Where sports and politics collide.
Who would have thought that it is easier to be gay in the world of college lacrosse than in men's figure skating? Lacrosse is supposed to be a fratocracy of white baseball caps, homophobic jokes, and elitist idiocy. That stereotype took a major hit with a remarkable article by Andrew McIntosh, the senior captain of the lacrosse team at Oneonta State University in New York.
The piece, posted on the website Outsports, is called Despite suicidal thoughts, Oneonta lax captain Andrew McIntosh found his way out of the closet . With a great deal of humor, Andrew writes about his journey from flirting with suicide to coming out to his friends, family and team. He writes, "After I told my coach I was gay, I decided to let my co-captains know that there was a reason George Michael was on my iPod all the time. Again, they embraced me with open arms...life was normal in the showers. When we talked about our dates, I would comment on the nice arms my date had and they would talk about their girlfriends."
Today, Andrew McIntosh finally feels free. His description of his first time in a gay club alone is worth the time to read his piece. For Andrew, life is good. Johnny Weir can't say the same. Weir came in a disappointing sixth place in men's figure skating but those aren't the worst of his problems. Even by the standards of ice skating, Weir is undeniably and proudly flamboyant. He chooses to be private about his sexuality, once saying, "There are some things I keep sacred. My middle name. Who I sleep with. And what kind of hand moisturizer I use."
But not officially "coming out" has hardly protected Weir from some ugly homophobic cracks by broadcasters. The Quebec Council of Gays and Lesbians is also making a formal complaint about the French-language station RDS, whose commentators Alain Goldberg and Claude Mailhot called Weir "a bad example" and said he needed to be "gender tested" like South African runner Caster Semenya. Mailhot then joked that Weir should compete in the women's competition. It's offensive, obnoxious, and frankly, just plain tired. Maybe Andrew McIntosh could make a trip north, sit down with Goldberg and Mailhot, and talk through the real world repercussions of such remarks.
Homophobia has long had a home in sports. It's time for a mass eviction.
Today's Tiger Woods press conference was an exercise in painful self-abasement that will achieve the opposite of its intended effect. I haven't seen anything this painfully scripted since the Phantom Menace. The same George W. Bush media advisers who gave us Mission Accomplished were hired by Tiger to present the world with Emission Regretted.
There are right now two kinds of people on earth. Those who would die happy if they never hear the name of Tiger Woods again and those who want their pound of flesh. The people sick of the Tiger Woods drama could care less about his marriage, his personal life, and today's awkward, scripted statement. Those who want their pound of flesh, are itching for Tiger to do the stations of the tabloid-cross: Oprah, tears, and "humility." "He owes us an apology," they say. What they don't say is that an uncomfortable part of this is as American as apple pie: a prurient obsession with black male sexuality – particularly those African American men involved with sports. From boxer Jack Johnson to Tiger Woods, a sex scandal is never so juicy as when black men are at the center of it.
Tiger tried today, but the day's carefully scripted message served to satisfy neither those sick of this story nor people who like their reality television in-the-raw. Tiger spoke repeatedly and vaguely about "never repeating the mistakes I made" and "running through the boundaries of acceptable behavior." I'm sure he believes he humbled himself, but the chum is now officially in the water. The chum stinks to the haters and just makes the fanatics hungrier.
But both sides don't get the central dynamic of today's Seinfeld-like press conference (it was about nothing). This is about brand rehabilitation for the first billion dollar athlete. This was about game-planning to get Tiger back on the course for the Masters in April. Apologies were forthcoming for Tiger's business partners, as well as the people who "work for me" at Tiger Woods, inc.
Now he returns to the "sexual addiction clinic in Mississippi" (to help those wealthy men who get caught with their pants down. Men who aren't caught need not apply).
The sad truth is that Tiger Woods the man clearly wanted to get up and say, "I publicly apologize to my wife and family who I have publicly humiliated. To everyone else, it's none of your business." That might have felt right to the Tiger the man, but today we saw what you do when you're a brand before a man.
Nuance is the mortal enemy of essayist Christopher Hitchens. Whether it's his rapturous support for Bush's Iraq invasion or his best-selling dismissal (God is NOT Great) of religion, Hitchens will always eschew a surgical analysis for the rhetorical amputation. Beneath the Oxford education, he has become Thomas Friedman in an ascot, with all the subtlety of a blowtorch.
Now Hitchens has turned his attention to sports and the ensuing essay in Newsweek, called "Fool's Gold: How the Olympics and other international competitions breed conflict and bring out the worst in human nature" is everything you might fear. I'm no fan of the politics that surround the Olympic games but when Hitchens takes out his dull saw, nothing connected to sports is spared.
As he writes, "Whether it's the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars' homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay 'The Sporting Spirit' after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, ‘sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.' "
It's interesting that Hitchens doesn't quote Orwell's more known critique that sports is "war minus the shooting", possibly because Hitchens has been such a cheerleader for the "humanitarian" virtues of empire over the last decade.
This also isn't the first time Hitchens has sought shelter in Orwell's genius to cloak his own doggerel. But the Orwell who wrote Homage to Catalonia never detested ordinary working people the way Hitchens does. Orwell's sympathy for workers came from living, writing and even fighting fascists among them. For Hitchens, they are the people who serve him drinks in Georgetown. And he finds them odious.
As Hitchens writes,
"[Have you ever] seen the pathetic faces of men, and even some women, trying to keep up with the pack by professing devoted loyalty to some other pack on the screen? If you want a decent sports metaphor that applies as well to the herd of fans as it does to the players, try picking one from the most recent scandal. All those concerned look--and talk--as if they were suffering from a concussion."
Please spare us your disdain. Yes there is much to detest in the world of sports. But why then is it also such a source of solace, joy, and - heaven forefend – fun? Hitchens doesn't care to explore this question. His contempt for the "rabble" triumphs any effort at reason. Just as with his ham-fisted analysis of religion, our love of sport is also proof-positive of our irredeemable idiocy.
Hitchens also shows no interest in the fact that sports also have a progressive political power. When racism, sexism, and homophobia have been challenged through struggle in the streets, it has ricocheted with electric results in the world of athletics. This is why we associate Jackie Robinson with the Civil Rights movement or Billie Jean King with the women's liberation struggles of the 1970s. And lest we forget, the most famous draft resister in world history is a boxer, Muhammad Ali. On a far more grass roots level, sports are where many people - particularly young people - find confidence, friendship, and a sense of self. For many it's where the deeply segregated dynamics of our society are broken down. This is not true in every case of course. For every story of sports-as-savior, there are 100 gym class horror stories. Yes, it is absolute truth that sports can bring out the worst in athletes, fans, parents, and coaches. But it can also bring out the best. In this case however, it has brought out the worst in the Artist Formally Known as Hitchens.
To use one of his despised sports analogies, Christopher Hitchens is like an aging pitcher whose fastball abandoned him years ago. But in sports, once the skills are gone, you are kicked to the curb. Writers clearly get to just keep on going.
News Flash: Winter Olympic officials in tropical Vancouver have been forced to import snow - on the public dime - to make sure that the 2010 games proceed as planned. This use of tax-dollars is just the icing on the cake for increasingly angry Vancouver residents. And unlike the snow, the anger shows no signs of abating. As Olympic Resistance Network organizer Harsha Walia wrote in the Vancouver Sun, "With massive cost over-runs and Olympic project bailouts, it is not surprising that a November 2009 Angus Reid poll found that more than 30 per cent of [British Columbia] residents feel the Olympics will have a negative impact and almost 40 per cent support protesters. A January 2010 EKOS poll found that almost 70 per cent believe that too much is being spent on the Games."
Officials are feeling the anger, and the independent media, frighteningly, is paying the price. Just as Democracy Now's Amy Goodman was held in November for trying to cross the border for reasons that had nothing to do with the Olympic Games, Martin Macias Jr., an independent media reporter from Chicago, was detained and held for seven hours by Canada Border Services agents before being put on a plane and sent to Seattle. Macias, who is 20 years old, is a media reform activist with community radio station Radio Arte where he serves as the host/producer of First Voice, a radio news zine.
I spoke to Martin Macias today and he described a chilling scene of detention and expulsion. "I was asked the same questions for three and a half hours in a small room. They told me I had no right to a lawyer. I went from frustrated and angry to scared. I didn't know what the laws were or how the laws had been changed for the Olympics. I kept telling them I wasn't going to Vancouver to protest but to cover the protests but for them that was one and the same. This is bigger than me. We need to ask who is exactly ordering this kind of repression. Is it the government? The IOC? Why the crackdown?"
Then insult on top of injury when they deported Macias and insisted he pay his own way out of the country. "They wanted me to buy a $1,300 plane ticket back to Chicago. I said ‘no way' and now I'm in Seattle."
Martin's story is not unique. Two delegates aiming to attend an indigenous assembly taking place alongside the games were also detained and turned away.
For people with just a passing knowledge of our neighbors to the north, it must all seem quite shocking. When we think of human rights abuses and suppression of dissent, Canada is hardly the first place that comes to mind. But there actually is a long history in Canada of this kind of abuse of power. The latest chapter in that history has been written during the pre-Olympic crackdown of 2010. Now as protestors and independent, unembedded journalists gather for the February 10-15 anti-Olympic convergence, as tax dollars go toward importing snow, the need to silence dissent becomes an International Olympic Committee imperative.
As Chicago's Bob Quellos, who entered Vancouver successfully after accompanying Macias, said to me,
"Walking the streets, residents here are very clear about who is responsible for the billions of dollars of Olympic debt they will be paying off for generations. They are outraged that the over $1 billion that is being spent on security has placed a cop on almost every corner of Downtown Vancouver. And they are outraged by the government's priorities. For example, while Vancouver's Downtown East Side struggles with poverty similar to third-world countries and social programs continue to be gutted, VANOC is spending an untold amount of money helicoptering in snow to the Olympic venue of Cypress Mountain that would otherwise be a mud hill due to the warm weather."
It's not hard to deduce why the snow is melting: it's the heat on the street.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming "Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love" (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]
The New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl 44. I can't believe I'm even typing the words. Five years ago this was the team considered most likely to be moved to Los Angeles. Four and a half years ago, after the levies broke, the concern was not whether there would be a Saints, but whether there would even be a New Orleans. Remember that after Hurricane Katrina, the Speaker of the House, Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert said, "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." But now Hastert is on the political scrap heap and New Orleans is the home of the Super Bowl champs. I'm not sure whether it feels like a dream or positively preordained. If nothing else, it's an emotional release from all the idiocy that surrounded the big game. From the military cheerleading, to Tim and Pam Tebow's vapid Focus on the Family ad, to the Who's halftime act which clearly violated the Geneva accords: none of it matters now. We'll go back to building resistance to Obama's wars. Tim Tebow will go back to being the next Eric Crouch. And the Who will go back to Madame Tussaud's. For right now, it just doesn't matter because the New Orleans Saints won the damn Super Bowl.
Quarterback Drew Brees will get a lot of love after a 32-for-39 MVP performance. But this was no one-man-band. This was about a head coach in Sean Payton who, with his team down 10-6, exercised a wicked sense of daring and ordered the first non-fourth quarter onside kick in Super Bowl history. This was about a Saints defense that bent but didn't break, freezing Peyton Manning's Colts at 17 points. This was about an offense that was crisper than potatoes at the bottom of a deep fryer. This was also about a stadium in Miami that sounded nearly as loud as the Louisiana Superdome. But most of all this was about a Crescent City that refuses to die. As Leigh, a friend and blogger from New Orleans, said to me, "The energy in this entire town is incredible. People here have been ready for this for decades...but the way the media is treating the Saints as underdogs isn't a surprise to any of us. The people of New Orleans have been subjected to those attitudes for a long time ourselves, and we still are in too, too many ways, but we're still here. And those who are still unable to return here due to the displacement caused by the storm, or the recession, or other circumstances - they'll return in one way or another, because this is a town that can teach the rest of this country how to live. It always has, and it always will, despite it all."
Leigh's pride runs across NOLA tonight. The same week that Education Secretary Arne Duncan outrageously called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans", the city has delivered a counterpunch to Duncan as well as any and all doubters. Their ascendancy means that the arduous post Hurricane recovery work has gotten more publicity in the last two weeks than it's received in the last two years. This is maddening but many New Orleans residents wouldn't have it any other way. As Saints linebacker Scott Fujita's wife Jaclyn said, "The people of New Orleans love the Saints not because they provide a distraction from their fall but because they are a reflection of their rise."
Whether you believe that or not, the proof is in the very vibe of the city. The French Quarter is hopping tonight. The Ninth Ward is hopping tonight. Algiers is hopping tonight. People in New Orleans are feeling damn good right now, and to scoff at that is to scoff at the very resiliency that makes us human. Community activist and former Black Panther Malik Rahim who has lived in the city for three decades and still works in Algiers, told me, "I haven't seen people this happy since Katrina. No question about it." That doesn't mean all – or even some – questions about the future of New Orleans are solved by a Saints Super Bowl win. Jobs, housing, and the right of return for displaced residents still need to be at the forefront of everyone's mind.
But it does mean that folks of the Big Easy are feeling fearless tonight. Every last person – from Bush to Brownie - that wrote this city off has to now bend down and kiss the ring. President Barack Obama, who often seems allergic to saying the words "New Orleans" must now greet the team at the White House and acknowledge both the Saints and the city that bears their name. Even if tomorrow is unbearably hard, we have today. And today feels mighty fine.
First let me put my cards on the table. I consider Jemele Hill, sports columnist for ESPN.com, to be as incisive and interesting as they come. She has been a frequent and fearless guest on my radio show and is always aces on the air. That's why I'm so gobsmacked by Jemele's latest column, subtly titled, Laud the Courage in Tim Tebow's Stand.
Jemele makes the case that Tim Tebow's presence in an anti-abortion Super Bowl Ad, funded by Focus on the Family, "should be praised rather than condemned." This by itself shouldn't be too surprising. All week, every sports writer on earth from the Washington Post's great Sally Jenkins to Tebow's personal foot masseur, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, have raised this "defend the courage of Tim Tebow" line to a deafening din. (Tragically in our culture, I would argue that taking a stance against women's reproductive rights, is anything but "courageous." It's clearly as mainstream as the Super Bowl itself.)
But Jemele Hill chose to take it to an entirely higher level: a level that deeply miseducates her readers and demands a response. She chose to write, "Tebow's decision to appear in this ad should be considered just as courageous as Muhammad Ali's decision to not enter the draft, or Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' black power salute at the 1968 summer Olympics."
Dear Lord, Jemele. Where do we possibly begin to unpack this? Tim Tebow is starring in a 2.8 million dollar ad while being praised by sports writers, pundits, and politicians from coast to coast. In contrast, Muhammad Ali's decision to refuse the draft and say "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong" resulted in getting stripped of his title, being abandoned by almost every significant person in his life, pushed to bankruptcy, and hit with a five year Leavenworth prison sentence, which included revoking his passport. The very same day of his conviction in federal court, the US Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft four more years. They knew how important Ali was and the full weight of the federal government was hell-bent on breaking his will. As Jack Olson wrote years later inSports Illustrated, "The noise became a din, the drumbeats of a holy war. TV and radio commentators, little old ladies...bookmakers, and parish priests, armchair strategists at the Pentagon and politicians all over the place joined in a crescendo of get Cassius get Cassius get Cassius."
As for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, after their black-gloved salute, they were kicked out of Olympic Village, with a firestorm waiting for them at home. They were pariahs, unable to find work and support their families. The Chicago Tribune called their act "an embarrassment visited upon the country… contemptuous of the United States," and "an insult to their countrymen" who would come home to be "greeted as heroes by fellow extremists." Brent Musburger called them "a pair of dark-skinned storm troopers." As John Carlos said to me years later, "Today, I don't feel embraced, I feel like a survivor, like I survived cancer. It's like if you are sick and no one wants to be around you, and when you're well everyone who thought you would go down for good doesn't even want to make eye contact. It was almost like we were on a deserted island. That's where Tommy Smith and John Carlos were. But we survived."
But perhaps the most glaringly obvious difference is that Ali, Smith and Carlos had to face the ugliest most vile edge of racism, and not just in the press. Klansmen, Nazis, and all manner of "lone nuts" threatened their lives. Tim Tebow, in sharp contrast, has only burnished his credentials as a hero of both the sports media and the right wing, as well as cementing his relationship with Focus on the Family, an organization with access to the highest echelons of political power. The ensuing public appearance with Sarah Palin, I guarantee, will be coming to a city near you. Comparing the protracted struggle of Ali, Smith and Carlos, to Tim Tebow's Super Bowl ad, is more than simply wrong. It's hyperbole on steroids and it's beneath Ms. Hill. As Ali might have said, "Jemele Hill-a. This piece is more broken than Frazier in Manila."
From Credo Action: A Publication of Working Assets.
"The broadcast networks that air the Super Bowl have historically rejected advocacy ads. Yet CBS, which is airing the Super Bowl this year, has accepted an anti-choice ad by the ultra-conservative group Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family's "celebrate life" (read: anti-choice) ad features Heisman Trophy-winning college football star Tim Tebow. And CBS approved this anti-choice ad, even though the network has repeatedly rejected advocacy ads in past years including a 2004 MoveOn.org ad that went after then-President Bush's fiscal irresponsibility and an ad the same year from the United Church of Christ showing them welcoming a gay couple who had been turned away from another church.
Sign the petition to CBS insisting they follow their no-advocacy policy and reject the Focus on the Family ad before the Super Bowl on February 7.
More recently, on Friday CBS rejected an ad from a gay dating site showing two men discovering a mutual attraction when their hands brush in the potato chip bowl. The actors then pantomime a comical make-out session. But CBS says the ad "is not within the Network's broadcast standards for Super Bowl Sunday."
So to recap: CBS wouldn't allow a group to criticize Bush, wouldn't let a religious group promote its own tolerance of LGBT families and considers a light-hearted dating ad out of bounds. But CBS is perfectly happy to allow Focus on the Family to promote its conservative social agenda.
We must call CBS out on its hypocrisy and demand that it also reject the Focus on the Family ad. The Super Bowl is America's annual most-watched television event; more than 98 million Americans tuned in last year. And as anyone who's ever been to a Super Bowl party knows, the ads can be even more closely watched than the game, which is why CBS must not unfairly allow anti-choice commercials while rejecting those for other causes.
Sign the petition today urging CBS to follow its own anti-advocacy policy, reverse the decision, and deny Focus on the Family's anti-choice ad."
Howard Zinn, my hero, teacher, and friend died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 87. With his death, we lose a man who did nothing less than rewrite the narrative of the United States. We lose a historian who also made history.
Anyone who believes that the United States is immune to radical politics never attended a lecture by Howard Zinn. The rooms would be packed to the rafters, as entire families, black, white and brown, would arrive to hear their own history made humorous as well as heroic. "What matters is not who's sitting in the White House. What matters is who's sitting in!" he would say with a mischievous grin. After this casual suggestion of civil disobedience, the crowd would burst into laughter and applause.
Only Howard could pull that off because he was entirely authentic. When he spoke against poverty it was from the perspective of someone who had to work in the shipyards during the Great Depression. When he spoke against war, it was from the perspective of someone who flew as a bombardier during World War II, and was forever changed by the experience. When he spoke against racism it was from the perspective of someone who taught at Spelman College during the civil rights movement and was arrested sitting in with his students.
And of course, when he spoke about history, it was from the perspective of having written A People's History of the United States, a book that has sold more than two million copies and changed the lives of countless people. Count me among them. When I was 17 and picked up a dog-eared copy of Zinn's book, I thought history was about learning that the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. I couldn't tell you what the Magna Carta was, but I knew it was signed in 1215. Howard took this history of great men in powdered wigs and turned it on its pompous head.
In Howard's book, the central actors were the runaway slaves, the labor radicals, the masses and the misfits. It was history writ by Robin Hood, speaking to a desire so many share: to actually make history instead of being history's victim. His book came alive in December with the debut of The People Speak on the History Channel as actors, musicians, and poets, brought Zinn's book to life.
Howard was asked once whether his praise of dissent and protest was divisive. He answered beautifully: "Yes, dissent and protest are divisive, but in a good way, because they represent accurately the real divisions in society. Those divisions exist - the rich, the poor - whether there is dissent or not, but when there is no dissent, there is no change. The dissent has the possibility not of ending the division in society, but of changing the reality of the division. Changing the balance of power on behalf of the poor and the oppressed."
Words like this made Howard my hero. I never thought we would also become friends. But through our mutual cohort, Anthony Arnove, Howard read my sports writing and then gave his blessing to a book project we called A People's History of Sports in the United States.
We also did a series of meetings together where I would interview Howard on stage. Even at 87, he still had his sharp wit, strong voice, and matinee-idol white hair. But his body had become frail. Despite this physical weakness, Howard would stay and sign hundreds of books until his hand would shake with the effort.
At our event in Madison, Wisconsin, Howard issued a challenge to the audience. He said, "Our job as citizens is to honestly assess what Obama is doing. Not measured just against Bush, because against Bush, everybody looks good. But look honestly at what Obama's doing and act as engaged and vigorous citizens."
He also had no fear to express his political convictions loudly and proudly. I asked him about the prospects today for radical politics and he said,
"Let's talk about socialism. … I think it's very important to bring back the idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism had a good name in this country. Socialism had Eugene Debs. It had Clarence Darrow. It had Mother Jones. It had Emma Goldman. It had several million people reading socialist newspapers around the country… Socialism basically said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society. Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism."
Howard Zinn taught millions of us a simple lesson: Agitate. Agitate. Agitate. But never lose your sense of humor in the process. It's a beautiful legacy and however much it hurts to lose him, we should strive to build on Howard's work and go out and make some history.
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
This is a day to empathize with the agony amongst the long-suffering fans of the Minnesota Vikings. With a trip to the Super Bowl in their buttery grasp, they fumbled it all away. In a game they largely dominated from start-to-finish, the Vikes lost in overtime to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, 31-28. Miscues, interceptions, and some questionable calls will have the Vikings Nation asking "what if" for the next nine months.
Yes, there is misery in Minnesota. But there is also a silver lining, and I'm not talking about the joy in Green Bay at the spectacular fall of Minnesota QB Brett Favre. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was locked and loaded on Feb. 4 - three days before the Super Bowl - to press the Minnesota State Legislature for a new $1 billion stadium with $700 million to be paid by the taxpayers. Wilf, like many teams, is holding up the specter of moving the team to Los Angeles if he doesn't get a nine-figure welfare check. With the state's phony populist absentee governor Tim "Glass Jaw" Pawlenty saying little more than, "We have to keep the Vikings no matter what," Wilf was ready to roll the Vikings taxpayers. But now that the team has failed to reach the Big Game, the wind is out of Wilf's sails and Zygi is no longer coated with stardust. This isn't to say that Wilf won't emerge triumphant, but without the team in the Super Bowl, it's much more apparent that he will have a fight on his hands.
As Minnesota resident and dogged stadium opponent Willard Shapira wrote, "Most communities around the U.S. have caved in to such outrageous demands but socially concerned Minnesotans are fighting the Vikings tooth and nail. Others around the U.S. battling big-money and establishment power politics would take heart from a public victory over the Vikings and their gang of arrogant, plutocratic conspirators in business, politics and the media."
Remember that Minnesotans repeatedly rejected the Twins billionaire owner Carl Pohlad's efforts to get a new baseball stadium on the public dime. Despite their votes, Pawlenty rammed the $500 million facility through the legislature and it opens for business this spring. Now the owner called "the Big Bad Wilf" wants his piece of the public pie, recession be damned. The Vikings failure to make the Super Bowl makes his effort far more perilous.
On the flip side, and ever so ironically, New Orleans first trip to the Super Bowl makes it a near impossibility for the Saints owners, the Benson family, to fulfill their pre-Katrina dreams of moving their franchise to the City of Angels. If they made that move, I'm convinced that the Crescent City would implode with grief. Now, as a Super Bowl team, that move becomes a political impossibility.
Therefore in one tense contest to see who would ascend to the Super Bowl, two sets of owners saw their most treasured dreams to burn tax payers and break hearts go up in smoke. That's something all fans should cheer. Even in Minnesota.