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Stateside: When Our Heroes Speak Out Or Are Silent

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump applaud Tiger Woods during a ceremony awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the golfer at the White House on Monday.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump applaud Tiger Woods during a ceremony awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the golfer at the White House on Monday.

With Charlie Harper

The highest civilian award that an American president can bestow is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Under its current format, the award was begun by President John F Kennedy. The long list of recipients includes current (Joe Biden) and recent (Ben Carson) presidential candidates; Walt Disney; Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra; Sir Sidney Poitier of Cat Island; Pan Am founder and South Eleuthera developer Juan Trippe; Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel; Walter Cronkite and Oprah Winfrey; Martin Luther King, Jr, Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela, and eight astronauts.

Athletes such as Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth have also been honoured, along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

On Monday, Tiger Woods joined that distinguished list and received his medal from occasional golf partner and current US President Donald Trump. To describe Trump as controversial is to describe the summer as warm. Woods has said he respects the Office of the Presidency whether or not he agrees with all the president’s policies.

Nonetheless, Woods’ award has revived for some a long-running debate in the US on whether and to what extent it is appropriate for star American athletes to be involved in politics and social issues. The conventional wisdom until the Vietnam War was that they should not. Then a transcendent figure arrived on the scene and everything changed.

Muhammad Ali shook America’s then-leading sport of boxing to its roots by first dethroning Sonny Liston and then speaking out on racial injustice and his principled opposition to the Vietnam War. In doing so, Ali shattered existing convention. For example, even as Jesse Owens gave the lie to Nazi racist nonsense by winning at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he triumphed with quiet dignity. That set a tone, echoed by heroic and prodigiously talented Jackie Robinson as he broke baseball’s colour barrier with the Dodgers. Ali violated all those taboos.

In the decades since Ali faced prison and temporarily lost his boxing licence for defying the military draft, the US public and media have reacted ambivalently to athletes and coaches speaking out. Hall of Fame running back and lifelong activist Jim Brown aligned with Ali at the same time he was successfully transitioning from football fields to Hollywood as a leading man in feature films. More recently, while NBA star coaches Steve Kerr (Warriors) and Gregg Popovich (Spurs) have suffered little for openly criticising Trump, ex-49ers title-winning quarterback Colin Kaepernick may have been blacklisted by the NFL for publicly protesting police violence against African-Americans.

At the height of his glory, Michael Jordan was often urged to speak out on social issues. He largely refused to do so. Perhaps not coincidentally, he made enough of a fortune as a pitch man for Nike and as an investor to buy the Charlotte NBA franchise. Many believe that tennis legend Martina Navratilova suffered in popularity and endorsements for coming out as gay and speaking unreservedly on various social issues. But LeBron James has spoken out against Trump and on other social matters, so far with minimal negative consequences.

Woods has also been urged to speak out forcefully on social issues, but has largely declined to do so. As he has amassed a reportedly staggering fortune and battled health issues, Woods seemingly remains politically agnostic. Cynics may believe Woods and Jordan are playing the white man’s game while getting rich off their talent, business acumen and politically cautious reticence. Others steadfastly defend their right to follow their own conscience and values.

That debate aside, one thing is clear. Both Woods and Jordan enjoy The Bahamas. Perhaps one reason is that no one here is asking them about American politics and social issues.

Avengers: Kerching!

Have you seen Avengers: Endgame yet? It’s no exaggeration to say this film has taken the US by storm. Some multiplexes are showing the film on every screen to meet the unprecedented demand.

Disney’s Marvel comics-based film franchise now comprises 22 films that have grossed $21bn; Endgame will be the franchise’s highest earner, since it is already in second place all-time with a $2.4bn gross worldwide. Top grossing Avatar is within reach at $2.8bn, while another James Cameron film, third-placed Titanic, is already in Endgame’s wake. Endgame features a superstar ensemble cast headed by Robert Downey Jr, pictured, whose return from drug-fuelled cinematic oblivion has been made possible by his numerous portrayals of Iron Man; bewitching Scarlett Johansson, the world’s highest paid actress; and dozens of other recognisable stars including Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin and even Robert Redford and Michael Douglas. It will spoil little to reveal this entertaining epic depicts the triumph of good over evil. And it has already made a lot of people very rich.

• Here’s hoping some heeded my advice to tune in to the European Champions League semi-final soccer match between Liverpool and Barcelona. This was the second of a two-leg playoff, Barcelona having won 3-0 at home six days earlier.

No matter. In what will be recorded as one of the greatest comebacks in soccer history, Liverpool, despite missing scoring ace Mohamed Salah and forward leader Roberto Firmino, overwhelmed the bemused visitors and Lionel Messi, winning 4-0 to advance to the Champions League Final for the second straight year.

Even the most cynical soccer observer would have been touched by TV images of Liverpool fans’ emotional rendering of You’ll Never Walk Alone after the match. The team will be favourites to beat Spurs - who had an amazing comeback of their own yesterday - in the final on June 1 in Madrid.

– See Sport for more

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Max Scherzer

Another year, another story

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians have been among baseball’s very best pitchers over the past half dozen years. Mad Max has won the Cy Young award three times during the past six seasons, in 2013 (with the Detroit Tigers), 2016 and 2017 with the Nationals. A three-time league strikeout leader and four-time leader in season wins, Scherzer has made at least 30 starts in the past ten major league seasons. Few have done that.

Known as Klubot for his autonomically consistent delivery and performance, Kluber is a two-time Cy Young winner with the Indians, winning the ERA title for the major leagues in 2017. Also a two-time league wins leader, Kluber is probably best remembered for carrying Cleveland to the seventh game of the 2016 World Series against the similarly long-suffering Cubs of Chicago. In that Series, Kluber won games One and Four and started Game Seven, though he was not involved in the decision. He had a 1.63 ERA through the playoffs as he led the injury-ravaged Indians pitching staff to the Series.

So far this season, though, both have faltered significantly, contributing to the disappointing early performances of their respective teams. Kluber was already off to a dismal start to the season before he was sidelined indefinitely by a line drive last week. When that hit broke a bone in his arm, Kluber was 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA.

Scherzer, pictured, still apparently healthy, has only been the third best pitcher on his own team this spring as the Nats have staggered out of the gate. He is 1-4 with an ERA of 3.78, and Washington has lost his last seven starts. This has baseball observers wondering if one of baseball’s true stalwarts has lost something. There is reason for some hope in his still-strong strikeout totals.

It’s all further proof that in baseball, you never know what a new season may bring.

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