loves sports. He is also one of sports' sharpest critics. And
he's pretty damn funny. His newest book, Welcome To The Terrordome:
The Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket 2007), exhibits
all of these traits. It is a critical and unrelenting look at
the place sports has played and continues to play in these United
States and around the world.
Zirin borrows the title of course from Public Enemy, the premier
political hip-hop group of all time (with KRS One and BDP a close
second) and he opens the book with a look back on the terrordome
that was the New Orleans Superdome in the aftermath of Hurrican
Katrina. You remember the stories coming out of there about murders
and rapes - stories that proved to be false.
However, do you remember the origins of the Superdome in the destruction
of a working class section of New Orleans - ethnic cleansing as
urban renewal? In case you didn't, Dave Zirin reminds you of the
ugly role money and greed played in that construction project.
He goes further, critiquing the continuing construction of sports
stadiums with public monies while the nation's educational and
social services infrastructure disintegrates into nothingness.
just the beginning. Naturally, Zirin addresses racism in sports.
Indeed, it is his contention that sports is where the US struggles
with race are played out on a daily basis. To make his point,
he discusses the manipulation of hip-hop culture by the National
Basketball Association (NBA) to gain new fans only for that to
be followed by a nasty attack on the culture's street roots.
He also writes about the great baseball player Roberto Clemente's
anti-racist attitudes and the globalized racism inherent in Major
League Baseball's (MLB) recruitment of Latin American and Caribbean
players while the overall African-Americans presence in the sport
to decline - not because of the rise of Latino players but because
of MLB's decision to go where the talent is cheaper and easy to
course, there's Barry Bonds who is, according to some people the
bogeyman of professional baseball because he may have used steroids.
As Zirin points out, there are many other players not named Barry
Bonds who have admitted using steroids and they don't get half
the grief Bonds does. To be fair, Barry isn't by most accounts
the most pleasant man, but that is no reason to treat him like
the Boston Strangler. Zirin rightly argues that MLB and the team
owners are as much (if not more so) to blame for the steroid era
in professional baseball as any player or group of players.
addresses racism in sports.
Indeed, it is his contention that
sports is where the US struggles
with race are played out on
a daily basis... Young men of color
seem to dominate most professional
sport at the major league level,
yet the paying audience in most
stadiums and coliseums is white
and reasonably well off.
The coins thrown at them are many,
but they come with a downside.
I think on the role of race in US sport, I go back to the opening
pages of Ralph Ellison's masterpiece, The Invisible Man. It is
there that we find Ellison's protagonist - a nameless African-American
man - in a room filled with cigar smoke and fat white men drinking
alcohol. The white men are there to be entertained. They tell
the the narrator (Ellison's invisible man) and a few other black
youths to don blindfolds and boxing gloves.
A naked white woman with a US flag painted on her body dances
in the room. The youths than proceed to fight each other for the
white men's entertainment in what is termed a "battle royal."
In the final round the Invisible Man loses to the victor. The
white men then throw a bundle of coins on the floor and the youths
scramble for the money, only to discover that there is an electric
current running through the rug that shocks the youths over and
over and that the coins are not gold, but brass tokens advertising
a car dealer.
The Terrordome is a book that describes and analyzes the real
world version of Ellison's "battle royal." Young men of color
seem to dominate most professional sport at the major league level,
yet the paying audience in most stadiums and coliseums is white
and reasonably well off. The coins thrown at them are many, but
they come with a downside.
While it is not an electrical current, it is a demand that these
athletes keep quiet and, in the NBA (and the Yankees), wear suits.
It's not that wearing a suit is a big deal , but the demand that
these young men and women not speak their minds runs counter to
the American illusion of free speech. The few that do speak out
run the risk of not only ticking off their employer, but losing
their job and ending up far away from the highlight reels.
are those that do risk their current gig as ballplayers. It is
these men and women that Zirin champions throughout his book.
These are his heroes. Men and women who play games well but also
stand for something more than good statistics and bling. He writes
about people from the past like Roberto Clemente and Jim Bouton
and current players like Etan Thomas of the Washington Wizards
and Sheryl Swoopes of the WNBA's Houston Comets. These and other
likeminded athletes are anything but invisible.
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said something to the
effect that sports journalism the only place in journalism where
a writer could use techniques more familiar to fiction. Dave Zirin's
writing takes the essence of Thompson's thoughts on sportswriting
and succeeds dramatically.
In addition, his humor and leftist politics only enhance the point
about modern sports Zirin wants to make. My son, who is one of
the biggest sports fans that I know, will get a copy of this book.
So will a friend or two who tell me that they could care less
about sports, since there's a political struggle to be won. In
the Hegelien framework, Zirin's book is the perfect synthesis
for all of them.
Dave Zirin is also the author of "The Muhammad Ali Handbook" (MQ
Publications). He has also gotten himself a blog site, www.myspace.com/edgeofsports,
which he invites you to visit. His book, "What's My Name Fool?
Sports and Resistance in the United States," is also in stores.
You can receive his column, Edge of Sports, every week by emailing
says: "I love writing this column but can only
continue with this work if people buy the books. We have a lot
of mouths to feeds in this house (and about three of them are
you believe in progressive, iconoclastic sports writing please
pick up a copy of Welcome To The Terrordome. If you believe in
being part of a project to "tear down the Terrordome,"
pick up five and give them to the apolitical sports fans in your
life. The only way ideas like this spread are from the bottom
up. Any questions, feel free to hit me back at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles by Dave Zirin:
Clown Prince Of Bizarro World
No Scapegoats: The Other Side Of Hip-Hop
(co-written with Jeff Chang)
The Greatest Anti-War Protestor
Pimping Mike Tyson
Pat Tillman's Brother Breaks His Silence
The Passing Of Peter Norman
When Fists Are Frozen
Why Today I Wear My Zidane Jersey
Hey Guys, It's Not A War
Using Soccer To Kick Iran
Why Did Pat Tillman Die?
Why Pat Tillman's Parents Are No Longer Silent