When will team sports see a Openly Gay Male athlete?

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At the NFL Combine, there was speculation over the sexuality of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. And his answer, “far from it, farrrrrrrrr from it” on Katie Couric actually didn’t help things. It just reeks of over-compensation. And Te’o is Mormon, which is so strict it’s like…if Christianity is cocaine than Mormonism is crack.

But this isn’t about just Te’o. Earlier this week Colorado tight end Nick Kasa admitted that during the NFL combine a team asked him if he “liked girls”. Because of Kasa’s comments, the NFL is looking to investigate whether or not there is any truth to Kasa’s claims about questions he was asked during the combine. And now, Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell is reporting that he was also indirectly asked about his sexuality. h/t Down and Distance

This comes off the heels of a recently retired NFL veteran being out after a fight with his boyfriend over soy sauce led to legal charges.

So when will we see an openly gay male athlete in one of the four team sports?

I think sports may lag the rest of society here, and it could be a long time before we see an openly gay male athlete in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL- mostly because of the atmosphere, reputation and language of the locker room. Of course, I regard that as a travesty because if you can integrate lifestyle differences in the military -an even bigger bastion of so called manliness- you can do the same in sports.

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Why Are Caucasians Disinterested in the NBA?

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By Paul M. Banks

There’s a very popular website entitled “Stuff White People Like.” I’m guessing you won’t find the NBA featured there and that’s a crying shame because the Association’s level of play is as exciting and entertaining as it’s ever been! The game is taking off all around the world as most of the website hits for NBA content come from outside the United States.

But I live in Chicago, the best sports town in the country. Nearly all of my white friends, who LOVE COLLEGE basketball and follow it religiously, ignore the NBA. Even during the postseason when the Bulls just played in the most exciting playoff series in league history. My Caucasian friends were more interested in the two local sub .500 baseball teams. And it’s not just my social network, or a Chicago thing; it’s part of a larger overall trend.

Is it just plain racism? The NFL has just as many players shooting their guns off in strip club parking lots and getting into fights. Baseball and hockey have just as many, if not more thugs in their respective leagues. In all of these sports, it’s just a tiny fraction of players who are malfeasant and miscreant- the overwhelming majority just go about their business and stay out of trouble

Yet the NBA (and no other league) is somehow stuck with the “collection of thugs” pejorative. You’ve heard the ignorant and incorrect slams over and over again: “no one plays defense, they don’t try, they’re a bunch of gang-bangers and lazy thugs.”   stephenjackson

I asked sportswriter Dave Zirin (author of four books and a column, Edge of Sports appearing on Sports Illustrated’s website. Also host of XM satellite’s weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio) about how these racist sports fans mask their bigotry, and also what type of things I should say to them in order to set them straight.

“They use euphemisms. I would say: first, you don’t know what you’re missing because the product is as good as it’s ever been. They got rid of the rules that inexplicably led to Steve Nash becoming a two-time MVP, made the game a lot more exciting in my book. I hated hand-checking and second, do you or do you no believe in racial profiling? And if people think that you can determine someone’s character based on the color of their skin and how they dress, that’s racist. If you’re deciding not to watch the NBA because someone has tattoos, that’s racist. They’re like ‘oh black people, tattoos, baggy jeans.’

That’s why I opposed the dress code stuff from David Stern and his whole move to give the league quote, red-state appeal. Those are Stern’s words by the way. Not that I disagree with him trying to broaden the sport or get into new states-  that’s cool as hell, but the way he was doing it seemed to say, you have uncertainties and fears about these young black guys with the corn rows and I’m going to validate your fears and do something about it. So instead of trying to build bridges and acknowledge that the reason there’s this gap between the black experience and the white experience in this country, has a lot more to do with gentrification, with stratification, with white flight, the deterioration of our cities, the gap between rich and poor. Instead of the NBA being a force for actually trying to be a bridge, David Stern took another approach and said ‘I’ll keep these guys in line,’ Zirin said.

During the last 30 years, the American middle class has dwindled significantly. The very rich have gotten much wealthier and the percentage of people living below the poverty line has shot way up. These trends increased at an even faster rate during the past eight years. NBA marketing followed suit, raising ticket prices to a ludicrous level and pricing out the middle and working classes. The league is still doing well from a financial standpoint, but suffering greatly from a public relations perspective. The league’s leadership demonstrated business acumen, but holds horrible misperceptions about American society. However, it’s not all their fault, as the media has dropped the ball on this too.

To quote a 2007 column of Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock: “It would {also} help if well-intentioned media offered some depth to their analysis of America’s complex racial dilemma…Black NBA players have aligned themselves in terms of attitude with hip hop/prison culture. Every one pretty much acknowledges that the NBA’s predominantly white in-arena fan base has a problem with the league’s hip-hop/prison image.”

I asked Zirin about the league’s blatant attempt to market itself to just the very top and the very bottom classes in American society.nbadresscode

“Stern even said, when talking about the dress code, words to this effect: we have to make the game attractive to our ticket buying fan base, it may not have been ‘attractive’ but the part I’m quoting verbatim is ‘ticket buying fan base.’ When you have tickets that cost an insane amount of money, I grew up in New York City I remember being 12-13 years old and me and my buddies pooling our allowance and going to see Magic Johnson or Jordan, you could do that.

It’s crazy and that’s true across the board in sports, but it’s especially problematic and destructive in basketball, because David Stern very artfully marketed hip-hop in the 1980s. He made the NBA a hip-hop league and made it very attractive to African-American youth, but also whites that were maybe looking to mainline a little bit with some black cool. He did that, but now the status of the league is on an anti-hip hop mission,” Zirin responded.

Clearly, the league has painted itself into a corner regarding how they’ve marketed themselves. The NBA’s relationship with hip-hop culture has become maladaptive, disjointed and conflicted. That could be a big reason why the Caucasian consumer class, middle class and working classes who embraced the game during the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan era are long gone, and probably not coming back any time soon- unless the league higher-ups take a long, hard serious look at how they promote, market and price their product.

Pressing Social Issues in Sport Part 4 of 4

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Paul M. Banks has an exclusive interview with Dave Zirin discussing the past, present and future social issues at the heart of sports

On a recent episode of “The Simpsons,” Mr. Burns bought a basketball franchise (Mark Cuban made a guest voice appearance). On that episode, Burns opened up a new arena by telling the crowd “Welcome to the American dream: a billionaire using public funds to finance a private playground for the rich.”

This joke had a lot of painful truth to it, as that’s exactly what happens in each one of our cities when a new billion dollar stadium is built. Our hard earned tax payer dollars go towards financing a private building that each one of us must pay $50 every time we want to go see the inside of it. That money could be going towards solving the health care or climate crisis; or towards our badly under-funded infrastructure, public transportation and school systems. As a sports fan and journalist, I have to put these awful truths aside in order to enjoy watching the games I love so much. I asked Zirin how most sports fans do this. Is it cognitive dissonance? How come there have been no protests or organization against these heists of public funds? citi-field

“Huge percentages of people, according to polls like Rasmussen oppose public funds for stadiums, so the sentiment is there. I think people get that they’re being screwed, but there’s very little engagement by the left towards the people who have the capacity and the experience to organize people against such a thing. With the world of sports, because you have a lot of people who see themselves as ‘on the left’ or ‘fighters for social justice:’ because they see sports as something alien to them, they have no capacity to figure out how to organize sports fans,” Zirin said.

I agree- too many leaders on the American left have overlooked sports, downplayed their importance or just conceited that arena to the right. That’s the wrong route to take and it’s a good example of why we’re in this mess.

Sportswriter Dave Zirin is the author of four books and his column, Edge of Sports, appears on Sports Illustrated’s website. He is the host of XM satellite’s weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio. I asked him what his next project is all about.
“I just submitted the draft in for a book that’s going to come out on Simon and Schuster’s Scribners brand, the working title is “Bad Sports: How owners are ruining the games we love.” And it’s looking at the way pro sports owners are creating an environment for the fans that’s inhospitable and I compare them to the AIG bankers and insurance giants who have gone repeatedly for short term gain, and with few exceptions have just completely trashed the concept of stability for their sports, alienating fan bases, kids, municipalities, and doing all of this just because there are some very short term benefits for them to do so. And it’s hallowing out their sports…it’s a light read,” Zirin responded.

I have a feeling the names George Steinbrenner, Peter Angelos and Bill Wirtz might end up in this next tome.

Pressing Social Issues in Sport Part 3 of 4

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Paul M. Banks has an exclusive interview with Dave Zirin discussing the past, present and future social issues at the heart of sports

As I continued my interview with Zirin, I asked him about how/why some athletes are able to overcome the “just shut up and play” principle set forth by the status quo.  “The great political athletes of the ‘60s were, you could argue, the best basketball player Bill Walton, the best football player Jim Brown, the greatest track and field athlete in a generation Tommie Smith, people often forget how many insane records Tommie Smith had, his 200 meter record held for 20 years, the best college basketball player in history, Lew Alcindor, maybe the second best college player of all Bill Walton. So these guys all had the cover of their greatness,” Zirin said.

It’s true that if you’re really good at what you do (no matter what field you’re in) than you have more leeway in expressing your true viewpoints. If you’re mediocre or worse at your craft- then you more like have to just acquiesce.etanthomas

“Now Adam Morrison is trying to survive in the league, hanging on by his fingernails, J.J. Redick, believe it or not has a more secure place in the NBA. And I think if Adam Morrison was the kind of guy, a 20 point a game scorer, he would have been somebody who would have shaken things up in the NBA politically. And it’s a shame. For me it’s a shame because rarely do you see players with that kind if courage,” Zirin offered. Morrison actually cried when he heard that his favorite band, the socially conscious heavy metal quartet Rage Against the Machine broke up. Morrison, the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and college co-player of the year with Redick, was known for his free-thinking ideas and appreciation of radical views. 
Etan Thomas was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Minnesota Timberwolves last week. Thomas, a friend of Zirin’s, is an example of athletes getting a chance to possibly be political when they play for a D.C. team.

“I think so because Abe Pollin, who is unfortunately in ailing health tends to be progressive. His son, Robert Pollin is a professor and one of the leading left-wing economists in the United States, and it certainly helps to be in D.C. Etan Thomas has some powerful friends, he was there with his wife and kids at the White House Easter egg roll, and the Wizards like that too: a very popular president invites one of the players to the Easter Egg roll. That’s great so you’re able to parlay sort of official politics as entertainment and I think it gives Etan some cover to do the work he does whether in prisons or against the death penalty.

Sportswriter Dave Zirin is the author of four books and his column, Edge of Sports, appears on Sports Illustrated’s website. He is the host of XM satellite’s weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio.

Pressing Social Issues in Sport Part 2 of 3

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Paul M. Banks has an exclusive interview with Dave Zirin discussing the past, present and future social issues at the heart of sports

Sportswriter Dave Zirin is the author of four books and a column, “Edge of Sports,” appearing on Sports Illustrated’s website. He is the host of XM satellite’s weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio.

There’s been a lot of buzz here in Chicago regarding the second city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. I was a part of that- writing for the 2016 Olympic Channel. I must admit much of my work ended up as little more than cheerleading of the city and the bid, but now it’s time to hear the other side: the case against the bid. Zirin told me about Olympic drawbacks during our exclusive interview.

“The Olympic slogan is ‘faster, stronger, higher,’ but it really should be ‘something wicked this way comes’ because when the Olympics come to a city, whether it’s Beijing, Atlanta, Athens, Greece there are certain things that follow, certain as night follows day: promo_ali

One is the absolute bankrupting of municipalities, horrible debt is accrued. The second is a serious attack on public housing to make way for facilities. And the third is a national security crackdown that makes life for poor residents in a given community very hard.

Now you think about those three components:  graft, corruption and debt, gentrification, and police misconduct than you think about a city like Chicago. If you have a governor that hasn’t been indicted or imprisoned I’m not sure what their name is. {Before Pat Quinn, we are indeed 4 out of our last 5 in our governors ending up criminals}     With all due respect, graft is just a fact there.

Secondly, the police torture cases that have taken place- it’s the reason {former Governor} Ryan commuted the death row, it’s because all of the cases of torture that emerged from Jon Burge, the infamous police officer, and it’s also ground zero for gentrification when you think about the Taylor projects or Cabrini Green that have been torn down and condoized. So you have all that in Chicago already, so people have to ask themselves, when they think do we want the Olympics? So if we all agree that graft, debt, police misconduct and gentrification are problems anyway, do we really want to take all those components and then put them on steroids?”

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That’s something all Chicago 2016 proponents should consider because as F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I’ll try. We then moved on to asking him about a topic that I recently discussed with Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, the NBA’s one-and-done rule, and the chance to amend it.

“I think it’s insane that someone can be 18 and carry a gun in Iraq, yet not get a paycheck in the NBA. That said I think the whole one-and-done mentality that forces people like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, who are obviously NBA ready, to spend this joke year in college makes a mockery of college institutions. I would like to see a rule where, you can declare after high school and go directly to the NBA, or if you go to college, it’s a three year commitment to stay in college to your junior year. That way the school gets the benefit of having you there, you get the almost enforced benefit, because it’s really hard to stay somewhere for three years and coast, even in the shady environment that does exist.  So it compels people to try and get an education.

There are some other things I’d like to see as well. I’d like to see something that takes college sports out of the gutter, because that’s where it is right now, and it’s created an entirely illegal economy where athletes are paid or women on campus are presented to them as objects, it’s profoundly unhealthy,” he said.

The University of Colorado’s “prostitution slush fund” comes to mind. Zirin, like myself, is in favor of some sort of financial stipend for the athletes, who generate large sums of money for their schools. Next we moved on to Mike Kryzewski and Jerry Colangelo politicizing Team USA basketball.

“Jerry Colangelo by all accounts is a brilliant sports executive,
and anybody who doesn’t think so look at what Robert Sarver has done to the Phoenix Suns, you’ll see how impressive Colangelo is. Mike Kryzewski, even a Maryland guy like me has to admit, Mt. Rushmore basketball coach, one of the five best in NCAA history. That being said, their actions with regards to the ’06 team were disgusting. As a way to sort of psyche up their players, many of whom were very young, they brought in vets who were missing limbs and said to the players, ‘this is why you’re playing basketball.’ And I have nothing but respect for what the vets have been through and if it’s a thrill for them to meet these players then great, but actually exploiting what I thought was an illegal and immoral war to say ‘this is why you need to win a gold medal,’ to me is not about veterans and sacrifice and service, it’s about a political agenda, and they did it with a lot of publicity and fanfare,” Zirin said before continuing: coachkrzyekski1

And I’ve talked to Etan Thomas about it. Thomas is someone who actually goes to Walter Reed, unlike Coangelo or Kryzewski, and interacts with people who’ve been hurt and speaks to the troops, so I give Etan all the credit in the world on this. And he thought it was disgusting and said so on the record. Colangelo much more than Kryzewski is someone who has a demonstrated record of using sports to advance his political agenda. Theme nights, the presidential prayer team, he put a lot of money, millions of dollars behind calling for people at different points, to drop to their knees and pray for George and Laura Bush. This was on radio stations across the country. And think about the key word ‘team,’ selling politics as sports.”

When I attended the National Association of Basketball Coaches Dinner honoring Colangelo with the inaugural “Court of Honor” award in Chicago, they did actually hold prayer time for all party guests. Zirin spoke more about Coach K.

“Mike Kryzewski got into a lot of hot water for holding a big fundraiser, for I believe it was Elizabeth Dole in his on-campus residence at Duke University which is against the policies of the college. He also recently, when Barack Obama did his bracket said on ESPN, ‘Obama should worry about the economy and not the NCAA tournament.’ Do you think he would have said that if McCain was in the White House? It’s an honor that John McCain has us losing in the Sweet 16 he would have said. So that’s who Coach K is.   So there’s enough of a political track record with Colangelo and Coach K to look very skeptical at them bringing the troops in and telling the players, this is why you need to win the gold.”

Pressing Social Issues in Sport Part 1 of 3

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Paul M. Banks has an exclusive interview with Dave Zirin discussing the past, present and future social issues at the heart of sports

The legendary Howard Cossell once proudly said that rule number one of sports was, they are never to mix with politics.  Today, nothing could be further from the truth. Another sportswriter who agrees with me is Dave Zirin, author of four books and a column, “Edge of Sports,” which appears on Sports Illustrated’s website.

I sat down with Zirin for an exclusive conversation at “The Progressive” magazine’s 100th anniversary conference.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than when I meet someone who bought one of my books and says that they there were now able to connect with somebody politically that they just otherwise couldn’t. They say things like I love my Dad, but we just can’t talk politics, and then through sports they’re actually able to have a real political dialogue. They get started and it’s ‘let’s talk Muhammad Ali, let’s talk Title IX, let’s talk about will there ever be a gay male athlete in team sports?’ and then they’re able to engage on a political level. And that’s been really fun and interesting. It’s rewarding because we live in a society where a lot of people are alienated from politics, but they’re not alienated from sports,” he said.terrordome-full

We all know how mind-numbingly boring 99.999% of athlete/coaches interviews and press conferences can be. This is simply because the individuals are regurgitating the same agonizingly mundane and ridiculously repetitive clichés that the team’s PR department trained them to give as a response. This is all part of the “just shut up and play” mentality that teams expect at all levels of the organization. It’s also glorified and promoted by the evil empire of ESPN. Free thinkers are discouraged at best, ostracized at worst.

I asked Zirin why this is so.

“I think there are three reasons why that is. The first is that sports is an absolutely trillion dollar business, the likes of which it’s early founders and funders never could have envisioned a hundred years ago. And any time you have a business of such size and scope, there’s an effort to corporatize; make it as bland and broad-based as possible for the purpose of selling it to a global audience, just like the way they sell Michael Bay films overseas and they make hundreds of millions of dollars. The sheer size of it makes it hostile to anything that could possibly strangle the golden goose.

Secondly, the people that control sports, the owners as a group, are much farther to the right than the rest of society. Pro sports owners on their own gave more to McCain over Obama by a 6:1 margin, according to a study by politico.com. Remember what made Obama so powerful was his fundraising prowess and McCain had to take federal funds, so think about how out of step that is from the country as a whole. And owners control the messaging in sports.dave_zirin

But there’s something else too. This is the first society that ever viewed sports as some people watch and some people play. Every other society: feudal societies, hunter-gatherer societies, you would watch and you would play. This is long before sports became a commodity to be sold. But we have a society where some people are conditioned to be watchers and any time you have a situation like that, it breeds passivity,” Zirin articulated.

The three factors he described have without a doubt paved the way for “establishment politics” (messages of military, rank nationalism, jingoism) to make their presence felt in sports. Any time we rise for the singing of “God bless America,” The Star Spangled Banner or express excitement from an Air Force flyover we are making or responding to a deeply political statement. But we think of these things as just routine because they are commonplace at the stadium. More extremist examples would be Military Appreciation Night (so conveniently acronyms M.A.N.) at the Washington Nationals park. (although this isn’t much of an influential example because no one really seems to be aware that the Nats exist), This promotion, little more than an advertisement for the military-industrial complex, leads to Veterans Day ceremonies sponsored by leading defense contractor Boeing art Soldier Field.

Then the slippery slope starts to John Smoltz and his warning of “the socialist conspiracy to teach evolution to our children” and also Jerry Colangelo staging his “Faith and Family days” at the arena/ballpark, promoting his anti women’s rights propaganda to a captive audience.

Clearly, when it’s status quo or right-wing politics, indeed politics have their place in sports. (or so we’re told) When it’s resistance politics, or dissident politics on the other hand…then politics have no place in sports. (supposedly)