Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday to throw his support behind Neil Gorsuch, whom President Donald Trump has nominated for the Supreme Court.
Elway's endorsement isn't all that surprising, considering the fact that the former Denver Broncos quarterback is a steadfast Republican — who once said, "I don't believe in safety nets"— and is an ambassador of sorts for the state of Colorado, where Gorsuch lives. What is surprising is the deafening silence heard in the aftermath of Elway's letter, as the usual commentators who argue athletes should "just stick to sports" don't appear to have a problem with Elway speaking out on such a controversial issue.
In Elway's defense, beyond the fact that everyone has the right to talk about politics, the former quarterback did not cite Gorsuch's political ideology as a reason for backing him. Elway said that Gorsuch's "credentials, integrity and sound moral compass" explains why "he's already received so much bipartisan support for his nomination."
Claiming that Gorsuch has bipartisan support might be a little optimistic, but there is no doubt that Elway is sold on the judge.
"Neil is a big Denver Broncos fan, and I can tell you that I'm a big fan of his. I look forward to having Neil Gorsuch, one of our own from the great state of Colorado, as the next Supreme Court Justice," Elway wrote at the end of his letter.
Elway is now the general manager of the Denver Broncos — a front-office job that requires him to placate his boss, an NFL owner, and the football players he oversees. His public backing of Gorsuch has not resulted in much political noise. And why should it? It appears Elway's friendly relationship with Gorsuch led to the supportive letter in the first place.
In addition, Elway would not be the first executive in the sports world to speak out on politics after the 2016 election. NBA head coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have both torched Trump in interviews. Most right-wing commentators were conspicuously quiet about their outspokenness, even though they were quick to condemn former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for sitting during a rendition of the national anthem.
Syndicated radio host Joe Walsh, for example, celebrated Elway's endorsement on Twitter:
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) March 21, 2017
But the right-leaning political commentator did not afford that same free-speech leeway for Kaepernick, whom he earlier called an "un-American jackass." Race undoubtedly played a role in these cases. White Americans were overwhelmingly more offended by Kaepernick's protests, according to polls. For whatever it's worth, Trump seems to relish the fact that Kaepernick, a free agent, cannot find any suiters. In a speech in Tennessee on Monday night, the president bragged that the quarterback cannot sign with a team because, Trump alleged, NFL franchises are afraid that Trump will tweet at them. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said Kaepernick "should find a country that works better for him."
Some could say it is an overreach to compare Elway's letter in support for a Supreme Court justice nominee to Kaepernick's national anthem protest. But a Supreme Court justice pick will have far-wider implications than a high-profile athlete's protest, so maybe it was Elway who was overreaching.