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WhatsMyName-Chapt6

WhatsMyName-Chapt6 - a 3 I t MMJM.WW...

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Unformatted text preview: a 3 I t MMJM.WW adds-“.mwng-MWNMwWNm-a.WWW.“wmmwmw E E E E E CHAPTER SIX In the Shadow of Ali: Sports, War, and Resistance Today Dwight Eisenhower once said, ”Sports are perfect for preparing young men for war. " And sure enough, as long as there have been organized sporting events, war and combat have both lurked in the shadows and stood out in plain view. In modern sports, this is most obvious in football, a game made up of advancing and re- treating over patches of ground. The quarterback is known as the “fieid generaf,” and the area around the line of scrimmage is called ”the trenches.” Also, the field general throws “butlet passes" or “bombs," depending on the situation. But it is during periods of actual war, like the one we are in now, when the syn- ergy of sports and war takes center stage. A typical pro game in- cludes F—14 bombers buzzing the stadium, multiple national anthems, everything but a mandatory loyalty oath and bombs bursting in air (although the fireworks come close). The story of Pat Tillman, the NFL All-Pro turned Army Ranger turned casualty, encapsulates how craven the masters of war are in their push to claim useful symbols, while ESPN’s broadcasts from a gunner's nest in Kuwait demonstrate just how willing and eager the corporate media is to project those symbols all over sports. But there are times when the rah-rah meets resistance. Like when All—Star Toronto Blue Jays Slugger Carlos Delgado re- fused to stand for “God Bless America," or when the Iraqi soccer team squashed President George W. Bush’s efforts to turn them into extras in an election ad, or when Notre Dame basketball star 129 130 O WHAT’S MY NAME, FOOL? turned army veteran Danielle Green started to speak out against a war that almost left her dead. The following chapter looks at re- cent moments when sports and war have stood arm-in-arm, as well as times when athletes have just said no. The Utterly tin-Lonesome Death of Pat Tillman When Pat Tillman walked away from the NFL to join the Army Rangers, pro—war politicians started drooling—~veritable rivulets of saliva flewed from the White House to the Pentagon. Here was the Arizona cardinals’ record-setting safety turning his back on a $3.5 million NFL contract to “fight the war on ter- ror.” Immediately, Madison Avenue PR firms, hired by the De- fense Department with our tax dollars, began churning out press releases exalting “The American Athlete at War,” replete with stories of baseball hall-of—famer Ted Williams flying mis- sions over the Pacific. The confederate confines of talk radio spoke of Tillman as “A Real American Hero” making ”The Ulti- mate Sacrifice.” One wonders if James Earl Jones was specially contracted to intone, “Pat Tillman: An Army of One.” There was just one problem. Tillman wouldn’t play their game. He turned down “hundreds if not thousands” of inter- views and photo ops. He refused to be in any recruitment videos or on a single poster. Soon the story of “NFL player Pat Tillman in the Army Rangers” faded intothe next news cycle. A year went by without a mention. N 0 one tracked the day when his shoulder length hair was shaved to the scalp. No one snapped shots of his time in the “Army Ranger Indoctrination Program.” No one knew about his first tour in Iraq. But when IN THE SHADOW OF ALl: WAR AND RESlSTANCE TODAY 6 131 Despite knowing that Pat Tillman had died in friendly fire, the military didn’t in- form his tamily until long after the funeral service. Above, John McCain was one of several politicians to shamelessly see the funeral as an opportunity to praise a man in death who would have shunned their attention in life. (APIGcne Lower) Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by “friendly fire," the gears began to turn again. As Tillman’s family and football fans grieved, the United States’ war machine sprang into action. Death rendered Tillman helplessly compliant—and far more useful to the masters of war than he had been in life. In “The Late Pat Tillman,” the Washington establishment 132 O WHAT'S MY NAME, FOOL? finally had a dead soldier they could cozy up to. “Where do we get such men as these? Where do we find these people willing to stand up for America?” asked Republican Representative J.D. Hayworth, diving bravely in front of the nearest camera. “He chose action rather than words. He was a remarkable per- son. He lived the American dream, and he fought to preserve the American dream and our way of life." Senator George Allen of Virginia, son of the late pro football coach, George Allen Sr., sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, asking the league to dedicate the season to Tillman and other US. sol- diers “serving in the war on terrorism.” And, of course, former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush jumped into the fray commenting, “Pat Tillman was an in- spiration both on and off the football field.” At a time when the United States’ "coalition of the willing” was starting to come apart as fast as the Iraqi resistance was growing, the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue saw Tilhnan’s death as Christmas in April. The former seventh round draft pick became the symbol, as the White House commented, of “all we are fighting for.” Yet the late Pat Tillman is in no way representative of the typical dead US. soldier. And pretending otherwise is—like so much of Bush’s global conquest—a bloody lie. The face of the typical dead US. soldier is not that of a twenty-seven—year—old man walking away from millions of dollars to make “the ulti- mate sacrifice.” The typical dead US. soldier was far more likely to have gone into the military with hopes of finally get- ting an education, and was probably in Iraq or Afghanistan be- yond his or her tour of duty. This dead soldier, chances are, was suffering from depression and crushingly low morale in the days before death. The dead soldier was making $18,000 a year and possibly living on food stamps. The dead soldier is disproportionately likely to be Black or Latino. g i :33 i i i -3 IN THE SHADOW OF ALI: WAR AND RESISTANCE TODAY 0 133 While one NFL millionaire served in “Operation Enduring Occupation,” there are 37,000 noncitizens serving in the Iraq occupation alone, hoping to stay alive long enough to benefit from a new program that allows immigrant soldiers to apply for citizenship immediately without having to wait the usual five years. The typical dead soldier might have been recruited from the US. Army’s new number one recruitment spot: Tijuana, Mexico. When we look at the actual faces of dead US. soldiers, and the growing anger of the families who will never see those faces again, we can understand why commander-in—chief Bush has boycotted all their funerals. We can explain 'why photos of flag-draped coffins had to be smuggled out on military cargo ships, and why the workers who took those photos were fired. With the distortion of Tillman’s death, Bush is hoping to shore up support for his Middle Eastern slaughter, something the ac- tual facts on the ground will never accomplish. But not everyone is taking the bait. In fact, by “humanizing” the death of a popular ex—football player, Bush couldbe running right into some hard-core necessary roughness. Sports fans and scribes aren’t the mindless patriots that the White House— and much of the left—tend to believe. The public parade of Till- man’s remains has bred a variety of reactions. Nationally renowned—and dependably apolitical—sports columnist Mike Lupica wrote, “Pat Tillman got to live out his professional dreams for a little while. What about all the ones dying over there who didn’t?” ESPN ’s Sports Reporters show commented, "The White House has no right to say anything about the death of Tillman since it doesn’t want to show pictures of the dead. They can’t have it both ways.” And on what is possibly the most frat boy—driven sports radio show on the air today, The jungle with Jim Rome, one caller identified himself as an eX-soldier from Arizona and said, “The president needs to take a long look in the mirror and try to figure out if this is worth it.” He then 134 O WHAT'S MY NAME, FOOL? paused and said, “War to no one. Fight for peace.” This feeling only intensified when people learned the truth—that the weapons that ended Tillman’s life were fired by his own platoon. Like the war itself, initial reports of Tillman’s last moments were shrouded in lies. As the Washington Post re- ported in a December 2004 expose, “His superiors exagger— ated his actions and invented details as they burnished his legend in public, at the same time suppressing details that might tarnish Tillman’s commanders.” Shamefully, the military did not shy away from manipulating family, friends, and team— mates in its efforts to mislead the public. As the Post article put it, It would take almost five more weeks—after a flag-draped coffin - ceremony, a Silver Star award and a news release, and a public memorial attended by Sen. John McCain, [quarterback and best friend] Jake Plummer and newswoman Maria Shriver—for the Rangers or the Army to acknowledge to. . .his family or the public that Pat Tillman had been killed by his own men. It is also significant that Tillman’s April 22nd death was an- nounced just days before the shocking disclosure of photo— graphs of torture by US. soldiers working as guards in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. The photos ignited an international furor against the US. armed forces. The timing of this cannot be dis- missed as coincidence and may have played a role in the sup- pression of the truth. Tillman’s last moments sting the ears. As a young Ranger recalled to investigators during the inquiry, “I could hear the pain in his voice... [as he shouted], ‘1 am Pat [expletive] Till- man, damn it!’ He said this over and over again until he stopped.” Being “Pat Tillman” wasn’t enough to save his life. But dead, he is worth his weight in black gold. 9 E i i i meunuum rdmmmmmnoleM-VMA‘A mm»- 3 i IN THE SHADOW OF ALl: WAR AND RESISTANCE TODAY 0 135 Hold the Bunyan: Sportscenter Out of the Middle East! Has it come to this? Did Sparts'Center really broadcast a week’s worth of shows from Kuwait? Did we really receive our nightly dose of baseball, banter, and “booyah” from a set designed by the U.S. armed forces? Was the SportsCenter stage really con— structed to look like a bunker, complete with camouflage netting and anchors’ desks made out of sandbags and a Bradley tank? Ideally, SportsCenter should be safe space, a space beyond the reaches of the drumbeat of war, like “home base” in a game of tag. It should be the one spot on the cable dial where we are not having an immoral, and, according to Kofi Annan, “illegal” occupation shoved down Our throats like a new line of Happy Meals. But no. As one newspaper in Virginia chortled with glee, “Booyahl ESPN joins the battle!” (Yes, Virginia, there is a military indus- trial complex.) Baseball Tonight commentator Rob Dibble ac- cepted the perils of the mission to Camp Arfijan in Kuwait with the solemnity of Patton, saying, “I know [we ESPN talking heads] are risking our lives but it was the least we could do.” Who could possibly be behind such a shameless synthesis of sports and Scuds? Sing it with me: M—I—C—K—E—Y M—O-U-S-E. Leave it to ESPN’s parent company, Disney, and rodent-in—chief Michael Eisner to spice up our sports with pro-war poison. The same Disney that hired that epitome of fitness and athletic ac- complishment Rush Limbaugh to comment on the NFL; the same Disney that refused to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11 because it was “too politica ”; the same Disney that never met a union it wouldn’t bust—that very same Disney took ESPN ’s flagship show, and, before you could say “Pat Tillman,” turned it into an 136 O WHAT’S MY NAME, FOOL? ad for the Army of One. . But that wasn’t enough for Eisner and company. With the subtlety of Zell Miller critiquing fellow Democrats at the Re— publican Convention, they kicked off their “Salute to Our Troops Week” on Saturday, September 11th. Leave it to this platoon of Pinocchios to carry on the tradition of Bush, Cheney, Powell, and Rice by attempting to establish yet an- other (entirely engineered and after the fact) connection be- tween 9/11 and the Iraq Occupation. Displaying all the journalistic integrity of a Frank Capra World War II film, SportsCenter—Kuwait also did features on armed forces flag football, former athletes or relatives of famous athletes in the service, and how quickly an ice cream cone [sym- bol of Americana] melts in the savage 120degree desert heat. It was H eart of Darkness, SportsCenter style: Boo-YAH! But the toy soldier sets and gauzy features looked like an Orwellian Epcot compared to the reality on the ground. Sports- Ceater—Kuwait played out in the context of a shocking rise in civilian casualties, as the US. military rained death on unarmed Iraqis. Meanwhile, US. troops were subject to eighty—seven at- tacks a day in August 2004—the month directly preceding these “special” broadcasts—more than double the average from the first half of that year. This surge of resistance forced the Bush administration to finally admit that whole cities in Iraq—including Samarra, Ramadi, Baquba, and Fallujahw—were “no-go” zones for US. troops and Iraqi police forces alike. Disney can cast more spells than the wicked queen in Snow White. But it would take a feat beyond the powers of animation to make a pretty picture out of this sick war. At a time when we should have been bringing the troops home, Disney brought them Stuart Scott. Tragedy became farce. Hold the booyah. O i i i i . i l IN THE SHADOW 0F ALI: WAR AND RESISTANCE TODAY 9 13? Are We Ready for Some Football? For two decades, I have celebrated the start of the National Football League’s season. Yet this season I could not swallow it whole. Even in normal times, red, white, and blue bunting and all manner of other patriotic paraphernalia attach themselves - to the NFL like barnacles on a boat. In normal times, a cleft pressing of the mute button can block out the bluster. But these are not normal times. In these times, war is peace, occu- pation is liberation, and democracy has been reduced to voting for one of two pro—war Yalies and blaming the necessarily hor- rific results on progressives. Football has not escaped un- scathed. The game’s beauty has been swamped in a cesspool of warmongering impossible to ignore. The stink was up my nose during the season’s opening game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11, the heavy helping of patriotic hoo-ha that came with the game forced fans to cower under bomber jets, swallow our concern for the health and sanity of cheerleaders clothed in little more than red, white, and blue pasties, and listen to Hank Williams J r. asking us if we were “ready for some football”—all before the opening kickoff. Williams Jr. is, perhaps, a fitting choice to stand amidst the planes, pompoms, and patriotism. In his hit 1988 song, a histor- ical epic called “If the South Would Have Won,”‘he yodeled: If the South would’a won, we would have it made I’d make my Supreme Court down in Texas And we wouldn’t have no killers getting off free If they were proven guilty, then they would swing quickly Instead of writin’ books and smilin’ on TV. We’d put Florida on the right track, ’cause we’d take Miami back [from who? Jews? Cubans? Haitians? Or will Hank go for the trifecta?]. ' 138 O WHAT'S MY NAME, FOOL? I said if the South would’a won, we would‘a had it made! Might even be better off! Disgusting. And yet—in a league that is 65 percent Black, but 80 percent of the coaches, 94 percent of the general man~ agers, and 100 percent of the owners are white—a racist paean to plantation life seems disturbingly appropriate. Given the flag waving, war posturing, and the swirling mists of sexism, I understand why there are courageous radicals who would sooner spoon Dick Cheney than watch the game, why there are heroic activists who would rather see Alan Keyes in Mel Gibson’s Othello than join a tailgate, why there are princi- pled vegans who would prefer to drink a mug of gravy and floss with gristle than do anything that involves John Madden. But channel changers also missed a display of everything great about the gridiron—wild running by Corey Dillon and Edge James, sharp passing by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and a spine—tingling finish, with a Colt fumble and missed field goal in the final three minutes. The game had more suspense than anything since the scene in Fahrenheit 9/11 when you won- der it George W. Bush is ever going to put down My Pet Goat. Yet, when it was all over, the taste of right—wing sludge lin- gered, overwhelming the bright finish of the game. I now be- lieve that it’s time to be heard and I know I am not alone. We radical helmet-huggers want our game a—la—carte: sixty minutes of football, hold the militaristic pep rally. I’m tired of pressing the mute button on myself. If network honchos will exploit football for political gain, we should return the favor. The next time we’re at the stadium or in the sports bar, and the game is being used to push an agenda completely at odds with the kind of world we want to live in, let’s open our mouths and speak out. This might not make you the most popular person in the room, but if you scratch the surface with most folks, it’s amaz- IN THE SHADOW OF ALI: WAR AND RESiSTANCE TODAY 9 139 ing what you can find. Fifty-five percent of this country thinks we are moving in the wrong direction and opposes the continu- ing occupation in Iraq. A lot of those folks spend their Sundays watching the patriotic hoedown thrown by the NFL. I say it’s time to crash the party. Are we ready for some football? Sure, but let’s turn the question around and ask: Is football ready for us? 0 Carlos Delgado Stands [In to War Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado is known throughout the baseball world as one of the most feared slug- gers in the game. In 2003, the thirty—two-year—old All Star hit forty~two homers and drove in 145 runs. He has averaged al- most forty home runs a year over the last six seasons. With his imposing physical frame, bald scalp, and gold earring, Delgado is one of the most recognizable figures in the game. And he has put the baseball world on notice that he will use his fame to fight the U.S.’s war on the world. In a very sympathetic story on the pages of the Toronto Star, Delgado went public with his decision not to stand on the dugout steps for the seventh—inning—stretch singing of “God Bless America" that was added to the MLB program after 9/11. “I never stay outside for ‘God Bless America,” Delgado said. “I actually don’t think people have noticed it. I don’t (stand) be- cause I don’t believe it’s right, I don’t believe in the war.” Delgado also made clear that he couldn’t abide the priori- ties of the US. military machine. “It’s a very terrible thing that happened on September 11,” he said. It’s (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. I ‘ just feel so- sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in I‘ll} O WHAT'S MY NAME, FOOL? the war. But I think it’s the stupidest war ever. Who are you fight- ing against? You’re just getting ambushed now. We have more people dead now, after the war, than during the war. You’ve been looking for weapons of mass destruction. Where are they at? You’ve been looking for over a year. Can't find them. I don’t sup- port that. I don’t support what they do. I think it’s just stupid. Historically, athletes have paid a steep price for standing up to the way sports is used to package patriotism and war. As we have seen, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to go to Vietnam in the 1960s. In 1991, Bulls guard Craig Hodges found himself blackballed from the NBA after protesting the Gulf War during a visit to George Bush’s White House with the champion Chicago Bulls. A similar fate befel...
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