One of my favorite sports columnists, Dave Zirin, recently wrote a piece for The Nation magazine on the use of injured soldiers by the USA Basketball team to "fire up the troops," as it were, on the court. He quoted NBA player Etan Thomas (with the Wizards), who saw the military display on NBA TV and believed it was wrong. Etan has been a critic of U.S. military action in recent years.
But when it comes to politics and social justice, the message for athletes who don't readily buy the prevailing line is "look at your contract" (or: "shut up") as a recent Washington Times column attests.
It's ironic: We like to think of athletes as "heroes" and "role models" -- as long as they play well and open their mouths only to drive us to the mall to buy shoes. But when they speak out in ways that betray their status as symbols of American (military) supremacy, we'd rather they just shut up and perform.