One question that inevitably comes up in casual conversation down the pub or wherever when the topic takes on political overtones is.
“If your so interested why don’t you get into politics then? ”
This question, which is usually a put down and implies. Political interest is for politicians and experts and is the concern of professionals and those who know. Rather, than something that interweaves in all aspects of peoples lives However as someone put it
‘when the arrogant forces of commercial interests and investors come into contact and threaten the welfare and interests of the individual the connection between political interest and social interest becomes clearer.’
Or should become clear (as has becoming the case with football) when the working-mans-sport becomes a wealthy mans hobby
There is no clearer example of this than the situation the sports fan finds them selves in, especially sport. As Cary Watson, (US) explains If you want to hear anti capitalist rhetoric or discussion don’t go looking in the editorial pages of the newspaper. Go to the sports section. It is there that you will find the vilification of the top league teams and their management by the fans.
As sporting generations who have invested emotionally and financially in the various clubs, watch as tickets become unaffordable to the average fan and as grounds turn more space over to executive suites; coverage goes from main networks to pay as you watch cable, cynical merchandising of strips which change most every season specifically aimed at the young into pressurize parents into buying each one as it appears. Up and coming talent in smaller clubs is snatched up by bigger clubs before they can make any mark in the team that nurtured them.
Big teams like Rangers and Celtic whose conceived roots are in Glasgow threaten to shift their allegiance to another country and league to play football. Is that to do with the health of the game or egotistical and self- important greed? Ask any football fan.
A new vein of dissent
So could what its fans usually see as apolitical and only a game, work as a catalyst for wider political awareness. As sport is globalized and “Coke” fastens its grip on anything that moves a new vein of dissent is materializing from an unexpected source namely the sports fan.
And from the land of corporate America Watson precede “It seems clear that when sports fans react with rage at the actions of the Yankees and Irsays of the world, they are not just bemoaning the state of the game. Part of this fury stems from the realization that money, capital, is being used as a weapon, and a blunt one, at that. Its capitalism unmasked and a significant number of people, most of who wouldn’t describe themselves as socialists if their lives depended on it, are appalled at what they see. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the anti – capitalist bent of so many fans and sports journalists is that it creates a fertile environment in which to educate people about the larger problems created by a capitalist economy.
Thanks to the mendacious and piratical behavior of pro sports, millions of fans are savvy to the ways and means a huge bankroll can stack the deck against their rooting interests and the interests of their sport. It is not a huge jump from there to show people how the capitalism that ruins their favorite team or sport can, and is, ruining lives within and without the U.S.”
And finally an indication of how the beautiful game here is getting in line with its American cousins. As the captain of the Irish team was sent home from the teams training camp preparing for the world cup, due to a conflict with the team manager. Manchester United (the player’s team) sent their private jet specially to fly him home. The new strip will be due out two weeks after Xmas no doubt to pay for it
Based on z mag article (lost link)
“I’m not interested in politics, I only like sports”. It is always surprising the amount of politics that is wrapped up in sport that is unnoticeable to both those who spectate and participate in sports.
Or is it?
There is no clearer example of this than the situation the sports fan finds them selves in, especially sport. As Cary Watson, (US) explains If you want to hear anti capitalist rhetoric or discussion don’t go looking in the editorial pages of the newspaper. Go to the sports section.
Sports in the capitalist economy
In the states they have web sites dedicated to the politics of sport.
Look at Mohamed Ali and his anti-war stand, Muhammad Ali was brought to Islam by Malcolm X. He changed his name from Cassius Clay when he converted to Islam in 1961 and was denounced in the press. He refused to serve in Vietnam because it was against Islam and was stripped of his boxing title for over 3 years.
Look at Coca-Cola, nationalism, flag waving, sectarianism, competition, marketing, television, ticket price, Charismatic heroes, How come some of the most oppressive, and poor countries have the best football teams? Why do so many Brazilian supporters want their team to do well in the world cup, but don’t want them to win?
What about the Romans, the Greeks, the German Third Reich Americans, the Russians the history of gladiatorial combat. These guys were well into sport mostly for the same reasons
“Many call that period of the 1960s, the revolt of the black athlete. Why?”John Carlos
The one thing that is better than watching a game of any description is playing a game.
The biggest loser of the Commonwealth games, says graffiti artist Banksy, is Melbourne’s street art scene – and London could be next for the whitewash
Friday March 24, 2006
Streetscape: examples of Melbourne graffiti.
Melbourne is the proud capital of street painting with stencils. Its large, colonial-era walls and labyrinth of back alleys drip with graffiti that is more diverse and original than any other city in the world. Well, that was until a few weeks ago, when preparations for the Commonwealth games brought a tidal wave of grey paint, obliterating years of unique and vibrant culture overnight.
This may seem like no great tragedy to readers of the Daily Mail, but Melbourne’s graffiti scene is a key factor in its status as the continent’s hothouse of creativity and wilful individualism.
Melbourne became a hub of stencilling for reasons no one seems particularly able to explain. Its laid-back atmosphere and sense of isolation most probably have something to do with it. Painters there have never been as shackled to the New York school of large letters on subway trains that took a stranglehold everywhere else. Rather than scrawling their name across a window, most preferred to paint something a little different: a dog chasing a butterfly on a mailbox, for instance, or a couple kissing in the space left where an old poster has been ripped away.
Witty, playful, often angry, the free rein taken by Melbourne’s street artists became about much more than just daubing on a wall. It has drawn in generations of artists, thinkers and tourists to explore and experiment in the city. It gave fresh life to the worlds of fashion and music and is arguably Australia’s most significant contribution to the arts since they stole all the Aborigines’ pencils.
“The Melbourne scene is incredibly diverse,” says Alison Young, head of the department of criminology at Melbourne University. “The range of artists includes people in their 40s, in their teens and a relatively large number of women.” Young was commissioned by the city council to draw up a draft graffiti strategy last March in which she recommended tolerance zones be set up where street art and graffiti be allowed a small space within the city, where writers and artists would be at a lower risk of being arrested. “This was rejected by the city council, despite it generating lots of public support and despite evidence being presented that zero tolerance, for lots of reasons, wouldn’t work.”
Instead, the council doubled its anti-graffiti budget. “The clean-up is an imposition of a supposedly mainstream, or dominant, cultural view,” says Young, “in denial of the diversity of cultural styles that actually exist within a city space.”
What is disappointing about the authority’s attitude is that Australia is probably still the only country in the world to have elevated a graffiti writer to the status of national public hero. Arthur Stace was an alcoholic from the slums of Sydney who found God while listening to a Baptist preacher in a hostel in the 1940s and took to writing the word “eternity” on the ground in chalk. He rendered it in meticulous copperplate script more than half a million times across Sydney over the next three decades, becoming an urban legend before his death in 1967 at the age of 83. He has since been honoured by a plaque, a range of council-approved merchandise and was the centrepiece of celebrations when the word “eternity” in his trademark hand was lit up in 100ft-high letters on Sydney harbour bridge to mark the new millennium.
Then came the Commonwealth games and a redoubling of the city’s efforts to rid itself of the evil graffiti menace. “Cleaning crews have been at work all along the main railway line that runs from the centre of the city to the main sporting venue for the games, destroying miles of continuous artwork,” says Jake Smallman, who has edited a recent book called Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne, compiling some of the city’s more inventive street art. In February, police were rumoured to have infiltrated an exhibition showcasing photographs from the book as part of an intelligence-gathering exercise. “Graffiti’s not art,” said the police minister Tim Holding, in response to the book. “It’s vandalism and it’s something we all deplore.”
Melbourne’s innovative painting scene has been a key player in the global development of street art in recent years. Rather bizarrely for an art form that requires a casual interpretation of the law, graffiti has been steeped in rules and conservatism ever since Taki 183 picked up a can of Krylon spray paint in New York in the 1970s. A strict code was soon established that decreed what a piece should consist of and how many you needed to paint to achieve a certain status. It is only since the omnipresence of tags (graffiti signatures) has turned them into a kind of forgettable urban wallpaper that the art form has started to evolve again. Modern street art is the product of a generation tired of growing up with a relentless barrage of logos and images being thrown at their head every day, and much of it is an attempt to pick up these visual rocks and throw them back.
The street art destroyed in Melbourne will survive on graffiti’s new best friend – the internet. The web has done wonders for graffiti; it perfectly reflects its transient nature, and graffiti is ludicrously overrepresented on its pages. The ability to photograph a street piece that may last for only a few days and bounce it round the world to an audience of millions has dramatically improved its currency. On the other hand, the internet is turning graffiti into an increasingly virtual pastime. It is now possible to achieve notoriety by painting elaborate pieces in secluded locations, without the associated risk of arrest that is usually attached. By posting photographs online you can become a significant graffiti writer from a town where none of your work is actually visible.
The precedent set by Melbourne does not bode well for London in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. The games will be set in east London, where Hackney is one of the few remaining parts of the city where affordable studio space for artists still exists. After the warehouses have been flattened by compulsory purchase orders, the pots of grey paint will be opened and an area rich in street culture and frontier spirit will disappear. Factory doors whose flaked layers of Hammerite reveal history like the rings in a tree stump will be thrown on the fire. Disused cranes perched on top of foundries like skeletal crows will be torn down. Everything will be replaced by a cardboard-partitioned village perched on a pile of cheap laminate flooring. And if you think the graffiti will be removed so it can be replaced by vistas of clean urban space, think again. Every meaningful spot will be clogged with giant billboards by the likes of McDonald’s encouraging you to get fit by staying at home and watching the games on TV.
This is not to say that every city should aim to look like the south Bronx, or that regeneration cannot be a good thing, but society’s headlong march into bland conformity should not necessarily be welcomed with such open arms. In the 1990s, large sections of football grounds were demolished to make way for executive boxes – only then did people start to complain about the lack of atmosphere.
Melbourne and London are genuine epicentres of the skewed human touch that can bring a little sparkle into the drudgery of public space. A feat that is of immense value, despite its apparent worthlessness. And a feat that is not so easily achieved by trying to run around a track in under four minutes.
Celtic Fans Against Shell Hell in Mayo
Just before kick off and during the half time interval of Saturday’s SPL encounter of Celtic and Inverness Calley Thistle a group of Celtic fans held up a paper mill declaring “Send Shell to Sea”.
The biggest loser of the Commonwealth games, says graffiti artist Banksy, is Melbourne’s street art scene – and London could be next for the whitewash
Watching Blackburn will never be the same
Connections – Sports greed and colonisation
What happened in Athens, converting the city to world cup splendor “…In the last push of round the clock preparation alone, 13 laborers were killed at the service of making Athens, in the words of one Olympic official, ‘habitable for a global audience’ “.
Bees United Appoint Greg Dyke as New Chairman
Greg Dyke has been appointed as non-executive Chairman of Brentford Football Club by its new owners, the supporters’ trust Bees United, who acquired the majority shareholding in the club today.
London Olympics 2012: corporate greed and privatisation
The decision as to which city would host the 2012 Olympic Games was made amidst such accusations of foul play and naked delight at the potential profits involved that one might have been forgiven for forgetting that this was supposed to be about a celebration of sporting endeavour and spirit.
Sports fulfills emotional needs for people that those advocating social change can not afford to dismiss and that any mass social movement will have to satisfy if it is to succeed.
An Extraordinary General Meeting as now taken place and the foundations have now been laid for a club determined to bring back the tradition and heritage that many feel has been sucked out of Manchester United in recent seasons.
FC United given League go-ahead
The new football club set up by disillusioned Manchester United fans has been accepted into the North West Counties League for next season. FC United Website Fans are sick of this
March 1997. Liverpool v SK Brann. European Cup Winner’s Cup Quarter Final
Robbie Fowler celebrates his goal by lifting up his jersey to show a t-shirt preaching solidarity with the Liverpool dockworkers.
What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States If you’re young and you don’t know what this guy represents, if your a “not into sport” lefty, if you wonder what’s so -not brilliant – about the Olympic games, if you wonder what all the laissez-faire development in Glasgow is about..You could find this interesting.
At the end of Thursday’s game, won 3-1 by Lazio with Di Canio among the scorers, the former England-based player ran underneath the Lazio supporters at the North End of the stadium to celebrate the victory
By Dave Zirin
Sometimes we are reminded that the Olympics can serve as an international platform not only for flag waving and truck commercials, but also resistance.
We will not be wearing black armbands. The Italians will be and we respect their choice. We regret the death of the Italian journalist but it’s necessary also to think of the hundreds of Iraqis who have died…
When boxing mattered part1
When boxing mattered part2
One of the aims of City Srolls and the Glasgow User Manual is to point towards how things are connected with each other. It is for this reason I have added a sports section and a fashion section to the site. It should be of interest to anyone in the pursuit of spreading socialism, or improving the health of our communities, that, they communicate with people, within folks on experiences and interests. it is a fact that a lot of the population after a weeks toil head for the fashion outlets of the city, in order to spend there well earned cash. It is also true that a lot of people fill up sports stadia most saturdays, watching games of sport. and in the off season spend time watching sport on TV. Why not, sport is good fun. Sport can also be very emotional, which is why every newspaper dedicates half a dozen pages to it. Emotion sells.
Sport is also about big business and therefore politics. And indeed some of the most ferocious anti corporate rants against big business, are found on the back page, not in the front page or the editorial. What about the dedicated Manchester United fans. Supporters whose family members have followed the team for generations, deciding to give up their £400 season tickets, because they are sick of what the team now represents in the service of corporations. ( A brief visit to MUs site, you will see quickly what they mean)
So what did they do.They started their own football team. They can attract crowds of 5,000 to there games, families, kids in prams. Their idea – to bring community back into football.
What about Mohamed Ali, who gave up his world heavyweight boxing title and refused to fight in the “white mans war”, in Vietnam. Or;
The sports commentator, who interviewed some middle class Brazilians on their teams chances in the world cup. Who was answered. “We want our team to do well but we don’t want them to win the cup.” It was lost to the commentator to ask the next question – Why. If he did, he would have discovered. Each time Brazil, takes home a world cup, poor people suffer. Political machinations, business fraud, crime, murder and violence, reach new levels – while football victory, saturate the Brazilian, media – blotting out the plight of the poor, whose voice is lost in the fanfare. Why do oppressive countries invest in great football teams. It is not all to do with the skill of the nations players…
What happened in Athens, converting the city to world cup splendor”…In the last push of round the clock preparation alone, 13 laborers were killed at the service of making Athens, in the words of one Olympic official, “habitable for a global audience”.
Why are lots of New Yorkers, happy that the city didn’t get the Olympic games.
Watch what happens in London as the authorities unroll another fantasy that will make the “Dome” look like a coffee stall. And what of the reincarnation of Glasgow, into a “major conference centre” and the colonisation of the east end into a sports village (commonwealth games) If it goes ahead, will last about two weeks, then the real estate, will be left to the feeding frenzy of of developers.
People don’t go to sport events because they’re stupid. Sport is good fun, to watch and play and offers a relief and break for lots of people from the humdrum of working. What is bad about the culture of “sport” is the business interests that control and run it.
Of course telling people who enjoy sport, that the Olympic games, are bad news, will only get them looking at you as if you’re daft. The Olympic games coming to London, for a lot of hard working people, is a wonderful thing. What is crap about it is the amount of community infrastructure that will be destroyed in accommodating the event. But you can’t discus this aspect of it with people who enjoy sport, without first engaging in some conversation with the thing they like, or even love, before enlightening them about the down side of their pastime.
Like it or not the other side of sport is offering up political and business machinations that we all will sooner or later experience the effect of, as yet more cultural colonialism eats up our cities, under the banner of regeneration, of bank accounts. Maybe it’s time for the phobic, as well as the fan to look closer at these issues. Who knows they may have more in common than they think
If you’re young and you don’t know what this guy represents, if your a “not into sport” lefty, if you wonder what’s so -not brilliant – about the Olympic games, if you wonder what all the laissez-faire development inGlasgow is about..You could find this interesting.
What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined now in our studio by sportswriter David Zirin. His new book is called What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States . We welcome you to Democracy Now!
DAVID ZIRIN: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about that history of Olympics past.
DAVID ZIRIN: Well, the starting point is understanding that sports is a trillion dollar business worldwide, and the Olympics is like the ultimate prize. I mean, for the people who run a city, when they make their Olympic bids, getting the Olympics is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa all rolled up into one for these guys. And when London got the Olympics for 2012, when they won that bid in a huge surprise over Paris, they were celebrating in the streets of London, particularly in the board rooms and the banks.
Also people in London wept when that occurred, because people in London had already started organizing about what they understand the Olympics coming to mean. Now, part of the reason why people have this idea about what it means for the Olympics to come to a given town is because of the history that does exist. I mean, when the Olympics come to an area, it may mean a corporate feeding frenzy, but what it also means is it means, as you put it, the utter emiseration of civil liberties, as well as attacks on working people and the poor. And history really does prove this out.
I mean, I’ll just give some of the lowlights here. In 1936, this was probably one of the most infamous ones, when the Olympics were awarded to Berlin, even though it was known at the time the extent of Hitler’s crimes and the crimes of the Nazis, there was a cleansing of the streets of Berlin, as it was put, to make the city look hospitable, as if Germany had emerged from the Depression. And that, of course, meant locking up dissidents, sending people to concentration camps. In 1968 in Mexico City there was the infamous massacre of 500 workers and students by Mexican security forces as they attempted to make their city, quote/unquote, “hospitable” for an international audience.
In 1984 in this country — it’s not just other countries by any stretch of the imagination — in 1984 there were the infamous gang sweeps in Los Angeles, which involved people in the L.A. City Council reviving the 1916 Anti-Syndicalism Act, which was used in 1916 to go after the Industrial Workers of the World, which was a radical union at the time. And part of what this law said was that it outlawed certain hand signals and modes of dress that sort of denoted somebody as being in the I.W.W., and they just applied that to young black men in L.A. So if you were wearing certain colors or gave people a certain kind of high five, it was grounds to arrest people in 1984 in L.A. And those gang sweeps were immortalized in the NWA video “Straight Outta Compton,” which was like a reenactment of the ’84 gang sweeps, which people, you know, should check out. It’s interesting.
In 1996 in Atlanta, keep it in this country. You had, according to the ACLU, 10,000 black homeless men arrested without cause, and you had a scandalous situation that they swept under the rug where police were found to fill out arrest slips in advance of arresting people, of, you know, black male – you know, they had those filled out going into the streets to make Atlanta, you know, ironically this image of the new South that President Clinton attempted to project at the 1996 Olympics.
But in 2004 in Athens, I think we all saw it go to another level. Athens was the first post-9/11 Olympics. And what we saw there was something that you even hadn’t seen in years past, and that was the presence of 50,000 paramilitary forces, not from Greece, but from the United States, Great Britain and Israel. And their presence was actually in violation of the Greek constitution, but it was welcomed by the Greek prime minister at the time because of that pressure to make Greece, quote/unquote, “hospitable” for an international audience. And that meant the mass arrest of thousands of ordinary people in Greece.
And so I think there is an awareness about what the Olympics bring, not to mention about the fact that they tend to suck municipalities dry of funds, which is why, interestingly, New York City, as you may know, was in the finals to get the Olympics. And something that ESPN radio reported with surprise and shock was that ESPN was being flooded with emails by people from New York, New Jersey area saying, “Please don’t send the Olympics here. We don’t want them in New York City. We don’t want this stadium.” And ESPN, you know, which is, of course, about promoting all things sports — you know, working people be damned — was absolutely flummoxed by this, like, ‘Wow! People don’t want the Olympics in New York City.’ And they were just scratching their heads. But if they looked at history, they would see why.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Zirin. He’s a sportswriter, and his book is called What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States Why the title?
DAVID ZIRIN: What’s My Name, Fool? , first to be very clear, it’s not a tribute to Mr. T. That was asked to me at one book reading. That would be “Pity the Fool.” No, What’s My Name, Fool? , it’s a reference to really what the heart of the book is about. The book is about the intersection of radical politics and pro sports, about times when movements off the field found expression on the playing field, and to me the high point of that history was the time when the heavyweight champion of the world had one foot in the Black Freedom struggle and one foot in anti-war movement. And, of course, I’m talking about Muhammad Ali.
Now, when Ali changed his name, first from Cassius Clay and then to Cassius X, which a lot of people don’t know – he was shortly known as Cassius X – and then to Muhammad Ali, when he did this, there was just no word for the firestorm that this caused, because, you know, the heavyweight champion of the world, that’s supposed to be a symbol of all that’s Americana, a symbol of, you know, masculinity and standing for the flag, and you had the heavyweight champion of the world join the organization of Malcolm X, join an organization in the Nation of Islam that believed in self-defense against racist attacks.
And I was – you know, I’m trying to relay to an audience today about the firestorm that this caused, and the only thing I could think of is you have to imagine if, say, Jenna Bush joined the Iraqi resistance. I mean, that would be the only way that you could make a comparison to when Ali joined the Nation of Islam and forced people to confront that name change.
Now, overnight, whether you called the champion Clay or Ali, it said everything about you in the 1960s. It said what side you were on in the Black Freedom struggle, what side you were on in the Free Speech fights on college campuses, soon the war in Vietnam. And therefore, Ali’s fights, they had this incredible morality plays, they became. You know, if the champion won, it wasn’t just about an individual winning a sporting event, it was about the confidence of a new and rising movement in a way that people took very personally and very seriously.
Now, you go to the title, What’s My Name, Fool?” , goes to when this name change controversy really was at its apex, and that’s in November 1965, when Ali fought a former two-time champion named Floyd Patterson. And in the lead up to the fight, this is what Patterson said. He said, “I am fighting Clay, and, yes, his name is Clay,” as a crusade to return the title to America and take it from the Black Muslims.
Now, Ali’s response to this was really interesting, because he had no response. This is one of the most loquacious athletes ever. You know, the press called him the “Louisville Lip” and “Gaseous Cassius,” because he liked to talk so much. But he didn’t say anything in the lead up to the fight and actually in the fight itself he let his fighting do the talking. Observers say he could have knocked out Patterson in one round, but actually, he drew it out over nine rounds. Sportswriter Robert Lipsite described it as watching someone pick the wings off a butterfly. And as Ali peppered Patterson with jabs, what he said, and he said it in a loud clear voice so all of press row could hear, he said, “Come on, America, come on, white America, say my name. What’s my name, fool?” And that’s where I got the title of the book. And that’s just the title. So, we got a lot in this book.
AMY GOODMAN: This is an excerpt of the remarkable film When We Were Kings , the documentary about Muhammad Ali’s 1974 championship bout with George Foreman in Kinshasa that came to be known as “the Rumble in the Jungle.”
MUHAMMAD ALI: Yeah, I’m in Africa. Yeah, Africa is my home. Damn America and what America thinks. Yeah, I live in America, but Africa is the home of the black man, and I was a slave 400 years ago, and I’m going back home to fight among my brothers.
AMY GOODMAN: That, a clip from When We Were Kings , Muhammad Ali. You talk about Muhammad Ali being at that time extremely political, outspoken, yet today young people might not know that at all, though Muhammad Ali is the most famous name in the world.
DAVID ZIRIN: Yes, I mean, today, Muhammad Ali’s image is used to sell everything from Sprite to Microsoft with the benefit of computer C.G.I. And there’s no question that what’s happened to Muhammad Ali, you know, is not dissimilar to what’s happened to people like Malcolm X, who is now on a postage stamp, or Martin Luther King, whose image you can now get on a commemorative cup when you go into McDonald’s on his birthday, in that Muhammad Ali’s political teeth have largely been extracted.
And that’s something that, with this book, I want to hope to return to the arena, is like the context of Ali’s politics, because the tradition of Ali and that tradition of resistance is something that’s, I think, very important for people to know. I mean, Ali was just named the number two most important athlete in history in ESPN’s Top 100 Athletes of All Time. But when you saw their tribute to him, I mean, you would have left wondering, “Okay, well, what’s so special about this guy?” And that’s why it’s so important to return to the arena, as we understand sports, that dynamic relationship between struggles on the streets, how it affected athletes, but then also how athletes then, in turn, affected those struggles.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to another clip of When We Were Kings . Muhammad Ali was known as an anti-war symbol to some. This is a news clip from that film.
NEWS CLIP Cassius Clay, at a federal court in Houston, is found guilty of violating the U.S. Selective Service laws by refusing to be inducted. He is sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Muhammad Ali then?
DAVID ZIRIN: Well, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title, and he was forced to report to a draft board in El Paso, Texas. Now, this was very interesting, because, you know, Ali was offered the same deal that many past heavyweight champions had been offered, which was, you know, that he could just – you know, it’s not like he was going to be sent to, you know, to Saigon or anything. He could have worn red, white, and blue trunks, boxed at some U.S.O. shows and kept the title.
But instead, what Ali said was – he was quite clear — he said, “The enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my people, my religion, or myself by fighting against other people” — speaking about the National Liberation Front in Vietnam – “who are fighting for their own freedom, justice and liberty.” And so he came out very — there was no mistaking where he stood on this.
So they stripped him of his title for his anti-war views, and he was sent down to the draft office there. And as he went down there, it wasn’t known exactly what Ali was going to do when he got there, because he was facing a prison sentence of five years, you know, in a federal prison. So there was actually a rally outside the El Paso area that was organized by H. Rap Brown and the students at Texas Western, now Texas El Paso. And they were out there, a couple hundred of them, with a huge banner, and what it said was “Draft Beer, Not Ali.” And when Ali went in there and when they called his name to take the step forward, I don’t – I mean, I don’t know if this made a difference, but they made quite a mistake when they called his name in that they called for Cassius Clay to take a step forward, and he absolutely refused. Then they asked for Muhammad Ali to take a step forward, and he absolutely refused.
And there’s a tremendous quote by a writer named Gerald Early who said that “when Ali refused to take that step forward, I felt more than pride in him, I felt as if my honor as a young black boy had been defended. He was the dragon slayer, and I went home into my room that night and I cried. I cried for myself and I cried for our black possibilities.” I mean, that’s just the power that that moment had for people was incalculable, but not something that’s talked about when ESPN Classic does a look at Muhammad Ali.
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t there a tradition of Black Muslim resistance to war, Elijah Muhammad being a war resister in World War II?
DAVID ZIRIN: Absolutely. I mean, the thing about Ali, though, was that nexus of him also being the heavyweight champion of the world. I mean, the tradition of athletes going to war is its own book in and of itself. And while there are some famous athletes – you know, Ted Williams comes to mind — who actually flew missions in the theater of war, more often than not, it was a ceremonial role. It was something that you did before the cameras to be on the newsreels before, you know, the film started. It was a way for you to show, you know, your patriotic duty or what not. And Ali just gave the stiff-arm to all of that stuff. He wanted no part of it. And there is this great clip of him in another documentary where he’s just walking down the hall, and he’s saying like ‘I will not compromise myself for the white man’s money,’ and he’s screaming this at the camera. And that’s really where Ali stood.
And it’s worth saying that now it’s like we talk about this and, you know, obviously I’m greatly taken with his political stance in the 1960s, but at the time he was an absolutely reviled figure in the mainstream press. I mean, he was torn apart. He was popular on the left and on college campuses, in the black community, but in terms of, like, the media culture at the time — sometimes we speak about the media today as if it’s this corporate monolith, as if in the past it was somehow this arena of debate and discussion. But back then, oh, my goodness, there was no Democracy Now! back then. You know, he was absolutely destroyed.
And if I could, I would like to read a brief section of what sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, who was by far the most famous sportswriter of the era, what he wrote about Ali. And you gotta think that Jimmy Cannon is like Mike Lupica on steroids. I mean, he was huge. This is what he wrote about Ali. He wrote “Clay” — of course, he calls him Clay – “Clay fits in with the famous singers no one can hear and the punks riding motorcycles and Batman” – I don’t understand the Batman part – “and the boys with their long dirty hair and the girls with the unwashed look and the college kids dancing naked at secret proms and the revolt of students who get a check from dad and the painters who copy the labels off soup cans and surf bums who refuse to work and the whole pampered cult of the bored young.” I mean, my goodness, if I read that you would think the Unabomber wrote that. It’s this insane rant. But this was the most famous sportswriter in the United States, basically laying it down that Muhammad Ali was somehow less than a human being because he stood up to this war.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Zirin. What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States is the title of his book. When we come back, I want to ask you about Jackie Robinson, about the Williams sisters. I also want to ask you about Pat Tillman. I want to talk also about resistance today of sports athletes. Stay with us.[break]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dave Zirin, sportswriter, author of What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States . Pat Tillman?
DAVID ZIRIN: Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman was a man who was an overachiever as a football player. He went out of college undrafted. He went on to become an all-pro playing for the Arizona Cardinals. And as is well known, he left after 9/11, turned down a multimillion dollar contract to join the army rangers with his brother to fight in Afghanistan and eventually in Iraq, although at the time he thought he was just fighting in Afghanistan.
Now, the Tillman story is a tragic one for many reasons, and I would like to go through it a little bit. First and foremost, Pat Tillman was asked hundreds, thousands of times, according to his parents, to be a recruiter for the army, to go on commercials about join the army, army of one, Pat Tillman. They wanted to put his name on posters everywhere. And Tillman refused. Why did Tillman refuse? We don’t know, because, I mean, he was very iconoclastic. He was known to have hair down to his behind. He did cliff diving, all kinds of stuff. He never came out and said, ‘I’m going to go over there and occupy and kill,’ and all this stuff. He kept his reasons to himself about why he was doing what he was doing. And that actually frustrated people in the Justice Department, in the Pentagon. They wanted to use this guy, and they weren’t able to do it. And there are quotes about that, about their sort of frustration about that.
Pat Tillman, of course, died. He died in Afghanistan. He was shot and killed. At the time we were told that he died in the process of attempting to find bin Laden and to take a hill in the caves of Afghanistan. Now, there is a tragic element to this, of course. When Tillman died there was a nationally televised funeral that John McCain spoke at, as well as other politicians from Arizona. George W. Bush during the election campaign actually addressed the fans at the Arizona Cardinals game through the jumbotron to tell them about the heroism of Pat Tillman in attempting to take this hill.
There was only one problem with this scenario, and that’s that it was a total, absolute lie. What happened to Pat Tillman was that he was killed by his own troops. I mean, you read reports of the incident. I mean, it’s almost like a metaphor for the whole war. It is just so – it’s insane. I mean, their Humvee broke down. A section of them broke off to circle around and look for, you know, for help or what not, and they ended up circling around and firing at each other, and Pat Tillman died.
Now, what is so disgusting about this is that the Pentagon knew immediately that this had occurred. But they kept that information secret not only from the media, not only from Pat Tillman’s parents, but also from his brother who was in the same battalion as him and was somewhere else at that time. They even kept the information from him. And, I mean, it’s just — it boggles the mind.
Now, what’s important about this to say is that there is a lot of — I mean, these are not conspiracy theories, but Pat Tillman’s death happened at the same time that the photos around Abu Ghraib were released. And it’s definitely thought now by Pat Tillman’s parents that the reason why they hid the information was because they needed a P.R. boost in the wake of Abu Ghraib. And Pat and Mary Tillman – Pat, Sr., his father — have come out since then strongly and publicly against the Bush administration and against the lies that led, you know, to the lying about their son. They rightly are calling this an obscenity. They were used as props at their own son’s funeral. And so it’s like, what did Pat Tillman die for? He died for P.R. for this war. And that, I mean, I can’t imagine being Pat or Mary Tillman. But they very private people, and they’re coming forward and speaking out. And to that they deserve all of our support in that process.
AMY GOODMAN: David Zirin, I wanted to end by asking you about Jackie Robinson, another very well-known sports figure.
DAVID ZIRIN: Yes. I would like to read a quote about Jackie Robinson, if I could, by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jackie Robinson was a political person. First of all, let’s go with myth and reality about Jackie Robinson very briefly. Jackie Robinson the myth was that he was sort of like the quiet person who suffered in silence. Jackie Robinson once said, ‘People see me as sort of the suffering freak black saint.’ You know, the person who never talks, has nothing to say, but in reality Jackie Robinson was a very political person. He had a sports column in the New York Post , which was then a liberal publication. He wrote about issues like civil rights a great deal.
His politics were very complicated. He was a Republican, but that was because his family was chased out of Georgia by the Democrat Dixiecrats at a young age, and in his mind his whole life he saw the Democrats as being connected with segregation and Dixie.
But just – when I’ll read this quote – like, a lot of people criticize Robinson for being political. And this is Dr. Martin Luther King in defense of him. He said, “Jackie Robinson has the right to be political, because back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim that walks in the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.” And I think that nails it very well.
Jackie Robinson and this Brooklyn Dodgers team – and I write about this in the book – were in some respects a stalking horse for the whole civil rights movement. In the late 40s and early 50s, before Brown v. Board of Ed. , before Montgomery, they’re going around and playing games in stadiums that are segregated throughout the South. You know, the Klan is threatening, you know, that they’re gonna shoot all of the players if Jackie Robinson takes the field. And the players largely who were from the South stood with Jackie Robinson in this process.
And in the book, I interview a person who was at a lot of these games who is still alive, a sportswriter named Lester “Red” Rodney. And Lester Rodney, he has the most amazing stories about fans, white fans in the South starting to cheer for Robinson at the end of games, and this idea of seeing black and white play together on the field. That’s why Roy Campanella once said, he said, “Hey, Brown v. Board of Ed. ” – Roy Campanella was the African American catcher of the Brooklyn Dodgers — Roy Campanella said, Brown v. Board of Ed. gets all the credit, but we were doing Brown v. Board of Ed. on the playing field before the Supreme Court ever heard about it.” You know, and that’s what he said, and someone laughed, and he said, “What, you think I’m joking?”
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Jackie Robinson’s history. You talk about how he was a Republican, that he thought the Democrats represented segregation. What it meant for him to be a player, how he was seen, the McCarthy era, and then his relationship with Nixon and with Martin Luther King.
DAVID ZIRIN: Yes. Well, it’s complicated, definitely. I mean, Jackie Robinson was somebody who was never shy about expressing his political views. He was deeply political, deeply articulate. But he also was somebody who was a bit of a political cipher. He bounced around a lot between different views and opinions.
In the late 1940s during McCarthyism, Jackie Robinson had been so successful in integrating Major League Baseball that he was listed as the number two respected American in the United States behind Harry Truman in the late 1940s, despite the fact that he received thousands of death threats throughout the season.
Now, in 1949 Robinson was asked to actually speak at the House of Un-American Activities Committee in condemnation of the great activist, singer, actor and actually former great athlete, Paul Robeson. And it was very – Robeson, just before Robinson came out there, had famously just taken the heads off of the House of the Un-American Activities Committee, I mean, the most blistering speech, where they basically told Robeson to go back to Russia, and Robeson said, you know, ‘my family built this country from the bottom up, and no fascist-minded individuals like you are going to tell me what I can or can’t do.’ And this was really the first time that HUAC was punctured, you know, because before that there was a lot of, you know, ‘I take the Fifth,’ and people were remaining mum in the face of their intimidation and their might.
So they called up Branch Ricky, who was a staunch anti-communist. Branch Ricky was the general manager and part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they said ‘We need Robinson in here to condemn Robeson.’ And Robinson — Ricky actually wasn’t wild about doing it. The NAACP offered to defend Robinson to say, ‘You don’t have to go in there and speak against Robeson.’ But it has to be said that Robinson wanted to do it.
And once again, you get into a lot of conflicting views about why. And, I mean, the fact that Robinson did it, I would say, is unforgivable. It’s a reason why a lot of activists in the 1960s, like Malcolm X, they pretty much tore Robinson up. Like Malcolm X once said, he said, “Cassius Clay” – this was before the name change – Malcolm X said, “Cassius Clay is our hero. He’s the first real black sports hero. Jackie Robinson is a white man’s hero.” And he said that because of the Robeson incident.
But what Robinson did, if you read the whole transcript, I mean, he came there and he – I mean, the speech is incredible, like he spoke out against HUAC, too. He basically said, ‘Don’t tell me about communism, don’t tell me about any of this stuff, because communism isn’t the reason that dogs are being sicked on us in the South. Communism isn’t what’s burning black churches.’ You know, so he has this speech where basically he lays out to HUAC that racism is about America, not about agitators stirring people up. But then, at the same time, he did take a shot at Robeson, saying that — that his people — that he — basically speaking for all African Americans said, are not going to give up our dreams of equality, as he put it, for a siren song sung in bass. And that’s a famous quote, you know, because Paul Robeson had that famous basso profundo voice.
And, I mean, the tragedy of that was that the HUAC people and the media, as well, did not, could not care less about Robinson’s eloquence about racism. They could not care less. What they did was they took the slap at Robeson and ran with it, and that was the headline in the papers the next day: “Robinson smacks down Robeson” was basically the headline. And that led to Robeson’s — it was a factor in Robeson’s political isolation, and it’s worth saying that Robeson was approached for a response to Robinson, and he refused to do it. And he said, ‘I refuse to be part of this kind of internecine feud with Jackie Robinson.’
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Robinson wrote in his memoir that he was sorry he spoke out.
DAVID ZIRIN: Deeply, deeply sorry. His greatest regret
AMY GOODMAN: When Martin Luther King went to jail?
DAVID ZIRIN: Ooh, when Martin Luther King went to jail —
AMY GOODMAN: Jackie Robinson’s response?
DAVID ZIRIN: Yeah, Jackie Robinson came out strongly against it. I mean, Jackie Robinson had a very interesting relationship with Martin Luther King, that’s very interesting, because Jackie Robinson, you read his writings on the time, he is always in support of Martin Luther King, always in support of everything King does, except on two questions that are very interesting. One question where he differs with Martin Luther King is on the question of violence and nonviolence. I mean, after one of the church burnings where four young African American girls were killed, Jackie Robinson wrote a column once again in the New York Post . And you always have to shake your head when you think of this stuff actually in the New York Post , because of the rag that it is today. But Robinson wrote that – he said, “Martin Luther King has officially lost me due to his credo of nonviolence,” he said, “because we cannot respond nonviolently when our children are being killed.” The other instance where they differed – and this is to me very fascinating – is, you know, Jackie Robinson was a veteran, so when Martin Luther King, Jr. came out against the war in Vietnam, Jackie Robinson wrote that it was a tragic mistake on behalf of King. And King actually called him up on the phone, and they had like a two-hour conversation on the phone. And when it was done, what Robinson said was he said ‘Look, I may not agree with Dr. King on this question, but I will never speak out against him again on this issue.’
AMY GOODMAN: And he appealed to Nixon and asked him to — we only have 30 seconds — but asked him to release Martin Luther King.
DAVID ZIRIN: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. I mean, the Nixon relationship is a complicated one. At the end of his life Jackie Robinson was not a Nixon fan, as when he saw Nixon pursue the Southern strategy in 1968. But the important thing to remember about Jackie Robinson – I’ll end with this point — is not to look at him for sort of a political lead, because he’s all over the place politically. The point is that he represents part of a very real tradition of athletes having more than just bodies and brawn and sweat, but them having minds, as well. Athletes are part of our world. They have a relationship with our world, and it is important for us to engage with them, as we would engage with anybody, as people with thoughts, ideas, dreams and maybe even fighters alongside with us in the move towards a more just society.
AMY GOODMAN: David Zirin, I want to thank you for being with us. This is just part one of our conversation What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States .