The Dave Zirin Interview

zirin.jpgDave Zirin is a lightning rod for trouble. He is a white man who boldly stepped into the arena of sports and race and politics – and took the side of the underdog. He has been attacked by writers like me (dwil) who questioned his conviction, his purpose, and his motives; questioned why a white man would chance the comfort of his skin color’s privilege to champion female athletes and athletes of color. He is still attacked by the other side who question his politics, mistaking his beyond progressive politics for the overly simplistic label of liberal-leftist.

By withstanding these attacks through plainly facing his critics, Zirin stands even taller than most allegedly insightful sports writing peers. What separates him from them is the depth of his understanding of the intersection of race and sports and politics, and society.

Now, he is feared by shallow members of the sports media, respected by thinkers who too see beyond the games into the dark morass of the corporate fray; into the fear-based sickness on which rests the pillars of institutional racism and sexism.

Dave Zirin is one sports writer who is unafraid to place his beliefs before the glare of the sun’s harsh light and unafraid to search moonless nights for hidden truths. In the following interview we explore these beliefs and these truths with him.

Enjoy.

dwil, mizzo

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DWil: Before we even get to your background: In the last year or so we’ve had the Duke Lacrosse Incident, “David Stern’s Behavioral Modification Program”, the “Outing of NFL Hoodlums”, the alleged “NBA All-Star Ghettofest”, and the Imus Affair. To quote Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there?”

DZ: What the hell is going on out there is that every commissioner of the three major sports – another thing you can mention is Bud Selig and the anti-Barry Bonds Gate, too, saying that he’s not going to show up for number 756. It’s an outrageous slap in the face not only to Bonds but at history.

DWil: Is he [Selig] really set on not showing up?

DZ: He’s really set on not showing up.

Mizzo: He wants to take his name He doesn’t want to be a part of history…

DWil: I find that interesting because Bowie Kuhn didn’t show up when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record for reasons of racism.

DZ: Exactly. That was completely racist. And what’s so interesting about it is that Selig is a student of history and he is more than aware that relationship between Kuhn and Aaron. It’s also interesting that Aaron himself won’t show up. Aaron and Selig are very close friends – it’s very disturbing to me that Selig would use that history between Kuhn and Aaron and twist it to their own ends.

DWil: I know Aaron was on hand for Bonds hitting numbers 600 and 660 – at least one if not both of those occasions –

DZ: Plus, Bonds did a commercial with Henry –

DWil: Do you think Selig asked Aaron to do his bidding and stay away from Bonds?

DZ: I don’t know the dynamic [between Selig and Aaron]. I do know that Richard Justice (Houston Chronicle) who has various ties to the commissioner’s office said a year ago that there was no way that Selig would allow Bonds to get to 756. He said Selig will use everything from the ridiculous Mitchell Commission to the grand jury in BALCO to stop Bonds.

However, it’s looking more and more, at least from a legal perspective that this is something that Selig is going to be able to do. So instead, he’s trying to do it in a different kind of way. In stead of actually trying to keep Bonds from hitting 756 he’s trying to shame bonds out of the record books.

But let me get back to the, “what the hell is going on here,” question.

DWil: May I just ask you one more question about Bonds….

DZ: Sure.

DWil: Why would Henry, having been through what he went through with racism and knowing that racism is equally insidious today – why would he, as a black man, do this? Do you have a feel for that?

DZ: I don’t because one of the things Aaron has said is that not until it’s all said and done is he actually going to give his comments about why [he’s not actively celebrating Bonds’ impending breaking oh Aaron’s record].

Though things have change somewhat, the most cutting-edge thing Aaron had to deal with were death threats against himself and his family. Yet, that is something Bonds has had to deal with as well. So even if we talk about racism changing, things stay so strikingly the same.

Back to what the hell…. This is something I’ve tried to wrap my head around. It seems like all the commissioners seem to be united in having a Rudyard Kipling complex; “The Commissioner Kiplings” is what I call them.

It’s this idea that they are going to be the people who have this approach that says we are going to civilize these barbaric young, black athletes. And they won’t use those words exactly, they’ll use words like “urban” and “hip-hop” and “gangsta culture.” All that really come down to at the end of the day is that, with the media’s help, they can make sanctifying and “legitimate” racial profiling. It doesn’t matter about the content of these folks character; it’s about how they dress, how they look, how they speak. Basically, they’re saying it’s bad for business and that they’re going to take it upon themselves to be the moral guardians of sports.

Mizzo: Are the commissioners being reflective of our society or is this just the individual organizations acting?

DZ: I think it’s very reflective of a part of society. It’s definitely reflective of the sports media which is, despite how diverse some aspects of sports are, the sports media has remained stubbornly white a stubbornly middle class in its outlook. One of the results of that is a lot of resentment that you saw back when there was a young Cassius Clay before he was political. You saw a lot of the media saying, he talks too much. I can’t wait for somebody to button his lip – and actually agitate for Sonny Liston to do serious harm to Clay. I mean this is something that you still see. It’s a common thread and it’s exposed itself so sharply when Jason Whitlock came out so publicly speaking about the “Black KKK” and “we need a new civil rights movement against black idiots.” What you saw after that was some of the white sports columnists in the country, Rick Telander, Bill Simmons, come out and basically say, I am so encouraged by Jason Whitlock and I have so much respect for what he’s saying… I mean Jason Whitlock might as well change his name to, “Jason Whitlock who happens to be black,” because that’s how he is always quoted. These white reporters say, ‘this is from Jason Whitlock who happens to be black but don’t call me racist for talking about a black culture of lawlessness, because I’m quoting Whitlock. ‘

Mizzo: Let me ask this. Honestly, the demographic that spends the most money in this country in terms of sporting events is Caucasian. Could they be protecting that interest?

DZ: Well, yes and no. Now, specifically about the NBA, this is a very tricky balance that commissioner David Stern is getting very wrong. While the majority of ticket-buying fans are certainly white, what is it that gives the NBA its cultural cache? The fact that it is an urban hip-hop sport and that’s where, historically, a lot of cultural trends in our society are started.

That’s what makes the NBA legitimate. The fact that it is raw is what makes it real. You saw that so much in Golden State series. You saw overwhelmingly white fans in that Bay Area gym going nuts for Stephen Jackson. You saw all these middle-class Silicon Valley heads going out to those games to cheer and when Jackson hit three after three and give that, too cool for words scowl they were losin’ their minds through the process of identification. They were yelling, “Yeah, Stephen Jackson! Yeah!”

And all of a sudden the announcers went from saying, “Stephen Jackson needs to go to Guantanamo Bay,” were saying, “Wow, Jackson adds the toughness to this Golden State team that they didn’t have before.”

See, that’s the cultural cache that’s given to that white audience. So if you try to crush that like Stern’s trying to do – well, you’re playing with fire with what makes the NBA matter.

DWil: Do you have any thoughts about the influence of (former Bush administration and conservative political consultant Matthew Dowd, and former consultant to the NBA) on David Stern? It seems as if Stern has gone from being an ultra-liberal to someone reigning in everything around him.

DZ: Yeah, Dowd is very much a reflection of that [playing with fire]. Lets’ remember it’s not like Matthew Dowd was holding David Stern’s pet hostage saying, “You better take a meeting with me or the kitten dies.” Stern sought out Matthew Dowd. Stern sat down with Matthew Dowd. Stern then came out publicly after the meeting and talked about the need to give the league, “red state appeal.” This was Stern being utterly impressionistic and reactive to what was happening in this country around 2004.

Remember all the reaction after the 2004 elections was, “This is red state America; family values, people want bush even though he’s so stupid. And Stern’s thinking, gee, we better make sure we appeal to this base. Now, if you look polls it’s completely different. Bush’s popularity in under 30% and there is a serious majority against the war in Iraq as well as the worst excesses in the criminal justice system. And if Stern is still stuck in this Matthew Dowd mindset – and by the way even Dowd has recently sharply criticized Bush – if I’m going to appeal to white fans I have to be Rudyard Kipling and I have to civilize these young thugs.

DWil: I’d like to take a step back and do “the proper interview thing” and discuss how you got into sports writing – and did growing up in the Washington, D.C. area or in New York City?

DZ: I grew up in New York City as just a hyper-obsessed sports fan. Being in New York was literally like living in a sports Disneyland. One of the folks I dedicated my writing to was the 1986 Mets: people like Kevin Mitchell, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Keith Hernandez. Their life-size posters were in my room all over the place. Not to mention Bernard King,. Oh my god, there’s the New York Knicks “Bomb Squad” with Mark Jackson, Trent Tucker, Rod Strickland, Johnny Newman.

I mean, these were my guys. These were guys I was obsessed with watching. We had cable at my house but no pay stations and I would watch the old sports channel all fuzzy where you could hardly make out the pictures and stuff trying to watch Doc pitch because you knew that anytime he pitched it was a no-hitter waiting to happen. It was just a great time to grow up.

Of course, I had no idea that many of my heroes were into rock cocaine (laughter) but that also gives you an idea of the limitations of the actual influence athletes have on people. I didn’t give a shit about their personal lives. What I cared about is if they captured my imagination when they stepped on the field.

DWil: Where and what did you write initially when you got into the field of sports writing proper?

DZ: Well when I first got into sports writing proper I was writing for a paper called, The St. Mary’s Today in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. And just to give you an idea of the size, the three of us on this phone call would be a good week of readership for the St. Mary’s sports page.

It’s a tiny, tiny paper but it was a great place to make my bones as a sports writer because St. Mary’s county is a place where they have some of the highest drunk-driving per capita deaths in the world. It’s all highway strips with bars along the highway. And I’d be driving around, swerving around drunk drivers in the dead of night going to high school gyms to watch these insane games.

Men’s sports, women’s sports – and just having to write stuff on deadline. And it was also hard for me to ignore that St. Mary’s County is one of the most segregated places I’ve ever seen in my life. It was profoundly segregated except on the sports fields where it was profoundly integrated.

DWil: Where is it in relation to D.C.?

DZ: Oh god, it’s all the way down by the (Chesapeake Bay ) shore. It’s one of those places where the power base is so old that it’s Democrat but they’re Democrats as in the old “Dixiecrats” from back in the day. They’re Democrats who never bothered to become Republicans.

DWil: Can you explain your evolution as a writer, from those beginnings to tackling issues of race-racism and sports?

DZ: Honestly, for me it was when I moved from St. Mary’s to getting a job at the Prince George’s Post. That paper is the only African-American paper in Prince George’s County (Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.).

The thing there is I had an editor who was not resistant to me writing about these issues. His attitude was, well, we’re an African-American newspaper and so better than have you just write columns on what’s happening with Washington (Redskins) football this year you can write about other issues.

My boss there was a good man and he had a policy that you couldn’t write the words Washington Redskins. He wanted full coverage of the Redskins but you had to call them the Washington “football team.”

DWil: How long ago was that?

DZ: That was from 2002 through 2005. So I worked there three-and-a half years writing a column a week every week. And it really started to click for me when Sylvester Croom got passed over for the head coaching job at Alabama and Mike Shula was chosen instead.

Jesse Jackson went down there and raised some stink about it and John Careceno, who

was the big sports columnist over at USA Today just tore Jesse Jackson apart for Jackson having the temerity for saying something about this, like’ how would Jesse Jackson know who would be a better coach and why is he trying to use this for political grandstanding?’

I read that and thought to myself, “You know what, Jesse’s correct here. It’s a simple case of an older, more experienced, more ready coach getting totally jacked by somebody because of what a leading Alabama booster called, Mike Shula’s so-called pedigree.”

So I wrote something in defense of Jackson and as a history major in college I was trying to draw on the actual history of the University of Alabama and the segregation that had occurred and how it had been influenced by the world of sports and Bear Bryant position on integration and segregation. It all had a strong historical legacy on what was happening today. The column got some good feedback and it felt right so that’s what I’ve been doing since. And not just about race and racism but also issues of women in sports, issues of workers in sports, labor unions in sports. Basically anywhere you see the world of sports and politics intersect I like to think of as kind of “my beat.”

DWil: Now, that leads into my next question, is there a theme or thread that runs through, What’s My Name Fool, to your ongoing effort, A People’s History of Sports?

DZ: The ongoing message is to try to look at times where athletes tried to use their hyper-exalted, hyper-commercialized platform of sports to try to have something to say. That, to me, I find so fascinating because it is a tremendous platform. In a lot of ways it’s an unprecedented platform in our society. Particularly a platform that’s given to people who are from poor backgrounds, who are largely people of color, who are given a platform when in other areas of society they wouldn’t be given that platform.

No one says, ‘gee, I wonder what the black lawyers are saying about this death penalty bill. Now, that’s a very sad, sorry comment about our society, but it’s also an objective fact of our society. And at the same time these athletes are also under tremendous pressure to not use that platform for things other than saying, ‘one game at a time.’ When athletes actually try to use that platform to transgress from who they’re ‘supposed’ to be, that, to me, is so dynamic. That is what I like highlighting and talking about in my column.

My favorite, all-time quote is when Muhammad Ali said, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be.”

DWil: On that topic, I gather you’ve talked with a fair number of athletes from the 1960s and 70s….

DZ: Yeah

DWil: What do you see as the differences in their stances and the athletes of today. There seems to be an inability with athletes today to express anything. In the 60s and 70s athletes were eloquent, they had voices on topics. Today we have just a few athletes like that, Etan Thomas, Chris Webber. And that’s about it. Do you see the same thing and if so, what are the differences?

DZ: Yeah, I definitely see the same kind of thing. The main difference is all about what’s the broader social context. In the 1960s and 1970s you had a black freedom struggle, you had a mass movement against the war, and you had a black arts movement that was pretty influential to a lot of these players who we’re talking about.

It’s very interesting to talk to someone like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and find out what he was actually reading in college. He was reading everybody from Amiri Baraka to Nikki Giovanni. People’s heads were trying to get open to the broader ferment that was happening in society. And that broader ferment is the only way to understand what athletes were more political and more in tune.

Muhammad Ali, if you looked at his trajectory, if you don’t have a black freedom struggle, Muhammad Ali’s hero probably would have been Gorgeous George Wagner the pro wrestler. That was his hero when he first came up. He wanted to be just like Gorgeous George. We would remember Cassius Clay as the person who brought flair and showmanship of professional wrestling to boxing. But history itself did not allow him to take that path. So, his hero goes from being Gorgeous George to being Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. And that was all about history.

DWil: The struggles are different today, but they still exist. But athletes today are about their endorsements, their cribs, and their whips and that’s it. Is that reflective of society at large?

DZ: Yeah it is very much. You know, there’s an interesting economic aspect to be raised and that’s that, not only do athletes make tremendous amounts more money now than they did 40 years ago, but the folks they leave behind in the country or in the city make far less money on average, and have less buying power than they did 30-40 years ago. The responsibility now is much more now. We know that paycheck they get is for a group of people who the press often derisively refers to as “posse” or “entourages.” But in the city we know that the star athlete is treated like a person who had the winning lottery ticket and they’re that person who bears a certain responsibility to not leave other folks behind. And so when you have that pressure on you, the idea of risking that becomes something that comes with a lot of danger and a lot of economic insecurity.

One of the things that was so interesting about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was it revealed how many professional athletes actually come from that tiny little scrap of land on the gulf Coast. It’s remarkable. If you think about it – I write about this in my next book, Welcome to the Terrordome – is that it’s quite remarkable how perfect the soil is on the Gulf coast for professional athletes.

You’ve got institutionalized racism, tremendous poverty, and year-round sunshine. You can play sports all year round. And sports is one of the few options that people see realistically as a way out. Of course certain people in out industry would decry that and say, ‘well it’s far more realistic to work hard and go to college, blah blah blah. But just the reality of how people think and who they’re taught o have as role models think wait a minute, playing sports 12 months a year might be a better shot under the circumstance.

Mizzo: Other than your books, you’re everywhere: LA Times, SLAM, The Nation, speaking tours with Chuck D, Which gig do you enjoy most? Is there a least?

DZ: I’m not going to throw a least down (laughter) because I have a two-year old running around me. Honestly, what I do love the most by a mile is getting out there and just touring on the book, speaking to people about these issues because I think the sports fan who is alienated by sports is the fastest-growing and most ignored demographic in the sports world. And sometimes with the events I do it’s only a couple people who show up, sometimes it’s really big but it’s always people who are thirsty for a different way of trying to talk about, explain and understand sports.

It’s the same reason people traffic you website and spend all the time putting all the comments up on The Starting Five is the same reason people come out and pay to get my book or hear me do a reading. I feel like the audiences are very tightly connected because it’s people who, frankly, want to demand more than ESPN, than FOX Sports, than sports radio. They want a different and deeper way of trying to understand how sports affects their lives while not renouncing their rights to be sports fans.

Mizzo: The name of your website, Edge of Sports, seems to say as much about you as it does the subject matter you approach. A two-fold question: Would you write only for a mainstream publication or mainstream sports media outlet and how are you perceived by your white peers?

DZ: That is – the second question is very interesting. On the first one, yeah I would write for anybody as long as the politics stayed true. I mean, one thing about writing for the LA Times they’re big on trying to chop things up 50 different ways and I have no problem with that as long as the politics isn’t changed. If they have objections to certain off-color metaphors I like to throw in there or flowery language that they think is not just what they want or is their cup of tea, I can totally live with that. Like I tell my editors, I’m very coachable in that regard. But the political content to me is what’s sacrosanct in all of this.

Now, as far as white sports writers…. This is very interesting because I’ve gotten just amazing support from some of the older heads – white sports writers. People like Robert Lipsyte being a prime example of that. There’s another guy who is more my peer named Michael O’Keefe who writes for the New York Daily News. These are cats who have political sympathies similar to my own. And Lipsyte, who made his bones writing about Muhammad Ali is somebody who want to see the kind of work he was doing in the 60s not fall by the wayside.

That’s what he’s seen that so upsetting to him is the commodification of sports writing, And so the political in-depth pieces he was championing in the 1960s have become very marginalized in favor of the quick hit highlights or the political Neanderthal approach. You know, the, ‘who is this Floyd Mayweather to talk as if that’s something. And people say, ‘yeah, who is he to talk,’ and just the whole, ‘shut up and play’ approach.

So, from those folks I get a lot of good. But from other folks – I’ll choose not to name names here, although one guy I wrote about three’s no point in me not naming – Tom Knott, the lead columnist for the Washington Times. What’s interesting there is that they can write very reactionary stuff – Whitlock has done this, Knott has done this – that’s highly critical of me, myself, whatever, and what’s interesting though is when I contact them off the record their approach is different when they’re not in the media glare. Their approach is like, ‘look, I’m a ho’, you’re a ho’, we just work different sides of the street so let’s drop the hostility, we’re just dong our thing.

And my response to that is, not actually, this shit is really real to me! If you want to play, we’re just doin’ this dog-and-pony show for the masses like ooooh a debate or something, you can just take that shit to the cleaners because I believe that sports has repercussions on society; this is not a joke to me. They can take that whole approach and tell someone who cares.

DWil: Michael and I have wondered whether or not that’s “Mr. Chitlins” – the TSF nickname for Whitlock – real approach or not.

DZ: I actually do think Whitlock feels very sincere about what he is saying right now. That doesn’t make it good and that doesn’t make it right, but what I feel like he’s doing is so harmful to himself as much as anybody else is that his approach is, ‘I’m gonna say the most outrageous thing possible. I’m not going to try to have discourse, I’m not going to try to force a debate where it’s worth intelligent discussion.’

I’m sorry, but calling Vivian Stringer a “golddigger” calling Jesse Jackson a “terrorist” these are not things that are going to help us understand the situation we’re in as a country right now. The only person who gets served by those kinds of statements is Jason Whitlock.

Mizzo: Can you tall our audience why a dissenting voice in sports is necessary?

DZ: I think it’s beyond necessary. And it has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with politics. I think way too often on this country we view politics as what happens on Capitol Hill or what happens on C-Span. People don’t see politics in the sports they play, the food they buy, the air they breathe, why they don’t have decent health care, why their hospital is in horrible shape, why their kids’ school is in terrible shape. They’re angry about those things, but politics is something that experts in fancy suits do “over there.”

I think integrating politics into what may be called the problems of everyday life, like whether the Golden State Warriors are going to close out the Dallas Mavericks, how Stephen Jackson is viewed, why Pacman Jones just got a year suspension even though he hasn’t been convicted of anything; these are things that also affect our lives.

Too often we’re taught to segregate and ghettoize the politics out of sports. So, I think website like The Starting Five are very important because they actually connect with sports fans and they also connect with political people who may not be sports fans and bring those audiences together in a common space.

DWil: Sports writing has gone through the early 40s molding of an idealized form of athletes through the Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford, David Halberstam substantive era to writers today whose work reads like a 2-minute TV talk segment that brings about the 40s idealized form, whether positive or negative. Do you feel we’ll see a return to the Jenkins, et al. journalism or are we doomed to take in largely sensationalist idealized athlete TV-style writing?

DZ: I absolutely think the wheel is going to turn to a much more thoughtful, much intelligent, and much more political way of understanding sports. I think it’s inevitable – I think there are early signs of it

One sign of it it’s the existence of something like The Starting Five and the fact that I can make a career out of doing what I do. I honestly don’t think the social conditions would have existed for us to do what we do 10 years ago – leaving aside the obvious that the Internet wasn’t what it was 10 years ago. Even if it was the ability to have these sorts of discussions among professionals, I think the wheels have turned. I think part of that is how society has turned.

The fact that we’re in a war that’s lasted longer than World War II, Hurricane Katrina, and you see the way sports intervenes in those things: like Pat Tillman and what happened with him; or like we were talking before about the number of professional athletes come out of the Gulf coast and that a lot of them really did have something to say about it. These are things that make sports and politics very relevant.

Then, there’s the other side of it, too, like the way sports is used to whip up patriotism or the way publicly-funded stadiums become a substitute for anything resembling urban policy in our society. So, I think there’s going to have to be a way for people to look through the prism of sports to be able to understand the society we’re living in right now.

The other phenomenon that I find very encouraging is that you’re starting to see some very intelligent, very interesting sports books begin to find an audience. And I think one of these days it’s going to get through the heads of some of these sports editors that well, gee if the [David] Maraniss book on Clemente or the new book, Pistol, about Pete Maravich, or the book on Sandy Koufax by Jane Levy, or even the book on Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand – if these books that try to look at context as a way to understand athletes, if these can actually find an audience, then gee maybe our day-to-day sports coverage should involve more of this as well.

DWil: You’re like a “free radical,” if you will, in the molecular world of sports writing…. Would you rather be there, or would you rather be in the mainstream?

DZ: I’d rather have the mainstream come to me. I want to be mainstream without question. I think any writer worth their salt wants the largest possible audience for their ideas. I mean, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have people to read what you have to say? Like, how would you guys have felt if you posted that Scoop thing and got one comment? You want the friction, that’s what makes it worth doing.

It’s also kind of interesting – what would it mean for someone like me to write mainstream? It would mean that I would write like thousands of other people write, writing about the same thing that thousands of other people are writing. And then it’s like, why the hell would anybody want to read what I have to say when they can read it from everybody from Michael Wilbon to T.J. Simers to Woody Paige, and [Jay] Mariotti. People want that kind of mainstream thing – it’s out there for them to read. The idea is to try to serve and under-serve the audience and think counter-intuitively.

DWil: Most of, or at least many black people feel the tug of being “both-and” in the U.S. We are both black and Americans and in order to navigate through and perceive this society in which we live must maintain a stance of reflexive perception – looking inward while perceiving outward. In sports writing this unique position was most recently manifested on a mainstream level in many of the late Ralph Wiley’s writings….. As a white male what steps have you taken to step away from, at least the perception of white privilege, into that state of reflexive perception?

DZ: Hmmmm, that is – an absolutely fantastic question. Ummmm, that is a really fantastic question; it’s a deep question, too. Especially working at the Prince George’s Post, an African-American owned newspaper, in a county like Prince George’s County (a mostly-black populated county) – I would do general news there, too I would be covering events that were overwhelmingly African-American, and obviously growing up in New York City as well, there’s certain benefits for myself or never having had to grow up in a segregated environment and never having had to grow up in a way that me seeing myself as apart from people of color.

It’s made it easier to navigate the world of sports, made it easier to be straight up with people, etc. But yeah, I am very conscious that there are certain opportunities that a lot of times – that you see in the sports writing establishment that those doors get shut in the face of writers of color. So, I just try to do the best I can to be a principled anti-racist.

I think, rather than spend the balance of time in a stance of self-reflection, I try to maintain a posture that’s much more outward and willing to put on the line the problems that happen when you have a largely white vantage point in sports media. If that means in pointing that out I get chewed up because more black writers are having a voice – that, to me, would be a process that would be very healthy.

A lot of it, more than anything is having a strong anti-racist approach just to the kind of writing I want to do. My wife has this poster of Frederick Douglas down in our basement and underneath it says the old phrase, “They separated both to conquer each.” It’s a vantage point that defines both of us in a lot of ways about racism; not as something that exists to destroy only one part of society, but something that has the effect of keeping the great majority of people in this country powerless because we’re too busy at each others’ throats to see who the real criminals are.

DWil: When you’re doing speaking tours what’s the general racial makeup of your audience?

DZ: Wow, it varies wildly from city to city. That’s partly because our country is so segregated. I did a couple spots in LA and I did this one joint at a Latino bookstore and they need to have a translator; it was like 43 people, 38 of them were Mexican or Mexican-American. And then I did a spot on LaBrea and it was like 30 people, 28 of whom were African-American.

And when I was in LA I went to Fremont High School – and this is one of the things that gets me so mad – the same people who Whitlock is calling the “Black KKK” – I mean, I talk to some of these kids and they’re the most beautiful-hearted people I’ve had the chance to sit down in a room with in my life. You know, just talking sports, talking Ali, talking history – and it was just an amazing experience.

The LA tour was a microcosm to answer your question. I did a talk at Occidental College. There were about 100 people there. It was 99% white and I had to stop and explain what the Civil Rights movement was. I was saying to them, “Muhammad Ali was critical of the transformation in this country from Civil Rights to Black Power.” And there’s all this whispering and someone says, “Yeah, my teacher talks about that a lot; what does that even mean?” And I said, “How much a year are you spending on this education?” And they said back, “Oh, about 40 grand.”

Dwil: Looking at these wild swings in demographics, do you feel when you talk with or speak to white audiences? And then, when you speak to black audiences, do you feel like sometimes you’re preaching to the choir?

DZ: Ummm, wow. Once again, a terrific question. I think that, in the broad sense, whether you’re talking about white or black, you’re talking about a crisis of knowing history in this country. So there’s a lot that we might assume people know, but that they don’t know.

Say, even if you have an older African-American audience that is more than aware that Muhammad Ali was involved in the anti-war struggles in Vietnam, what I try to do in those circumstances is quote from the speeches he did on college campuses. Or talk about some of the political debates that were actually happening within the Nation of Islam.

So, some of it is about reading an audience and simply make it worth their time to be there. I mean, they showed up to be there and I’m not going to tell an audience that really knows the issues and tell them something really obvious. But sometimes speaking to an audience white or black you have to do that. I mean, you talk about 1965 and you might as well be talking about 1865! It’s about taking a step back, reading your audience – effective or not effective, that’s just really-really hard to say. Some of that I measure in the one-on-one conversations I get into afterwards.

More than anything, I want people to have a good time. I want them to see history as something exciting and engaging and not something you associate with taking your vitamins.

DWil: have you ever, in a subversive way even, try to recruit white writers to the quote, dark side? Or have you tried to engage white writers in this discourse of race and sports and if so, have you seen any changes in them or their writing?

DZ: Yeah. Writing in the Internet Age is so important in general….

DWil: I’m talking about mainstream dudes…

DZ: Ahhh, mainstream cats. I see, because I’ve tried to do a lot of mentoring about encouraging people to be political, about encouraging people not to check their politics in at the door when they become writers.

DWil: Oh, okay. Feel free to get into that, too.

DZ: The first thing you talked about, about trying to flip a mainstream writer, I mean I gotta be honest with you, it’s like trying to enjoy shoveling sand in the ocean. I mean. I’ll do it but I’m not going to see a lot of results.

Once those guys are ensconced in a certain position, they’re there. I have to think more along the lines of, gee, can we work collaboratively, maybe say something about Jocks for Justice, or something. A lot of time I get writers who are hostile, but like Scoop is an exception. He’s open and will say, “I’m down with what you do.” Most of the times it’s people on the fringes whispering, hey I’m down with what you do. And I’m thinking well alright, that and a token will get me on the train.

What far more interesting to me is going up to College park to UMD (University of Maryland) or the University of the District of Columbia or talking with people over email about the importance of discovering their voice and being heard. Talking about the importance of finding writers who you like and getting in contact with those writers and find out who those writers like to read. Reading everything those writers like to read, and embarking on a process of self-education that doesn’t include reading the books in the syllabus. Then try to integrate that into whole areas of work.

Because not everybody, especially political people, they’re the last ones who didn’t get picked in gym class and they see sports as something that you can take to the cleaners. But you flip it to something like, oh, you’re into music or cars whatever. See if you can write with a sense of history about music or cars.

Mizzo: How do you feel about Scoop Jackson’s assertion that a young black child has a better chance of becoming an NBA player than he or she does a sports journalist?

DZ: Most people didn’t take the care to read Scoop’s explanation about that when he was so criticized. He was making a statement about mainstream media as opposed to saying – this is how Whitlock twisted it – by saying, ‘hey kids don’t try to learn how to write, play basketball.’ And that wasn’t the point of what Scoop was trying to say. He was trying to look hard at statistics and make a statement about white supremacy in the sports office.

Taking a step back from that and looking at it on the merit, as we think about opportunities in sports writing for young people of color and for women particularly, I think that the Internet is the best thing that ever happened. It’s one of those things that’s like, yo, if you feel you have something to say, say it. We’re not living back in the day of the 1970s when sports columnists switched about as often as the Pope, we’re living in a time where you can actually fight to get heard. And I encourage people not to get deterred from that process.

Mizzo: This leads to two obvious questions: What do you feel can be done to change this situation and do you feel you can use your status to positively influence this situation of getting more diverse opportunities for blacks in journalism?

DZ: The main thing that I try to do is use the connections I have when people get in touch with me is to help them get in touch with those folks. Because I don’t own a newspaper or the means by which news is produced there’s somewhat of a limitation, but I’ve never denied anybody who’s like who do you know at The Nation or who do you know at the LA Times an intro. That’s all I really can do. Because I don’t have any decision-making, money-making power, those aren’t the fields in which I play. But if there’s a way I can try to introduce people and get folks to know each other – all I know is that a lot of very good people did that for me when I was trying to figure stuff out. So I just want to keep paying that forward.

DWil: This is an age-old question for black people – that black people ask – where do we go from here?

DZ: The big one. Where do we go from here? I give all credit to Jason Whitlock for making this clear. Where we go from here is understanding that there’s a fight and a very real fight about how to understand the situation in which we find ourselves. And that folks are going to have to figure out which side they’re on and act accordingly. That is the main issue right now.

Do we understand that there are institutions in our society right now that are racist that need to be challenged explicitly, or do we choose to understand that the main problem is the music, it’s the culture, etc., etc. I mean, that’s such an age-old argument. It’s gaining a new life because of who’s manipulating the argument.

I think people have to realize that the era we’re about to come upon is going to be an issue not to find simply so much by the color of one’s skin, but by the power one holds in his heart. That’s been one of the good results of the Civil Rights movement was that it created a movement of economic mobility for African-Americans that didn’t exist before. But with economic mobility comes a serious diversification of ideas, some of which are not in the best interest for the majority of people of color.

But we are going toward the times when we are going to be defined – and I think Dr. King would smile on this, quite frankly – by the ideas that we hold in our hearts and not by the color of our skin.

DWil: To let you go here, man, do you have any final thoughts, or a final thought that you would like to leave people with?

DZ: If I wanted to leave people with one thing it’s support alternative media, support alternative voices, support The Starting Five, support websites that speak to issues you care about because the only way to ensure real diversity in the media spectrum is to fight to have you voice heard and fight to have the people whose opinions you respect have their voices heard as well.

DWil: Nice. With that, we’re done. Thank you Dave.

DZ: Thank you.

82 Responses to “The Dave Zirin Interview”

  1. Solid interview! Dwil does an excellent job of getting to the meat of things and when he does watch out, because Dave Zirin is wicked-smart and tremendously insightful. Zirin’s clarity on questions of race, class and the industry of sports is refreshing.

    As the introduction states, Dave Z. doesn’t dodge tough questions, but he also has the confidence not to bluster when he’s not sure. He knows sports and he knows politics — and he brings them together in a rare and impressive fashion. Zirin shows the potential that sports writing has to be a forum to address more substanitive issues.

    Finally, Zirin might be white but reading this interview one gets the feeling that he would be the first to applaud and fight for more space for more progressive, Black writers and commentators. Beware of any who would seek to dismiss his voice because of his whiteness — these aren’t concerned with promoting diverse voices, they’re just concerned with silencing progressive ones.

  2. Very good interview. I will be taking a look at Zirin’s work from now on. The best part of this interview to me is that while reading it and getting wrapped up in the ideas they are espousing, I don’t sense that it’s a black guy talking to a white guy. It’s just two individuals talking about contemporary issues and needed changes, which can and should resonate with you no matter what your colour.

    Might be slow in coming, but we are getting closer to the day when a man is just a man.

  3. Thanks peeps….

  4. This turned out to be one of your most interesting interviews I think because Zirin is actually learned about the subject matter. No “resting” on experience, anecdotes, etc. So it was refreshing to hear his more historically and intellectually driven perspective on things. I’ll be checking him out in the future.

  5. I knew of DZ’s work long before this piece. http://blacksportsnetwork.com/articles/features/ali_020606.asp

    I have to give him props for piquing my interest on the state of sports.

    He’s definitely needed. Glad he gave us some words to talk about here.

  6. I am glad to see that a white writer is among the 10% of sports writers and 48% of the general public who think Barry Bonds deserves the title. Mariotti wrote a column in the Sun-Times today in which he claimed only white locals in the bay area would be mislead enough to support Bonds. I’m white, live in Chicago and I support Bonds. On the Steven Jackson/NBA hip-hop thing, I’m not so sure. In a recent column he was arguing that real hip hop has been displaced by the commercial thug rap (a popular point among white liberals which I disagree with). Yet Zirin seems to imply here that real hip hop is now the commercial underpinning of the NBA where evidently it assumes the thug variety. This seems ludicrous (pun intended).

  7. Dave Stewart Says:

    Great interview! And I agree with the comment above that it was a discussion among humans, not different races.

    I read Dave Zirin’s posting constantly and he’s right on with what’s going on in Sport.

    what I learned from the interview is to keep on reading, keep on learning. Koufax and Pistol Pete were heroes of my era, I’ll check out those books.

    I became politicized along with Mohammed Ali, and Zirin’s excellent book on Ali is a must read. Knowledge allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants.

    Sports is one arean where we can all share in the joy of witnessing achievement in the meritocracy. It is not a far step from there to realize that we are all humans and should share the planet in an equitable manner, each striving to do our best.

    As was stated in the beginning of the article, there are those who attempt to twist or demean achievement. Zirin and his interviewers are a breath of fresh air and hope for those of us who love Sport. Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed reading it and will send to my friends.

  8. Dave Stewart Says:

    I support Bonds completely (and I’m from Oak Park, near Chicago).
    I enjoyed the comment about hip-hop and it’s realness and commercial thug. Everyone has differenct access to music, I would like to know of some ‘real’ hip-hop’, at this moment it is my opinion that the rap of Chuck D HAS been replaced by ludicrous lyrics like “ball me like a rock star” and misogynist ‘ho’ ‘bitch’ calling. And hearing Snoop say that he’s ‘just’ talking about women in the ghetto who are attempting to victimize men makes it even worse. I had not known of the Frederick Douglass quote “They separated both to conquer each” but that applies.
    I am 52 and white and after a long time without T.V. when I watched the N.B.A., as I have this playoffs, it is obvious that the players, with their demarkations/tatoos are setting themselves apart from mainstream society. Once I got beyond the ‘freak show’ aspect of it, I could see the art form of expression of each player. I think that learning process is what scares Stern, and is also a huge part of the appeal of the sport…much like white guys embracing hip-hop.
    It’s not so much a negation of these white guys heritage but an embracing of something new….and by something new it becomes something that belongs to all of us.
    Hip-hop has been subverted in much the same way Sport has.
    thanks, Scott, for bringing this up and I’d enjoy your comment if you are still looking at this site.

  9. Thanks for the comments on this interview.

    But as someone who has been listening to rap since the Frank White was Christopher Walken, I wanted to clarify what I was saying about hip hop:

    1 – I do not argue that “real hip hop has been displaced by the commercial thug rap”. I – and Jeff Chang – argued in our piece that much of the misogyny and homophobia in hip hop is driven by big media conglomerates that have exploited a proud art form for commercial ends (and are largely bought by whites.) I also wrote that there is a movement INSIDE of hip hop to take the music back and be heard. It’s a movement we should support.

    Peeps can read for themselves.

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070521/zirin-chang

    (And for God’s sake, I’m not a liberal)

    2 – I am not implying that “real hip hop is now the commercial underpinning of the NBA where evidently it assumes the thug variety.” Hip hop is more than rap: it is fashion, politics, attitude, mind set, beats, dance, and cultural touchstone. The argument is that the NBA cherrypicks the aspects of this it can use to market their sport – and they are playing with fire by both using hip hop as well as coming down on players for daring to wear baggy jeans.

  10. Zirin’s point about taking that thought to weave the politics into sports as one would write about music is well served by his note that the underpinning of today’s NBA is hip-hop culture, and that it’s responsible for the league’s appeal — the haters of the NBA are the same ilk who considered rock and roll the devil’s music in the 50s and those who do blanket condemnations of hip-hop today without understanding its history.

    Great interview. I saw Dave Zirin in a TV appearance a while back (can’t recall the topic), and I hope the mainstream eventually does come to him.

  11. Ok, I will try to keep this civil. But there is so much wrong with Zirin’s line of thinking that I had to comment. I couldn’t even make it through the whole interview. But hear me out, even though nobody will agree with me. /cringes

    Zirin is the perfect example of a white liberal purposely placing minorities into the role of victim to serve his own agenda.

    It’s this idea that they are going to be the people who have this approach that says we are going to civilize these barbaric young, black athletes. . . . It doesn’t matter about the content of these folks character; it’s about how they dress, how they look, how they speak. Basically, they’re saying it’s bad for business and that they’re going to take it upon themselves to be the moral guardians of sports.

    I show up for work everyday wearing khakis and a button down shirt. I work with hundreds of black people in this office and they are required to do the exact same thing, every day – and they don’t complain at all. Why? Because this is a business – you are expected to dress a certain way. If you don’t want to wear these clothes, then you don’t have to work here. Yes, it is “bad for business” if you come in here with a baggy t-shirt and jean shorts, with all your tats showing; same applies for the NBA. Zirin’s right – this has nothing to do with character. It has everything to do with presenting one’s company. That is the pragmatic way of looking at the situation. But to someone like Zirin, it’s about “moral guardianship,” or some other bullshit.

    While the majority of ticket-buying fans are certainly white, what is it that gives the NBA its cultural cache? He then goes on to cite Stephen Jackson as an example. Funny he should do so.

    It is entirely possible for Stephen Jackson to get a mostly-white Golden State crowd fired up with his play without having a gun charge hanging over his head. Being a criminal does not equal “cultural cache.” This is just one way leftists attempt to explain criminal behavior. The “cache” that Stephen Jackson gives the NBA is through his style of play; not because he has been charged with felony criminal recklessness, assault, disorderly conduct, and two counts of battery. You will never see someone like Zirin acknowledge these facts. Why is that?

    Bush’s popularity in under 30% and there is a serious majority against the war in Iraq

    And yet: Kerry still couldn’t sniff the White House. Why do you think that is? What does that say about the Left, and its leadership. John Kerry – the best the Left had to offer. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    But just the reality of how people think and who they’re taught [t]o have as role models think wait a minute, playing sports 12 months a year might be a better shot under the circumstance.

    More victimization played by Zirin. Does he honestly believe this? A “better” shot is going to class, doing your homework, finding a job while you’re in school, doing well on exams, staying out of trouble, and applying to college.

    how Stephen Jackson is viewed, why Pacman Jones just got a year suspension even though he hasn’t been convicted of anything; these are things that also affect our lives.

    First Stephen Jackson, now Pacman Jones. The NFL is a private enterprise (scary words for a socialist, I know). There is no “innocent until proven guilty” mantra that must be followed before exacting punishment. Get that through your head first.

    Secondly, Zirin conveniently ignores Pacman’s rap sheet: assault and felony vandalism, insufficient contact with a probation officer, disorderly conduct and public intoxication, misdemeanor assault, with a count of felony coercion and misdemeanor battery on the way. Do you think this had anything to do with Goodell giving Pacman the boot? There is a clear difference between right and wrong. Logic and common sense should help fill in the blanks.

  12. Damian A. Smith Says:

    I’ve been a fan of Dave Z. since he wrote for St. Mary’s Today. Dave has always had a gift for linking sports with the important political questions of the day. Racism and sexism are far from the relics of the past that white sports writers–and the white establishment in general–seem to suggest. We live in a nation so deluded, it thinks that everything that it has stopped doing wrong is some sort of monumental achievement. It’s a country that accuses people who point out injustice as hate-mongers. Dave cuts through all of that nonsense and addresses what’s going on in sports as it relates to the rest of the world. Thanks, DWil, for giving the bravest voice in sports media a platform to do his thing.

  13. Damian A. Smith Says:

    Damn. Now, I have to address some guy named Jason. You don’t work on an NBA court. You talk about your dress code at work. Well, what if you were told how to dress, not only at work, but on the way to work, in airports en route to some sort of work conference? You see, Jason, the NBA had a dress code–uniforms! You can do whatever you want with uniform standards, but to tell grown men how to dress anywhere but the court is obscene.

  14. Damian, your analogy is severely flawed.

    NBA players are employees. They are employees when they are on the court. They are employees when they are sitting on the bench in street clothes because of an injury, when they are in the arena, when they are in the locker room, when they are on the company bus to the airport, when they are in the owner’s plane.

    When I go out to lunch with a client, I don’t change into jeans and a t-shirt because I’m “out of the office” (or, “off the court”); I am representing my company, on their dime, and am expected to represent them accordingly.

    Please try again.

  15. johnnie c Says:

    Thank you for posting this fantastic interview. I absolutely love sports – the athletic skill, the competition, the teamwork, and the players themselves. But I’m getting so tired of hearing all the moralizing that permeates the industry (NBA players need a dress code on busses and planes to maintain respectability??). Why is the media so quick to make villains out of players? Why is Barry Bonds getting death threats because he’s about to pass a record? Moments that should be *cherished* by the sporting world are being destroyed.

    Everyone has skeletons in their closet, yet few people are subjected to the kind of microscope that athletes get subjected to.

    I love the Ali quote Zirin used: “I’m not going to be what you want me to be.” Why should athletes apologize for the “hip hop culture” they grow up in? Who cares if some of them enjoy tattoos or jewelry?

    I just have to address one thing in response to Jason. His comments about Kerry’s failure to win the white house speaks to how out of touch some people can be like the commissioners Zirin talks about. First, Jason has clearly forgotten that the Republicans got trounced this past November, and he surely hasn’t noticed that many Republicans are now complaining that Bush is ruining their party’s reputation. But perhaps even more importantly, Kerry did everything he could to NOT give anyone who cares about social justice a reason to vote for him. For those opposed to the Iraq war, Kerry supported it. If you hated the many abuses of the criminal justice system, Kerry called for more cops in the streets and more prisons built (anyone hear of Kerry’s plans for an “Army of Patriots”???). Kerry was even connected to more wealth than the Royal Bush Family, not to mention his ties to Yale’s ultra-exclusive Skull & Bones that he shared with George W.

    People want something to believe in that actually makes their lives better. How is villainizing Randy Moss because he admitted he smokes marijuana “once in a blue moon” going to stop the next Hurricane Katrinas of the world?

  16. johnnie c Says:

    But Jason why???? When my coworkers go on travel, they aren’t told what to wear on a plane or in an automobile.

    Players play their guts out on the court and then are expected to get in their suits & ties before getting on a bus or a plane? There’s no reason for that.

    And why on earth do people need to wear a suit to appear respectable?? The real problem is this notion that theirs something offensive (“too hip hop,” “too gangster”) about the clothes many basketball players chose to wear.

    It’s just amazing the ability some have to deflect real problems onto something else entirely. So Don Imus’s bigotry should be excused because HIP HOP (black culture) is the problem.

    OUT OF TOUCH.

  17. Jason:
    Yes, it is “bad for business” if you come in here with a baggy t-shirt and jean shorts, with all your tats showing; same applies for the NBA.

    Why is that, exactly. two of the HUGEST offenders of the dress code were Dirk and Tim Duncan, not because they were thugged out, but because they were just super casual about it.

    What does it say about NBA fans that they have to care about what someone is wearing, or if they have tattoos or not.

    Answer? Its NOT ABOUT THE CLOTHES.

    its about redoing a corporate culture.

    Its David Stern’s league and he can do essentially whatever he wants. Personally I dont really care.

    WHat the ISSUE is, is the perceived mindset of the fan that drove the decision.

  18. Johnnie C preach brotha!

  19. Don’t forget Steve Nash. When you’re outside the workplace, you’re an individual, Jason. Somehow I think I know your last name but won’t let it slip onto my keyboard. Who cares what people think about how someone dresses and if he wears jewelry? It just exposes the proponderance of racism here, even in sports. What happens when said employer “fires” you? do you lose your identity? I think not, Jason and individuality shouldn’t be lost in the process of appeazing the “masses”. Some people can’t even admit when ALL the evidence is presented, things change, like Scoop’s column on black writers/editors. Dwil, Mizzo, y’all put it down

  20. I actually agree with you on most points, but not on this:

    Kerry did everything he could to NOT give anyone who cares about social justice a reason to vote for him.

    First of all, Kerry DID vote for the war, but back-tracked into staunchly opposing it (hence the whole “flip-flop” thing) – by the time election season rolled around, you cannot in any way shape or form say Kerry “supported” the war.

    Secondly, you’ll have to elaborate more on the “abuses of the criminal justice system.” At any rate, I fail to see how having more law enforcement officials and more prisons is a bad idea for anyone – left or right.

    And again it comes back to this whole liberal idea of victimhood – that the Pacman Jones and Chirs Henry’s of the worlds are not responsible for their own actions; instead, they are somehow victims. That they get a pass because . . . well, I’m still trying to figure out why Dave Zirin wants to give these athletes a pass for their criminal behavior.

    The media HAS NOT made villains out of Pacman Jones. He has made a victim out of himself . Yes, the media pounces on his actions for their own benefit – but the are HIS actions and his alone. Please tell me you see the difference.

    Now . . . to where I agree. Athletes are subjected to a microscope far more intensely than many other professions. Personally I think Bonds cheated but it’s not that big a deal to me. Personally I think T.O. is an ass but who really cares, it’s just football. Randy Moss smokes pot, I agree, no big deal.

    On the same level – I do have to ask you: do you feel the same level of empathy for Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, all these young white Hollywood types who get absolutely destroyed in the press and in blogs? Can’t the same be said: sure Britney likes to have a few drinks, but how is vilifying her going to stop [fill in injustice here]?

  21. When my coworkers go on travel, they aren’t told what to wear on a plane or in an automobile.

    But mine are expected to dress business casual if we’re traveling in a company car/plane. The point is that some corporate cultures have stricter dress codes than others. Personally, I want to wear jeans, Converse sneakers, a white T, and a hoody to work everyday. But I can’t. You ask why? Because those are the rules where I work. Sometimes it’s that simple. The NBA is big business. Anybody around big business will tell you the same thing: it just is.

    Now I ask you: why aren’t people blogging about the perceived injustice of me not being able to wear what I want to work. Why is it or should it be different for athletes?

    its about redoing a corporate culture.

    You’re exactly right. That is WHY. Although I don’t agree the fans had that large a role in the decision.

    . Somehow I think I know your last name but won’t let it slip onto my keyboard.

    Ha, considering this is a “handle,” I would think not.

    It just exposes the proponderance of racism here, even in sports.

    Is my boss racist for not allowing me to wear a hooded sweatshirt to work instead of a button-down shirt? Seriously, I want to know.

    individuality shouldn’t be lost in the process of appeazing the “masses”.

    Who ever said individuality is lost? It’s not. It’s just the way things are. There are rules to every culture, corporate culture included.

    Get it out of your head that these players are being victimized because they have to wear a polo shirt after the games.

  22. Jason-
    On Pacman Jones: The problem w/ Jones’ suspension is largely legal. If Goodell suspended Jones under the “old” NFL Code of Conduct policy (which he did), there is no provision in that policy for suspending Jones as he has. There is in the new C.O.C. policy, but not the one under which Jones was suspended.

    ———-

    The greater question for athletes who carry firearms (I notice the ESPN series on athletes and guns is conveniently left out of all arguments), is why do athletes feel the need to protect themselves in this manner? What does this say about society? (and most of the subjects in the series were white MLB guys).

    On hoops instead of class: Before you cry out “victimization,” spend time in a beyond ghetto area like those in which most of the black citizens in the Gulf Coast live. We’re talking dirt roads, ramshackle homes of the type seen in villages in Central America. I really don’t feel you have any idea that there are people in America – large enclaves of people – who live in this manner. And yes, for them, sports is their lottery ticket out, not education (and actually, calling the education in these areas “substandard” doesn’t begin to tell how pitiful they truly are; in some enclaves, there is no school within 15 miles of the shacks in which people live).

    —————–

    “Zirin is the perfect example of a white liberal purposely placing minorities into the role of victim to serve his own agenda.”

    You may argue Dave’s agenda, but you using “victim” as your preferred substitute for the fact of institutional racism illustrates the problems America faces today. It is as if the admission that we live in a Western, white male-dominated, racist society, would spell the death knell for all white men.

    Let me toss YOU into one of the aforementioned enclaves as an eight year-old, fifth generation child of said enclave and tell you to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Then let me watch the anger and hopelessness that grows in your heart as you grow from boy to man.

    Let me toss you into all-white private schools and be the only black child in these schools and watch how you react when white classmates call you “nigger” at least once a week. Let me watch the anger grow inside you as you turn from boy to man.

    Let me put you in the corporate workplace with more talent than your alleged peer who is white and watch that peer be groomed for a higher position while you are left to fight on your own.

    Jason, those incidents are daily realities for black people – from ultra-poor black people to upper-middle class black people. Understand, they are not excuses for failure (in the case of the ramshackle enclaves failure is a fact of life), they are the boundaries many of us must be conscious of and break through every waking moment, lest we awaken one morning and find ourselves hopelessly behind those who were just the day before – our white peers.

  23. Jason S. Says:

    First off, great interview.

    I’m surprised that the notion of athletes standing for something hasn’t been addressed yet.

    DWil asked, “What do you see as the differences in their stances and the athletes of today. There seems to be an inability with athletes today to express anything. In the 60s and 70s athletes were eloquent, they had voices on topics.”

    And, I’ll quote DZ’s response because I don’t want to mess it up, “The main difference is all about what’s the broader social context. In the 1960s and 1970s you had a black freedom struggle, you had a mass movement against the war, and you had a black arts movement that was pretty influential to a lot of these players who we’re talking about.”

    I’m thinking, much of the same still applies today, yet not to the same extent of the Civil Rights/Vietnam War Era that DZ is refering to. That being said, I think it also has to do with the commercialization of college athletics and the expectations that are placed on the athletes. Freshmen had to sit out back then and it gave them time to become acclimated to their environment and I think that they had more time to absorb what was going on in the world. That’s not to say that athletes today are less educated, but I think they have less time to take in what’s going on and form an opinion.

    I’d be interested in what everybody else thinks about this.

  24. Jason doesn’t know what daily realities are. Some people get so far removed, they tend to forget how hard it can be for some, how lucky they were, who gave a helping hand as well as those who could have been better but slipped between the cracks. He views reasons as excuses.

    Jason: Is my boss racist for not allowing me to wear a hooded sweatshirt to work instead of a button-down shirt? Seriously, I want to know.

    what’s the implication behind wearing a hooded sweatshirt? seriously, I want to know. You just proved my point. see what happens when you give someone enough rope or food. they either hang themselves or indulge in too much gluttony

    It’s not the rule; it’s the reason behind the rule. some take things as they are instead of looking deeper. Ali was called names because that was the time, but now is beloved. Things change, so what happens when polo shirts get a bad connotation? Ban them, too right? all on perceived prejudices. base things on fact, not speculation or stereotype, because if you don’t, it’s a form of prejudice.

  25. johnnie c Says:

    Jason, this country imprisons its population at a rate greater than any other country in the world. China is the only country that executes more people.

    Punish. Punish. Punish. That’s the “answer” to everything. More cops, more prisoners, more executions. But will a tougher justice system get people health care? Will it fix the crumbling schools in inner cities? Will it pay for college educations for the poor? How bout this one: will it even reduce violent crime?

    This country chews people up and spits ‘em out and I’m sick of seeing black athletes or hip hop bearing the brunt of the blame.

  26. Jason, you are gradually making more sense, which is a rarity in this medium.

    I think you misunderstand…I dont think we are making Pacman and Chris Henry out to be victims as much as we are trying to address the fact that this precedent can be used negatively.

    When i pick up the USA Today and see 39 black faces on the front, I get nervous…cause it makes white folk nervous. and when THEY get nervous…strange things happen.

    To ME…Paris getting 45 days in jail for a DUI while on a suspended license is no different than Ty Pennington, or some random NFL Player.

    but to THEM…its CRIME outta control.

    As for Britney Paris and Lindsay…People need to mind their business PERIOD.

    if you arent promoting something or playing somewhere…you arent news.

    Other people disagree though. so what you gonna do?

  27. I’ve been reading DZ’s stuff for years now, and I must say he’s right on the money as always with this interview. By contrast, Jason’s comments are so painfully delusional you wonder if he goes to work in a sensory deprivation tank.

    Zirin never equated “criminal behavior” with cultural cache. That he did using hip-hop. So, Jason are you equating hip-hop with criminal behavior? Because I’ll tell you what I think is criminal; a 17% infant mortality rate for blacks in the US. More black men in prison than in college. Fifty bullets being launched into a black man’s car the day before his wedding. Leaving a city to drown because the government didn’t see fit to help its majority black population. That’s what I think is criminal.

    Jason makes a comment refuting Zirin’s assertions that African Americans see sports as a way out. “A ‘better’ shot” says Jason, “is going to class, doing your homework, finding a job while you’re in school, doing well on exams, staying out of trouble, and applying to college.” Have you been to these so-called schools Jason? They look and are run like prisons. Maybe the reason kids identlfy more with sports or hip-hop (hell, any music for that matter) is because they’re human, and the schools are so intensely inhuman! Same with the jobs too. You try keeping your dignity when you’re getting paid six bucks and hour. Better yet, come to southeast DC sometime, I’ll show you what the schools look like here and then I will challenge you to find anyone who can excell in those circumstances!

    Everything you say comes from this tired old bootstraps style talk that’s been outdated since before it began.

  28. To clarify, Zirin equated cultural cache with hip-hop. A bit unclear in my previous post

  29. Jason, this country imprisons its population at a rate greater than any other country in the world.

    This is classic – and I mean CLASSIC – language of victimization. Johnnie, it is the population that imprisons ITSELF. Personal responsibility is a value that many people still need to learn. There is the capacity for good and evil in every human heart.

    But what are you going to do with people how so freely choose to break the law? Arresting someone for battery does not have anything to do with health insurance or school systems or anything else. That would be a non-sequitur. As for reducing violent crime . . . well, you have to do something. Do you think not “punishing” anybody for violent crimes will somehow reduce violent crime? I mean seriously, get real. If you don’t want to end up in prison, don’t do anything that will get you there in the first place. And no, the playing field is not even for everyone – but you make your own choices and are responsible for their consequences.

    Youngvito, if it takes anymore explaining for you to understand how corporate culture works in re: to dress codes, and how each is different for each business, well, then you are beyond hopeless. It’s a goddamn dress code policy. Stop trying to fan the flames by making it into something it’s not.

  30. Jason, you are wrong. Crime does have to do with the school systems (which have to do a lot with poverty, location, funding, etc.). If you think that environment, economics, and education don’t play a factor in crime, you are simply wrong. You’re deluding yourself with the myth that it’s all “personal responsibility”: yes, that’s part of it, but it goes against all reason and analysis to suggest that crime in this country doesn’t occur within a context of economic and racial oppression.

    If you don’t like the words “victim” or “victimization,” try this phrase on: “history of oppression.” No reasonable person can deny that the U.S. has a history of oppression against minorities; if you do deny it, you have utterly no concept of history. Furthermore, if you attempt to claim this history of oppression is simply in the past and not at work any more, you are deluding yourself again: there was no point in history where everybody stopped and said, “OK, all that institutional oppression and racism is ending right now; that’s all in the past and now we’re all equal.” The legacy of the past is still felt today, and if you deny that, you simply don’t understand history.

  31. Spoken like a true enabler, PV. My dad doesn’t make a lot money – so it’s okay if I mug this lady and take hers. My school has poor funding – might as well drop out and sell drugs. Hey, it’s not my fault! Surely you can see the difference between correlation and causation. But no, you’d rather play the victim card, to tell anybody living in a poor community that they have no chance to make it in this country.

    In case you haven’t figured this out, we live in a capitalistic society. Or, in your words, “economic oppression.” You cannot expect things to be handed to you all the time. This is not a Communist state (much to the chagrin of many). Nobody ever said this shit was easy.

    And it’s a good thing Jews don’t use this whole “history of oppression” as a crutch/excuse as well, huh? Because then they would be wallowing in their own self-pity of what happened to them 60 years ago, instead of focusing on their future, on what they can accomplish today, and they wouldn’t be some of the top lawyers, doctors, bankers, and entertainers that this country currently has to offer. If you want to wallow in the past, and use that as your crutch, then good luck with all that.

  32. Wow, great interview, great questions, and great answers. Kudos to all of you for putting this together.

  33. Wow. Deep stuff here.

    As a student of history and international affairs (politics of course being a by-product) I have attempted to understand the struggle of the less fortunate in trying to “come up”. In America, that is associated with african-americans. In other countries, other minority groups fit similiar roles. Where I see Americas advantage is the ability to rise up somehow. For lack of a better example, lets use Sebastian Telfair. His story was well documented on ESPN as a black male trying to make the best of his situation. And to him and his family, he did. To basketball fans, purists, etc, he might not have. Could he have used the extra training in basketball? Maybe. But to his family member who can now pay their phone bill, does it really matter that Bassy committed X amount of turnovers? No.

    Again other ethnic groups don’t have that ability. Before 2003, who thought a Kurd could ever be President of Iraq? There are hundreds of other ethnic groups held down all across the world. At least in America sports, and entertainment to an extent, can be a way out.

    The problem in America lies when people see no other way then to hinge their hopes and dreams on something as fickle as sports or entertainment. Being the next great rapper would be great, but what if suddenly it didn’t pay? What if the blues for example made a mainstream return? Would you still see as many people trying to be rappers? I don’t think there would be.

    We have to provide other opportunities. Education is a great start, but jobs and potential for income need to be there as well or else you have a “brain drain”. The reason you see so many foreign doctors in the US and so few in their native lands.

    Before I go on too long, I do agree with Jason on Pac Man Jones in so much as he became an embarrassment to the league. However what was done needed to be done fairly, with the i’s dotted etc. If not, let him play.

    As for Bonds, Hall of Famer: yes. Should Selig be there: yes. He is the commissioner, point blank. Do I like Bonds: not one iota. Do I think pitchers should walk him when gets 755? Yes I do.

  34. Jason, it’s clear that you don’t understand what I mean by history of oppression, and you’re unwilling to examine context. Further, your last paragraph is so bizarre and disturbing I really don’t even know how to carry on this dialogue. I’ll leave others to discuss this with you if they wish.

  35. For such a history buff, I’m surprised you didn’t see the Holocaust survivors reference in there, PV. That would be one group of people who have undergone oppression that neither you or I could ever imagine — real, true oppression.

    What I’m saying is that it’s a good thing all those survivors and kin of those survivors — all of the successful Jews in this country (and elsewhere)today — did not heed your “advice” by using the Holocaust as a reason to not succeed. They saw it as an obstacle that they could overcome, not one that would hold them back. Big, huge, important difference.

    But, as a leftist, it is in your best interest (and Zirin’s) to tell minorities (Jews, blacks) that their history will hold them back no matter what. Hence, the victimization card – because without that, what would a leftist politician ever have to run on (other than the legalized killing of unborn children, of course)?

  36. I’m just getting angry now. Of course I saw reference to the Holocaust in your last paragraph: that’s why I was disturbed. Are you suggesting that Jews (or anybody) either has or should de-emphasize the significance of the Holocaust for any reason? All of the Holocaust literature I’ve read suggests that if there is anything important that must be done now, it is to witness what occured, and to strive that it never happen again. Frankly, based on your comments, you are not somebody I wish to discuss the Holocaust with (for I consider it the worst event in human history, the event which blots humanity forever, an event that has horrified me and depressed me for a long time).

    Here’s where your wrong: you think the history of oppression for minorities in America is over. It’s not. It’s not anybody using the history of racism as an excuse not to succeed; it’s that that history of racism is still going on making it difficult for many to succeed. You seem to think that it’s all in the past, and since it’s in the past it has no impact on today, and furthermore, since it is in the past everybody should just ignore it and move on. As a student of history, I recognize that it is precisely in order to progress that we must look to and understand our history.

    But you’re unwilling or unable to see that, for whatever reason.

  37. Jason S. Says:

    Jason, it’s wrong to compare the history of Blacks in America to the history of Jews in America. A more telling comparison is the history of Blacks in America to the history of Jews in Germany.

    I recently came across an article that asks if Anti-Semitism is on the decline in Germany, http://www.worldpoliticswatch.com/article.aspx?id=721

    This passage caught my interest in relation to the current discussion:

    “Thus, according to the Bertelsmann data, some 72 percent of Germans believe that there are only a small number of persons in Germany who have negative attitudes toward Jews or even that there is hardly anyone at all. When one considers this result in connection with the other findings, however, it is clear that many of the same persons who subscribe to this belief themselves express anti-Semitic attitudes — without evidently perceiving them as such.

    Thus, for example, nearly 50 percent of the respondents are of the opinion that “many Jews” try to “use the past of the Third Reich to their advantage.” (This is a standard question employed in German public opinion research to measure “secondary” anti-Semitism.) Merely 27 percent unequivocally reject the assertion. Fully 19 percent, while not endorsing it, choose the non-committal “impossible to say” and another 9 percent “don’t know.””

    Substitute the following: Americans for Germans; United States for Germany; Blacks for Jews; racist for anti-Semitic; and past oppression for Third Reich. I have a feeling if the study were conducted in the U.S. using those terms and those questions many of the responses will be similar.

  38. how sad is it that Jason blames black people for everything? School system is bad? blame the students who have no choice but to be in it and didn’t make the system what it is, for not having the alternatives that people like Jason were lucky to have. Some people are so out of touch they can never find a reasonable solution to something, they just blame it on hip-hop, “enablers” and entourages. No solutions, just blame. Not acknowldging that there is racism in this country, and probably jealous that a white man (very well spoken, I might add)can better relate to his own people than he can. Not because Dave offers excuses, but plausible reasons to start a conversation. Jason acts like black people are shadow boxing against an invisible opponent. Just sad

  39. Here’s a good exercise for the “victimization” crowd — make a “case” for why these NFL players were all arrested and how it wasn’t their fault. Vito, you first.

    http://cache.deadspin.com/assets/resources/Pacman_Appeal.pdf

  40. great interview TSF.. keep bringing the heat. there’s been so much discussed in the interview and the comments that I wouldn’t even know where to start. I will say that whether you dress like “The Wire” or the “Sopranos” it doesn’t make you a better person. To judge somebody by their skin, hair, clothes tattoes, etc. defines prejudice. Those that feel otherwise are, well, you know…

  41. [...] I’m not sure how I missed this but The Starting Five has a good and lengthy interview with Dave Zirin. Great stuff in this interview. [...]

  42. [...] The Dave Zirin Interview [image]Dave Zirin is a lightning rod for trouble. He is a white man who boldly stepped into the arena of sports and […] [...]

  43. This conversation about “victimization” is fascinating. It’s also a pretty classic philosophical sticking point between Republicans and Democrats. So, it’s fascinating in its paradigmatic nature, I guess. Yeah.

    Anyway, the list Jason provided is pretty interesting. I didn’t look through all the entries, but a few jumped out. Sensabaugh — Arrested for Speeding/No permit; Batiste — Arrested for Concealed Weapon at Traffic Stop; Joseph — Arrested for marijuana possession after traffic stop. Now, I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve been stopped at least 6-7 times in my car for speeding or other minor traffic things. Never has a cop searched my car. Never have I been taken out of the car. I’m white. I know this is a pretty standard experience for most black people in the U.S. and probably doesn’t generate more than a “what else is new?” But do most white people understand this is the standard experience of a black citizen being stopped by the cops? That every time, they can expect to be taken out of their car, have everything searched, and most likely accompanied with some not-so-polite treatment? That’s where the “everyone is personally responsible for their own actions” argument falls apart. It’s not that one person, individually could have avoided their own struggles. It’s that the statistics of people in jail are so glaringly unequal. For whites, if you know a person who has gone to jail, it’s an anomoly, and you say to yourself, “what a screw-up.” For blacks, it’s a way-too-normal occurrence, and you say to yourself, “why does this torture our community?” Totally opposite experiences having nothing to do with the person observing the action, but with serious effects.

    The truth is, how can you look at the glaring inequality in figures like that and say it comes down to personal responsibility? To believe that the inequality is anything besides structural, you have to believe one, and only one, incredible thing: white people are more moral or less prone to commit crimes than black people. Whether you attribute that to community/environment problems or some backwards view of genetics doesn’t matter. In the end, you are saying it’s “their” fault for not being good people. That’s ridiculous. The conversation needs to be about structures, not whether Stephen Jackson or Pacman Jones could have stopped themselves from any crime they may have committed.

    A good exercise would be to picture a normal weekend experience for a middle-class white child compared to a black child living in the inner-city. One plays on a neighborhood baseball team, then goes over to one of his friend’s house to watch movies, play video games, shoot hoops in the driveway, all under the supervision of one or two parents. The other hangs out on the curb or the corner with kids his age or older, while his mother is working her second job cleaning people’s houses. The kids on the corner get bored, so they go mess with the homeless guy a block away, or head into the corner store to steal a couple of pieces of candy. Well, those kids on the corner, obviously not the white ones, end up seeing stuff they aren’t emotionally ready for, or hearing stories about “how life really is” from dudes on the street with nothing else going on in their lives (these are just the people that hang out on the street normally). Is it really hard to see how these situations lead to stable, more productive situations for white kids and not so much for black kids? Next thing you know, one’s in college and the other is playing basketball/football, working a min. wage job, sitting at home unemployed, or dealing drugs/anything else that can make a good amount of money. Obviously, very few get to play basketball/football, and the other options all kind of suck. These situations are TYPICAL, and have everything to do with why, on a large percentage basis, more young black men are in prison than in college. It’s certainly not just a matter of “make a better decision.” That’s for sure.

    Sorry for the long-ass post, but I think this puts a pretty clear argument forth as to why ranting about the lack of moral fiber of athletes today doesn’t deal with the foundation and source of the issues. Crying that they should be suspended and put in jail only makes the dominant culture feel good about themselves; it doesn’t address the real problems.

  44. Jason, I think I see what you are4 saying, but I’m not sure you realize what you’re saying, which is what everyone else has been saying. That was unnnecessarily confusing, but i think it’ll become clearer. Let’s take a stab at this from a philosophical perspective. First, we’ll speak about power relations and the difference between liberation and emancipation. Second, we’ll talk about the colonality of power, and finally, we’ll talk about how this plays out in professional athletics.

    First we have recognize that America was a colonized society. We can do this becuase we can recognize the marks of colonization all around us, especially as they stem from the emancipatory myth. Every colonizing society brings with it an emancipatory myth for those it colonizes, often in the form of religion conversion. However, while the emancipatory myth offers freedom, it delivers only a little temporary safety from abuse; moreover, it begans to efface the colonized people, to bring them into the likeness of the colonizer. We place emancipation, then, apart from liberation. Liberation seeks a freedom that stems from the recognition that freedom is not allowed or imposed, but that each person around me represents the possibility of my freedom. Merleau-Ponty (in an obviously Sartrean mood) said “I cannot will my freedom without willing freedom for all.” In this particualr case, we find “bootstrapping” your way up to be the emancipatory myth; it promises freedom if we only try harder, yet it delivers only temporary safety from financial hardship, social astigmatization, and/or institutionalized racism. However, it does not eliminate the possibility of those things. It emancipates, but it does not liberate.

    Now, we can talk about the colonality of power, or how oppressive power continues to be exerted long after the colonizer has gone. Once the emancipatory myth takes hold, the colonized is effaced, her traditions slowly disappear, her culture becomes syncretized and static, and her relations become vertical, not horizontal. She has disappeared. What is left is the “disappearer” and a “native” identity that has been shaped for her to fit into the native-settler dialectic. Everything from this point on becomes commodified. Her race and culture are up for sale, up for investigation, up for astigmatization. In a few generations, that identity that was created for her by the coonizer has become her identity. This is one of the most insidious things about colonialism: it forces a false identity on those colonized. This is what Frantz Fanon argues that we must destroy both the native and the settler; in order to liberate, we must disencumber ourselves of our masks and reject the emancipatory myths. We must become concerned about people. There is a human face to all of this.

    We can see all of these things play out in professional athletics. In the recent implementation of their own little version of the emancipatory myth, Stern and Goodell have set a bar for participation. Perhaps it is good that they try to rid sports of thuggery and contempt for the law. I can get on board with that. What I can’t get on board with is that they’re hypocrites about it; they poo-poo the naughty behavoir of the athletes, then pretend that their leagues’ wink-wink-nod-nod-say no more relationship with organized crime and gambling doesn’t exist. If we’re going to clean up sports, let’s clean it up ALL THE WAY. But Stern and Goodell seem content to control and manage, instead of actually cleaning the house. They still live in that native-settler dialectic, where the native is something to be managed by the settler and the native, in turn accpets this, finds her identity through this, and acts as such. You might call that victimization, but that ignores the long train of oppression that backgrounds relations between Anglo-Americans and African-Americans today.

  45. 10FootBongz Says:

    While I agree with Jason’s take on the NBA dress code (I work in a corporate office where I would be told to go home if I don’t meet the code), I find his comparison of Jews and Blacks in the USA to be misguided, at best. To say that, “If that group can do it and not complain, why can’t you?” misses the point entirely. Both instances of oppression/bigotry/racism are terrible, and neither group should have to (or should have had to) experience it in the first place.

    As for the NBA’s dress code, I personally think that the issue has been wrongly miscast as racist. If any NBA player wishes to contravene the dress code, they are free to do so, at a cost. Noone is holding a gun to these athletes heads, they can make their choice and decide whether being true to themselves is worth a fine. Furthermore, these athletes can decide if it is the clothes that they wear that defines them or the content of their actions, thoughts and feelings (apologies for mangling a great MLK dream). These are rules that are applied to every NBA player, regardless of origin. There are no league guidelines preventing players from expressing themselves however they see fit outside of their workplace. Etan Thomas is free to speak his mind concerning anything he wants on his own time (and he does). Same goes for everyone else.

    The thing that shocks me the most about the focus on the dress code is that this is something that was agreed to by the players union (which is made up of….NBA players). They accepted it, and in return likely received something else, if I have an understanding of how relations between a labour union and corporation work.

    Secondly, I am pretty surprised that such a big deal is made out of what David Stern does to foster this prejudice while Paul Tagliabue and Roger Godell get off virtually scot-free (well, at least Tagliabue did). Look at the sidelines at an NBA game, look at the numbers concerning minority representation in the front offices of the NBA, then do the same for the NFL. Notice anything unusual? How about college athletics? I won’t even get into college football, because it is a fricking joke that there are so few minority head coaches and ADs. But what about college basketball? Please, in the future, when you look at the dress code in the NBA, take a look at the colour of those in charge of NFL, college football, and college basketball corporations/teams, and ask yourself which is the biggest obstacle to lifting the prejudice against African Americans in sports: that they can’t wear a bandana to the NBA arena where they make their living, or the fact that elsewhere, they cannot even find employment. I see this focus on the dress code as being akin to worrying about a scratch on your knee when your other leg is broken. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, so it is really important that they are prioritized correctly.

    Finally, and this is a response to Pm’s last paragraph, while the NFL is certainly in bed with the gambling world (I have no idea about organized crime), you cheapen your argument by including the NBA (or David Stern’s) name. The NBA has been opposed to gambling for a long, long time. It is the main reason why there is no team in Vegas. Additionally, before the Toronto Raptors were born, there was (and is) a gambling lottery in Ontario (the province that Toronto is a part of) called ProLine, that allowed people to legally bet on all manner of sports leagues, NBA included. As part of the agreement to create the Raptors, the government of Ontario had to agree to pull NBA games from ProLine. I am sure that there are plenty of other things that you could have nailed the NBA on, but gambling and organized crime are not two of them.

  46. perhaps is did miss the boat a bit with the gambling bit and the NBA, but where there’s gambling, there’s always organized crime. you’re right to point out the steps the NBA has taken to prevent gambling influences from infiltrating the game. mea culpa. i guess i’m just too skeptical and wonder if that’s not all window dressing. I just think these two, Stern and Goodell have such a one-sided view of what’s wrong with their leagues that it prevents them from actually correcting them. they are looking solely at the players and not at the social reality that creates these sorts of situations and stereotypes. I guess we could lump MLB owners into that indictment as well, as they doggedly pursue steroids by taking down players while acting as if they themselves did not use a Congressionally-granted anti-trust exemption to knowingly (in my opinion) profit from the sale, use, and distribution of a controlled substance. The players that are getting into trouble are simply manifestations of larger societal problems that these men, and the mouth-breathing fans that exult in their “jurisprudence refuse to acknowledge. thanks, however for setting the record straight on the NBA and gambling. good catch.

  47. Where’d Jason go? He put out a challenge and hasn’t come back? Must be employed or something, being all personally accountable and whatnot…

  48. Dan, glad you missed me.

    That’s where the “everyone is personally responsible for their own actions” argument falls apart.

    Actually, you’re wrong. You can argue whether it was right or not for those players to have been pulled over in the first place ’til you’re blue in the face — we weren’t there, we don’t know — but the fact is that marijuana was found in Joseph’s car. A concealed weapon was found in Batiste’s car. THAT is the point. Who is responsible for a gun being Batiste’s car except for Batiste himself? It boggles the mind wondering why people go out of their way to rationalize/defend this kind of behavior.

    The truth is, how can you look at the glaring inequality in figures like that and say it comes down to personal responsibility?

    Glaring inequality? What do you want to happen — have a bunch of white people go out and commit crimes and land in jail so the numbers even out? I ask again — who is responsible for the gun in Batiste’s car? (Is he even black? I never heard of him, but that’s not really the point). If he IS white, then the same principle applies.

    In the end, you are saying it’s “their” fault for not being good people. That’s ridiculous.

    Well, then whose fault is it? The “system’s”? The “institution’s”? Please. These are leftist buzz words that carry no real meaning. An institution is nothing if not a collection of individual people making decisions on their own.

    These situations are TYPICAL, and have everything to do with why, on a large percentage basis, more young black men are in prison than in college.

    It’s a generational cycle. To stop that cycle, certain individuals need to make certain decisions that will better the life not only of themselves, but of their family. You describe the white kid’s “experience” almost with contempt, as if it’s a bad thing; it is simultaneously skewered and envied in a way that sometimes makes it confusing what you are really going on about.

    Crying that they should be suspended and put in jail only makes the dominant culture feel good about themselves; it doesn’t address the real problems.

    Why is your solution to dealing with Pacman Jones (other than suspending him/charging him with crimes that HE committed)? I’m all ears.

  49. What I can’t get on board with is that they’re hypocrites about it; they poo-poo the naughty behavoir of the athletes, then pretend that their leagues’ wink-wink-nod-nod-say no more relationship with organized crime and gambling doesn’t exist.

    Link, please. Organized crime? I like to deal with fact-based realities. If you’re privy to some information that I’m not aware of, please share.

    They still live in that native-settler dialectic, where the native is something to be managed by the settler and the native, in turn accpets this, finds her identity through this, and acts as such.

    It’s called being an employee of a large corporation. Come back down to earth. Have you ever worked in a corporate environment? The CEO of HBO was just forced to resign (read: was fired) for being arrested of an assault. Not charged, not convicted, but arrested. Thoughts?

    they are looking solely at the players and not at the social reality that creates these sorts of situations and stereotypes.

    You’re going to have to define “social reality” for this to make any sense. Unless again you’re talking about your unfounded claim that the NFL and NBA are in bed with the mafia. Goodell and Stern are businessmen. Their business, however, is not dealing with (the still undefined) “social realities.”

    they doggedly pursue steroids by taking down players while acting as if they themselves did not use a Congressionally-granted anti-trust exemption to knowingly (in my opinion) profit from the sale, use, and distribution of a controlled substance.

    Link, please.

    The players that are getting into trouble are simply manifestations of larger societal problems that these men, and the mouth-breathing fans that exult in their “jurisprudence refuse to acknowledge.

    What “societal problems” caused Palmeiro to take steroids? Pray tell, I am very interested.

  50. *note: Pacman Jones has not been convicted of any crime.

    We are not apologists for any alleged behavior, we just report the facts.

  51. Mizzo (by the way, thanks for allowing me to post here, even if zero of your readers agree with my positions), I just mentioned to Pm that HBO’s CEO Chris Albrecht was fired after being arrested for assault. He has not even been charged, let alone convicted.

    In your opinion, was HBO in the right for canning this guy for his alleged behavior?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18562206/

  52. Jason, I don’t think you understand at all what people are saying here; you fall back on your “rightist buzz words” (what’s good for the goose is good for the gander) “personal responsibility.”

    Personal responsibility is great. What people are saying is, not everybody has been giving the same economical, educational, or geographical opportunities, and so not everybody has an equal opportunity to use their “personal responsibility.”

    But you fail completely to address why, as Dan said, “the statistics of people in jail are so glaringly unequal.” You simply ignore these statistical facts and rant about “personal responsibility.” What is your explanation for why “the statistics of people in jail are so glaringly unequal”? Actually, I’m not sure I even want to know.

  53. No problem Jason. We would be foolish to want everyone to agree here. The debate is our aim.

    This country is built on due process. It bothers me when people look the other way for personal convenience in any way, shape or form.

    Corporations are built for financial gain.

    I don’t know all the facts regarding Albrecht’s situation.

  54. not everybody has been giving the same economical, educational, or geographical opportunities, and so not everybody has an equal opportunity to use their “personal responsibility.”

    Well no shit. This is breaking news to you? Some people have to work a lot harder to earn these “equal opportunities.” If I was born out of wedlock to a heroine addicted mother, and we lived in a box on the street, then yes, I wouldn’t have been “given” certain opportunities.

    But I wasn’t. I was born into a two-parent household, and they both had jobs, and we lived in a home. Nobody gave that to them – they earned it themselves. And they passed it down to me. And then I had a choice to follow that same “path,” or to drop out of college, sell drugs, impregnate six different women, secure a minimum-wage paying job, and live week-to-week. If I had chosen the latter, then my hypothetical children wouldn’t have been given these equal opportunities because of choices that I hypothetically would’ve made. But I didn’t make those choices. And now my children WILL have those opportunities. It’s all a big cycle. Expecting the government to dig you out of a hole is not the way to go about this whole thing. You work for what you get; for some people, it does require a hell of a lot more work. But you don’t want to hear about that — you are more comfortable and too busy blaming the nameless, faceless “institutions” and “native-settler dialect” to achieve anything of any real substance.

    People are in jail (95% of the time, I would guess) because of actions they have decided to do. Why are they “glaringly unequal” to one side? I don’t know. Maybe because an unequal amount of certain people made unwise decisions.

  55. The only relevant facts about Albrecht’s situation in relation to Pacman’s is that he wasn’t given any “due process” either. But he was fired nonetheless.

    Pacifist Viking, you’ve got an answer for everything – was it right for HBO to fire their CEO because he got arrested?

  56. “Link, please. Organized crime? I like to deal with fact-based realities. If you’re privy to some information that I’m not aware of, please share.”

    gambling=organized crime. if you don’t realize that, no link can help you.

    “It’s called being an employee of a large corporation. Come back down to earth. Have you ever worked in a corporate environment? The CEO of HBO was just forced to resign (read: was fired) for being arrested of an assault. Not charged, not convicted, but arrested. Thoughts?”

    you’ve stated a total non sequitur at best and proven my point at worst. the colonial mindset is prolific and you are rpoof positive.

    “You’re going to have to define ‘social reality’ for this to make any sense. Unless again you’re talking about your unfounded claim that the NFL and NBA are in bed with the mafia. Goodell and Stern are businessmen. Their business, however, is not dealing with (the still undefined) ‘social realities.’ ”

    many of the players involved in these off-field incidents come from less than privileged backgrounds. the mindset they have developed from their previous 19-22 years of life is not offset by 1-2 years in the NFL or NBA. i agree that it is not Stern and Goodell’s business (btw, i never said they were “in bed” with the mob, but strawman arguments are always fun, aren’t they. also btw, not all organized crime is the mafia)to deal with the social reality of entrenched, institutionalized racism–but it should be. they’d rather judge a player guilty and pack his ass off to NFL/NBA jail than try to work with him and help him through his transition into a different life. that’s just plain wrong. the social reality these players dealt with in their foramtive years was a culture that didn’t give a shit about them until they could score touchdowns and pull down rebounds.

    “they doggedly pursue steroids by taking down players while acting as if they themselves did not use a Congressionally-granted anti-trust exemption to knowingly (in my opinion) profit from the sale, use, and distribution of a controlled substance.

    Link, please.”

    two things. one, if you’d notice, i expressed this as my opinion, not a matter of fact. two, read this: http://espn.go.com/mlb/s/2001/1205/1290707.html and then you’ll see that baseball was granted an anti-trust exemption that allows the owners to collude on pretty much everything except player salaries, which i think enabled them to prevent any team-based speaking out and testing for steriods and other PED’s. again, this is what i think, not anything i know to be the case. reading is a skill.

    “What ‘societal problems’ caused Palmeiro to take steroids? Pray tell, I am very interested.”

    the win-at-all-cost mentality did that. the ends-jusitfies-the-means coporate mentality that pervades our society did that. the fact that we don’t want to hear anything from a hispanic ballplayer, except “beisbol been berry, berry good to me” did that. how often do you hear about the wonderful things roberto clemente did for PR and poor people in other places? not too much. how much do you hear about his rocket arm and lightening quick bat? a whole hell of a lot. we always here about how much he did for the game, but not so much about how much he did for other people. there is a world outside your cubicle, my friend. it’s a crazy place. you should come check it out sometime. we place the athletes on pedestal, ask them to be superhuman, then when they aren’t, we want to judge them and punish them. when they plunge that needle into their ass, or pop that pill, we want to pretend we didn’t play a role in that. yes, we are all responsible for our own actions, but we also need to realize how the actions that we choose freely, like booing a ballplayer for that warning track fly ball, or smirking at him for a his lack of street cred, might play role in the steriod he ingests to stretch that ball just a bit farther, or those old friends he left behind that he calls up to bolster his rep.

  57. also, on the due process, claim, i’d echo Mizzo’s reply. if due process has been evaded, then it’s wrong and i wouldn’t support it.

  58. here’s another nice piece about the anti-trust exemption.

  59. you know, just in case, here’s a link for the organized crime-gambling link: http://www.umich.edu/~urecord/9899/Nov02_98/12.htm

  60. Jason, thanks for stepping back into the fray. I really do think this discussion is helpful, and being the only person on one side is not easy, so much respect.

    As far as the athletes who were pulled over and then arrested, I first want to say that I didn’t check if the ones I mentioned were black, and that could be a major oversight. If we can just proceed on the assumption, though, that they were persons-of-color, I don’t think it would be too egregious, since we’re just commenting on a blog and not actually investigating this for a published article or anything.

    To the main point. My point wasn’t that those people hadn’t committed a crime. I was saying that, potentially, there are equal numbers of people of all races committing the same crimes and not suffering the consequences due to discriminatory use of police discretion. I’m not defending the behavior so much as wondering about the seriously negative inference that can be drawn regarding a value the U.S. holds up as a tenet of our society — democratic checks, including due process, on improper use of state authority. If authority is being abused, it certainly isn’t fair to label entire groups of people as more crime-prone than other groups, and it’s detrimental to the ideals of equality that we strive towards.

    In terms of fault, I tried to make clear that everyone can be looked at through the prism of individal responsibility and that view can be justified…if were talking about INDIVIDUALS. The problem is that events like the Pacman Jones suspension then get imputed to entire groups, like black athletes. If you want to talk at that level of generalization, you have to address things on a statistical basis and question the reasons for inequality in statistics. Otherwise, you simply can’t discuss problems facing “communities” or certain races, only how Pacman Jones, devoid of any group characteristics, should handle his own life.

    The system and institutions are made of people, but the people running them are collectively entrusted with power by the country, itself an institution made up of people. The country, or any smaller-level institution (like the media, or a county police department) can obviously be flawed, and ignoring that has proven to be pretty harmful to everyone.

    Which flows into the generational cycle. You can’t possibly make that point without looking at history’s influence over the present. To go back one generation is not enough; you have to go back several. Well, if you do that, you’re pretty quickly in a black era of our country where the system, and the individuals that make it up, created the gross inequality we worry about now. “Ghettos” didn’t happen randomly — they were the result of every policy and social decision made by and in this country since the institution (again, that word) of slavery was set up and then, thankfully, torn down. I didn’t mean to talk about the white kids experience with contempt; I think it is definitely the ideal. What I’m “going on about” is that the starkly different experiences are linked to the very different adult lives of people of different races. The different environments are clearly reasons for differences in the social and economic lives of different races on a group level. To pick out one example of a member of a group and talk about how that person individually could have prevented his own failure misses the point. I definitely understand that this point of view can be confusing, but that is because there are no easy answers for this kind of complex problem. It’s easier to say everyone is responsible for their own lot in life, but that doesn’t make it the right answer.

    So, how should Pacman Jones be “deal[t] with?” Maybe he does need to be suspended, given the chance to get his life in order with therapy or something else, I don’t know. I do know that he shouldn’t be the poster-child for what plagues an entire group, either athletes or black communities. To solve an entire group’s problems, we need better policies, more effort, and A LOT of discussion about all of it.

  61. PM, Dan – I’m gone for the night (I actually leave my cube!) but I’ll try to be back this weekend. Thanks for the replies. And Mizzo, good thing you got going here, even if I am getting piled on.

  62. Thanks Jason. Hey man dissenting opinions aren’t popular.

    I can’t side with you here though. You’re on your own ;)

  63. TheLastPoet Says:

    Funny thing is, while Jason offers the “dissenting view” at this blog site, he actually represents the norm, as we all know.

    Sad.

    But indicative of the work that is left to do regarding race, social justice, and equality.

    I commend those of you who have spent considerable time trying to pull young Jason from behind his veil of ignorance. Unfortunately, you will not succeed. But even if you do, just remember, there is an entire country full of under-informed, misguided Jasons awaiting your attention and in need of your very best effort!

    As for me, I’m hangin up my Cap’n Save-a-Ho cape and tights, and retiring from the game…

  64. [...] Click here to read this interview. [...]

  65. Jason, you say it’s a “generational cycle” as to why more Black men are in prison than in college. So, are you saying that in Black males, the ‘crime’ gene skips a generation? Because you don’t allow for it being to due outside conditions, so what else is it? Dude, this is the 21st Century. You have to mask your eugenics better than that nowadays. Who gave you the right to judge an entire generation anyway?

    I have more to say but I gotta go for now…

  66. Wow, this interview, let alone everything that has come down the pike makes this my favorite website of all time. Zirin has had my respect and admiration for quite a while now and this honest and open interview proves to me that my good feelings have not been misplaced.

    “Back to what the hell…. This is something I’ve tried to wrap my head around. It seems like all the commissioners seem to be united in having a Rudyard Kipling complex; “The Commissioner Kiplings” is what I call them.

    It’s this idea that they are going to be the people who have this approach that says we are going to civilize these barbaric young, black athletes. And they won’t use those words exactly, they’ll use words like “urban” and “hip-hop” and “gangsta culture.” All that really come down to at the end of the day is that, with the media’s help, they can make sanctifying and “legitimate” racial profiling. It doesn’t matter about the content of these folks character; it’s about how they dress, how they look, how they speak. Basically, they’re saying it’s bad for business and that they’re going to take it upon themselves to be the moral guardians of sports.”

    I think this is a fascinating point. I assume, and still do, that Stern is a souless, evil money mad dictator whose apparent attack on black players’ culture is based on his desire to appeal to the “red states.’ but what if this is true. Then he’s slipped off of the banana peel keeping him on THIS side of insanity. Thing is, I’d not put it past him.

    “That’s what makes the NBA legitimate. The fact that it is raw is what makes it real. You saw that so much in Golden State series. You saw overwhelmingly white fans in that Bay Area gym going nuts for Stephen Jackson. You saw all these middle-class Silicon Valley heads going out to those games to cheer and when Jackson hit three after three and give that, too cool for words scowl they were losin’ their minds through the process of identification. They were yelling, “Yeah, Stephen Jackson! Yeah!”

    And all of a sudden the announcers went from saying, “Stephen Jackson needs to go to Guantanamo Bay,” were saying, “Wow, Jackson adds the toughness to this Golden State team that they didn’t have before.”

    See, that’s the cultural cache that’s given to that white audience. So if you try to crush that like Stern’s trying to do – well, you’re playing with fire with what makes the NBA matter.”

    Exactly, exactly, exactly. Stern should learn from history of what happens when someone tries to take away the soul of an endeavor that African Americans place their footprints on. I won’t bore anyone here with details unless asked, but just look up the name of Paul Whiteman re: jazz music to see how absurd this Euro-Ball and Middle American values crap Stern is pushing down our throats is.

    “And when I was in LA I went to Fremont High School – and this is one of the things that gets me so mad – the same people who Whitlock is calling the “Black KKK” – I mean, I talk to some of these kids and they’re the most beautiful-hearted people I’ve had the chance to sit down in a room with in my life. You know, just talking sports, talking Ali, talking history – and it was just an amazing experience.

    The LA tour was a microcosm to answer your question. I did a talk at Occidental College. There were about 100 people there. It was 99% white and I had to stop and explain what the Civil Rights movement was. I was saying to them, “Muhammad Ali was critical of the transformation in this country from Civil Rights to Black Power.” And there’s all this whispering and someone says, “Yeah, my teacher talks about that a lot; what does that even mean?” And I said, “How much a year are you spending on this education?” And they said back, “Oh, about 40 grand.”

    I spent the majority of my youth in the Crenshaw’LaBrea area and I graduated from Occidental college so this bit strikes home to me. ZIrin pretty much nails it. Especially that about Oxy. I had never been exposed to white folks until my time there and I was simply astounded at the willful ignorance and sense of entitlement. And then to have this Tom Jason Whitlock bend over for his white masters, well, fool will learn in time.

    Jason S. Writes:

    Substitute the following: Americans for Germans; United States for Germany; Blacks for Jews; racist for anti-Semitic; and past oppression for Third Reich. I have a feeling if the study were conducted in the U.S. using those terms and those questions many of the responses will be similar.

    Truer words wee never spoken. I’ve often said, and I;m very confident in saying so, that the only thing that has kept America from becoming Nazi Germany is the presence of black folks. The dynamic, played out every day, between a people with a nature and culture one way and a decree, made thus by it’s own words, to be better than they are and the pesence of a people agitating for them to not forget their responsibilities to their ownwords.

    As to Jason:
    Steve Nash, despite playing with the all-NBA first team center, the sixth man of the year, a first team al D teammate and another bonafide all-star, is down exactly as far as J. Kidd is, Thing is, Kidd hasn’t lst home court and Nash has. Ha!

    As far as your other ramblings, well. I guess every site needs a class resident clown.

  67. Dunno if anyone’s still reading but I wanted to post this anyway.

    I agree with Dave Z and KevDog before me, the NBA is trying to co-opt the thug image. I think the hip-hop thing is a great comparison. The NBA and hip-hop both are both predominantly Black. So there is an inherent image, fostered by society, of the thug (i don’t have to re-explain racial profiling to all but ONE person posting on this string so I won’t waste my time). By co-opting the image, the Sterns and Time-Warners gets the best of both worlds and a certain element of ‘gansta’ has been brought into the mainstream.

    First of all, like Dave points out in the article, a guy from the white suburbs can really get into the NBA because it lets him feel like he’s hip. Let’s face it, being Black is sort of cool, or so it is perceived to those who have never being stopped for Driving While Black or faced any other sort of racism. Knowing Ebonics, or the hottest jam, is ‘cool’. So it’s a white guy’s chance to be a part of it, be a little bit of a rebel while looking in safely from the sidelines. Same goes for hip-hop’s, just substitute record execs for NBA. And if you get the white guys into it, you have a lot more people to pull money from. So you have, in a way, the thug image kept ever-present to make white folks interested.

    The other half of that, however, is that like I said, it perpetuates that the thug image. The NBA seems to have really mastered that–it keeps its players on the edge. They want that bad boy image, but if you go too far, Stern has this space he’s created to distance himself from it, because the NBA takes no accountability for helping to create that bad boy imagery. So you gotta play the game, wear the right clothes, or they’ll distance themselves from you, even though they encouraged you to be rough around the edges in the first place. They use the threat of the same racist culture they’re a part of to keep players in line. Play ball with us or we’ll find someone else willing to do so.

    Stephen Jackson is a perfect example. How can the same guy go from outcast to golden child for the same thing, toughness? When it served his purpose, Stern disowned Jackson. Now, when it serves his purpose, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with him drawing an NBA salary.

    But here’s hope: Hip-hop is just coming full circle. It started as an underground movement, slowly became popular over years of hard work by pioneers to where it finally won a mass audience. Now that it has won that audience, and here’s the key, now that there’s profit to be made, all of a sudden, there are investments to protect and images to project. Same with NBA hoops. Basketball is more popular than ever, both here in the states and everywhere else in the world. Big money, baby.

    To backtrack, take a look at rock n roll. It, too, had a lot of Black roots, and that’s a lot of the reason it met with mass resistance from the establishment. But soon enough it was mainstream, and invaded by the profit-seekers. It became an industry (remember “Corporate Rock Sucks?”) But then, rock fought back and at least there is still some artistry to be found in a lot of rock n roll.

    Hip-hop is starting to fight back. Nas’s new album is called “Hip-hop is Dead”, and he points out that very thing–that hip-hop is becoming no longer a music of the people, a music of movement, but a music of stagnation and regression. So there is a debate underway, anyway.

    And we know about Etan Thomas, and Steve Nash, and a few other players who have spoken out about the current state of hoops and the world. Hopefully, the trend will continue, in both hip-hop and hoops, to take them back for our side. And like DZ says in the article, it’s all about the political situation in general, which at least shows signs of positive change.

    Wow, I hope this makes sense. It’s 2am and I’m going to bed.

  68. Cornelius Says:

    Everyone seems to miss the point on the Pacman Jones suspension. He did not report two prior arrests to his team, which is against the OLD personal conduct policy.

    He broke a rule, and the first in NFL history to ever get caught breaking that particular rule, mind you.

    His suspension in that regards is fully warranted.

    I’m not sure yet whether I agree with Goodell’s Czar-like rule yet, but the NFLPA agreed to give him that power, so it’s on them more than him.

  69. I most definitely agree with you on that.

  70. [...] studies that David Stern’s done. Zirin just hammers him repeatedly for his affiliation with Matthew Dowd. I guess David Stern has proven some things with market research. From the fan that has come up in [...]

  71. Corey Black Says:

    nice interview…i read a number of the responses also…..i dont feel like this guy is anything special at all….nice articulate points of view…..most i do actually agree with…….one thing i am puzzled by…is….. with dave zirin, is his attacks against Jason Whitlock….I think Jason Whitlock is a profound writer….and i feel like Zirin takes pot shots at him for his own enhancement….I’m not going to write a book here but, i will say……Whitlock is far more refreshing than this zirin fellow…..because, whitlocks views arent biased..and hopefully, heartfelt……i feel like Zirins irresponsibility of critisizing, instead of embraceing whitlocks point of view is one of selfishness, and jealosy…..in other words….why are you trying to be so hard on whitlock????? my opinion…..your jealous of him…

  72. [...] by the-sell-copy-at-all-costs mainstream sports media. For more about Zirin, check out "The Dave Zirin Interview"  with “The Starting Five” (TSF). In a related note, with Zirin’s [...]

  73. [...] I wanted to open up a discussion about writers on our site. We aim to affect here. Zirin, Jemele and Michael Smith have been gracious enough to come on the site and offer their perspective [...]

  74. [...] It also contains quotes from writers here at TSF as well as noted journalists Scoop Jackson, Dave Zirin, Jemele Hill and Chris Broussard. There is also some words from Neal Scarbrough–who worked [...]

  75. [...] Dwil, Modi, Dave Zirin, Temple3 and I have been some of Jason Whitlock’s biggest critics on the web and talk radio. [...]

  76. disneyland…

    [...]The Dave Zirin Interview « The Starting Five[...]…

  77. JustinGreg…

    [...]The Dave Zirin Interview « The Starting Five[...]…

  78. Charles…

    [...]The Dave Zirin Interview « The Starting Five[...]…

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