FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Organizing the Jocks for Justice

IIt started out like your typical pro football player puff piece. But then, tucked away drowsily in the last paragraph, Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Adalius Thomas, emerged with something to say. As Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote,

“[Thomas] is politically alert, and not afraid to express his views, which makes him a rarity in the NFL. ‘What’s the Iraq war all about?’ he said, his voice rising. ‘If it’s about oil, just say that. Don’t give us this Weapons of Mass Destruction crap when all you find is three firecrackers.’

‘You get a little fired up about that,’ he was told.

‘We all have brains,’ he said. ‘We should use them.'”

The message was clear: Whether you’re an offensive tackle, a trash talking quarterback, or Dick Cheney: don’t mess with Big Adalius.

Thomas is only the latest in a stellar cast of pro players chafing against silence, and sounding off against the war and occupation of Iraq. Steve Nash, Etan Thomas, Josh Howard, Adam Morrison, Carlos Delgado, Martina Navratilova, Adonal Foyle, and even Ultimate Fighting Champion Jeff Monson, among others, have all raised their voice. They are also just the beginning. Stories circulate of teammates and coaches who share their views but don’t want to go public. Even some referees whisper covert statements of support.

Three years ago, The Nation Magazine writers Peter Dreier & Kelly Candaele asked the question “Where are the Jocks for Justice?” My experience in the Sportsworld is that the “Jocks for Justice” are both everywhere and nowhere. Progressive athletes strain to be heard, but they act as individuals and the media responds with a smothering silence. This does not have to be.

Pro athletes hold claim to a unique and underutilized bully pulpit. Two middle fingers from Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick have sent sports radio and television into a tizzy. Chicago Bulls center Ben Wallace wants to wear a red headband in defiance of team rules and a raucous debate explodes about something last popularized by Olivia Newton-John. The furor over Barry Bonds’ place in history has led to a more honest discussion about racism than anything we get in the mainstream press. Anti-war athletes could use this platform if they just stopped operating, in isolation from one another. If the people I cited called a joint press conference to announce a new organization: Athletes United Against War or – what the hell – Jocks for Justice, it would electrify the cultural landscape. Think I’m exaggerating? Consider the case of Toni Smith. In 2003, the Division III Manhattanville women’s hoops captain decided that she was going to turn her back to the flag during the National Anthem to protest not only the war abroad but “the injustices and inequities at home.” Yipping Heads lined up to debate whether Toni had the “right” to express her views. Everyone from ESPN to 20/20 to 60 Minutes wanted a piece of her story.

Remember, this is Division III women’s basketball. Crowds usually rival a well-attended K-Fed concert. If Toni Smith from Manhattanville could, for a brief moment, polarize the Sportsworld imagine what Steve Nash, backed by an organization, could do?

And yet it hasn’t happened and it’s worth asking why. Of the players I have spoken with, two main reasons emerge. The first is pessimism. Like most people in this country, pro athletes don’t believe that they have any power to determine the course of this war. The thought is that the media might give them some coverage, but in the end, nothing would change and they would just earn ESPN radio’s “Just Shut Up Award” for their trouble. One said to me, “The quickest way to win that Just Shut Up award is to have something to say.”

The other roadblock is straight-up fear: fear that taking an unpopular stand would mean a quick ticket out of the SportsWorld along with its attendant privileges. All NBA players know the cautionary tales of Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf. They took stands against US foreign policy and found themselves drummed out of the league like they were the Bush twins in Buenos Aires. Most athletes came up poor and it is not a life anyone wants to revisit.

As Jim Brown said in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, “The Civil Rights movement is over. Individuals can buy homes wherever they want, travel first class wherever they want, eat wherever they want. All of these things now are part of the everyday lives of players. But the discrimination and racism in the world now is very subtle. It’s poor people that are really suffering from a lack of inclusion. Poor people live in a part of town that most players don’t go into, and those people aren’t an issue as far as the league is concerned. Basically, the players have become part of the elite part of society. And I mean regardless of their color or anything like that. They are part of the elite part of our society because of money and status. So there’s not discrimination based on black and white; it’s more of a discrimination based on the rich and the poor.”

The fear is real but can be conquered by letting the silent players know they are not alone. Even two anti-war athletes sitting together in a room would be a start. Imagine the possibilities. They could issue a statement about their right to speak out and not just “shut up and play.” They could perform simple tasks like wearing black ribbons on the court or field in honor of those on both sides who have died. They could host a charity game for peace organizations.

Yes, there would be risk. But returning soldiers have courted risk by starting Iraqi Veterans Against the War. Cindy Sheehan courted risk by camping out in front of Bush’s Crawford compound. Muslims in DC recently courted tremendous risk by organizing a “pray-in” at Reagan National Airport. It’s the risk that makes the action worth a damn. They might lose an endorsement or two, but they would gain a chance to make some history. Consider this a challenge. It’s time for Athletes Against War to take root. We have the players. We have the sentiment of the public. All we need is for our lost tribe of Athletic Rebels to locate one another. If Big Adalius stands among them, they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of “‘What’s My name Fool?'”: Sports and Resistance in the united States. Contact him at dave@edgeofsports.com or at
myspace.com/edgeofsports

 

 

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.

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail