In most cases, I've believed strongly in the right of professional athletes to state their political beliefs loudly and proudly. The concept that jocks should just "shut up and play" denigrates our collective freedom to stand up and be heard. But defending an athlete's right to speak is far from defending the political content of their words. Case and point: former NBA journeyman Paul Shirley. Shirley, who fancies himself as a cultural critic on espn.com, thought it would be a good use of his time to blog about the ongoing disaster in Haiti. First he wrote, "I haven't donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don't give money to homeless men on the street.... If I use history as my guide, I don't think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either."
Then he penned an open letter to the Haitian people:
Dear Haitians –First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded. As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it's possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?
Sincerely,The Rest of the World
I had plans to write a political response to this excrement. I was going to wonder why someone would write something so hurtful while people are still digging their own family members out from the rubble. I was going to marvel at Paul Shirley's ignorance of Haiti's history. I was going to ask if he knew anything about the crushing debt Haiti has lived under for two centuries. I was going to point out the U.S. occupation of the island from 1915-1934, which left behind a 98 percent illiteracy rate, a broken economy, and a U.S.-trained military schooled in the art of repression. I was going to ask if he had any knowledge of the unspeakable brutality of the Duvalier dictatorships. I was going to write that before he talks about "history as a guide," he should dare read some history like The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer or The Rainy Season by Amy Wilentz.
I was also going to suggest that he actually try to live on a dollar a day or care for someone H.I.V. positive who has no access to medicine. I wanted to dare him to work for ONE DAY in a garment industry sweatshop. I was going to write all of these things. But instead I think I'm just going to write my own open letter:
Dear Paul Shirley, I only wish your father had taken your own advice and worn a condom. Go to hell.
Sincerely, Dave Zirin