MIC’D UP: Pat Kelsey finished his press conference talking about things that have nothing to do with Winthrop basketball: guns, mental illness, and politics. Photo courtesy ESPN

You know what’s been the must-listen postgame interview of the week so far? That of Winthrop basketball Head Coach Pat Kelsey.

His team, a program often buried in obscurity save for a major March upset here or there, lost by 10 to Ohio State, a result that even the most uneducated sports fan would see as nothing more than normal. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Kelsey’s postgame comments, the game itself wouldn’t even be worth mentioning.

But in the wake of that loss, Pat Kelsey took the press room on a sharp and unexpected turn as, without provocation, he weighed in on the need for change following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

“I’m gonna get on an eight-hour bus ride and I’m gonna arrive in Rock Hill, S.C., and I’m gonna walk into my house and walk upstairs. I’m gonna walk into two pink rooms, OK, with a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old laying in that pink room, with a bunch of teddy bears laying in that room,” said Kelsey, “And I’m gonna give them the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I’ve ever given them. And there’s 20 families in Newtown, Conn., that are walking into a pink room with a bunch of teddy bears with nobody laying in those beds. And it’s tragic.”

SYR-IOUS BUSINESS: Pat Kelsey wasn’t the first basketball coach to speak up on gun violence. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim did it before him. Photo courtesy Nate Shron/Getty Images

A seemingly non-committal yet heartfelt statement. Anyone could sympathize with the emotion he was conveying. However, the Winthrop coach didn’t stop there.

“This has to be a time for change,” Kelsey continued, “I’m not smart enough to know what needs to be done. I know this country’s got issues. Is it a gun issue? Is it a mental illness issue? Or is it a society that has lost the fact — the understanding — that decent human values are important? I didn’t vote for President Obama. But he’s my president now, he’s my leader. I need him to step up. Mr. Boehner, the Speaker of the House, he’s a Xavier guy, he’s a Cincinnati guy. He needs to step up. Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches, everybody needs to step up.”

It went on like that until Kelsey, voice raised and on the verge of flat-out bawling, uttered, “But we’ve got to change.”

It was the kind of stuff Oscar nominations are made of. I’m not saying that in jest or even implying Kelsey didn’t believe what he said. If you watched the press conference, you KNOW Pat Kelsey wholeheartedly stood behind everything he said Tuesday night. But it was so moving, so articulate and, yet, at the same time, unrehearsed that it felt like the turning point of some great sports film.

But this wasn’t a movie, it was real life. And Kelsey’s oration Tuesday night is the latest benchmark in a growing trend of athletes and coaches using their status to speak on sociopolitical issues.

Before Kelsey, Jim Boeheim, the head coach of the Syracuse men’s basketball team, also sat behind a microphone and lambasted what he called the nation’s gun culture. And last year, a number of athletes, most notably the entire Miami Heat team, publicly demanded justice for Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.

It’s not like using the influence of sports to affect politics has never happened before, but in the last 24 months we’ve seen it happen more and more frequently.

And whether you agree with the opinions of the Miami Heat or Jim Boeheim or Pat Kelsey, one has to ask the question: is this okay?

Right now, it’s fine. The massacre in Connecticut was a major tragedy and it affected virtually everyone who heard about it. So if a couple of basketball coaches felt the need to reinforce the public outcry for change, so be it.

But my question is where does it end? Do we start asking NFL coaches how to solve the fiscal cliff after games? Do we ask baseball managers mid-summer if climate change is destroying the planet? Do we start hosting political debates between locked out members of the NHL?

It’s a slippery slope that I, for one, am not too comfortable with. We politicize everything in this country. There must be hundreds of brands or people or places out there that trigger thoughts of one political affiliation or the other. If you drive a Prius, you must be a bleeding-heart liberal. Or if you’ve got an F-150 decked out in Mossy Oak and flap girl stickers, you must be a backwoods conservative.

There all just stereotypes. Stupid stereotypes, for that matter. Stupid stereotypes that have tainted every aspect of our lives that they have touched.

TURNING UP THE HEAT: The Miami Heat showed their support for Trayvon Martin and his family shortly following the deadly shooting. Photo courtesy Twitter

Sports is the last pure, apolitical frontier. If you say you root for the Red Sox or Cowboys or Lakers, no one has a clue where you stand on the political spectrum. Not only is that a good thing, but it’s the way it SHOULD be.

So when we see people like Pat Kelsey on Tuesday freely speaking their mind off-topic — again, whether you agree with him or not — we have to ask ourselves does this pollute what it means to like sports or certain teams?

Imagine if we take Kelsey’s comments a step further and politicize his team and say if you root for Winthrop, you must be for strict gun control. And if, say, you aren’t for such strict gun control, than matter-of-factly you can’t be a Winthrop fan.

During that speech, Kelsey also freely admitted he did not vote for Barack Obama last month. What if we start correlating all Winthrop fans as Republicans? That wouldn’t be remotely accurate. Or right. Now imagine if we did that for EVERY college and professional team in the country.

Just imagine how out of hand it could get. Imagine Red Sox-Yankees games are no longer as exciting as, say, a Yankees-Astros game because its somehow Democrats versus Republicans?

One of the great thing about sports is that it’s NOT like that. For every sports fan out there, I would venture to bet 99.9% place their loyalties with certain teams for some reason OTHER than politics. If that changes, we will have irreparably perverted the concept of sportsmanship.

Sports is one of the last great areas that transcends societal differences and still brings together people that would otherwise despise each one another. But if sports and politics continue to walk hand-in-hand, you can kiss all of that goodbye. Why? Because it would ALWAYS be more than just a game.

And if that were to happen, it wouldn’t just be a blow to sports, but society itself.

NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for sports updates and other shenanigans!