Moving into bookstores across the country is a fresh historical account of American progressive resistance and political struggle. Focusing on the United States over the last century, the book connects past struggles with contemporary injustices, and calls on readers to challenge the militarism, homophobia, racism and sexism, the greed, myths, freeloading, cover-ups, censorships, and consumer and taxpayer gouging that continue to tarnish our country. And believe it or not, this is a book about sports.
In "What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States," author Dave Zirin chronicles the social struggles that have played out on the athletic fields through essays, profiles and interviews with athlete-activists. He depicts the role of professional and amateur sports in the larger issues of politics, commercialism, bias and class. Breaking through what Zirin dubs the "Athletic Industrial Complex," "What's My Name, Fool?" (the title is a quote from Muhammed Ali, who courageously used his keen social conscience to fight black oppression and resist war in the '60's) encourages fans both to savor sports, and to inspire activists and athletes to speak out and challenge the dominant power brokers of sports and society.
As an increasingly profitable form of mass entertainment (professional sports are now the tenth largest industry in the United States, generating $220 billion in revenue every year), sports are used by the political and financial elite as a way to package, promote and sell their values and ideas.
Zirin explains that some fans have thrown in the towel on sports, concluding that "sports are little more than a brutal reflection of the savage inequalities that stream through our world." Worse, many sports reporters and editors are shills for the teams and leagues they're supposed to cover, failing to question the abuses, starting with talented high school players, and telling us to "grow up" and "just deal with it" while, as Zirin writes, ". . . eating free press box sushi while the rest of us are paying $9.00 for a hotdog."
But Zirin has neither sacrificed his ideals to be a sports fan, nor quit cheering to clear his conscience. To the contrary, he is a passionate sports fan and activist who fights for the integrity of sports while enjoying the comradery of rooting for teams, delighting in the breathtaking artistry of athletes, and admiring the intricate strategy of coaches and players that make spectator sports so appealing.
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As Zirin explains: ". . . the very passion we invest in sports can transform it from a kind of mindless escape into a site of resistance. It can become an arena where the ideas of our society are not only presented but also challenged. Just as sports can reflect the dominant ideas of our society, they can also reflect struggle. The story of the women's movement is incomplete without mention of Billie Jean King's match against Bobby Riggs. The struggle for gay rights has to include a chapter on Martina Navratilova. When we think about the Black freedom struggle, we picture Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali in addition to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And, of course, when remembering the movement for Black Power, we can't help but visualize one of the most stirring sights of our sports century: Tommie Smith and John Carlos's black-gloved medal stand salute at the 1968 Olympics."
The detailed recounting of past events in "What's My Name, Fool?" is a living history serving as a backdrop for frustratingly comparable issues today, with an eye toward inducing future change on and off the playing field. Readers will not soon forget Zirin's wake-up call, and they will often refer to it when sports policies and behaviors upset them. We will look back on this book when fans, activists and athletes develop the determination to challenge the injustices of the sports industry and the avaricious world it embodies.
As David Meggysey, former NFL linebacker and author of "Out of Their League," concludes in the foreword to "What's My Name, Fool?": "How we do sport, how we play our games, is a window to see and a format through which to express that vision of a better world.
It takes someone like Dave Zirin to make those connections and critiques, and to make it clear that sport can be a powerful carrier of the best within us, which is respect for each other's humanity and life itself, human relationship and connection, and the joy of play with our fellow humans."
Dave Zirin's new book "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States is now in stores.. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing email@example.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org