More Than A Game

17 Aug

Back in 1992 (I think it was ) I made good on a long standing intention and went to Cuba on the occasion of the Pan American Games (if you are not familiar, these are essentially hemispheric Olympics) being held in Havana. My traveling companions were the inestimable Mike James, well loved activist and proprietor of Chicago’s Heartland Cafe and Dave Meggesey, former NFL lineman for the then St Louis (football) Cardinals and author of the seminal football book, Out of Their League

Dave went on to become, among other things, an apparatchik for the NFLPA and president of Athletes United for Peace and co-founded the Esalen Sports Center. Recently he co-wrote an essay Aug 15/22 issue) with the Nation’s sports editor Dave Zirin entitled How the Players Won the NFL Lockout Its a bold analysis which concludes

Winning this battle didn’t only secure for the players a fair collective bargaining agreement. It didn’t only increase the earnings of veteran athletes, strengthen benefits and mercifully keep the season at sixteen games. It also raised even more important questions, which NBA players should be asking as well: What do we need owners for? Players are the game-no one shows up at Cowboys Stadium to watch Jerry Jones pace imperially up and down the sideline. We should be asking why we can’t have more fan-owned teams, similar to the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers-that’s a team with 112,000 owners. Why can’t players get equity and even ownership of the franchises themselves? And why can’t a big chunk of the revenues that players produce go back to the communities where they play? A thick percentage of all proceeds at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field goes to local charities. Given the current state of our cities, this would be a huge benefit to urban America. Also,think about how this argument combines the logical and the radical. It opens up discussions about economic democracy that the people who run the NFL-and the people who run our country-would prefer we not have.

Pro football is a players’ and fans’ game. The fans come to see the players, and taxpayers build the stadiums. The one irrelevant element is the owners. It’s time for a change. •

By the way. Dave Zirin (Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love and A People’s History of Sports in the United States), has narrated a documentary, Not Just A Game: Power, Politics and American Sports (the Media Education Foundation). which takes the unorthodox (but righteous) view that sports in the USA are inextricably bound up with politics (who doesn’t believe that commercialism, sexism, racism , militarism and homophobia are not ever present in America sports? Huh,huh.). I watched the video with my young son,a budding athlete and he gave it his approval—which to my mind —is an important endorsement.

Zirin is one of the few journalists covering sports (there is also Robert Lypsite) who intelligently places sports in the larger social context. If there are such things as must reads,add Dave Zirin to your list

Currently reading: Warlock-Oakley Hall(NYRB), The Forgotten Waltz- Anne Enright (WW Norton), The Forgotten of The Somme-Geoff Dyer (Vintage)

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