in sport. It's just now we don't avoid it, because often the players won't let us.

So this is Maya Moore, the WNBA player who didn't just take a knee. She was arguably the best basketballer in the league, and she left the game in her prime to help free a man wrongly convicted of a crime. "Entertainment is a place where you want to relax and not have to think about the cares of the world, but we are in the world and the world is broken."

And another Denver Nugget, the big-hearted role player Jerami Grant,  recently started doing something in his press conferences. When he was asked a standard basketbally question, he started talking about Breonna Taylor. A medical technician shot in her own home by the police. And it's not just Grant, the Nuggets as a franchise have committed themselves to social justice.  Hanging up banners in the bubble of John Lewis and of their players marching in support of Black Lives Matter.

So if I am willing to be inspired by Moore and Grant, I have to accept MPJ (and many others) will say and do things I don't like. That's the world.

But what does it mean when MPJ gets the ball? Will my excitement in his points be dimmed? How long will I even remember the comments?  Will any of this matter if somehow Denver were to conquer the NBA. Or do I just cheer harder for every block and rebound from Grant. For many of us sports fans, this is the grey area we support our team in now. It used to be our colours versus the rest. Now it's us trying to live in a cognitive dissonance sports world. And perhaps at that moment between the ball leaving the hand and hitting the net, there's a heartbeat where you forget. Maybe that’s all some of us get now.

So following Denver in these playoffs, I'll be cheering every MPJ jumper while fearing every MPJ presser.

Michael Parker Jr scored 13 points last night in Denver's first playoff game. Jerami Grant added 19. Denver won.