Playing Football This Fall Has Become a Partisan Political Issue

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Football should be something that unites us. In general, whether you are a Republican, Democrat or independent, if you’re a sports fan, you’re probably a fan of football. After all, when your favorite team scores you don’t think about the race, religion, ethnicity or political leanings of your fellow fans, you just celebrate alongside them.

In a time of rampant divisions in this country, sports still offer the opportunity to unite us all.

But in the midst of a hyperpartisan 2020 election, football, like many other otherwise non-political events, has become political. The NBA, MLB, the MLS, the NFL, & most of the pro sports leagues are making decisions this summer to embed politics within their on-field or on-court product.

But it’s not stopping there.

Look at the data on who is playing high school football this fall and who isn’t.

States with Republican governors are playing football this fall. States with Democratic governors are, generally speaking, not playing football this fall.

Check it out.

States with Republican governors playing high school football this fall:

South Carolina
West Virginia
North Dakota
South Dakota
New Hampshire

States with Democratic governors playing high school football this fall:

Rhode Island
Louisiana (set to start in October)

States with a Republican governor not playing high school football this fall:


States with Democratic governors not playing high school football this fall:

Pennsylvania (The battle is ongoing with the governor recommending no fall football)
North Carolina
New Mexico

Still to be determined with Democratic governors:

New York
New Jersey

So look at the numbers. If you live in a state with a Republican governor there is a 25 out of 26 chance your state will be playing high school football this fall. But if you live in a state with a Democratic governor there’s a 15 out of 22 chance (with two states still undecided) that you won’t be playing this fall.

Granted there are multiple factors at play here, but whether your governor is a Democrat or a Republican seems hugely impactful when it comes to whether high school games will be played or not in your state this fall.

Now many of the states that are playing or not playing are predictable. Tennessee and Alabama are playing, for instance, and will be strong states for Donald Trump this fall and California and Washington are not playing and will be strong states for Joe Biden this fall. But what about the toss-up states? The places where the 2020 election will be decided?

Well, given that football has now become political, this raises an intriguing question — could Donald Trump make the lack of football an issue in swing states in the upcoming election? And if so, could doing that benefit his reelection chances?

Look at the states with Democratic governors not playing high school football that Trump won (or lost in a close race) in 2016:

Pennsylvania (Trump close win)
Michigan (Trump close win)
Virginia (Trump loss)
North Carolina (Trump close win)
Minnesota (Trump narrow loss)
Nevada (Trump narrow loss)

Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, in particular, were decided by a total of 78,000 votes, less than the size of an average Big Ten football crowd in those three states. (Wisconsin is playing high school football, but the Big Ten’s popular Badgers are not playing in the Big Ten this fall.)

That’s why you can make a strong argument that if Democrats are going to shut down football that Donald Trump ought to start running political ads in favor of high school and college football being played in these states and blaming Democrats for the games not taking place. Indeed, you can make an even stronger argument that a large part of Trump’s entire Midwest strategy this fall should be ripping the Big Ten for canceling college football.

Sure, there are many other issues that will motivate voters, but most of those issues aren’t as popular with undecided voters and come with trade offs for Trump’s base. Can you think of an issue that would resonate stronger with swing voters for Trump than arguing in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio that the Big Ten should be playing college football this fall? And blaming Democrats for the fact that they aren’t playing football?

This isn’t just fanciful thinking either.

If Trump wins the Big Ten, he wins the election.

And right now the cancellation of Big Ten football — as well as high school football in many of these Midwestern swing states — is offering him a powerful opportunity to reach undecided and swing voters.

Amazingly, this would also force Joe Biden to go on the record with whether he believes high school and college football should be played this fall. Welcome to 2020, when football could be a wedge issue to decide which states will go red and which states will go blue.

Heck, if Trump ran an adroit campaign and targeted his pro-football ads smartly at the right undecided or persuadable voters, he might even be able to ultimately get re-elected president just by arguing college and high school football should be being played this fall and the Democrats are keeping it from happening.

Yes, there are far bigger issues at play this fall, but how many voters are angry enough about football being canceled that they’d see football as a larger metaphor for risk-averse Democratic nanny state policies that they would also be likely to reject? Already football parents at Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa are arguing in favor of their sons being able to play football.

Why shouldn’t President Trump endorse their crusade? As a college sports fan he’s already argued in favor of college football being played, why not push the argument even farther to advance his own electoral ambitions as well? Put it this way, does President Trump lose any voters at all with his argument college and high school football should be played? I doubt it. (I’m not sure there’s a single Trump voter in the country opposed to football being played. But even if that voter exists, he or she would be replaced a thousand times over with people who agree with Trump on football).

Let me put it to you succinctly: do you believe there are several hundred thousand Big Ten and high school football fans in Midwest swing states who are furious football is canceled in their states — while taking place elsewhere — and are looking for someone to blame for that cancellation?

I do. In fact, I don’t just think there aren’t hundreds of thousands, I think there are millions of these fans all over the Midwest.

Which is why there’s a strong argument Democrats are exceedingly vulnerable when it comes to politicizing whether football is being played or not.

And that vulnerability is potentially strong enough that it could swing the 2020 election.

If he wants to use football as a factor to motivate his base, Trump should stop focusing on kneeling and start focusing on playing football. Because the vast majority of his voting base — and independent voters in America who aren’t affiliated with either party — are in favor of football being played.

If Trump could persuade just a hundred thousand of these people to support him in the Midwest, it might well decide the election.

After all, nearly forty million more people watched the Super Bowl last fall than voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.


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  1. @freddy – you are right, but many old time democrats don’t even know they are being manipulated. They want football, but would vote for Joe Biden 🤦‍♀️

    How in the heck do VA, LA, KY and Michigan and Pennsylvania have Democrats as their leaders? It’s completely upside down for democrats to vote for their own demise, but they do it. Michigan is ‘live free or die’ type state, but they elected Whitmer? She’s a plastic idiot.

    Another Example: Pennsylvania is a huge state with millions of nature lovers and hunters, Harley Davidson riders and blue collar workers, but they vote for a Govenor that wants to take away the 2nd amendment and Gasoline for your Harley?

    And worst of all is Maryland, which elected a Republican Twice, but you can’t find one thing he has done that is Republican. Not One!
    And that’s how he got elected in a deeep blue corupt state. (I’m from there and it hurts to say)

    Great work Clay!!!

    • I suspect Whitmer is on her way out, she sacrificed her state’s economy to go all-in on being the VP selection, only to be affirmative actioned out of the running. It got so bad that armed men had to show up to the Michigan state capital building to put her and her corrupt cronies on notice. And its also why she flew to meet with Biden a week before he made his pick. One last ditch effort to remind him that she went the distance for the cause. And I bet Great Grandpaw Joe got himself a nice backrub out of the visit her visit as well. Maybe a footjob to go with it. She looks like a footjob kind of gal.

    • Chris: as a conservative living in PA under the current reign of petty tyrant (for the children) Wolf, the answer to your question is very simple: 1) Philadelphia; 2) Pittsburgh. It’s a microcosm of the country: deep blue, D machine urban centers on the “coasts” with a large swath of red in between.

      That’s how a lot of huntin’, fishin’, pick up truck drivin’, blue collar folks got saddled with one of the most smugly and vindictively woke — read: worst — governors in the country.

      • I left Pgh, Pa over 40 yrs ago. The state is totally corrupt. However I think the Pittsburgh voters will change because of oil and gas. The area is still depressed but could see an increase in manufacturing of plastic and chemicals because of the fracking plants being built.

    • This old timer (82) begs to differ so don’t be like CNN and lump all in one category.
      Now if you were referring to my mom and dad that would be different but you must remember that in those days selling out the country and it’s people was never an issue.
      My older brother was a full blown Democrat but he did see action in WW2 without hesitation.

    • Former resident of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Republican governor who just got voted out was an incredibly unlikable guy. He alienated just about everyone at some point.
      EVERYONE else at the state level is a Republican, unfortunately, the state has to deal with a Dem hack who is the governor currently. He’s crushing the state economy because he’s playing politics with Rona.

  2. Hey Clay,
    We all like stats (data), so here’s some stats that give me pause:
    As you suggest, millions of football fans all over the Midwest just waiting to pull the lever for Football and Apple Pie…but not all are of voting age (some too young), and some seniors whose voting enthusiasm has waned. What percentage of those fans actually vote?
    If sports fans number in the millions, then probably millions of sportsmen and sportswomen all over the Midwest…but not a lot of NRA members…guess they don’t worry about Joe and Kamela (and Beto the Gun Czar in waiting) coming for their guns…not to mention the Bill of Rights in toto.
    If they care enough to have their children raised to NOT HATE America, well they haven’t bothered to take their azzes down to their polling places considering the current state of education in the US.
    And the most puzzling and problematic stat of all below:
    Since 1980, voting age folks, folks who voted, percentage of eligible voters who did vote:
    1980 163,945,000 86,497,000 52.8%
    1984 173,995,000 92,655,000 53.3%
    1988 181,956,000 91,587,000 50.3%
    1992 189,493,000 104,600,000 55.2%
    1996 196,789,000 96,390,000 49.0%
    2000 209,787,000 105,594,000 50.3%
    2004 219,553,000 122,349,000 55.7%
    2008 229,945,000 131,407,000 58.2%
    2012 235,248,000 129,235,000 54.9%
    2016 250,056,000 138,847,000 55.7%

    From your mouth to the peoples’ ears, Clay…and considering all that’s happened in America in 2020…but I wouldn’t count of football fans to get us across the finish line.
    I’m voting Trump 2020…Bix Sexy’s prolly not voting…Clay…whaddya say, bud…get rid of that VOTE BLUE bumper sticker, will ya?

  3. Clay. It’s all political now. Think in your quietest moments how did I vote Democrat. What are they standing for currently. Open borders, open bathrooms, anything against Trump. Against high school and college football. I mean it’s staggering to see the race to the wrong side of everything. Wolf in PA is far and away the piss poorest Governor out there. Well second worse, sorry Msr. Coumo. Football sums up life. A risk and one well taken.

  4. Former UNC Football coach Larry Fedora took a very pro football stand a couple years ago at ACC Media day and got crushed for it. Deep down I think he was half hoping to get fired and get his giant buyout, but dammit, Larry was right. He essentially said that America is in serious danger if we lose football, that football embodies everything that makes this the strongest country in the world.

    And he’s exactly right, it was the football mentality that helped beat back the Nazi’s in the 40’s, and chase the “invincible” Japs halfway across the Pacific back to the swamps they slithered out of. We are the only country in the world with anything remotely close to College and Pro Football, there are no athletes anywhere else in the world that would want to line up against an NFL defense.

  5. Sadly it is, but people have to realize that at least some among the political left want to completely destroy American culture and will stop at nothing to accomplish it. That means sports at all levels other than professional, religion, education and of course capitalism. For some it is all part of the plan.

  6. The dem’s ultimately want to get rid of elections, that is the overall goal. Mail in ballots and the corruption that would cause gets them half way to eliminating elections. The dems policies of control has never and will never be popular and if they can no longer legislate from the bench (the courts) then removing elections will be the only way for them to get there beloved power. Why are they pushing mail in ballots so hard, why do they want to add the chaos, why? Why do they want to add all this confusion if they really believe there own polls? They don’t and the only way to power for them is to steal it which will ultimately lead to the question of should we really have elections. As sick as it sounds and as crazy as it sounds, the dem’s main goal is to eliminate elections! WE CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN, and thank God for Trump who is the only fighting these losers!

  7. Clay’s suggestion could move the needle, but that’s assuming football is going to become a draw for single issue voters. I would compare it to abortion or cannabis legalization. The real single issue this election is Trump – and it goes both ways. He’s so polarizing it probably doesn’t matter what states choose on football. He didn’t help himself with the Kamala Harris birgher stuff either.

    Most in here probably don’t care to dislike Trump, but many liberals in the midwest would sacrifice a college football season if it meant Trump lost. HOWEVER, In an election likely decided by the slimmest of margins, perhaps a couple angry Badgers or Wolverines are all it will take to sway the election.

  8. As you say, Trump won’t lose any voters making an issue of high school and college football, and he may pick some up. The only potential downside is if there is an outbreak in one or more teams. Even if no one dies, or even gets ill, the mainstream media will make an issue of it.

    If the season comes off well through October however, it could be a hell of an issue. Football would be an exemplar of how blue state governors have needlessly deprived their people of the most basic pleasures in the name of “safety” or because “Orange Man Bad.”

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