, October 31, 2007
(view all comments by jgeneric)
Sports are the world's great distraction, especially in the United States. To really understand American culture, and other cultures too, you have to understand sports to get why people get so very fanatical about them. In a sense, they are a form of reality TV, except they envelope so much more. It is very easy for radicals to dismiss sports as a distraction from more important things, like changing the world, but in a sense, by dismissing sports, they also dismiss sports fans, which is a great deal of people. It's also important to understand how sports is used to distract people, and why athletes are told to shut up and be good soldiers. So having said all that, when Dave Zirin put out a sequel to his first book, "What's My Name Fool?", I read it as fast as I could.
Much like his first book, "Welcome to the Terrordome", (Chuck D does the introduction, since the title is taken from a Public Enemy song), the book is broken down into chapters exploring different parts, exploring politics in the sports world. Roberto Clemente was a Hall of Fame right-fielder for the Pittsburg Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He is often described as baseball's Latino Jackie Robinson, in that he never shut up and never backed down from disrespect. He was outspoken on issues of the day, like racism, segregation, colonialism in Latin America, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, and media mockery of minority players. Clemente was instrumental in winning a World Series for the Pirates in 1960, yet finished 8th in MVP voting because of his Puerto Rican heritage. When non-white baseball players had to eat in the bus while in the South, he led a protest against segregation and demanded that all players be treated the same. He died in a plane crash on his way to deliver relief supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua a year after his retirement and remains one of the best players to ever play the game..
Another topic is how Major League Baseball sets up minimum wage baseball sweatshops in the Caribbean and Central America, where the only options are the army, the factory, or baseball. In the so-called "America's Game", baseball, nearly a fourth of the league are foreign born Latinos. During the World Baseball Classic, sponsored by MLB in an effort to show-case homegrown talent, the Team USA was trounced by Latin American teams. Interesting statistics like how 6 of the last 10 American League MVPs have been Latino, and here's why. In the Dominican Republic, US teams run "baseball academies", where young boys who have dropped out of school attend to get trained how to play baseball, some coming with soapboxes for shoes and tattered clothing. 99 out of 100 don't make it to the MLB who attend these academies.
Around the world, soccer, or football as it's known outside of the States, is by far the most popular sport. It's famous by soccer hooligans in Europe, full-scale riots in Latin America, and national pride all over. Players like Diego Maradona are heroes in the third world, for standing against corporate globalization, war, and famously "avenging" the Falkland War in 1986 World Cup against England. In 2002, he attends the protests against the Summit of the Americas, where he says that Argentina will never enjoy the fruits of corporate control. Another famous player, Ronaldo of the powerful Brazil team, goes to Palestine to meet with a Palestinian boy who wrote him a letter asking him to meet with him, and brings international attention to Israel's travel bans when he is stopped from meeting with him.
Most famously, Zirin goes into the famous head-butt incident at the France-Italy World Cup when France's Zidane headbutted Italy's Materazzi. Materazzi comes from an Italian fascist club, and Zidane instantly becomes a hero in much of the Third World for responding to Materazzi's racist taunting. It follows a culture of right-wing and left-wing organizing in soccer fans, where political parties and other organizations try to recruit fans at matchs and brawls often break out over politics. (I've often wondered why there wasn't much organizing at sporting events in the US when it seems so obvious.) The Prime Minister of Italy even comments that "The French team is made up of Negroes, Islamists, and Communists." In effect, people of the Third World root to beat First World teams because of the history, and cling to the ideals of hope and pride and dignity through them.
The world of sports is not a separate world, nor is it just for men, and nor is a perfect world of saints. Just like all aspects of the world we live in, the best thing to do is to understand it and understand the people who follow it. I think I've just about always fit into my work situations pretty fast by being a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, particularly the Eagles, as well as just about everyone in this city is as well. When Donovan McNabb says that black quarterbacks are criticized different than white quarterbacks and that there's racism in the league, I applaud him for stating the obvious when others are afraid to do even that. Left-wing sports fans might be few and far between because of many on the left's complete rejection of sports fans in general, but sports writers like Dave Zirin remind us that the there's social justice in everything in life, if you look behind the scenes a little bit.