Howard Cosell once said, "Rule Number One of the 'Jockocracy' is
that pro-athletes and politics should never mix." But in these times
of war and resistance, a new wave of sports stars are demanding
to be heard. In Major League Baseball, Blue Jays slugger Carlos
Delgado has come out against the occupation of Iraq. At the
Olympics, the Iraqi Soccer Team publicly refused to be a symbol
for a war they opposed. In the NBA, all-star guard Steve Nash and
forward Josh Howard have said that they were "for shooting
jumpers not people." Now we can add NBA center/power forward
Etan Thomas to the list of those athletic anti-war rebels who are
rewriting the rules of the "Jockocracy".
An outspoken opponent of racism and the death penalty, Thomas
is a poet who puts his ideas to verse at rallies and panel
discussions throughout the DC Metro area.
Now, in an 'Edge of Sports' exclusive, the Washington Wizards' fifth
year player turns his attention and anger toward George W. Bush's
war against Iraq. This story is breaking here only because,
according to Thomas, the Washington Times was preparing to
profile his views until the story was killed by "higher ups" at the
"I am totally against this war," Thomas says adamantly. "But at the
same time, I am completely for the troops. Republicans tried to
paint the picture that if you were against the war, you were
somehow unpatriotic, and that couldn't be further from the truth.
What's truly unpatriotic is misleading an entire nation into war
under false pretenses."
Thomas shakes his head at Bush and Vice President Dick
Cheney's criticism of John Kerry's call for a more "sensitive" war in
the Middle East. "[Bush and Cheney] missed the entire point. They
should have been more sensitive to the 1000+ American soldiers
that lost their lives because of the ignorance of the White House.
They should have been more sensitive to the fact that these were
human lives they were ruining. I wonder what they would say to the
mothers who will never see their sons again, or the children who
will never see their fathers again.. He has sent so many young
children, who only signed up for the Army as a way to go to college,
into a war that didn't need to happen. And people wonder why the
casualties are so high. 18 year-old babies are over there losing
their lives everyday, and he has the audacity to say that 'we are
turning the corner.'"
Bush's arrogance has been a factor compelling the burly
rebounder to speak out. He sees a quagmire developing because
of Bush's oft-criticized "go it alone" style. "He was so insistent
about going against the U.N. and now we are bearing the burden
alone. He said that he didn't need the help of any other country.
Now, we need help and no other country wants to help us because
of his unwillingness to allow the U.N. to do their job. The U.N. said
that they didn't have enough evidence to invade Iraq, but Bush
insisted that they had these weapons of mass destruction, and
come to find out, that was untrue. Now we are in way over our
heads and progress is moving at a snail's pace."
Thomas also expresses frustration at the media's role in not
questioning the drive to war. Fox News' role in particular leaves
him both astounded and annoyed.
"It amazes me that know-it-alls like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity
can actually defend him. O'Reilly said that he was simply given
bad info, and he thought he was doing the right thing. Well, it's his
job to know. That excuse -- 'I didn't know any better' -- might work
when you are seven years-old, but not when you are the President
of the United States."
As with the death penalty, Thomas is putting his feelings into
Below is an excerpt from Thomas' poem on the Iraq War:
Out of the ashes of Iraq come soldiers dressed in fatigues of fire Wearing helmets secured in smoke They've choked off the lies spewed out of the mouth of a burning
The true warrior's existing wake
Who's flames burned them at the stake
Cremated their bodies
And stuffed them in an urn wrapped in red, white, and blue....
Rummaging through a forest set ablaze by one lethal match
With witty catch phrases forever attached to the side of their
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Links to Al Qaeda
And weapons of mass destruction.....
They've been skillfully thrown into the lion's den
Out of the frying pan and into the furnace
Their courage exceeds any measuring stick
But they can hear the footsteps of death creeping around the
For they've been led into the eye of the storm
Transformed into peacekeepers
Lending a helping hand for the poorly planned post-war
Thomas knows he may feel some heat for speaking out against
Bush's war but feels an obligation to do so.
"I have never had a problem standing up for what I believe in. I
admire the athletes of the past, like Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali,
Jim Brown, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Kareem
[Abdul-Jabbar]. Athletes that used their position as a platform to
speak out on social issues and stand up for a cause. Basketball
is not my life. To quote Bill Russell, 'You're not going to reduce me
to an entertainer. I'm a man who stands up for what I believe in
and you're going to respect me for it.' A quote I live by is, 'I speak
my mind because biting my tongue would make my pride bleed.'"
When athletes like Etan Thomas step forward and make their
voices heard, they do more than rewrite the rules of Cosell's
"Jockocracy". They reclaim the humanity of all athletes normally
presented as having muscles and tattoos but not minds. They
also provide an outlet for the millions of people who oppose the
priorities of this government yet embattled and embittered, feel
they stand alone.
When 6' 10" Etan Thomas stands up, you feel like you can
straighten your back and walk tall by his side.
Dave Zirin's book 'What's My Name, Fool: sports and resistance in
the United States' (Haymarket Books) comes out in spring 2005.
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