By any measure this country is in an ugly mood. Double-digit unemployment and a growing sense that the environment, economy and empire are heading south have Americans walking with a stoop and a scowl. We have seen this national agenda expectorate into the world of sports. The sporting summer of 2010 was supposed to be a joyous festival of the World Cup, historic baseball pennant races and the most dynamic NBA free agent period in sports history. Instead, the nation’s fever dream has become the sports world’s nightmare.
First, there was the intrusion on the sports page of America’s favorite doughy mascot of resentment, Glenn Beck. Beck couldn’t let the 2010 World Cup go by without using it to tap into his gravy train of paranoia: globalization, a one-world government and our Kenyan President Overlord Barack Obama. Obama represents "the World Cup of political thought." Beck stated, "It doesn’t matter how you try to sell it to us…we don’t want the World Cup, we don’t like the World Cup, we don’t like soccer, we want nothing to do with it…. The rest of the world likes Barack Obama’s policies, we do not…. I hate it so much, probably because the rest of the world likes it so much, and they riot over it, and they continually try to jam it down our throat." The most popular sporting celebration on earth had become just more fodder for the twenty-first-century neo-confederate culture wars.
We still had the most exciting free agency period in the history of the National Basketball Association. Two of the three best players in the sport, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, were unfettered to sign with the city and team of their choice. Wade made the choice to stay with the Miami Heat. Lebron chose to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join him, creating a duo of dynamic wing players without precedent. Lebron’s decision, however, was handled with the diplomacy of Dick Cheney. He teased cities around the country to maximum media effect, and then announced his choice on a stomach-churning ESPN special that may have redefined callow narcissism. Going to Miami, perhaps the worst sports town on the planet to play with Dwyane Wade and fellow free-agent superstar Chris Bosh, turned the stomachs of NBA fans, coaches and the Mt. Rushmore of middle-aged NBA legends, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley.
But if his choice left something to be desired, the backlash against James in Cleveland spoke to something far more insidious. The Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert posted a bizarre screed where he accused James of "cowardly betrayal." The next day he approached slander, accusing James of effectively throwing playoff games during his Cavaliers tenure. Cleveland "fans" took to the streets and burned James’s jersey and his family required a police escort to leave town. The NBA fined Gilbert $100,000 for his comments and fans offered to pay the fine.