Dave Zirin | The Nation

Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin

Where sports and politics collide.

Patriots Balls and Christopher Hitchens

Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The seeming utter inanity of our national obsession over whether the New England Patriots were deflating their footballs and if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would do something about it, reached a fever pitch this week. While wondering whether this was just a “weapon of mass distraction” or actually worth giving a damn about, Christopher Hitchens came to mind. This is not usually a pleasurable experience.

The last time I agreed with Mr. Hitchens, who passed away four years ago, was in 1998. Before Hitchens “found his purpose” verbosely lusting for war with the Islamic world—think Bill Maher with a thesaurus—he was a merciless critic of those in power, regardless of political party. This included President Bill Clinton. When the Monica Lewinsky affair was revealed in 1998, Hitchens was deeply frustrated with others on the Democratic party left who defended Clinton on the basis of standing up to what Alan Dershowitz has recently deemed “Sexual McCarthyism.” He was also angered by those on the radical left who said that Clinton’s lying about an affair was meaningless and that if the president were going to be impeached, it should be for “his real crimes.” In other words, impeach Clinton for the deadly sanctions leveled against the Iraqi people, or for his cold-hearted welfare policies, or for the unprecedented build-up of the prison-industrial complex under his watch.

Hitchens’s response to this was to say that Clinton’s perjury and these profoundly more serious issues were intertwined. Both spoke to how he believed that rules simply didn’t apply to him. Clinton’s libertine sex ilfe was also monstrously hypocritical, given how his welfare reform policies policed the sexual lives of poor women.

As the months wore on, Hitchens took his argument—in my view—to an indefensible place, a place that presaged his political future as someone who tied his skill with the written word to the needs of the American state. Hitchens voluntarily swore out an affidavit to inform on his friend and Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal for alleged plots to discredit Ms. Lewinsky. This earned Hitchens the nickname he carried in many circles until his death, ““Hitch the Snitch.”

This entire scenario echoes in the drama that surrounds the New England Patriots, Roger Goodell and their deflated balls. I am hearing many people I respect say that if we are going to roast Goodell and the National Football League, please have it be for his “real crimes” as opposed to this sideshow. In other words, the serial covering up of violence against women, the lack of regard for player safety, and his hostility towards the NFL Players Association should be what brings him down. Yes, it is difficult, if not absurd, to discuss “cheating” in a sport where every team is looking for an edge, many players take whatever pills will keep them either bulked up or upright for the opening kickoff, and the purpose of play is to mash the frontal lobe of your opponent into a fine paste. But among the Saturday Night Live sketches and snarky columns, there lurks something important about the culture of corruption and cronyism in this commissioner’s office, particularly in Goodell’s relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman was absolutely correct when he was asked earlier this week about whether the Patriots would be punished and he said, “Probably not. Not as long Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. He [Goodell] was just at Kraft’s house last week before the AFC Championship. Talk about conflict of interest. As long as that happens, it won’t affect them at all.”

This conflict of interest is very real. As GQ’s Gabriel Sherman wrote in a damning long read that dropped this week about Goodell, Kraft is apparently known among NFL execs as “the assistant commissioner.” Even this description is charitable. It’s less the relationship between an assistant and a commissioner as much as it is one between a hand and the bottom aperture of a puppet. Bob Kraft, in addition to being just a “friend of Goodell,” has been the great defender of nGoodell’s stunning $44 million salary. He was Goodell’s first defender during the release of information that showed that the NFL cared very little about domestic violence until tape went public of Ray Rice striking his wife Janay. He also, according to GQ, orchestrated Goodell’s disastrous defense of the NFL’s domestic violence policies, in conjunction with CBS network who was about to start airing its lucrative Thursday night NFL telecasts. Kraft ordered Goodell to speak to CBS and grant an interview to, in Kraft’s insistence “a woman,” who ended up being Norah O’Donnell. Goodell complied.

Drew Magary wrote, in analyzing the league’s deep concern with the optics of this, “[Y]ou can see that NFL higher-ups were far more concerned with LOOKING like they were handling domestic violence appropriately than actually doing so (cut to Eli Manning in a No More ad looking like you just told him that we’ve run out of cupcakes).

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This relationship with Bob Kraft and the mere appearance of impropriety that marks how Goodell handles every issue that crosses his desk, tells its own story about why he must go. A reckless incompetence now defines everything he touches, whether it is his enforcing of the rules, the health and safety of players, or his dealings with the union. Instead of acting—like his predecessor Paul Tagliabue—as even the mildest of checks on the grasping of the bosses, he is their id unleashed. Instead of listening to players, Goodell is so comically distanced from the reality of his own ineptitude that he has become the sports version of Yertle the Turtle.

It is understandable why people do not care about the Patriots ball-maintenance or whether public officials lie about their sex lives. But we should care about people in power who hector us about our own morality as an exercise in spin. We should care about executives who punish workers by saying “ignorance is no excuse” while proudly being an ignoramus. If deflated balls are the small string that rips the sweater off of Roger Goodell, then we should grab it like we’re trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch, and hold on for dear life.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on how it makes perfect sense why people care about the NFL’s latest scandal more than the SOTU

Deflated Balls for Some, Miniature American Flags for Others!

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, is at the center of yet another cheating controversy. (Photo by Mark Runyon/Pro Football Schedules, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Around midnight, mere hours after Tuesday’s State of the Union address, where the most powerful person on earth put forth arguments on war, peace and the health of our economy, the number-one trending topic on Twitter was about deflated balls. Footballs, to be specific. Or most pointedly, the footballs used by the New England Patriots in their 45-7 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday’s playoffs. Eleven of the twelve balls used in the game were missing some hot air, and the hot takes were flying about whether Patriots coach Bill Belichick had engaged in cheating (never!) or if New England’s victory should be seen as illegitimate.

The NFL, a league that has covered up instances of massive brain trauma; homophobic, racist bullying; and violence against women, is said according to ESPN to be “disappointed…angry…distraught.” Yes, if you really want to disturb the moral compass of the NFL leadership hierarchy, deflate their balls. Typical of this was a throwaway tweet by the ultimate NFL insider Adam Schefter, who said, “The NFL starts in controversy and ends in controversy.” I don’t think Schefter meant any harm with these words, but they speak volumes. The “controversy” that started the season of course was compelling evidence that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was continuing an ignominious NFL tradition of covering up violence against women. Knocking out your partner, deflating some balls… it’s all just another cart on the rumbling, stumbling and often bumbling NFL gravy train. It’s Roger’s world, a world where if you can get away with it, you do it, and by all means, you never do it on videotape.

But forget for a moment the hot takes about Belichick, his legacy, and how this event could dominate the next ten days as idle reporters in Glendale, Arizona, now have something to feed the 24/7 news cycle. Forget as well that the Patriots would have beaten the Colts last Sunday if they had played with a rubber chicken wrapped in silver duct tape. At least some of the collective outrage, not to mention interest, about this speaks to our profound cynicism about formally trusted institutions of power in this country, and our continued, shockingly unshakable, relative absence of cynicism about sports. After years of hearing about doping scandals, dirty players, hypocritical commissioners and games that seem to be staged only as background to sell the “war on terror brought to you by Budweiser”, people still want to believe that the play itself, if not pure, is still an honest endeavor in between the lines.

Contrast the faith people project onto sports with the utter absence of credulity we give politics. Why were people talking more about deflated balls than President Obama’s State of the Union address? I imagine it’s because unless you are someone who sees Beltway politics as a form of entertainment, or a DC insider consuming and analyzing every last optic, you would have to be Shirley Temple to feel like anything said by the president, no matter how artfully articulated, connects with your life. We were told the economy is booming, yet household income for the middle and working classes is still far below pre-2008 crisis levels because of stagnant wages. We were told that a tax on the 1 percent and free childcare was on the agenda, yet a hostile Congress makes those promises about as realistic as hoverboards for all. We were told that the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are over, yet the facts—and boots—on the ground tell a different story. We were told that it was time to come together and see both sides on questions of police violence, yet protesters were being targeted in Ferguson while the president was speaking.

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Meanwhile, we saw the Patriots kick the snot out of the Colts and we saw the Seahawks have as wild a fourth-quarter comeback as I’ve ever seen to beat the Green Bay Packers. We want to believe that this—if nothing else—represents a tangible truth. Frightening as it is to consider, sports might be our last collective tether to a recognizable reality. If people feel like Bill Belichick has taken that away, it will affect his legacy and this sport, more than a thousand instances of Roger Goodell looking like he has the moral compass of a feral raccoon. It’s sad. It’s pathetic. But it’s also understandable. We can only work with the world we’re given, and it’s a place where the trust in institutions of power is more deflated that any damn balls.

Read Next: Dave Zirin on what the secret friendship of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali teaches us today

Dr. Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and What Their Secret Friendship Teaches Us Today

Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali speak with reporters in Louisville. (AP Photo) 

[This is dedicated to Mark Marqusee, who taught me the history below, and Jasiri X, who inspired me to write it.]

Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been dominating my thoughts recently, and not only because their birthdays just passed, a mere two days apart. Ali was admitted to the hospital on Thursday for being in a “non-responsive state”. This was happening as news that Selma, the film about Dr. King’s 1965 civil rights campaign was being both snubbed at the Oscars and hammmered by President Lyndon Johnson’s old apparatchiks, aghast that the film did not give LBJ what they believed was his proper due as a civil-rights hero. The national fear that these could have been Ali’s last days, as well as the concern that LBJ wasn’t getting enough of Dr. King’s reflected glory, could cause your brain to short-circuit if you were familiar with the actuality of their history, not to mention their private friendship during the 1960s.

On the face of it, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King would have had no reason for either friendship or common cause. Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, an organization staunchly opposed to King’s integrationist worldview. The NOI was withering in its assessment of King, most famously with Malcolm X’s contention that King in 1963 had led not a March but a “Farce on Washington.” King, in response wrote that he believed the Nation of Islam was “made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible devil.” He said we needed a movement based in love and not “the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.” As for Muhammad Ali, he mocked King’s integrationist ideal in 1964 saying, “I’m not going to get killed trying to force myself on people who don’t want me. Integration is wrong. White people don’t want it, the Muslims don’t want it. So what’s wrong with the Muslims? I’ve never been in jail. I’ve never been in court. I don’t join integration marches and I never hold a sign.” King’s ally Roy Wilkins responded by saying that “Cassius Clay [Ali’s name at birth] may as well be an honorary member of the white citizen councils.”

And yet, as the 1960s moved forward, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King formed a common bond forged through the common hatred showered upon them and their loved ones. As John Carlos, famed 1968 Olympian and protester, once said to me, “If there was an Olympic sport for number of death threats received back then, King and Ali would be fighting for the gold.” I have seen some of these death threats, and they are terrifying in a way that Twitter threats, awful as they are, simply are not. They are written often with a rational hand and comprise thousands of words, with knowledge of their targets’ movements, and solemn promises of when their lives or the lives of their children would end.

As the 1960s propelled forward, both men were part of a common black freedom struggle that was blurring the lines between “nationalism” vs. “integrationism” taking on not only the legal barriers to integration set forth by Jim Crow but the intractable racism of the North. We know of their friendship only because of those invaluable stenographers at the FBI. Here is one FBI wiretap summary with Martin Luther King Jr. in which Muhammad Ali is referred to derisively as “C”, for Cassius Clay.

“MLK spoke to C, they exchanged greetings. C invited MLK to be his guest at the next championship fight. MLK said he would like to attend. C said he is keeping up with MLK and MLK is his brother and he’s with him 100 percent but can’t take any chances, and that MLK should take care of himself and should 'watch out for them whities.’"

(Interestingly, we know of these wiretaps only because of the March 8, 1971 break-in of activists into an FBI office. They chose March 8 because it was the night of first Frazier-Ali and they knew the guards would be distracted with the rest of the country.)

Ali and Dr. King saw their connection become unbreakable in 1967 when King made the courageous decision, against the wishes of his advisers, to take a stand against President Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam. By this time, Ali had already become the most visible draft resister in the country, standing strong despite the stripping of his heavyweight title and the threat of a five-year prison sentence in Leavenworth.

The press was hounding King about why he wasn’t just focusing on the “domestic issue” of civil rights, and King took that moment to draw upon thoughts of his private friend and said, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.”

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The two men also appeared together at a fair-housing rally in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. There, Ali said, “In your struggle for freedom, justice and equality, I am with you. I came to Louisville because I could not remain silent while my own people, many I grew up with, many I went too school with, many my blood relatives, were being beaten, stomped and kicked in the streets simply because they want freedom, and justice and equality in housing.” Ali was now a protester. Dr. King was now an internationalist. The boxer and the preacher had come together as one.

It took a bullet on April 4, 1968, to end this fellowship between Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King Jr. For both men, it required losing the power of speech, whether in death or as a result of Parkinson’s disease, to be embraced by the country as a whole. At a time when a new movement is finding its feet to stand against police violence and stand for the deceptively simple request for people to see that #BlackLivesMatter, we would do well to remember the hatred endured by both these men in the name of delivering truth. At a time when this movement is attempting to forge connections with oppressed people across the globe, from Ferguson to Gaza, and trying to figure out how to deal with a frustrating president in the Oval Office as well as a class of civil-rights leaders reluctant to give up the microphone, it is worth remembering how much hate King and Ali proudly invited upon themselves. Their only moral compass was one that pointed toward standing with the powerless against the powerful. That was the basis of their friendship. That should be basis of our own solidarity as we move forward today.


Read Next: Shireen Ahmed and Dave Zirin on the significance of the Palestinian national soccer team's qualification for the Asian Cup

After 86 Years the Palestinian National Soccer Team Finally Arrives

Palestinian national team

The Palestinian national soccer team will face Jordan on Friday in the Asian Cup. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

At a moment when world leaders and cable television blowhards are braying for collective punishment of Arabs and Muslims, the Gaza Strip this week is a scene of collective joy. This is because the Palestinian national soccer team took to historic Newcastle Field in Australia to play in the Asian Cup, the first major international tournament for which they have qualified in their eighty-six-year existence. As soccer writer James Montague put it, “For Palestine—a team recognized by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, since 1998 but not yet as a fully fledged country by the United Nations—their appearance meant more than any progress on the pitch.… Palestinians, for once, will begin as equals to those around it.”

To call this a Cinderella story would only make sense if we choose to make the story of Cinderella profoundly more harrowing than even the most fevered visions of the Brothers Grimm or Steven Sondheim. And no one in this tale would confuse Sepp Blatter with any kind of fairy godmother.

Palestinian Football has fought an indescribable battle in order to even compete on an international stage. They live under occupation, have had their training facilities destroyed, have coped with the detention of players, the deaths of teammates and the inability to move freely through Israeli militarized checkpoints in order to train and compete in matches. This has led to an international campaign featuring prominent footballers calling for FIFA to expel Israel from its fold or at least prevent them from hosting FIFA-sanctioned tournaments. They have also had to shoulder the burden of having coaches, mentors and potential players killed amidst the ongoing Gaza war and blockade. This is why the Palestinian football team is lovingly known as “Al-Fedayi,” which means “one who sacrifices life for the sake of the homeland,” and “the Strivers” in English. Striving and sacrifice have both been necessary components toward making this appearance in the Asian Cup a reality.

We spoke with Sanaa Qureshi from Football Beyond Borders, an organization that took a team from London to play in Palestine in 2011. They were able to experience the conditions for themselves.

“Palestine’s qualification for the Asia cup marks a huge achievement for a country under brutal occupation, with a diaspora unable to return home.” Quereshi said. “Remarkably, the team is a perfect microcosm of the Palestinian struggle, made up of players from the West Bank, Gaza and of Palestinian heritage from all over the world. Overcoming obstacles that have included being denied visas and routine detention at borders, this is a team not only playing for their country but for recognition of their existence and the continued resistance of the Palestinian people.”

All the joys from sports are short-lived in Gaza. Even the joy, and mass celebrations that erupted following their shocking May 2014 1-0 victory over the Philippines, which secured them entry into the Asian Cup. In June, just months after this remarkable moment, Israeli Defense Forces began a series of attacks on Gaza, killing according to the United Nations, more than 2,000 people, with 1,500 of them classified by the UN as civilians and 500 of them children. (Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians were killed in the conflict.)

On July 16, 2014, four young boys, from the Bakr family in Gaza, were killed as they played football in the sand. Ahed Atef Bakr, Zakaria Ahed Bakr, Mohamed Ramez Bakr and Ismael Mohamed Bakr were on the beach and killed by shells from an Israeli naval gunboat. For months, the most prominent aspect of football in Palestine in the eyes of the world was the harrowing image created by artist Amir Schiby in honor of the four Bakr boys.

There were questions about whether the bombardment of Gaza and the travel blockade that followed would prevent Palestine from making the trip to Australia to even field a team for the Asian Cup. The Strivers eventually did secure their travel permits, but had to hold their trainings far from home, in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Then, a few months before the tournament, their coach, Jamal Mahmoud, quit due to what were described as “personal reasons.” Assistant coach Saeb Jendeya immediately stepped in until the current coach, Ahmad Al Hassan, was appointed. The preamble to the Asian Cup wasn’t so much an exercise in training as a Job-like demonstration of spiritual and emotional endurance.

It was all worth it on Monday, when the squad walked onto the pitch in Newcastle, and heard the eruption of the crowd. There were the rhythmic beatings of drums, flag-waving, chanting and singing; activities that were echoed miles away in Gaza City. The result of the match was dismal, albeit expected, as Japan (Samurai Blue), the defending Asian Champions trounced Palestine 4-0. But this is one of those rare moments in sports when the score doesn’t necessarily tell us who won and who lost.

As the website Football Palestine said, “Palestine fans should be proud. They created a party-like atmosphere in Newcastle and in a tournament bereft of the vociferous support you might see at other major international finals. Down 1-0 they didn’t stop nor at 2-0, 3-0, 4-0. All the way to the final whistle, this may be the start of something truly special.”

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Palestine deserves to relish this moment. The objective is not only victory but to shine a spotlight on the abilities and resilience of Palestinian athletes. As star player Ashraf Nu’man Al-Fawaghra explained during an interview with FIFA.com: “Our goal is to let the world know that the Palestinian national team are moving forward despite the difficulties facing us. We want to convey the message that the Palestinian players have the right to play and develop. Furthermore, we want to bring a smile back to the faces of our people and make our fans happy.”

On Friday, Palestine plays Jordan in Melbourne. Jordan placed sixth in the previous Asian Cup and is ranked ninety-third in the world by FIFA, compared to Palestine’s 115. A victory is possible, and it would constitute a culmination of one of the great underdog stories in the history of international soccer. But this is no Cinderella story. This is a tale of hard work and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. It might not be a fairy tale, but it has created its own kind of magic.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on the death of the irreplaceable Mike Marqusee

On the Death of the Irreplaceable Mike Marqusee

Mike Marqusee

Mike Marqusee (courtesy of Facebook)

Radical journalist Mike Marqusee, the greatest professional influence on my life, has died, and I’m wrecked about it. Losing Mike is like losing several pints of blood. I’m left dizzy by the prospect of his absence. On the most basic level, there is my own sense of debt. I’m a sportswriter because Mike Marqusee made me one. I divide my life not “before and after I had kids” or “before and after I moved out of my mom’s house in New York City” but “before and after I read Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali And the Spirit of the Sixties in 1998.

Not only did Redemption Song rediscover quotes, speeches and dimensions of Ali’s politics and personality that had long been buried, but it revealed to me that sports writing could be something different and even something dangerous. Until this time, I was a young political activist and a die-hard sports fan with those obsessions in decisively separate worlds. The political sports writing I had read was dense and sleep-inducing. The exciting sports writing I consumed was like junk food, leaving me hungry and a little nauseous after gobbling it up. Redemption Song was revelatory. Here was sports writing that would make your adrenalin rush with every Ali jab in the ring as well as every Ali political riff, all brought together with Mike Marqusee’s rambunctious and deftly humorous prose.

When I started writing about sports, my task was how to do it without ripping off Mike Marqusee, either in style or substance. I often failed. As a newly minted, self-proclaimed sports journalist, I often felt like I was in a fog of writer’s block. Asking me to forgo shameless borrowing from Marqusee was like asking me to give up my compass. This desire to mimic his style only mushroomed as I started reading his other books, brilliant analysis of subjects—unlike Ali—I had no interest in previously. Mike Marqusee had me consuming stories of cricket and Bob Dylan like they were tales of the 1998 Chicago Bulls.

Then I was able to meet Mike Marqusee. He was traveling from his home in London to give a talk about his Bob Dylan book Wicked Messenger. I was terrified to meet him. Getting to know your idols can be a painfully disillusioning experience. I was also nervous because I thought he might say, “Hey, you’re the guy who keeps ripping me off!” Neither was the case. Mike was about as kind, generous, and as principled a person you could ever hope to meet.

Mike Marqusee was born in the United States but lived his adult life across the pond. I asked him, other than his love of cricket, how that marked his writing. “I think it’s meant that I have no qualms about loving sports and no qualms about being a proud socialist,” he said. “I get all of the joy without the baggage.” Mike wore his politics and his love of play proudly and both were beacons for those looking for some wisdom, direction or just a kind word. He also never kept his politics at the “armchair” level but took it to the streets and the organizing meetings where his goal was always figuring out how to make a contribution to building a fighting left that was possessed by the flair and imagination that marked his writing. But Mike also listened, and not just in the realm of politics. He cared deeply—even when he was very sick—about how I was doing, during times when no one would have ever blamed him for thinking about himself. I will always believe that there is no dignity in death, but Mike came damn close to making me reassess that. Even when in great pain from his cancer, Mike was a radical voice, rejecting, as he wrote in The Guardian, “the stress on cancer patients’ ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ [which] implies that if you can’t ‘conquer’ your cancer, there’s something wrong with you, some weakness or flaw.” From his bed, he thundered, “What we need is not a war on cancer but a recognition that cancer is a social and environmental issue, requiring profound social and environmental changes.”

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In 2008, Mike Marqusee penned his most challenging, brilliant and controversial book, If I Am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew. The audacity of even taking on this topic speaks volumes. The sensitivity with which Mike weaves stories from his own family to argue that being a principled Jew means standing up to Israel still awes me. Mike, this expert on Ali, Dylan and cricket, wanted to put his own life at the service of the idea that being Jewish did not mean being a supporter of the state of Israel and that in fact being Jewish meant a particular responsibility to call out its hypocrisy. Over the weekend, as I learned that Mike was in his last hours, the horrors of the Charlie Hebdo killings were in the news. Benjamin Netanyahu arrived uninvited to a Paris synagogue and said to the Jews of Paris, “There is one country which is their historic home, a state which will always accept them with open arms.” This statement speaks to the worst traditions of Israel: exploiting the spilling of Jewish blood to call for ending the journey toward a multicultural society and instead collectively retreat to the Middle East. In this packed synagogue, the response to Netanyahu’s call for French Jews to abandon their country, was—in Bibi’s face—the loud and proud singing of “La Marseillaise.” Even though I knew he was ailing and in his last hours, I could have sworn I saw Mike Marqusee agitating in the back, raising his arms for more people to join in song, like a modern twist on Rick in Casablanca. But unlike Rick, Mike Marqusee stuck out his neck for everyone. Rest in Power, Mike. You have earned the rest, but we will need your power to move forward in your absence.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on naked emperors and college football’s championship

On Naked Emperors and College Football’s Championship

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones responds to questions from the press

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones responds to questions during media day for the NCAA college football playoff championship. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

You really couldn’t have a more appropriate starting quarterback in the first college football championship game than Ohio State’s Cardale Jones. For a “playoff system” that critics say is a lucrative money-grab serving to extend the season, pull players away from even the pretense of going to class and further establish Division I colleges as football factories, Jones is perfect. The third-string quarterback with a tight end’s build and rocket arm, made news in 2012 when he tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” For his trouble, Jones had to deactivate his twitter account and was benched by his $4.5 million-per-year coach Urban Meyer the following week with what the Toledo Blade described as “DNP-tweet.” But his words were just a casual observation that the emperor happened to be naked.

It’s not just about the ways the players are getting cheated out of a check. At this point, if you can’t see that having unpaid student athletes undertake a grueling five-month travel schedule, score top TV ratings and support an infrastructure of multimillionaire coaches and media members is just a tad unjust, then you’re choosing not to see it. But less discussed is also the way running a football factory skews reality across the campus. Administrators—with dreams of massive alumni gifts, sparkling new stadiums and fully stocked luxury boxes on the brain—treat students like going thousands of dollars into debt for an education is a small price to pay to go to a school with a rockin’ football team.

A professor at Ohio State forwarded me an e-mail sent to all faculty from school provost Joseph Steinmetz that read, “As you know, next Monday Ohio State will face the University of Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. This is an exciting moment in the life of our university community—one that happens to coincide with the first day of spring semester. I want to remind you that on January 12, Ohio State will operate as it normally does. Absences by students choosing to attend the game are not excused absences. That said, I hope instructors will use their best judgment and take into account that this historic match-up falls on the same day as the first day of class.”

This happened as vice provost Wayne Carlson sent a public letter to students warning them to not miss classes for the game. The letter was leaked to the press and provoked the following misleading headline from USA Today, “Ohio State warns students skipping school for championship risk getting cut from class.” So the faculty gets one message, while for the purpose of public relations, another message goes public

According to the professor who sent me the e-mail, this is the only time we see messages about leniency for wayward students. He said, “Do administrators send campus letters when Black kids are gunned down, asking profs to be lenient to traumatized students? Or when sexual assault cases are reported? No. This is what they care about and what drives the university. It’s embarrassing and disturbing.”

In addition, The Columbus Dispatch reported this week that “Ohio State University spent about $372,000 to send university leaders, faculty, friends and student leaders” to their Sugar Bowl “semi-final” game last week. In addition to the team, the cheerleaders and the band, the school sent a sixty-nine-member “official party” and another fifty-five people, all who travelled on the school’s dime. While the school is sending its people around the country to cheer the team, the school has seen fee-hikes for out-of-state students, while enacting cuts in the arts and humanities budget. (Oregon is not immune to any of this, having spent just under $250,000 over the last two games sending fifty “UO administrators, recruiters, fundraisers and some spouses and partners” to the championship game.)

A member of the campus community said to me, “I want the Buckeyes to kick Oregon’s ass because I’m a sports fan. I love this team so much and have loved seeing them come into their own. But watching this game for me means shutting out the reality that makes the world of big time college football what it is.”

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This is what he calls “the paradox of the thinking college sports fan.” Success only encourages the school to further devalue education and assume that the glory of football will provide financial windfalls that will make everyone believe that the ends justified the means, and it’s difficult to think of a worse lesson that could be taught. Once again, this is not an Ohio State issue. Their rival Michigan just dropped a record $48 million to secure the services of new football coach Jim Harbaugh. This was done the same week that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a law banning college athletic unions. At Oregon, Nike CEO Phil Knight has poured an estimated $300 million into the athletic department while the rest of the campus has buckled under budget cuts and furloughs. In addition, Knight gets to further brand Oregon as “Nike University” while receiving massive tax breaks for this “philanthropy.” This is less philanthropy than money laundering through sports and using the shield of amateurism to score both tax breaks and swoosh enhancement. Then, with every win by the Ducks, the Phil Knight approach, with the courting of their own Phil Knights by administrators, becomes the law of the land.

Increasingly, this system has been identified as corrupt, hypocritical and in need of change. But in the face of union drives, lawsuits and a barrage of criticism, a group of powerful people are fighting like hell to save the sclerotic mutation of a golden goose that is amateur athletics. College sports could be openly professionalized, regulated and made fair, but there’s no money in fairness. In the end, the relationship between big-time sports, universities, the media and the public is about as cozy, corrupt and cringe-inducing as a Jerry Jones/Chris Christie hug. Cardale Jones was right in 2012. But now everyone, from administrators on down, is “playing school” for the benefit of big-time football. But as Jones learned, in the real world just saying the emperor is naked doesn’t make people recoil in horror. Often they just turn up the volume on what an attractive nude trendsetter he’s become, even if it means structuring your professional life, not to mention your personal dignity, around kissing the emperor’s pasty, powdered ass.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on why Boston should say ‘‘hell no” to the Olympic Games

Dear Boston: Say Hell No to the Olympic Games

Olympic Village in Athens

The remains of the Olympic Village in Athens (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Good People of Boston,

We’ve had our issues in the past, mainly over the way Larry Bird repeatedly ripped out my heart as a small child. But there are bigger issues at stake that will determine the future of who gets to live in your city and who gets further pushed to the margins.

Many are saying “Congratulations” to you right now over being chosen as the US Olympic Committee’s city of choice to land the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Don’t be grateful. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then take that fear and channel it into raising hell. Hosting the Olympics is a bit like getting hit by a car. The question is not whether the experience was positive or negative. It is only about assessing the scale of the damage.

Please understand: the sports of the Olympics are beautiful. The commitment of the athletes involved is a constant inspiration. The rare highlighting of women athletes is the definition for many family of “must-see television.” But the sports do not come à la carte. They’re a shell game, a Trojan Horse for a neoliberal monstrosity. I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004 in Athens, Greece. In other words, every Olympics since 9/11, when security concerns morphed into turning Olympic sites into police states. At each site I’ve seen debt, displacement and the militarization of space, alongside spikes in police harassment of the most vulnerable citizens. The 2004 games in Greece brought 50,000 paramilitary troops into the streets and arrived at 200 percent over budget, the precursor to a debt crisis that plagues the country today. Olympic structures are now used as dilapidated makeshift shelters for the homeless. The Olympic area was described by The Guardian as Abandoned Athens. The 2008 Olympics in China displaced 1.5 million people and cost $30 billion. The famed Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing is now a literal bird’s nest, and good for little else. The 2012 Summer Games in London extended a surveillance state, sent drones into the skies and put surface-to-air missiles atop residential apartment buildings.

Think about this debt, displacement and the militarization of public space. Now think about Boston: a beautiful city that for one summer I called home. Think about the gentrification, making the city unaffordable. Think about the pressing needs for investment in education and healthcare. Think about your unprecedented recent protests by the thousands against police violence. Now think about the insanely expensive military occupation that will come with the Olympics, who will be targeted and why. Also please consider exactly why you were chosen. You take a great deal of understandable pride in being “Boston Strong” after the marathon bombing. But what you remember as a moment of fear was for the United States Olympic Committee a point of attraction. As I wrote in November:

I spoke with someone connected to the International Olympic Committee who told me that Boston has rocketed to the top of their consideration list because of how the city was able to shut itself down after the Boston Marathon bombing. Few things expose the disturbing thought processes of the IOC quite like this logic. The post-marathon paralysis of police and surveillance and the frightening exercise of total power that was whipped out as quickly and lethally as a switchblade would become the Olympic-norm for three weeks. Anyone who felt a particularly neon-bright target on their back in those chilling days, because of their religion, their dress or the color of their skin, would have that affixed to them like a semi-permanent tattoo for a full year in the lead-up to the lighting of the Olympic torch.

The attraction of hosting the games in the city where there was an attack drips from the lips of the USOC. In the Associated Press article about the selection of Boston, they write that “chances are there will be subtle references to the 2013 bombings near the finish line that killed three people.”

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It is not too late for you to keep the Olympic golem at bay. You have a responsibility now to do what the people of Istanbul, Chicago, Krakow and Oslo have done in recent years, and that is make the collection of aristocrats in the International Olympic Committee drop their monocles, reach for their smelling salts and find their fainting couches, at the mere thought of being subjected to the unruly Bostonian mob. Protest the offices of construction magnate John Fish, who is leading the way. Involve yourself with the group No Boston Olympics. Start your own neighborhood protest organizations. The only way the Olympics will stop acting like a sporting shock doctrine will be if cities keep saying no. This is not a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) movement. It is an international push from below to tell the IOC that our cities will not become expensive security state laboratories crushed by debt in the name of profits for real estate barons and military contractors.

Right now, the USOC is sticking a thumb in the eye of the No Boston Olympics movement, well aware that there is resistance and saying they do not care. As USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said, “Any time you’re going to do something this big, there’s going to be pockets of resistance.” Show them what “pockets of resistance” actually look like. Our Olympic athletes deserve better. Our cities deserve better. Our world deserves better. Please resist hosting the Olympic Games. Please show that Boston Strong means standing up to the Olympic propaganda and fighting for the soul of your city.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on opposing the DC 2024 Olympic bid

Why All Opponents of Gentrification and Police Militarization Should Oppose the DC 2024 Olympic Bid

Washington, DC

(Reuters/Molly Riley)

When Muriel Bowser was sworn in last Friday as the new mayor of Washington, DC, she made clear in her inaugural address outlining her vision for the future of the city that a major goal of hers was “winning the Olympics for Washington, DC, in 2024.” This reveals a set of priorities that is deeply disturbing.

The Olympic Games—time and again, according to a slew of academic research—have revealed themselves to be defined by debt, displacement and the militarization of public space alongside attendant spikes in police brutality.

In the Washington, DC, area, debt, displacement, the militarization of public space and police brutality are otherwise known as “a Wednesday.” But with the Olympics these processes are always accelerated and intensified, making this a proposal from Mayor Bowser that’ll careen the city toward a precarious future for its most vulnerable residents. The Olympic Games inevitably induce a state of exception where the normal rules of politics do not apply.

For a city already experiencing gentrification at gunpoint, with a conspicuously parked police van for every new bistro in town, the prospect of hosting the Olympics should be terrifying. As Daniel del Pielago who is an organizer with a leading, deeply rooted community organization called Empower DC said to us, “We know that hosting the Olympics is yet another tool to push out black and low-income residents from DC. We continue to see our so called leaders prioritizing events and stadiums over the lives of the city’s most vulnerable residents.”

Washington, DC, sits on the United States Olympic Committee’s shortlist of candidates to host the 2024 Summer Games, along with Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Last month the cities’ bid committees convened in Redwood City, California, where they pitched their shiniest presentations to the USOC. DC’s five-person contingent included high-powered banker Russ Ramsey and billionaire Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis—as well as Mayor-Elect Bowser, Olympic gold medal–winning swimmer Katie Ledecky and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The USOC, which is allowed to put only one city forward to the International Olympic Committee, will make its decision perhaps as early as this week. The IOC, in turn, will pick the host city for the 2024 Summer Games in 2017, giving the “winner” seven years to prepare. Along with Los Angeles, Washington, DC has emerged as a leading contender. Meanwhile in Boston and San Francisco, activists have spoken loudly and clearly that the USOC can take their Games and shove them. Activist action absolutely matters as the IOC always factors in local support when selecting the Olympic host city.

DC’s neoliberal privatization project, with lower-income black and brown residents pushed to impoverished suburban enclaves, has met with community resistance by organizations like Empower DC, One DC and others. The Olympics would provide a pretext to roll over both community organizers and a new generation of activists speaking out against connected issues of displacement and police brutality, like a tank. Based upon what we’ve seen during the Brazilian World Cup and Olympic preparation in Rio, not to mention Ferguson, it might even be with an actual tank.

While Olympic boosters are claiming the Games will cost between $4 and $5 billion, this is about as realistic as someone running a two-minute mile. Every single Olympics since 1960 has gone over budget, and at a whopping average rate of 179 percent—and that number doesn’t even factor in the greatest heist of them all, the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

So who is the DC2024 Games committee? The group’s chair is multi-millionaire investment banker Russ Ramsey, with Wizards and Capitals billionaire owner Ted Leonsis acting as vice chair. They’ve already raised $5 million to push their bid. Ramsey and Leonsis are joined by a quirky hodgepodge of venture capitalists and local powerbrokers, including celebrity chef José Andrés, Washington Mystics President Sheila Johnson and a former DC Mayor, the person who ushered in the city’s age of gentrification, the famously bow-tied Anthony Williams.

Williams recently wrote in The Washington Post that hosting the Games would give DC an “economic lift.” Contradicting a strong and growing body of economic research that finds the exact opposite, he argued, “Bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Washington—literally hosting the world would boost the whole region but particularly some of the places in our city that need it the most.” Meanwhile, as Holy Cross economics professor Robert Baumann has asserted about mega-events like the Olympics, “There is no economic rationale to host one of these things.”

Yet this hasn’t stopped politicos from across the ideological spectrum from supporting DC’s five-ring escapade. The bipartisan bedfellows pushing for this project are, on the face, bizarre. Linking arms, we have new DC Mayor Bowser; Tea Party darling Jason Chaffetz, the incoming chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees DC affairs; as well as Newt Gingrich, Howard Dean and Bob Dole. They appear in a short, slickly produced video along with liberal demigods John Lewis and Eleanor Holmes-Norton. The DC2024 committee not only puts the faces of two civil-rights icons at the center of their PR push but also slakes people’s thirst to see Republicans and Democrats working together on anything. This messaging is a product of the combined efforts of President Obama’s re-election guru Jim Messina and Mitt Romney’s campaign manager Matt Rhoades, who have combined forces—and funds—to push the bid.

It’s certainly understandable that people would want to see politicians working together on anything in this town. No doubt some of these folks see the Olympics as a way to show off the city to a global audience. But we should not be led astray by this idiosyncratic band of believers. The price to everyday people living, breathing and being pushed out of the city would be horrific. Bowser’s remarks in making their pitch to the United States Olympic Committee should be particularly chilling. She said, “We’re used to putting on national security events; we can move the people; we have a lot of existing facilities and infrastructure. We put on a good case for DC being the American city.” In other words, we know how to carry out a crackdown.

We can thank Ted Leonsis for laying bare the logic that drives Games boosters. He said in 2011, “Economic Success has somehow become the new boogie man.… This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love American and basically carry our country on their back by paying taxes and by employing people and creating GDP.” This gets the Olympics argument perfectly. John Carlos, the 1968 Olympian, once said to us, “They only hold the Olympics every four years because it takes four years to count the money.” In other words, the Olympics will surely bring in money, but for whom? In Leonsis’ mind, it’s money for him, and there is nothing wrong with that because he thinks it’s his class of people that are “carrying the country, employing people and creating GDP.” In other words, what’s good for Ted Leonsis is what’s good for Washington, DC… even though he lives in an $8 million home on the Potomac River in Maryland.

Leonsis has blended trickle-down economics with dimestore bloviating. Instead of making the positive case for the Games, he has instead chosen to bluster: “This is about bringing the world to Washington and bringing Washington to the world. The idea of fostering unity could leave, for the whole of mankind, the greatest Olympics legacy ever. Only Washington could do this.”

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As is always the case when the Olympics come to down, the foul stench of land-grabbing pervades this project. A George Washington University professor recently stated about the area along the Anacostia River: “It’s very similar to the London setup…. It’s a plot of land that’s been kind of wasteland, and people said, ‘We want to develop that because it’s on the water.’ Just like Sydney, where they developed that waterfront land, it’s there for the taking.”

This brazen land-snatching is also symbolized by the proposed site of the Olympic Village, the place where the athletes stay during the Games. DC2024 has reportedly suggested building the Village in Hill East, an area to the south of RFK Stadium that is the current location of the DC General homeless shelter. The Washington Post wrote, “Housing built there for athletes could then help alleviate the city’s affordable housing shortage.” Yet similar promises that the Olympic Village would magically turn into high-quality, low-income housing has been made in seemingly every Olympics in history, and it never happens. One can practically imagine the officials of ancient Greece swearing that the Temple of Zeus would become quality multi-family dwellings after the last race. For the London 2012 Olympics, the Olympic Village was sold at a taxpayer loss to Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family’s realty company. “Affordable” homes in Olympic Park rent for $2,000 to $2,700 per month. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that DC2024 is saying nonchalantly that a homeless shelter will be destroyed for the Olympics.

Longtime DC movement leader Reverend Graylan Hagler got it exactly right when he told us, “The obsession that develops to accommodate the Games in local communities has always had a dramatic effect upon the poor. The poor are always displaced, and the homeless are removed from the city where the Olympics occur because the powers to be want to sanitize the venue so that those venues become artificial and deceptive places to enjoy the Games.” He pointed to Atlanta, the last US city to host the Summer Games back in 1996, where homeless people were scooped up and booted from the city in order “to create a superficial and untruthful story of Atlanta’s prosperity.” Reverend Hagler added, “We need jobs and affordable housing for poor and working-class people in Washington, DC, better schools and political leaders who advocate for and protect poor and working-class people.”

Dominic Moulden, resource organizer at ONE DC, a grassroots community-building group, told us he was approached to sign on in support of the DC2024 Games, but emphatically declined. Moulden, who has organized in DC for nearly three decades, asked, “Why would any organization promoting racial and economic equity in DC support the Olympics, which clearly create lasting inequity and maintain the structures of social dislocation?” He vowed, “ONE DC will organize, protest and raise our resident-led voices against the displacement and policing of longtime DC residents and all residents if there are plans for the Olympics in DC.”

In November 2014, the Washington Post reported that DC2024 honchos “took members of the U.S. Olympic Committee on helicopter rides over the Mall and the Anacostia River to show off the city.” Nothing could be more appropriate in symbolizing this bid. From a helicopter, it’s a grand idea. From the street, it’s a cash grab. It’s using sports, civic pride and people’s thirst to see something—anything—bipartisan come out of this town into a smash-and-grab operation that will remake the city for the benefit of the people Leonsis believes “carry the country on their back.” This orgy of corporate welfare they propose reveals that it’s actually Leonsis, Ramsey and their ilk who are being carried. If the Olympics come to DC, it will be schools, social services for the poor and anyone affected by police violence who will suffer under that weight.


Read Next: Dave Zirin on Stuart Scott

Stuart Scott Was My Strength

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

When I was diagnosed with cancer in July, I felt like a loser. I get how illogical, infantile and insulting such a statement appears. It insults not only myself but everyone who gets the diagnosis that they have “the Big C.” I felt like a loser partly out of self-pity and partly because I was convinced that I must have done something to bring this on myself: my diet, my stress, my cellphone, my personal habits and petty addictions.

Even though I would never think this about anyone else, I was quick to beat myself up. It was a stark realization that as much as I critique and protest this maddening, even brutal culture we all endure, I’m still a product of it and its lessons are seared into me. If you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. If you get cancer, you must have done something to deserve it. Like the morally toxic Parker Brothers board game my sister and I played endlessly when I was a kid, I was a loser at the “game of life.” It is no exaggeration that ESPN’s Stuart Scott, who died Sunday from cancer at the age of 49, rescued me from my diagnosis-depression and inspired me not so much to “fight” my cancer but to get off my damn back.

Scott was an iconic ESPN presence whose catchphrases and unapologetic introduction of hip hop language and culture to the world in Bristol made him a trailblazer and someone who, to paraphrase one obituary, “liberated the language” of sports broadcasting. We only met a couple of times in passing. But, as Kate Fagan explained so beautifully, his style made me feel like I knew him far better than that. But his broadcasting skill-set is not what brought me back from the fog.

It was that moment, in my hospital bed in late July, watching a clip of Stuart Scott’s July 16, 2014, speech at the often-insufferable ESPY awards the previous week, that made him a part of my life and now forever part of the folklore of my family.

Scott said, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” The genius and economy of this statement should be studied. What Scott did with that turn of phrase—and this why it resonated with me so strongly—is that he rescued the cancer narrative as one that operates amidst our cultural addiction of seeing the world as being divided between “winners and losers.” Scott didn’t say that winners beat cancer and “Live Strong” while losers roll over and die. Instead Scott said, “You beat cancer by how you live.” It’s a transgressive, even revolutionary, way to look at things well beyond the disease.

These seven words became everything to me. The anxiety, the depression, the thinking about it, as Scott himself revealed, “twenty hours a day,” can feel worse than the disease itself. This gets compounded by guilt when those closest to you are getting none of your love but all the run-off anxiety, depression and rage metastasizing along with God knows what else through your body.

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I started going to YouTube and watching Scott’s workout regimen. I took notice when he would still somehow appear on ESPN. I paid attention to how he let his remarkable daughters be a part of his healing, leaning on their strength more than feeling that he had to be strong for them.

It inspired me. It inspired me to bring the people dear to me, who wanted to help, closer instead of pushing them away. It inspired me to get the hell off my phone when I was around my kids. It inspired me to be public and tell my colleagues that I was dealing with this. I was stunned by how many of them replied by telling of their own medical hardships, physical and mental. I had never realized how much shame is associated with disease, with needing help. Stuart Scott, just as he “liberated the language” of sports broadcasting, liberated me from my own irrational sense of shame.

Now I am cancer-free, although I need to get checked regularly for the next… well… fifty years because I am told that it could come back. If it does, I know I will be able to do more than just “face it” or “be brave.” I will be able, no matter the diagnosis, to live until I have to die. Stuart Scott beat cancer by how he lived. I will—with a deep and enduring gratitude towards him—do the same. Thank you, Mr. Scott. Rest in power and peace. #booyah

Read Next: Dave Zirin on Jameis Winston

A Reality of Their Own: Jameis Winston, Rape and Seminole Fandom at Florida State

Jameis Winston (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Jameis Winston (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Before every Florida State Seminoles home game, mascot Chief Osceola rides out on his horse and throws a flaming spear, to the delight of fans. Never mind that the real Chief Osceola did not ride a horse into battle (leading the second Seminole war in the swampy Everglades was not an equestrian pursuit). But in Tallahassee, when it comes to the football program, reality is what you say it is to keep the trains stuffed with cash running on time. Seminole tribal leaders in Florida are paid handsomely to not care that Oklahoma’s Seminole tribal councils find the mascoting of their tribe disgusting and have called for it to be changed. They are paid to not notice that overwhelmingly white fans wear war paint to games, do the tomahawk chop and hold up signs calling for players to “scalp” their opponents. Similarly, we are now supposed to believe that star quarterback Jameis Winston is a model citizen, wrongly accused of sexual assault because the school’s “code of conduct” kangaroo court cleared him of any wrong doing. In fact, local columnists believe it is time to “give Winston and FSU a break.”

No one other than Winston, his accuser, and several of Winston’s teammates—who were present at the alleged assault—know whether the Florida State quarterback is a rapist. But we now know enough to be appalled by how Florida State University and the city of Tallahassee handled this entire ordeal. We know that police refused to investigate the original accusation of rape for months and that the school did not interview Winston about the incident for over a year. We know that the police—eventually pressured by the press into investigating the incident—had financial ties as security workers for the Seminole Boosters club. We know that Jameis Winston did not testify at his own student conduct hearing to defend his own innocence except by issuing an appalling written statement where he called the accuser a liar, violated her confidentiality by stating her name repeatedly and posited that this was all happening because she was miffed that his door kept swinging open while they were having sex.

We also now know that Winston did finally talk in his student hearing after being cornered by retired Judge Major Harding. Harding turned directly to Winston and asked, “In what manner, verbally or physically” did he believe his accuser actually consented to sex? Winston’s lawyer’s said that their client did not have to respond, but Winston could not resist. The Heisman trophy winner said that his accuser supplied consent not by any affirmative statement but by “moaning.” Meanwhile his accuser testified, “I remember being raped.… I remember pleading with him to stop clearly.… I remember one of his friends telling him to stop and saying, ‘She is saying no clearly’…. I tried to struggle and resist him.” A victim’s advocate who met with the accuser the next day also testified that her mental state was consistent with someone suffering from the post-traumatic stress of a sexual assault.

Judge Harding said that the evidence was “insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.” But the hearing itself, as Jessica Luther at Vice Sports broke down, was a bumbling, incompetent exercise in jurisprudence. The hearing’s legitimacy, or lack thereof, can be seen in the fact that his teammates who were witnesses that night—defensive end Chris Casher and defensive back Ronald Darb—were allowed to refuse to answer questions. As Juliet Macur of The New York Times wrote, “Some would call their silence obstructing justice. In Tallahassee, though, it’s probably called teamwork.”

This teamwork is also seen online, where hordes of #FSUtwitter fans have been quick to disseminate the name of Winston’s accuser and attack any journalist, particularly female journalists, who would dare raise a stink about how this investigation was run. This process, and the kind of people who take part in it, was exposed last week when ESPN contributor Molly Knight received a tweet from a man named @d_cochran who said that she “might cry rape too you willing slut.” ESPN’s Michelle Beadle did a quick investigation into Mr. Cochran and found that he was a child molester and registered sex offender in the state of Florida. He quickly deleted his primary twitter account, and now is probably issuing his college football picks and rape threats through an egg avatar.

This child molesting FSU fan was being a foot soldier in a war with billions of dollars at stake. It’s a war that coaches, Florida State officials and police officers fight every day: the war to discipline the media from reporting what an incestuous cesspool Tallahassee law enforcement and Florida State football have become. They are one team, organized from the police station to social media, to make everyone #fearthespear.

This “teamwork” pays dividends. Two days after Judge Harding “cleared” Winston, his coach Jimbo Fisher signed an eight-year contract extension with a raise that will put his salary at well over $5 million a year. This is what the multibillion-dollar business of college football has produced. Conferences make billions. Coaches make millions. And players don’t see a penny, trapped in the highly racialized institution of revenue-producing amateurism. But players at places like Florida State—and make no mistake, this is not just a Tallahassee issue—can be paid through the NCAA’s gutter economy of being allowed to live a college life without off-field rules, without a student code of conduct, and without consequence.

Now Seminole Nation gets gear up for the inaugural college football playoff, living in their own reality where justice was done and the unbeaten star quarterback gets to lead his team. All is good in Tallahassee, a world where those with erasers write the history… and where Osceola rode a damn horse.

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