FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Rotting Soul of the 49ers

There is an old expression that “the fish rots from the head.” Right now the San Francisco 49ers are stinking like a salmon in the sun. Their more general fall from grace has been a matter of public spectacle, as the “Team of the 1980s” has become a mismanaged, cap-strapped embarrassment. Yet the stench that envelops the Niners invaded the rest of our lives last week with the leaking of a media training video meant to “guide players on how to deal with San Francisco’s unique and diverse community.” A noble goal, to be sure. San Francisco is home to significant Asian, Pacific Island populations, and is of course synonymous with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community and culture. The video, however, was not aimed to help players with cross-cultural understanding – but instead an exercise in rank bigotry.

How to talk to the Bay Area Asian community? There is a mock interview with a actor playing a Hop-Sing “bucked tooth Asian man”. How to reach out to LGBT football fans? There is a mockery of Gay weddings and clucking about “bending for the soap” in the county jail. Even worse, the team’s PR department enlisted players such as Julian Peterson to act in the video, with the All-Pro linebacker playing a “bum begging for food”- homelessness being just another hilarious sight on the Bay Area landscape.

“I’m sitting here dumbfounded,” said Rose Pak, head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. “You know, this is the 21st Century. And this is San Francisco, a city where 30% of residents and 40% of schoolchildren are Chinese Americans. In this day and age, for a home-based major sports group to be so insensitive … their behavior so disgusting is beyond words.”

Particularly noxious are the comments of the video’s director, former Niners PR Director Kirk. Reynolds. Reynolds said that, “This was the only way I felt I could get the players’ attention.” The Niners themselves have compounded this by defending the video, which basically proves Reynolds’ point. Peterson said, “It was supposed to be an in-house thing” and safety Tony Parrish compared its “sarcasm and wit” to the Dave Chappelle show on Comedy Central.

These comments drew a pained response from Hall of Fame college basketball coach John Thompson. Thompson said on his DC radio show, “I would have walked out of that video on general principle not only because of the so-called humor but more because the ORGANIZATION is showing through that video what they think of me as a man – especially as a Black man – saying that the only way they can get through to me, the only way they can get me to listen, is by playing to jokes, playing to bigotry and stupidity. [That organization] is saying everything about the way they think about me and my intelligence by showing this…. Any player who now is defending this garbage is also defending their own treatment as something less than a fully developed man.”

Thompson is absolutely right. He is right to criticize the players for not putting their foot through the video screen. He is also right that the root of the problem lies with the team, not a wayward employee or insensitive players. This is also the assessment of a certain team consultant named Dr. Harry Edwards. Edwards was the chief organizer of the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights, and the author of the classic book The Revolt of the Black Athlete. In the late 1960s, he stood for principles of mass revolt and equality by any means necessary. In more recent years, he has said and stood for far less, most notably being a paid advisor for the Cosby show, and an ESPN Sports Century talking head. But with the release of this video, Edwards could not be silent, saying, “This was not locker room humor; this was front office personnel. The athletes who took part in this skit were asked to do so by the fourth-ranking front office person in the organization”.

This culture of intolerance on an organizational level is deeply embedded. In November 2002, Niners running back Garrison Hearst was asked if he would ever accept a Gay teammate. Hearst did not equivocate.

“Aww, hell no!” the All-Pro said. “I don’t want any faggots on my team. I know this might not be what people want to hear, but that’s a punk. I don’t want any faggots in this locker room.” Fullback Fred Beasley further gave a window into the organizational culture saying, “If people really know what’s going on in the locker room and what we joke about every day, it would be a big deal each and every day. It’s not a big deal to us.”

Then former team president Terry Donahue the most powerful man in the organization – sneered it off saying, “Frankly, we’re way too busy trying to block and tackle and hit passes to be involved in a social issue. I think we’re just going to move on.”

Residents of the Bay Area shouldn’t have let them “move on then, and sure as hell shouldn’t let them move on now. As Thom Lynch, president of the SF LGBT Center said, “The 49ers benefit from their relationship with the city, but they have responded by belittling and ridiculing its diversity.”

There is nothing inherently racist or homophobic about professional sports, or even the NFL. Yet too often the politics of oppression are given free reign to wander, fester, and nest. Every sports fan in the Bay Area who doesn’t share the idea that homelessness, Gay rights, and Asian minstrelsy are punch lines has an obligation to stand up. Let the team know that they may be named the 49ers, but this ain’t 1849.

DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States” will be in stores in June 2005. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at whatsmynamefool2005@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail