Where sports and politics collide.
Spare me. Spare me the calls to abolish Penn State’s football program in the wake of findings by former FBI Chief Louis Freeh that Coach Joe Paterno and other men in power hid the crimes of child rapist/assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Spare me the NCAA’s ominous warning that they “will determine whether any additional action is necessary on its part at the appropriate time.” Spare me the self-righteous rage of sports writers who spent decades burnishing the Paterno legend and now rush to tear it all down.
The two most acute examples of this “Paterno revisionism” are ESPN’s Rick Reilly and the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins. Reilly readily admits to being “an idiot”, “a stooge”, “a sap”, and “a fool” for praising Paterno over the course of decades. Jenkins, who is normally nobody’s fool, has set a land-speed record for media revisionism. After recording Paterno’s last interview, in an article widely criticized for being overly generous to the disgraced coach, Jenkins now says that she realizes she was conned and has seen the light. Jenkins writes that Paterno “wasn’t some aging granddad who was deceived, but a canny and unfeeling power broker who put protecting his reputation ahead of protecting children.”
I am all for exposing what was fraudulent about Joe Paterno. I am all for calling him out as someone who cared more about his football program than the welfare of endangered children, and have written these very words. I am also in full agreement with Louis Freeh that one of the greatest problems the Sandusky scandal has exposed is “the culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.” Children were raped in the name of this monstrous “culture of reverence.”
But the conclusions I draw from this sobering reality are profoundly different than those of Reilly, Jenkins and many others. As Reilly thundered, his breast aflame with newfound religion, “I hope the NCAA gives Penn State the death penalty it most richly deserves. The worst scandal in college football history deserves the worst penalty the NCAA can give. They gave it to SMU for winning without regard for morals. They should give it to Penn State for the same thing. The only difference is, at Penn State they didn’t pay for it with Corvettes. They paid for it with lives. What a chump I was.”
I agree with the “chump” part. Reilly was, as he admits, a chump for confusing journalism with the hagiographic profiles he wrote about Paterno for all these years. He’s also a chump for thinking that shutting down the football program actually helps one child, deters one rape or addresses the problem of our reverence for the sham amateurism and skewed values created by big time college sports.
Abolishing Penn State football is wrong for a multitude of reasons. Here are merely a few
1. It’s an act of collective punishment. The end of football at Penn State would also mean the end of football revenue underwriting the Penn State athletic department. It would mean the end of every athletic scholarship, every women’s sports program and every one of the thousands and thousands of jobs produced by this regional economic engine. None of these people were responsible for Sandusky’s reign of terror and Joe Paterno’s criminal complicity. The argument for collective punishment is always morally repugnant, which gets to point two.
2. The only reason to punish so many innocents is to stand with the much-trafficked idea that “all of State College” is somehow complicit in Sandusky’s crimes and the attendant cover-ups. Everyone in State College, this argument goes, was the moral equivalent of now infamous assistant coach Mike McQueary: watching a child get raped and doing nothing. By this logic, however, Reilly and Jenkins are accomplices to pedophilia as well. Without their paeans to JoePa, would he have had the stature to cover up Sandusky’s crimes? Should Rick Reilly be fired or even prosecuted for his admitted hagiography? Should Sally Jenkins be held culpable for not challenging Paterno’s cringe-worthy deathbed lie that he’d “never heard of rape and a man”? Of course not. They may have been willing marks, but they were still conned nevertheless. As good as it might feel to point the finger at every last person with a Happy Valley zip code, or every last person that "Godded-up" Joe Paterno, that’s not the same as culpability.
The people to blame for enabling Sandusky in addition to Paterno, are former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former campus security chief Gary Schultz, former school President Graham Spanier, and the Board of Trustees. Other than Paterno, Curley, Spanier, and Schultz will almost certainly face civil and criminal trials. The school will also suffer—as it should—with settlement payments that will cripple it for a generation.
Unlike other college football “scandals” at places like SMU or Ohio State, the criminal and civil courts will extract more than a pound of flesh from Penn State. The NCAA, a cartel devoted to little more than ensuring its own reign over an utterly corrupt status quo, should just step back and let the grown-ups do their job, which leads to point three.
3. The NCAA is part of the problem. Once again Louis Freeh is correct that the problem is a “culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.” But this is the tragic truth at universities across the country. You cannot tell me there aren’t scores of stomach-turning scandals at big-money, big-conference schools that just haven’t seen the light of day. There are others that have, like the rape scandal at Notre Dame involving football players and female students, which for curious reasons, find themselves painfully under-discussed.
The common problem—from Penn State to Ohio State to Notre Dame—is a system that treats coaches like deities and young players as an uneasy mix of gods and chattel. If the call was to abolish all of college football in the wake of the Penn State scandal and convert all athletic scholarships into academic ones, then let’s support this for the collective good. But to punish Penn State for the deep rot that lies in the system? To legitimize the NCAA’s bankrupt moral authority to punish evildoers? To think for a moment that the NCAA has any stake in somehow altering this lucrative “culture of reverence”? That’s like asking Tim Geithner to clean up Wall Street. It’s a fool’s errand.
If Jenkins, Reilly and others really want to do something other that beat a dead Nittany Lion, they should call for the heads of the real enablers. They should call for the resignation of the Penn State Board of Trustees including board member Governor Tom Corbett. They should call for the abolition of the NCAA. They should call for anything other than the destruction of Penn State football: an action that would bring vengeance without justice.
“It is very simple: Joe Paterno was a criminal.” —Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports
After seven months, 400 interviews and the review of more than 3.5 million documents, Louis Freeh has completed his report on the dark underside of Penn State University, and it will stun even the most cynical among us. The former FBI director was given, we were told, “free rein” to investigate the institutional failures that compelled school President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, director of campus police Gary Schultz and legendary football coach Joe Paterno, to cover up allegations that revered former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was a serial child predator. In the immediate wake of Sandusky’s conviction on forty-five counts of various acts of child abuse, Freeh’s 267-page report is shocking for what it reveals and shocking, frankly, for what it doesn’t reveal. The report constitutes nothing less than a death blow to the school’s reputation. Its conclusions, that those in positions of power at Penn State showed a “total disregard” for the safety of vulnerable children, will echo for years. We can reasonably expect this school with a $4.6 billion budget, a $1.8 billion endowment and 96,000 students to be inalterably crippled for the foreseeable future. Civil lawsuits, criminal lawsuits and hot pressure on the NCAA to shut down the lucrative football program will all result from this report. It also, as suspected, constitutes a death blow to what was left of the reputation of the most successful, respected coach in the history of college football, Joe Paterno. There were many cynical about the report before its release, saying, “We’ll learn that Joe Paterno covered up Sandusky’s child abuse to protect the football program. We already knew this.” But there is so much in the report we didn’t know. We didn’t know, as Freeh writes on page 39, that “several staff members and football coaches regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys” before May 1998.
We didn’t know that there was evidence Joe Paterno knew about formal allegations against Sandusky as far back as 1998, four years before his assistant Mike McQueary walked in on Sandusky raping an 11-year-old boy in the Penn State showers, and then reported it to the coach. A supposedly shocked Paterno told Washington Post reporter Sally Jenkins shortly before his death that he didn’t know what to do upon hearing McQueary’s story because he’d “never heard of rape and a man.”
We didn’t know that when Sandusky was forced into retirement in 1999, he received in Freeh’s words, “an unusual lump sum payment of $168,000” as well as full use of team facilities.
We didn’t know that Paterno, well aware of every sick allegation, wanted Sandusky in 1999 to stay as “Volunteer Position Director–Positive Action for Youth.”
We didn’t know that Sandusky had the gall to ask the school to open, in his name, a football camp for middle school boys.
And most criminally, we didn’t know, according to Freeh, that in 2001 Schultz and Curley agreed to go to authorities but changed their mind after Curley discussed their plan with Paterno. At one point, Spanier said that if Sandusky quietly sought help, they’d turn a blind eye.
As Freeh commented, “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
He also accuses Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno of “opting out” of complying with the Cleary Act, the federal law that mandates colleges report crime. That criminal accusation in plain black and white will become a staple of lawsuits for years if not decades.One Penn State alum tweeted this morning, “If you want to take a picture with a Joe Paterno statue, you had better do it now.”
But the report is also striking for what it doesn’t discuss, mainly the role of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Louis Freeh is someone who has always been a proud lieutenant of institutional power, and with this report he doesn’t disappoint. As I wrote after the Sandusky verdict,
The Governor is far from an innocent bystander. As the state’s attorney general in 2009, Corbett headed a state investigation into accusations against the revered former coach. Although his office denies it, there are multiple confirmations that Corbett assigned no one from his office to follow up on the charges: just one state trooper, a state trooper “not authorized to bring charges against Sandusky.” In addition, when Corbett was sworn in as governor in 2011, he still had not informed Thae Second Mile Foundation that their founder was under investigation. Instead, as a candidate for governor, he took $650,000 in donations from members of the Second Mile’s unknowing board, even allowing their chairman to hold a fundraiser for his campaign. Upon being elected, Corbett then moved deftly from doing nothing to immediately try to deflect the entire weight of the scandal onto Joe Paterno and Penn State itself, using his recently appointed position as a member of the school’s Board of Trustees (an automatic appointment for all Pennsylvania Governors) to do so.
As bracing as the Freeh report is, it confirms what we long suspected and Penn State will pay the price. But it’s also bracing that the dead and the indicted get the blame, while the sitting governor gets to have press conferences and praise Freeh for his efforts. I hope that Sandusky’s victims leave room in their deserved litigious appetites for Governor Corbett. We should all hope he has to answer for the banality of his own evil. If that’s difficult for Corbett to handle, maybe he should take the advice he gave to women upset about his support for mandatory vaginal ultrasounds and he can just lie back and “close his eyes.”
After Serena Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title in stunning fashion on Saturday, she was asked a familiar question on the tournament’s storied Centre Court. It’s a question that seems to be posited to every female athlete at every level of competition: “Was it difficult for you to control your emotions?”
It’s true that men are sometimes asked the “emotions” question but this is a question women athletes are always asked. It speaks to a broader sentiment that both predates and transcends the playing field: the idea that women are just too emotional, too hysterical, too mercurial, to be taken seriously in any walk of life. This runs so deeply in the marrow of US society, we rarely—unless male politicians are lobbying for involuntary vaginal ultrasounds—step back and comment on just how destructive it is. Statistics were released in May that show the United States ranks seventy-eighth on earth in female legislative representation. On questions of pay equity, healthcare and any semblance of reproductive freedom, women are in a constant state of insecurity and forced to live a precarious life. When Serena had to field the “emotions” question on the highest possible stage, it was for me a window into why so many women and men celebrated the recent fortieth anniversary of the passage of Title IX. There is arguably no piece of progressive legislation that’s touched more people’s lives than Title IX, which allowed young women equal opportunity in education and sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, one in thirty-five high school girls played sports forty years ago; one in three do today. Before Title IX, fewer than 16,000 women participated in college sports; today that number exceeds 200,000. All stereotypes about women being too “emotional” to handle sports were answered when the gyms were unlocked, and they arrived in droves. It is a reform that has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of women around the country. Yet when it was passed, the critiques from the world of sports were ample. Sports columnist Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution expressed much of the conventional wisdom of the sports page when he wrote, “What are we after, a race of Amazons? Do you want a companion or a broad that chews tobacco? What do you want for the darling daughter, a boudoir or a locker room full of cussing and bruises? A mother for your grandchildren or a hysterectomy?”
Frightening though it was, Bisher was representing majority opinion in the United States, but since then public opinion has shifted dramatically. As the fortieth anniversary passed, polls showed Title IX holding an 80 percent approval rating, fitting for legislation that has touched the lives of so many.
But if we all love Title IX so much, why is it so lonely? Given its popular and unqualified success, shouldn’t we have every right to expect legislation aimed at uprooting sexism in all kinds of institutions beyond the world of sports? The need for this kind of intervention can be seen most plainly if we look at the gender politics that surround who is actually coaching these hundreds of thousands of women now free to play ball.
In 1972, women coached 90 percent of women’s college athletic teams. Today it’s only 42.9 percent. As journalist Megan Greenwell wrote, “Once universities were required to treat women’s sports as serious pursuits and fund them accordingly, men started wanting jobs coaching women. And once men started wanting jobs coaching women, men started getting a disproportionate number of those jobs. It’s one of the most obvious, yet least talked-about, forms of institutional sexism out there: Coaching jobs are only for women when men don’t want them.”
I spoke about this to Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the great 1984 Olympic Gold Medal swimmer. Today, Hogshead-Makar is law professor as well as the senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation. She said:
“The drop in women in coaching represents the bias against women, the sexism in sports. When two candidates are up, a male and a female, there is a bias that sports equals male, that the traits sports inculcates are male ones, and that the man would be better for the job. I’ve seen it happen too many times.. Women in coaching is a little glimpse of what would happen if the decision-maker’s bias about girls and boys, men and women in sports were allowed to go unchecked.”
The conclusions we can draw from this state of affairs should be “radical common sense”: If we like Title IX, we should also see it as a living, breathing argument for a new Equal Rights Amendment that guarantees pay equity, health services and childcare subsidies for all women in need. As Title IX demonstrates, without actual regulation and intervention, the profound biases in this “Great American Melting Pot” are all just allowed to simmer in peace. If these biases are ever going to be uprooted and challenged, we need real civil rights legislation with actual teeth. As Serena Williams and Title IX show, when the broadest numbers of people have opportunity for success, we all benefit. But if we are going to win this kind of equality in sports and all walks of life, we all might just have to get a little bit emotional.
In explosive sports news that upstaged even the fireworks on the Fourth of July, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that they had traded for Phoenix Suns All-Star point guard and two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash. Nash, even at the ripe old age of 38, is still among the best in the sport—having averaged twelve points and almost eleven assists in 2012. He’s also arguably the finest shooter of his generation, with staggering lifetime shooting percentages of 49 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point land, and over 90 percent from the foul line.
Understandably people are already recalibrating the 2012-2013 season, wondering if Nash and his future Hall-of-Fame teammate Kobe Bryant can not only co-exist but compete for a championship. I’m personally wondering how Nash will look in purple and gold, which is as bizarrely unsettling as picturing Magic Johnson in Celtics green. I also am genuinely flummoxed about how Nash’s unique skill set, which involves dribbling all around the half court until finding an open shooter, will mesh with Kobe’s Bryant’s desire to be genetically fused with the ball like Jeff Goldblum with the eponymous insect in The Fly.
But a less discussed question is the political impact, if any at all, of Steve Nash playing in the white-hot spotlight of Laker-Land. Nash has played most of his career in Arizona, the state Jon Stewart once described as “The Meth Lab of American Democracy.” More than perhaps any elected official in the state, Nash has stood out as a voice of sanity. He spoke out against the troop escalations during the Bush wars, wearing a T-shirt that read, “No war. Shoot for peace.” Nash said he choose to wear the shirt because, “I think that war is wrong in 99.9 percent of all cases. I think [Operation Iraqi Freedom] has much more to do with oil or some sort of distraction…. Unfortunately, this is more about oil than it is about nuclear weapons.” Nash has also spoken out for LGBT Marriage Equality, recording commercials in New York State when the legislature was considering legalization. This is a pro athlete who admitted casually to reading The Communist Manifesto as a way to better understand Che Guevara. I wish that wasn’t a controversial thing to say, but it is and he said it.
But above all else, he’s also is the player responsible for organizing his Suns squad to speak out against Governor Jam Brewer’s radical, “papers please” anti-immigration bill, SB 1070. On Cinco de Mayo in 2010, Nash organized the entire team to wear jerseys that read Los Suns. He said, “I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”
One person who didn’t like what they had to say, however, was Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
In an interview with ESPN, Jackson spoke out in support of SB 1070 saying, “Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the legislature] say ‘we just took the United States immigration law and adapted it to our state.’ ” When sports writer J.A. Adande remarked that SB 1070 could mean “the usurping of federal law,” Jackson said, “It’s not usurping…. they gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it.”
Jackson, the ex-’60s radical, then challenged the Phoenix Suns right to even talk about it, saying.
“I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.”
But Phil might have been one of the few people in Los Angeles who didn’t like Los Suns.The Los Angeles city council condemned Arizona, voting 13-1 to “ban most city travel there and to forgo future business contracts with companies headquartered in the state.” Now it’s rumored that Phil Jackson might come back and actually coach the Lakers. Jackson is famous—or infamous—for assigning books to players to read. Maybe if he comes back, Nash could suggest something to him.
“What to the Slave is the Fourth July?” by Frederick Douglass is not only a brilliant work of oratory. It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day; between the Bill of Rights and our decaying civil liberties; between the USA’s international declarations of human rights and the ordered drone attacks backed by presidential “kill lists”; between the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a nation that leads the world in jailing its own citizens; between our highest ideals and our darkest realities. Here’s hoping people take the time to read the entirety of Douglass’s brilliant speech, Even though his were words that spoke directly to his moment in history, they still ring with an unsettling power. As Douglass says, “Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” —Dave Zirin
by Frederick Douglass
July 5, 1852
Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.
The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say. I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.
This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.
Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.
But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.
Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.
As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.
The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present ruler.
Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.
Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.
These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.
Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.
On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”
Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history—the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.
Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day—cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.
The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.
The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.
They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final”; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.
How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!
Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.
Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation’s jubilee.
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.
I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait—perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.
I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!
My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.
“Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.”
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout—“We have Washington to our father.” Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.
“The evil that men do, lives after them,
The good is oft-interred with their bones.”
“What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?”
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”
But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.
But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, their will I argue with you that the slave is a man!
For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!
Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to bum their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.
What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
INTERNAL SLAVE TRADE.
Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.
Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and America religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the center of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow the drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.
I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.
The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.
In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.
Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.
“Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?”
But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented.
By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the Star-Spangled Banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes MERCY TO THEM, A CRIME; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American JUDGE GETS TEN DOLLARS FOR EVERY VICTIM HE CONSIGNS to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!
In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenseless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.
I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.
At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise and cummin”—abridge the fight to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”
THE CHURCH RESPONSIBLE.
But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.
For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation—a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain ablations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”
The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”
Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.
In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared-men, honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The LORDS of Buffalo, the SPRINGS of New York, the LATHROPS of Auburn, the COXES and SPENCERS of Brooklyn, the GANNETS and SHARPS of Boston, the DEWEYS of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land, have, in utter denial of the authority of Him, by whom the professed to he called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example or the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach “that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.”
My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.
RELIGION IN ENGLAND AND RELIGION IN AMERICA.
One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high[ly] religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, and Burchells and the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead or a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation—a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hotel these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.
Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!
But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.
Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped “To palter with us in a double sense: And keep the word of promise to the ear, But break it to the heart.”
And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practiced on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length—nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.
“[L]et me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it.”
Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a fight to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this fight, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.
Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.
I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.
“Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country.”
Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work The downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are, distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:
God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,
And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered fights again
God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end.
And change into a faithful friend
God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
THAT HOUR WILL, COME, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive-
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Quarterback/demigod Drew Brees is the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He also, for some curious reason, can’t get a solid contract offer from his team, the New Orleans Saints. The sports radio talking heads are yipping about whether the 33-year-old Brees is asking for too much. But this story is not about the pay. It’s the payback.
In fall 2010, it was Brees who led a procession onto the field in full view of the Sunday Night Football cameras with one finger in the air, a symbol that both teams—the Saints and Vikings—were actually one team united against ownership. The voice of the NFL establishment, Al Michaels, a proud political conservative, condemned it from the NBC booth, saying—with an eye roll, “There’s nothing like a labor statement to start the season.” As for the NFL owners, like the elephant who symbolizes their political affection, they don’t forget. But Brees proceeded without concern for any kind of payback. After all, he brought a Super Bowl victory to New Orleans. He was untouchable. As the team’s union representative and member of the NFLPA executive board, Brees remained outspoken and was one of the lead plaintiffs in the lockout lawsuits against the NFL. His former teammate Scott Fujita said to me, “In recent years Drew has taken some strong positions against league management. He doesn’t have to do this, but he chooses to because he knows it’s the right thing to do, and because he’s a natural leader who all players look to and respect. That’s quite rare for someone of his stature. He has great conviction.”
But conviction comes with a price, even for—as one union official described him to me—“the Captain America of quarterbacks.” The NFLPA has now formally requested the league to investigate whether the Saints are openly trying to punish Brees for his trade unionism. The union is citing CBA provision, Article 49, Section 1 which reads, “ No Discrimination: There shall be no discrimination in any form against any player by the NFL, the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.”
Brees’s other apostasy has been to defend current and former teammates Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, Jonathan Vilma and Fujita on charges that they were part of a pay-to-injure program, otherwise known as “bountygate.” Brees is leveraging his fame to argue that he and his team are being targeted for the crime of being loud and proud union leaders during last year’s NFL lockout.
Last week, Brees tweeted, “If NFL fans were told there were ’weapons of mass destruction‘ enough times, they’d believe it. But what happens when you don’t find any????”
There was a media backlash against Brees for invoking the war in Iraq (or the lies that brought us into the war in Iraq, to be more exact). Brees apologized for this tweet, but this mini-backlash didn’t slow him down and actually seemed to embolden him.
On The Late Show With David Letterman, Brees said, “I mean, just the whole process itself and the investigation I feel like has been extremely unfair. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s been more of a media campaign than it is actually finding the truth to the matter. Put forth the facts, the truth, and if indeed there was a pay-to-injure scheme, then people will get punished, and if there’s not, then let’s exonerate these men because, at this point, it seems like it’s a smear campaign. We’re dragging them through the mud. We’re ruining their reputations and careers with no true evidence.”
There are those who will scoff about Brees, the millionaire quarterback, being any kind of trade union martyr. They are already saying that the NFLPA has no place in this “negotiation.” The scoffers will have television programs, radio shows and nationally read columns. They are the creators of conventional wisdom. They are also wrong.
There is no higher cultural platform in the country than the National Football League. NBC’s Sunday Night Football is the highest-rated program of the fall season. The Super Bowl is the most watched program in the history of this country. Drew Brees has been one of the faces of this league since the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010. If he can be spanked like an unruly child for the crime of standing with his union, what does that portend for the public sector worker in Ohio, the Chicago teacher who just voted to go on strike or the Starbucks barista trying to start a union? I’m not saying that Drew Brees is some kind of Joe Hill with a tight spiral, but this is about ensuring that anyone who wants a union or is in a union can speak out in defense of their livelihood.
The AFL-CIO, of which the NFLPA is a member, should put out a statement in support of Brees. They should hold his case up as an example of what NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith means when he says, “The minute that any sports player believes for whatever reason that they are outside the management-labor paradigm, you lose ground.” This country’s trade union movement has been in free fall for decades, from a high of 35 percent in the mid 1950s, to a seventy-year low in 2010 of fewer than 12 percent. If the message from the NFL is that being an active unionist is grounds for intimidation and punishment, then the AFL-CIO needs to make it plain: an injury to one is an injury to all. Even quarterbacks.
Here is a post-script that I received after publishing this article, courtesy of the organization, American Rights at Work. I think it speaks cleary to why it's important to support Brees, as his case is a high profile expression of what is happening in workplaces around the country.
An analysis of the 1999-2003 data on NLRB election campaigns finds that:
63% of employers interrogate workers in mandatory one-on-one meetings with their supervisors about support for the union;
54% of employers threaten workers in such meetings;
57% of employers threaten to close the worksite;
47% of employers threaten to cut wages and benefits; and
34% of employers fire workers.
The employer resistance to workers exercising their legal right to form unions does not stop after the union election process:
One year after a successful election, 52% of newly formed unions had no collective bargaining agreement.
Two years after an election, 37% of newly formed unions still had no labor agreement.
Now that the verdict is in—now that Jerry Sandusky is no longer an “alleged” child predator and his accusers can’t be labeled as “alleged” victims—the road toward justice truly begins. For anyone who thinks the difficult part is over, think again. It’s easy to shake our heads at the monster Sandusky. It’s easy to respond like the people who gathered at the courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and cheer while clowning around for the cable news cameras. It’s easy to feel satisfied now that the 68-year-old Sandusky was found guilty and will spend the remainder of his miserable life in prison. It’s easy to do what we’ve always done in this country as Sandusky was walked out the courthouse’s back door “just 50 yards downhill from where they used to hang criminals in the courtyard of the old county jail.”
America’s always been very good at forming a crowd ready to cheer a good hanging. The national fabric has been woven with witch trials, executions, torture and, now, presidential kill lists—and on it goes. We love to slay those we label as monsters. We are less vigilant about the people who allow the monsters to roam the countryside. They get to write books, give lectures and be guests on the late-night talk-show circuit. (See: Rumsfeld, Donald.)
There are many “Rumsfelds” in the People vs. Jerry Sandusky. During the trial, two facts kept appearing like a recurring malignancy. The first was something we already knew: that Jerry Sandusky’s godlike stature as defensive football guru at Penn State was his tool both for attracting children and winning the unquestioned trust of parents or guardians. The other stubborn fact is that people in positions of power at the university and in state politics smothered accusations as they swirled around Sandusky and his children’s charity, the Second Mile.
Law enforcement was aware of allegations against Sandusky going back to 1995. At Penn State, the awareness that something was “off” about Sandusky’s interaction with children reaches back even further. They chose not to act or, in the case of late coach Joe Paterno, did the bare legal minimum—and as a result, more children were harmed. Brand protection for both the football program and a research university with a $1.8 billion endowment mattered more to those in power than acting aggressively. Graduate assistant Mike McQueary’s infamous actions in the Penn State showers upon catching Sandusky sodomizing a child—slam a locker, tell someone in a position of power, try to forget it—is symbolic of actions up the chain of command. It’s a chain of command that goes all the way to the office of the governor and former state attorney general, Tom Corbett.
Corbett released a statement after the verdict saying, “I…want to commend the multiple victims in this case who had the courage to come forward and testify in court, confronting Sandusky, and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of these reprehensible crimes.”
You would never know from the above words that the governor is far from an innocent bystander. As the state’s attorney general in 2009, Corbett headed a state investigation into accusations against the revered former coach. Although his office denies it, there are multiple confirmations that Corbett assigned no one from his office to follow up on the charges: just one state trooper, a state trooper “not authorized to bring charges against Sandusky.”
In addition, when Corbett was sworn in as governor in 2011, he still had not informed the Second Mile Foundation that their founder was under investigation. Instead, as a candidate for governor, he took $650,000 in donations from members of the Second Mile’s unsuspecting board, even allowing the chairman to hold a fundraiser for his campaign.
Upon being elected, Corbett then moved deftly from doing nothing to immediately trying to deflect the entire weight of the scandal onto Joe Paterno and Penn State itself, using his recently appointed position as a member of the school’s Board of Trustees (an automatic appointment for all Pennsylvania governors) to do so.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported,
As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, [Corbett] investigated Sandusky for nearly two years but failed to make an arrest. But then, as governor, he blamed the university’s leaders for not doing more. One was Paterno, who some board members believed wielded too much power. The other was university president Graham B. Spanier, a 16-year veteran and Corbett rival who had become a vocal opponent of the governor’s efforts to slash higher education funding. And when he was on campus the next day, after Spanier’s resignation and Paterno’s firing, he celebrated the leadership changes. “Throughout this whole process, I felt he had some ulterior motive,” a trustee says of Corbett. “Most trustees felt uncomfortable with his role. It was odd for him to be there and participate the way he did. Very odd.”
Governor Corbett has much to answer for in the weeks and months ahead. But unlike the monster Sandusky or Joe Paterno, the hardly blameless but all-too-convenient lightning rod, he can ride this out unless there’s some semblance of public outrage. Corbett has a public relations team, a press office and national ambitions. We just have a snapshot that certainly makes it appear that Corbett personified what’s meant by “the banality of evil.” Sandusky’s conviction will convince many that, now that the monster is behind bars, we should move on. But if we want to make sure that monsters don’t roam the countryside in the future, we had better hold the lord of the manor to account.
In news that will provoke tears of joy throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and not a few locker rooms, it was announced today that Mahmoud Sarsak, jailed Palestinian soccer star and hunger striker, would be released on July 10. Sarsak was arrested on his way to a national team match as he tried to cross the Gaza border, with travel approval from Israel in his hand. He has been held for three years without charges, a trial or even contact with his family. Over the last ninety days, Sarsak has refused food, continuing to adhere to an organized hunger strike of 2,000 Palestinian prisoners, even after their action was resolved.
Sarsak’s worsening health brought global attention to his case. Amnesty international put out an alert last week that Sarsak was on the brink of death, but it was the sports world that brought his struggle out of the shadows. On June 8, FIFpro, an international union of 50,000 professional soccer players, put out a formal call for his release. It also addressed a larger pattern at work, where members of the Palestinian National Team have been systematically blocked at checkpoints, jailed or even killed.
The organization’s vice president, Philippe Piat, said, “The freedom of movement is a fundamental right of every citizen. It is also written down in the FIFA Regulations that players must be allowed to play for the national team of their country. But actually for some footballers it is impossible to defend the colours of their country. They cannot cross the border. They cannot visit their family. They are locked up. This is an injustice.”
In addition, famed Manchester United player Eric Cantona signed a statement saying that UEFA should cancel its upcoming under-21 championship tournament in Israel if Sarsak weren’t freed. The statement read, “It is time to end the injustice, and insist upon standards of equality, justice and respect of international law—like we demand from any other country.”
More surprising than FIFpro’s stance or any words from Cantona was the news on June 12 that the reptilian FIFA chief, Sepp Blatter, called upon the Israeli Football Association to agitate for Sarsak to get his day in court. Blatter’s office said in a statement, “FIFA urgently calls on IFA to draw the attention of the Israeli competent authorities to the present matter, with the aim of ensuring the physical integrity of the concerned players as well as their right for due process. The matter came to FIFA’s attention following correspondence with the Palestine Football Association, several international media reports concerning the football player Mahmoud Sarsak and a FIFPro media release.”
Blatter is nothing if not a survivor, and his move, as James Dorsey, from the indispensible MidEast Soccer Blog, said to me, “Is classic CYA [cover your ass]…. I don’t think Blatter had much choice. Sarsak is putting everyone, including Israel and FIFA, on the spot. His health is reportedly deteriorating rapidly and his death could spark widespread protests in the occupied territories. Blatter does not want to be seen as not having stood up to what clearly is not due process.” He’s right.
It’s safe to say that if Sarsak had died, and Blatter had done nothing, the outrage could have ended his tenure at the top of the sport. It also could have imperiled not only the 2013 UEFA tournament in Israel, already targeted by Europe’s “Red Card Israeli Apartheid” movement, but the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. If there was a nuclear war, I’m convinced that only roaches and Blatter would walk away unscathed.
Now that Sarsak’s release has been announced, Israel has said to the press that they believed him to be in the terrorist organization “Islamic Jihad.” These accusations are news to Sarsak’s lawyer, his family and his friends. This is someone whose only crime was attempting to cross a border to play soccer. His arrest is seen much more as part of a broader effort to degrade this “national team without a nation” than anything he may have done off the pitch. Given what we know, it’s remarkable that it took Blatter and friends three years to say something, But it’s equally remarkable to all involved that international solidarity and awareness finally forced Israel’s hand.
BDS activist Laura Durkay said to me after Blatter’s statement, “The next step should be to move from symbolic statements to actions to boycott and isolate Israel in the sports world, according to the guidelines for cultural boycott set out by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.”
Not only does Sarsak live but the movement lives as well. It's been strengthened by Sarsak’s survival and the revelation for many that the thankless, frustrating and often devastating work of international solidarity with political prisoners can actually work.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a stolen franchise, having been torn from Seattle in 2008. A mere four years later, they are in the NBA Finals, three wins away from becoming champions. They are also being relentlessly promoted by the NBA and their network partners as a team to love. We are told to see them as America’s Sweethearts, with their small-town vibe, roaring crowds and exuberant fans in color-coded shirts that all read, ”Team Is Family.” They are the brilliant culmination of a planning meeting NBA Commissioner David Stern had with Republican strategist Matthew Dowd about how to give the league “red state appeal.” This was in conjunction with the NBA’s establishment of a dress code and road behavior guidelines, and a general sense of rather blunt unease from David Stern that a league built on a foundation of black, inner-city talent would repel wealthier white fans.
You don’t get much more “red state” than Oklahoma, where every district voted for John McCain in 2008, the only state that can make that claim. You don’t get more red state than an arena named after minority owner Aubrey McClendon’s Chesapeake Energy Corporation, a company that makes its profits through “fracking,” the practice of splitting open the earth to extract more oil and natural gas. “Fracking” has been linked to earthquakes, toxic contamination of drinking water and global warming. According to studies, it actually causes greater degrees of global warming than coal. Not surprisingly, McClendon is a climate change denier. He’s also, for good measure, a staunch gay rights opponent, and one of the main funders for the 2004 group, “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” aimed to smear John Kerry’s military record in Vietnam. And he, like majority owner and major Republican donor Clay Bennett, took hundreds of millions in corporate welfare to move to OKC. It’s all so very “red state appeal.”
It’s not surprising that the NBA is promoting the Thunder like they’re the team from Walnut Grove. It’s also not surprising that every effort is being made to squelch any discussion during broadcasts of their Seattle roots. More surprising by far is how much traction this line of thinking has among those who should know better.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons who once railed against the move to Oklahoma City, promising to only refer to the new team as “The Zombie Sonics,” has learned to stop worrying and embrace the Thunder. In a column titled—I wish I was joking—“Thunder Family Values,” Simmons writes about his newfound love for Oklahoma City, it’s exuberant fans, and the general vibe of the entire region. He ends his piece by writing, “I found myself feeling happy for the Oklahoma City fans after they clinched Game 1…. Is it possible to feel happy for Oklahoma City while continuing to feel absolutely, unequivocally terrible for Seattle? Actually, yes.”
Nowhere in the column can you find the words “Clay Bennett” or “Aubrey McClendon.” It’s as if the Team Fairy or the NBA Stork took the Sonics and delivered them to Oklahoma City.
Simmons’s embrace is probably not too surprising. His job, and he’s very good at it, is romanticizing the sports world and convincing us that shit doesn’t stink. Far more eye-opening is the similar message sent by Seattle Sonics legend Gary Payton. Payton is someone who attended rallies aimed at saving the Sonics and was vocal in his criticism of the move. But the man known as “the Glove” said in a radio interview this week,
“It’s not our team anymore, let’s move on and get our own team, get our own team and then we don’t even have to worry about that team anymore and can go on about our business and make it what it’s supposed to be which is to have our own team.”
With all due respect to “the Glove,” this is wrong and “moving on” is the last thing Seattle should do. To my sisters and brothers in Seattle: don’t get over it. Your anger is just and you should keep those embers of rage alive. I’m not just saying this because I have a whole family of elders from Brooklyn who never forgave Walter O’Malley for taking the Dodgers to Los Angeles. (Family joke: if you have Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley in a room and a gun with just two bullets, what do you do? You shoot O’Malley twice to make sure he’s dead.)
This isn’t about spite or jealousy or anything of the sort. It’s about protecting the future of hoops in the Emerald City. Basketball will return to Seattle. There are too many teams that have lost too much money and Seattle has the income, the passion and the real estate to make it happen. There will be a Sonics again because the NBA needs Seattle even more than Seattle need the NBA.
But on what terms will the Sonics come back? The people of Seattle took a principled stand against being ripped off by the NBA, and handing billionaires a $300 million bounty of corporate welfare. All of that courage, drama and pain will have been for nothing if they just accept the terms that David Stern will attempt to impose. There is much you can do, especially when the NBA demands a new arena as a precondition for pro ball to return. You can demand private funding for the new facility like they did in Philadelphia. Or you can demand a dollar of public ownership for every tax dollar that goes into the team. You can point to Green Bay and say, “If the Packers have fan ownership, then why can’t we?” It’s not just about having the Sonics return but how they return. Until that day, we should all hope to see the Thunder fall flat. Let every owner itching to move their team to greener pastures see that it’s not all parades and glory. If Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon don’t believe in climate change, let them believe in karma.
The 2012 NBA finals presents more than a match-up of two young, exciting, athletic teams. They present a rooting litmus test. In one corner, we have the Miami Heat, a team scorned for being built around a hastily assembled group of free-agent all-stars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the great LeBron James. No player in NBA history has been scrutinized, picked apart and even despised quite like James. The three-time MVP’s unforgivable crime, now two years old, was neither a felony nor misdemeanor nor even a bad attitude. It was his awkwardly managed departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” He also earns arrows of anger for his alleged inability to step up his game when the game is on the line. In addition, his patchwork Miami team in the eyes of many is as plastic, superficial and empty as the city they call home.
In the other corner, we have the Oklahoma City Thunder, a small market franchise beloved by the sports media and fans for “doing it the right way.” They drafted beautifully and evolved organically toward greatness. They are also led by Kevin Durant, the NBA’s most endearing superstar. The “Durantula” is only 23 but already has three scoring titles, and he absolutely lusts for the big moment. He also, unlike LeBron, signed a long-term contract to stay in a small market because he wanted to take the team that drafted him to a title.
With such seemingly opposite teams and stars, the media are already writing the 2012 finals script of “good vs. evil.” It’s an easy, by-the-numbers narrative. It’s also bizarro world bullshit. This is one case where good is evil and the evil in question resides in shadows where fans choose not to look
I would argue that how we choose to see the Heat and Thunder is a litmus test. It’s a litmus test that reveals how the sports radio obsession with villainizing twenty-first-century athletes blinds us to the swelling number of villains who inhabit the owner’s box. And in Oklahoma City, we have the kinds of sports owners whose villainy should never be forgotten.
Strip away the drama and the Heat are called “evil” because their star players exercised free agency and—agree or disagree with their decision—took control of their own careers. The Thunder are praised for doing it the “right way,” but no franchise is more caked in original sin than the team from Oklahoma City. Their owners, Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, with an assist from NBA Commissioner David Stern, stole their team with the naked audacity of Frank and Jesse James from the people of Seattle.
For non-NBA fans, as recently as 2008 the OKC Thunder were the Seattle Supersonics, a team of great tradition, flare and fan support. They were Slick Watts’s headband, Jack Sikma’s perm and Gary Payton’s scowl. They were a beloved team in a basketball town. Then the people of Seattle committed an unpardonable offense in the eyes of David Stern. They loved their team but refused to pay for a new taxpayer funded $300 million arena. Seattle’s citizens voted down referendums, organized meetings and held rallies with the goal of keeping the team housed in a perfectly good building called the KeyArena. Despite a whirlwind of threats, the people of Seattle wouldn’t budge, so Stern made an example of them. Along with Supersonics team owner and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz—who could have paid for his own new arena with latte profits alone—Stern recruited two Oklahoma City–based billionaires, Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, to buy the team and manipulate their forcible extraction from Seattle to OKC.
Stern is a political liberal who has sat on the board of the NAACP. Bennett and McLendon are big Republican moneymen whose hobby is funding anti-gay referendums. Yet these three men are united in their addiction to our tax dollars. In Oklahoma City, where rivers of corporate welfare awaited an NBA franchise, Stern, Bennett and McClendon had found their Shangri-La.
Bennett, Stern and McClendon lied repeatedly that they would make every effort to keep the team in Seattle, McClendon however gave the game away in 2007, when he said to the Oklahoma City Journal Record, “We didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle, we hoped to come here…. We started to look around and at that time the Sonics were going through some ownership challenges in Seattle. So Clay, very artfully and skillfully, put himself in the middle of those discussions and to the great amazement and surprise to everyone in Seattle, some rednecks from Oklahoma, which we’ve been called, made off with the team.”
While Bennett said all the right things about keeping the Sonics in Seattle, a team executive dinner on September 9, 2006, tells you all you need to know about the man and his motives. On that fine evening, the Sonics management, all held over from the previous ownership regime, all Pacific Northwesters, gathered in Oklahoma to meet the new boss. Bennett made sure they were sent to a top restaurant, and picked up the bill. As the Seattle execs sat down, four plates of a deep fried appetizer were put on the table. After filling their mouths with the crispy goodness, one asked the waitress what this curious dish with a nutty flavor actually was. It was lamb testicles. Bennett laughed at their discomfort and the message was clear: the Sonics could eat his balls. (See Sonicsgate.com for a full accounting of this theft.)
If the Thunder win the 2012 title, the Clay Bennett/David Stern approach will be lionized throughout pro sports. The theft of the Sonics will be justified and cities involved in stadium negotiations will be threatened with being “the next Seattle” if they don’t acquiesce to the whims of the sporting 1 percent. A championship for the Thunder would be a victory for holding up cities for public money. It would be a victory for ripping out the hearts of loyal sports towns. It would be a victory for greed, collusion and a corporate crime that remains unprosecuted.
Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon don’t deserve anyone’s cheers. I don’t just want the Thunder to lose. I want LeBron James to make them wish they’d never left the Emerald City. That is why no matter how much you dislike the ill-fitting “Dream Team” in South Beach, or swoon at the sight of Kevin Durant, anyone who cares about the relationship of teams to their cities and decries the way pro sports is used as an instrument of corporate looting should know who to root for and whom to root against. Without equivocation, all true NBA fans, in the name of Slick Watts, should sound three words this championship season: “Let’s go Heat.”