September 2010, Week 2


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Sat, 11 Sep 2010 15:28:56 -0400
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Summer of our Sporting Discontent

By Dave Zirin
The Nation
September 7, 2010


By any measure this country is in an ugly mood. Double-
digit unemployment and a growing sense that the
environment, economy, and empire are heading south, has
Americans walking with a stoop and a scowl. We have
seen this national agenda expectorate into the world of
sports. The sporting summer of 2010 was supposed to be
a joyous festival of the World Cup, historic baseball
pennant races, and the most dynamic NBA free agent
period in sports history. Instead, the nation's fever
dream has become the sports world's nightmare.

First, there was the intrusion on the sports page of
America's favorite doughy mascot of resentment, Glenn
Beck. Beck couldn't let the 2010 World Cup go [1]by
without using it to tap into his gravy train of
paranoia: globalization, a one world government, and
our Kenyan President Overlord Barack Obama. Obama
represents "the World Cup of political thought." Beck
stated, "It doesn't matter how you try to sell it to
us.we don't want the World Cup, we don't like the World
Cup, we don't like soccer, we want nothing to do with
it..The rest of the world likes Barack Obama's
policies, we do not...I hate it so much, probably
because the rest of the world likes it so much, and
they riot over it, and they continually try to jam it
down our throat." The most popular sporting celebration
on earth, had become just more fodder for the 21st
century neo-confederate culture wars.

We still had the most exciting free agency period in
the history of the National Basketball Association. Two
of the three best players in the sport, Lebron James
and Dwyane Wade, were unfettered to sign with the city
and team of their choice. Wade made the choice to stay
with the Miami Heat. Lebron chose to leave the
Cleveland Cavaliers to join him, creating a duo of
dynamic wing players without precedent. Lebron's
decision, however, was handled with the diplomacy of
Dick Cheney. He teased cities around the country to
maximum media effect, and then announced his choice on
a stomach-churning ESPN special, that may have
redefined callow narcissism. Going to Miami, perhaps
the worst sports town on the planet to play with Dwyane
Wade and fellow free agent superstar Chris Bosh, turned
the stomachs of NBA fans, coaches, and the Mt. Rushmore
of middle-aged NBA legends, Magic Johnson, Michael
Jordan, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. [2]

But if his choice left something to be desired, the
backlash against James in Cleveland spoke to something
far more insidious. The Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert
posted a bizarre screed [3] where he accused James of
"cowardly betrayal." The next day he approached
slander, accusing James of effectively throwing playoff
games during his Cavaliers tenure. Cleveland "fans"
took to the streets and burned James' jersey and his
family required a police escort to leave town. The NBA
fined Gilbert $100,000 for his comments and fans
offered to pay the fine.

The awful irony [3] is that Cleveland is the home
foreclosure capital of the United States and Gilbert
earned his fortune earned as CEO of Quicken Loans,
offering zero money down mortgages and reaping he
benefits from the misery produced (2009-20010 were the
most profitable years for Quicken Loans on record.)
It's a remarkable sign of our times that a person, Dan
Gilbert, who has been one of the profiteers of our
collective misery becomes a Cleveland folk hero while
Lebron James has to run for his life.

But it's not the only sign of our times. Politics are
not only intruding on the world of sports from the
right flank. Boisterous demonstrations [4]have greeted
Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks whenever
they play on the road. 17 separate cities have become
places where protest has come right to the park. In
some cities, the protest hasn't confined itself to the
front gates [5] but made its way onto the field of
play. The uniting theme of these actions has been to
move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix in protest
of the vile anti-immigrant legislation that now defines
the state. Sometimes you can tell the justness of your
cause by those who stand against you, and it was MLB
Commissioner Bud Selig who has damned protestors for
daring to invade his pristine sport with concerns "best
left to politicians." [6]

By extension, Selig was also damning the several dozen
ballplayers have spoken out against Arizona's laws. As
St. Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols said, "I'm
opposed to it. How are you going to tell me that, me
being Hispanic, if you stop me and I don't have my ID,
you're going to arrest me? That can't be." [7]

To have someone of Pujols' stature speak out was a
moment of hope. Then the star slugger decided to join
his manager Tony La Russa at Glenn Beck's 100,000 plus
"I have a scheme" rally at the mall. Sportswriter Buzz
Bissinger tweeted that Beck was a Nazi and excoriated
La Russa and Pujols for lending their legitimacy to the
gathering. Word was that more than a few of Pujols
teammates weren't happy to see him do it either. Then
his first eight games after attending this farce Pujols
went 3 of 26, with one RBI, effectively ending his
opportunity to become the first National League player
since "Ducky" Medwick in 1937 to win the Triple Crown,
while his team went into a full-scale-swoon. This time,
Bud Selig couldn't rouse himself to criticize the
people involved for mixing his sacred, virginal-white
world of sports with politics. It was a fitting end to
a polarizing, bitter summer in the sports-lovin' USA...
and the NFL season couldn't start soon enough.


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