Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Wait a Minute People, Sports Do Have Meaning

Earlier this fall the Boston Red Sox baseball team blew most preseason projections of their season all to hell when they bested the St. Louis Cardinals four games to two and won Major League Baseball’s World Series. Even though the team has already won two such championships this century after an eighty-six year drought, Boston fans (including myself) were quite ecstatic. As I write, the sports media are announcing the draws for football (that’s soccer to you folks in the US) for the thirty-two national teams competing in the World Cup. Soon, even the non-sports media will be covering this event. Elsewhere in the sports world, basketball seasons are heating up and US football seasons are cooling down, while ice hockey skates along.

I’m guessing about now some readers are already moving to the next article. After all, goes their thinking, sports are just another distraction. Why does anyone care? I don’t know the exact answer to that question. Nor, can I explain why I spend so many hours every summer watching, listening to, and umpiring baseball. However, there are a few writers currently around who continue to investigate that question. Writing in the tradition of The Daily Worker’s Lester Rodney and the Trinidadian CLR James, these writers attempt to place sports at all levels—youth to college to professional level—within the context of capitalist economics and the culture that grows from such economies.ogat_1

I have reviewed a couple of leftist sportswriter Dave Zirin’s works in these pages, as well as Gabriel Kuhn’s top notch look at soccer titled Soccer vs. the State. These two writers take a serious and engaging look at the role sports plays in making money for the neoliberal robber barons. Zirin also champions individual athletes who use their notoriety to encourage gender and racial tolerance and even challenge imperial war. Kuhn has done similar work regarding various football players and teams. Between the two of them, the role played by professional sports in maintaining neoliberal economics and nationalist tropes is breached and examined.

Matt Hern is a sportswriter living in Vancouver, BC. His recently published title One Game at a Time walks into the terrain where sports and politics mesh, taking a look at some of the same issues his compatriots examine and exploring new ones. Hern’s view contains a bit more bravado than either Zirin’s or Kuhn’s, as if sports radio grew a brain while retaining its brashness. Engagingly written, One Game at a Time is motivated by the belief that sports do matter as much as sports fans think they do. It’s just that they matter in ways not explored by the mainstream media and the advertising machine behind them.

Hern compares sports to other pursuits like music and theater. By doing this, he validates the multiple experiences associated with sports—from participation at any level to viewing them and fandom—while simultaneously critiquing capitalism’s manipulation of all the aforementioned pursuits in the name of maximum profit. In other words, Hern extols the virtues of sports, yet takes capitalism to task for twisting their cultural value in a manner similar to capitalism’s manipulation of music, theater and film. Instead of quality hiphop and rock, the masses get fed sexist nonsense and pop pablum promoting greed. When it comes to sports, we get corporatism, nationalism, overpriced cable television coverage and tickets only the wealthy can truly afford; not to mention athletes afraid to speak out against wrongs for fear of losing their jobs and corporate sponsors.

Zirin has championed boxer Muhammad Ali as an example of a sports hero who rose above his game. Indeed, it can be reasonably argued that Ali is more famous for his presence and actions outside the boxing ring than for his feats within the ropes. Hern adds to Zirin’s portrayal of Ali, detailing how his image has been watered-down and depoliticized, then writing “We have to be willing to read Ali as he was: defiant, radical, complex, devout, confusing, dangerous, and all the rest….” If we do this, then perhaps modern athletes will find the strength to replicate Ali’s militancy and courage. Then, sports can matter even more and for greater reasons than the reasons most fans currently care about them.

Matt Hern is a welcome addition to the growing team of sportswriters willing to move sports out of their current position that masquerades as being apolitical while actually being outrageously political in support of the status quo. The excessive importance of sports in modern society is not going to go away. Therefore, it is crucial that those sportswriters whose writing challenges the conventional narrative accompanying the sports spectacle be read by as many people as possible. The crack they have created in the nationalist, pro-capitalist, homophobic and even racist sports coverage too many fans have grown used to is finally shedding a little light on the cloistered world that is modern athletics.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail