Dave Zirin

Why the Movie ‘Concussion’ Spells Trouble for the NFL and Moral Angst for the Rest of Us

Why do I believe the film Concussion will deliver a teeth-rattling blow to the NFL? Why am I sure this Christmas-release Oscar hopeful will raise far-reaching questions about the price we collectively pay for loving football? Why can I guarantee it will it even further erode the already-subterranean reputation of league commissioner Roger Goodell? Because Concussion has something most “message films” do not possess: It’s expertly paced and one hell of a film. If you didn’t really give a damn about the tobacco industry but found yourself riveted by Michael Mann’s The Insider, then this is your film—whether you watch football or not. The pacing, the acting, the kinetic athletic sequences, the use of familiar names, stories, and uniforms, give Concussion an accessible verisimilitude that does not only educate. It shocks.

Keep reading... Show less

Why the Head of the NFL Is an Accomplice to the Ray Rice Abuse Scandal

The abuser and the savior: In instances of intimate-partner violence, these roles are often two sides of the same coin—both destructive to a survivor attempting to assert control and escape the cycle of violence. In the case of Ray Rice vs. Roger Goodell and the ruling by Judge Barbara Jones, which has voided the NFL commissioner’s ban of Rice for the entire 2014 season, you see the two sides of the coin on full display. And with this ruling, it has to be said: In the story of Ray Rice and Janay Rice, we have seen Roger Goodell play the role of both “abuser” and “savior,” to ruinous effects, without any consideration for the self-determination of Janay Rice.The role of Roger Goodell as abuser can now be seen with utter clarity. For those who have not been following the case, here is the narrative Goodell put forward that was just summarily shredded by Judge Jones. The commissioner says that he heard about Ray Rice punching Janay Rice and knocking her unconscious and called Ray Rice and Janay Rice into his office to hear what happened from both of their mouths. (This month-old revelation—that Goodell had a survivor tell her story to her abusive partner’s boss in front of her abuser—alone should have triggered his immediate dismissal.) The NFL commissioner then determined that “both were at fault” and suspended Rice for two games. Outrage ensued, so Goodell, in full damage-control mode, hurriedly announced a new sweeping set of guidelines. These new rules—not applicable to Rice, who had already been punished—would include a six-game suspension for domestic violence for a first offense and then a lifetime ban for a second infraction.Then the videotape of Ray Rice punching Janay Rice dropped, and the NFL’s world stopped turning. The Baltimore Ravens released Rice, and NFL media sycophants became born-again firebrands. As for Roger Goodell, he not only announced more sweeping changes but said that the videotape revealed that Ray Rice had lied to him about what had taken place in that elevator, and in light of this “new information,” Ray Rice was now suspended for the entire season. To believe this, one would have to believe that Roger Goodell, despite a paper trail to the contrary, had never before seen the videotape. You would have to believe that the bottom-feeders at TMZ have greater resources than the team of former FBI and Secret Service agents who work for NFL security. You would have to believe Roger Goodell over a slew of witnesses who say that Rice described in exacting fashion what had happened on that video. Judge Jones chose not to believe the commissioner. She has said instead that Goodell’s story is simply not credible, and the inference is that he suspended Ray Rice indefinitely out of public relations anxiety or, if one is being profoundly generous, out of a guilty conscience.Now Ray Rice is looking for a team to sign him and Roger Goodell is exposed as a liar. He has also exposed himself to the world as someone who has flipped from being a domestic violence enabler to a self-proclaimed savior. By having an NFL that now says it will end the careers of those suspected of domestic abuse, Goodell has chosen to wear the incredibly ruinous “savior” hat—a hat that flows from the same logic of toxic masculinity that led to years of cover-ups of abuse. That means he has created a new revictimizing system that takes the power away from survivors about how to seize control of their own lives and map out a plan to be safe and end cycles of abuse.Instead, the power rests with Goodell to end the careers, the economic opportunities and the public lives of those suspected of abuse. This will not only disincentivize some survivors from coming forward, it could also create dangerous situations for those figuring out safety plans and strategies to leave abusive partners. The survivor needs to figure out—with assistance if desired—how to best remain safe: either by staying in or ending these relationships. That is not the job of Roger Goodell or the NFL. And frankly, given the track record of a man who continued a practice of covering up instances of domestic violence until the videotape was released, why would anyone trust Roger Goodell to save anyone or anything other than his own career?Ray Rice released a statement through the NFLPA where he said, “I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions.” We should all be waiting for Roger Goodell to take full responsibility for his own actions, as both cover-up artist and wanna-be savior. The NFL a place where toxic masculinity not only festers but is valorized every single Sunday. The commissioner’s office should ideally be a place where that toxicity is countered, not where it originates.(This could not have been written without the assistance of former intimate-partner violence counselor and survivor’s advocate Anais Surkin.) 
Dave Zirin is sports correspondent for The Nation. He is the author, most recently, of Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down and Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.

NBA Hypocrites: Why Did So Many Put Up With Donald Sterling's Bigotry for So Long?

This article originally appeared in The Nation, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Keep reading... Show less

Men on the Edge of Panic: Boomer Esiason, Mike Francesa and Toxic Masculinity

This article originally appeared in The Nation, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Keep reading... Show less

How Russia Is Scapegoating Gays to Distract from Most Corrupt Olympics in History

The following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, subscribe to their newsletter. 

Keep reading... Show less

Should Football Fans Feel Guilty for Enjoying Bone-Crunching Tackles?

With each passing week, I hear from football fans saying that it's getting harder to like the game they love. They've spent years reveling in the intense competition and violent collisions so central to the sport, but this is the first time these NFL diehards feel conscious about what happens to players when they become unconscious.

Keep reading... Show less

Movement To Get All-Star Game Out Of Arizona Keeps Building

On Sunday in DC, I attended the seventeenth ballpark protest of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2011 baseball season. As in the other actions—in cities from Houston to San Francisco to Milwaukee—people chanted a loud and clear message to Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig: move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona and make the state pay a price for enacting legislation that sacrifices immigrant families at the altar of election-year politics. But this demonstration was also deeply different from the sixteen others. It was a day of rain, risk-takers, racists and rancor. And it couldn’t have been more terrific.

Keep reading... Show less

Will the China Olympics Be a PR Debacle?

"Go Red for China!" was the slogan unveiled on the Chinese mainland by Pepsi-Cola, whose ubiquitous blue can will, "for a limited time," be red. Pepsi is just one of many companies advertising at the Olympics, at a cost of up to $6 billion, in an attempt to tap a largely untouched market of more than 1 billion. "You've never seen the Olympics in a market that has such domestic commercial scale," Michael Wood, chief executive for greater China at advertising firm Leo Burnett, told the New York Times. "When the Olympics were in Los Angeles and Atlanta, the U.S. market was already fully developed."

This is the Olympics the West wanted: games where the grandest prize is not a gold medal but a glittering entree to China's seemingly endless army of potential consumers. This is the reason that George W. Bush will attend the opening ceremonies, the first U.S. President to do so on foreign soil, and that in March, mere days before the crackdown in Tibet, Condoleezza Rice, laughably, took China off the State Department's list of nations that abuse human rights.

But if the stakes are high for Western capitalism, for China they may well be higher. Beijing has spent as much as $40 billion to build train stations and Olympic facilities, uprooting more than 1.5 million residents, all in the hope that the games would mark, as the official Xinhua news agency put it, a "historical event in the great renaissance of the Chinese nation."

National renaissance, however, may be giving way to revolt, both internally and from the athletes themselves. The buzz in the lead-up to 8/8/08 is not merely in Beijing. It's in Hunan, Shanghai, Guizhou and earthquake-devastated Sichuan, which have all recently seen mass demonstrations against Communist Party rulers. Provincial authorities are now under extraordinary pressure to crack down on protests. Instructions from Beijing are to "go on a war footing" to head off further upheaval before the games.

The steady percolation of the conflict at home has been matched -- or even exceeded -- by international anger. Athletes, activists and globe-trotting protesters are poised to raise a panoply of issues, including China's crackdown on Tibet, its support for the Sudanese regime and environmental concerns. The Communist Party has been forced to respond to this pressure cooker by opening a steam valve, announcing on July 24 that public protests will be permitted during the games inside three designated city parks. But as the Times reported, "Demonstrators must first obtain permits from local police and also abide by Chinese laws that usually make it nearly impossible to legally picket over politically charged issues."

If Chinese leaders believe that will release enough steam for a smooth games, they could be in for a surprise. Olympic protest may extend beyond the parks. More than 200 athletes from "Team Darfur" may be wearing bracelets and speaking out against human rights abuses. As Jessica Mendoza of the U.S. softball team told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I don't think it's my place to tell China what to do. But I do think it's my place to tell people what is happening. I want people to know that nearly 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2004." Athletes are also angry that the air quality in what Beijing is calling the "green Olympics" could be hazardous to their health.

A public relations catastrophe could be in the making if dissenters manage to break through the media blockade that runs from Beijing's troubling record on press freedom to NBC's soft news coverage. It should not be China's to bear alone; it should be shared by the Western nations and corporations that got the games they wanted.

My First-Hand Experience With Government Spies


Finally, at long last, I have something in common with Muhammad Ali.

No, I'm not the heavyweight champion of the world, and haven't been named spokesperson for Raid bug spray. Like "the Greatest" - not to mention far too many others -- I have been a target of state police surveillance for activities -- in my case against the death penalty -- that were legal, non-violent, and, so we assumed, constitutionally protected. In classified reports compiled by the Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security, I am "Dave Z." This nickname was given by an undercover agent known to us as "Lucy." She sat in our meetings of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, smiling and engaged, taking copious notes about actions deemed threatening by the Governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich. Our seditious crimes, as Lucy reported, involved such acts as planning to set up a table at the local farmer's market and writing up a petition. Adding a dash of farce to this outrage, she was monitoring us in the liberal enclave of Takoma Park, Maryland, a place known more for vegans than violence, more for tie-dying than terrorism.



Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the ACLU, we now know that "Lucy" was only one part of a vast, insidious project. The Maryland State Police's Department of Homeland Security devoted near 300 hours and thousands of taxpayer dollars from 2005 and 2006 to harassing people whose only crime was dissenting on the question of the war in Iraq and Maryland's use of death row.

Brutal Chinese Crackdown on Tibet Carries Terrible Echo from the Past

The brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities against Tibetan independence protesters ahead of the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing August 8 carries with it a terrible echo from the past. Scores of protesters are reported dead in the capital city of Lhasa and more repression has been promised. Tibet's China-appointed Governor Champa Phuntsok said, "No country would allow those offenders or criminals to escape the arm of justice and China is no exception." A Tibetan exile group said Monday that Chinese troops were shooting down protesters "like dogs."

Even after decades of occupation, the ruthlessness of the crackdown has shocked much of the world. It happens the week after the U.S. State Department removed China from its list of the world's worst human rights offenders.

Yet the concern expressed by world leaders has seemed less for the people of Tibet than the fate of the Summer Games, with Olympic cash deemed more precious than Tibetan blood. The Olympics were supposed to be China's multibillion-dollar, super sweet sixteen. Britain's Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Mark Malloch-Brown told the BBC, "This is China's coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that."

Other countries hankering after a piece of China's thriving economy have rushed to put daylight between the crackdown in Tibet from the Olympics. The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that "attempts at politicizing the holding of the 2008 Olympic Games in China are unacceptable."

While the European Union, Russia, the United States and Australia have ruled out the idea of boycotting the games, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday that the EU should at least consider boycotting the opening ceremony if violence continues.

Whatever happens next, China's crackdown in Tibet is not happening in spite of the Beijing Olympics, but because of them. It is a bold play by China to set a tone for the remainder of the year. Since its occupation of the country in 1951, China has suppressed its Buddhist faith, despoiled the environment and made Tibetans a persecuted minority in their own country via the mass migration of millions of Han Chinese. As monks and young Tibetans took their grievances to the streets over the weekend, the government made clear it would brook no protest and tolerate no dissent.

But it's helpful to remember that in many countries, including our own, pre-Olympic repression is as much of a tradition as lighting the torch.

In 1984, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates oversaw the jailing of thousands of young black men in the infamous Olympic Gang Sweeps. The 1996 Atlanta games were supposed to demonstrate the gains of the New South, but the New South ended up looking much like the old one, as public housing was razed to make way for the construction of Olympic venues, homeless people were chased off the streets and perceived trouble-makers were arrested.

As Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project recently recalled in Vancouver, BC, another city poised to crack down on crime, drugs and homelessness in preparation for the Winter Olympics in 2010, Atlanta officials "had six ordinances that made all kinds of things illegal, including lying down. Lots of people were shipped out, and lots of people were put in jail. [The Olympic Planning Committee] actually built the city jail. Activists there called it the first Olympic project completed on time."

But the worst example of Olympic repression -- and the most similar to the current moment -- came in 1968 in Mexico City, where hundreds of Mexican students and workers occupying the National University were slaughtered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, ten days before the start of the games. Recently declassified documents paint a picture of a massacre as cold and methodical as President Luis Echeverría's instructions.

Echeverría's aim was the same as China's: a pre-emptive strike to make sure that using the Olympic games as a platform for protest would not be on the itinerary. The irony, of course, is that while Echeverría succeeded in crushing the protest movement outside the games, on the inside U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in an expression of Black Power, cementing the 1968 games as a place defined by discontent. It's a lesson the 2008 athletes might remember. Officials may try to smother dissent on the streets of Lhasa and elsewhere in China, but in the games themselves -- from the path of the Olympic torch up Mount Everest to the opulent venues constructed in Beijing -- the risk for protest, and the opportunity, is real.

Congressional Steroid Spectacle a Major League Waste of Taxpayer Money

Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, died this week at the age of 80. We remember Lantos for many things, but he's top of mind today as the man who gazed at the very first of these idiotic steroid hearings in 2005, and called it for what it was: "a theater of the absurd." Roger Clemens's face-off with Congress Wednesday officially moved the guardians of our democracy far beyond the absurd.

Before we discuss one word of the tax-funded idiocy on display Wednesday at Representative Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, let's concede that there are only about 1,500 ways we can think of off the top of our heads that the committee's time could be better spent. They could be asking why the Bush Administration is so keen on bugging our phones, why it grants no-bid contracts to Dick Cheney's pals or why they're underfunding the Veterans Administration. Hell, they could be holding hearings on how it is Bush got that weird black eye a few years back. Anything but this.

Virginia Republican Representative Tom Davis -- the guy with the pumpkin-colored hair -- defended the idea of steroid hearings last month, saying, "This is one of the few things in a partisan, polarized town that the Republicans and Democrats are on the same page. It isn't on the budget or Iraq. But you've got to start somewhere."

Yet the anabolic circus was an absolute parade of partisanship. The positions of lawmakers on the dais seemed as hardened as those testifying. Clemens, under oath, declared that he had never taken steroids or human growth hormones. His ex-trainer, Brian McNamee, a former cop, swears he did. So one person was lying, one was telling the truth, yet both presented to the camera fidgety faces of squirmy deceit. And we ask again, who cares? If steroid use is against the law, these people should be in court. Why are members of Congress focused on testimony as to whether abscesses on someone's buttocks could lead to a better earned-run average?

But the partisan lineup of majority Democrats going after Clemens and Republicans after McNamee made for bizarre political theater. While Democrats were calling Clemens a liar, Republicans like Chris Shays were shouting that McNamee was, of all things, trading in controlled substances. "You deal drugs!" the Congressman said. Yes, Chris. That's usually who testifies in drug cases.

Clemens is a Republican with long-standing ties to the Bush family. During his testimony, Rocket Roger invoked some strange words of encouragement -- "Stay high and keep my head up" -- that the syntactically challenged George Herbert Walker Bush once gave him. Not the best choice of words at a hearing about drugs.

And the Bush patronage is likely to continue, even if Clemens eventually is charged with perjury as a result of his testimony. McNamee's lawyer Richard Emery today predicted a pardon from Bush the Younger: "It would be the easiest thing in the world for George W. Bush, given the corrupt proclivities of his administration to say Roger Clemens is an American hero, Roger Clemens helped children," Emery told the Associated Press. "It's my belief they have some reason to believe they can get a pardon."

Clemens is also reportedly close to his former boss, Houston Astros owner Drayton McClane, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to various Republican candidates, and to Rangers owner Tom Hicks, the former chair of the Giuliani for President campaign.

Another priceless moment was when Clemens was taken to task on his assertion that he hadn't used steroids, only B-12. Representative Bruce Braley asked him if he had an approved medical reason for taking B-12, if he had been diagnosed with anemia, senile dementia or Alzheimer's, or whether he was a vegetarian or a vegan. The word "vegan" threw Clemens for a big loop. "I don't know what that is," Clemens replied. "I'm sorry."

Having already blamed his wife for getting injected with B-12 to buff up for her appearance in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Clemens tossed responsibility on dear old mom. "My mother in 1988 suggested I take B-12," Clemens said. "I always assumed it was a good thing, not a bad thing."

Sounds like what a lot of people thought when the Democrats took over Congress.

Yankee Pitcher Roger Clemens as Guilty as Bonds

Ever had someone spit in your face and tell you it's raining? That's how it felt watching former Sen. George Mitchell's press conference on steroid use in major league baseball. The former Senate majority leader unleashed his "investigative findings" speaking with the somber, deliberate tones of an exhausted undertaker. Mitchell strained to convey scorn upon both baseball owners and the union for being "slow to act." Yet beneath the surface, his report is ugly, sanctimonious fraud meant to absolve those at the top and pin blame on a motley crew of retired players, trainers and clubhouse attendants. This is truly the old saw of the magical fishing net that captures minnows but lets the whales swim free.

Sanctioned by Commissioner Bud Selig's office, the Mitchell Report was seen by some as an unprecedented act in sports: a $20 million internal investigation aimed at rooting out "performance enhancing drugs and human growth hormones" in the game.

The Mitchell Report certainly contains a great deal of sexy sizzle. First and foremost, it names names: including MVPs Mo Vaughn, Miguel Tejada and Barry Bonds, as well as former all-stars like Eric Gagne and Lenny Dykstra. It also names a man being called the Moby Dick to Mitchell's Ahab: seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. For some time, people in the game have whispered about Clemens being on the juice. And for some time, the 45-year-old Clemens denied all charges as a compliant media lapped it up. As Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel wrote, "Year after year he peddled the same garbage. Roger Clemens was so dominant for so long because he simply outworked everyone. It played to the nation's Puritan roots, made Clemens out to be this everyman maximizing his skills through singular focus, dedication and a commitment to drinking carrot juice, or something. It's all gone now, the legend of Rocket Roger dead on arrival of the Mitchell Report; one of the greatest pitchers of all time, his seven Cy Youngs and 354 career victories lost to history under a pile of lies and syringes."

The Mitchell Report confirms not only suspicions about Clemens, but also the existence of an outrageous media bias and double standard. While seven time MVP Barry Bonds was raked over the conjecture coals for years, Clemens got a pass. Two players, both dominant into their 40s, one black and one white, with two entirely different ways of being treated. It doesn't take Al Sharpton to do the cultural calculus.

And yet, flaying Clemens shouldn't excuse the gross whitewash at work.

There are three fundamental problems with the Mitchell Report:

1. Mitchell himself. George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader best known before today for helping negotiate the peace deal in Northern Ireland, has had a massive conflict of interest when it comes to baseball. The man is on the boards of both the Boston Red Sox and also the Walt Disney Co. The Disney Co. owns ESPN, baseball's No. 1 broadcast partner. Joe Morgan has spoken out about how in the 1990s, ESPN execs encouraged him not to state his suspicions about steroid use on the air. As Morgan said, "I would be broadcasting a game, and there would be players hitting balls in a way that they had no business hitting them."

2. No testimony from players. The only active player to speak to Mitchell was New York Yankee Jason Giambi, and he spoke under threat of suspension. Mitchell says he invited the accused to come clear their names, but no one took him up on this generous offer. Yet if you are a MLB player, why would you come forward to legitimize a process in which you wouldn't even have the opportunity to face your accuser? This is a process where Mitchell was judge, jury and executioner: Gitmo meets Skoal. Reputations have been ruined -- and the essential "truth" of the report is still based on hearsay.

3. Same old narrative. Mitchell paid lip service in his press conference to "slow acting" owners -- calling it "a collective failure." At one point, Mitchell said -- without explanation -- that baseball execs were slow due to "economic motives." Yet the overarching narrative is that the owners and general managers were merely ignorant or obtuse, with a complete absence of malice. The real fault lied with players and independent-acting clubhouse attendants, like the soon to be famous Mets worker Kirk Radomski, who says he secured the juice for players and named names. Radomski was described by former Mets GM Steve Phillips as "the guy who would pick up the towels or pick up a player's girlfriend from the airport." Yes, Kirk Radomski, a regular Pablo Escobar.

Mitchell went on to say that players have actively and on their own made great efforts to foil the owners' poorly organized efforts to clean up the game. This is the same kind of political cover -- as Naomi Klein has written so brilliantly -- that the mainstream press gives the Bush administration on Iraq. Errors made are ones of people with good intentions who made terrible choices. Those who suffered from these choices are blamed for their barbarism and self-interest. When Baghdad was looted and destroyed, Iraqis were pilloried for their greed. Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney were blamed for being "overly optimistic" and "trusting them too much."

This is poppycock, whether we're talking about the Bush cabal, or major league owners. Performance-enhancing drugs were funneled into the game along with smaller stadiums, harder bats and incredible shrinking strike zones to boost power numbers and ratings after the 1994 strike. (Read Howard Bryant's excellent Juicing the Game for the full breakdown.)

The idea that owners and GMs facilitated these measures while leaving the very conditioning of players to themselves simply strains belief: this is George H.W. Bush saying he was "out of the loop" on Iran-Contra. This is Dubya saying, "I never read" the National Intelligence Estimate before claiming World War III is on the horizon. In other words, this is the way people in power stay in power during times of crisis: take some heat, blame the underlings, cry some tears and call it a day.

A Racist Slur at the World Cup?

Imagine Michael Jordan in his last game, with the score tied in overtime, knocking out his defender with a punch to the throat. Imagine Derek Jeter in game seven of the World Series, at bat with the bases loaded, thrashing the opposing team's catcher over the head with his bat. Our collective shock would only be exceeded by disappointment. No one, fan or foe, would want to a see a great player end their career in an act that speaks to the worst impulses of sports: when hard competition spills over into violence.

Now imagine if Jordan and Jeter claimed they were provoked with a racial slur. Does their violence become understandable? Even excusable? Herein lies the case of French National team captain, the great Zinedine Zidane. Zidane, competing in his last professional match, was kicked out of the World Cup final in overtime for flattening Italian player Marco Materazzi with the head-butt heard around the world. Zidane, or Zissou as he is known, became the first captain ever ejected from a World Cup championship match.

The announcers denounced Zissou for committing a "classless act and the French team withered, eventually losing to a demonstrably inferior Italian squad in overtime. The following morning the international tabloids with their typical grace, gave Zissou a new nickname: "butt-head." Less examined was the fact that Zissou was literally carrying a lightly regarded French team to the finals. Less examined was the fact that Zissou had been grabbed, kicked, and fouled all game by the vaunted Italian defense. Less examined was the fact that Zissou had almost left minutes earlier due to injury, his arm wilting off his shoulder like a wet leaf of spinach. This unholy amount of pressure is the primary reason the 34-year-old veteran snapped and planted Materazzi into the pitch.

Now the great mystery is what set Zissou off. What could Materazzi have possibly said to send him over the edge? Answers are beginning to filter out. According to a FIFA employee transcribing what was said during the match, Materazzi's called Zissou a "big Algerian shit." A Brazilian television program that claims to have used a lip-reader said Materazzi called Zissou's sister "a whore." The highly respected French anti-racist coalition SOS Racisme issued a press release stating, "According to several very well informed sources from the world of football, it would seem [Materazzi] called Zissou a 'dirty terrorist'."

Materazzi, in an answer that can only be called Clintonian, said, "It is absolutely not true. I didn't call him a terrorist." Of course he didn‚t comment on what he did call him. Zissou himself has only said cryptically that he would reveal what Materazzi said "in the coming days."

Right now, we do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt what was said but all the circumstantial evidence points at least toward a variant of SOS Racisme's claim. Zissou is the son of Algerian immigrants who has sparred verbally with Europe's far-right political machine for more than a decade. He is an outspoken anti-racist on a team that has defined itself by its multiculturalism and stubborn insistence to stand up against bigotry both inside and outside the sport. Materazzi on the other hand, will be playing this year for the Italian team Lazio, where his father was the former coach. Lazio's fan club, The Ultras, are notorious for their Fascist-friendly politics. Lazio's hardcore Ultras, known as the "Irriducibili," have members in Italy's extra-parliamentary far right and try to use the club to recruit. The group has frequently uses racist and anti-Semitic banners, one time hanging a 50-foot banner that said their opponents were a "team of niggers."

It's wrong to taint Materazzi for the actions of Lazio's fans, but there is more. Earlier this season in a match that pitted Messina against Inter in Sicily, Messina's star African player Marc Zoro famously picked up the ball and walked off the pitch in protest of the monkey chants rained upon him by Inter supporters. In a stirring act of solidarity, many of the Inter players immediately showed support for Zoro's actions. But one opponent yelled, "Stop that, Zoro, you're just trying to make a name for yourself." That opponent's name was Marco Materazzi.

At the start of this tournament I wrote a soccer column with my colleague John Cox, called "Racism Stalks the Cup." We expressed our concern that the monkey chants, banana peels, and peanuts raining down on African players this year would continue on the sport's grandest stage. This largely did not occur. But then in the final act, at the moment of most exquisite tension, it seems racism may have actually emerged from the shadows. I, for one, am damn glad that when it did, it ran smack into Zissou's beautiful head.

We don't know with iron certainty what Materazzi said, but if it turns out to be more of the anti-Black, anti-Muslim, garbage that has infected soccer like a virus, the Italian team should forfeit the cup. They should voluntarily give the greatest trophy of them all back to FIFA as a statement that some things in this world are more important than sports. Racism will be the death of soccer if things don't change. Italy can set the sport back on course, with one simple, stunning gesture. Give the damn thing back.

Christians-Only Baseball?

In Colorado, there stands a holy shrine called Coors Field. On this site, named for the holiest of beers, a team plays that has been chosen by Jesus Christ himself to play .500 baseball in the National League West. And if you don't believe me, just ask the manager, the general manager and the team's owner.

In a remarkable article from USA Today last week, the Colorado Rockies went public with the news that the organization has been explicitly looking for players with "character." And according to the Tribe of Coors, "character" means accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs." When people are nervous that they will offend you with their beliefs, it's usually because their beliefs are offensive.

As Rockies chairman and CEO Charlie Monfort said, "We had to go to hell and back to know where the Holy Grail is. We went through a tough time and took a lot of arrows."

Club president Keli McGregor chimed in, "Who knows where we go from here? The ability to handle success will be a big part of the story, too. [Note to McGregor: You're in fourth place.] There will be distractions. There will be things that can change people. But we truly do have something going on here. And [God's] using us in a powerful way."

Well, someone is using somebody, but it ain't God. San Francisco Giants first baseman-outfielder Mark Sweeney, who spent 2003 and 2004 with the Rockies, said, "You wonder if some people are going along with it just to keep their jobs. Look, I pray every day. I have faith. It's always been part of my life. But I don't want something forced on me. Do they really have to check to see whether I have a Playboy in my locker?"

Then there is manager Clint Hurdle and GM O'Dowd. Hurdle, who has guided the team to a Philistine 302-376 record since 2002, as well as fourth or fifth place finishes every year, was rewarded with a 2007 contract extension in the off-season. Hurdle also claims he became a Christian three years ago and says, "We're not going to hide it. We're not going to deny it. This is who we are."

O'Dowd, who also received a contract extension, believes that their 27-26 2006 record has resulted from the active intervention of the Almighty. "You look at things that have happened to us this year. You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this." Or maybe the management that prays together gets paid together.

O'Dowd and company bend over backward in the article to say they are "tolerant" of other views on the club, but that's contradicted by statements like this from CEO Monfort: "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those." Assumedly, Shawn Green (Jew), Ichiro Suzuki (Shinto) or any of the godless players from Cuba don't have the "character" Monfort is looking for.

Also, there are only two African-American players on the Rockies active roster. Is this because Monfort doesn't think black players have character? Does the organization endorse the statement of its stadium's namesake, William Coors, who told a group of black businessmen in 1984 that Africans "lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it's taking them down the tubes"? These are admittedly difficult questions. But these are the questions that need to be posed when the wafting odor of discrimination clouds the air.

Then there are the fans. I spoke with journalist Tom Krattenmaker, who has studied the connection between religion and sports. Krattenmaker said, "I have concerns about what this Christianization of the Rockies means for the community that supports the team in and around Denver--a community in which evangelical Christians are probably a minority, albeit a large and influential one. Taxpayers and ticket-buyers in a religiously diverse community have a right not to see their team--a quasi-public resource--used for the purpose of advancing a specific form of religion. Have the Colorado Rockies become a faith-based organization? This can be particularly problematic when the religion in question is one that makes exclusive claims and sometimes denigrates the validity of other belief systems."

You might think MLB Commissioner Bud Selig would have something stirring to say about this issue. But Selig, who hasn't actually registered a pulse since 1994, only said meekly, "They have to do what they feel is right."

It's not surprising that Selig would play it soft. First and foremost, Bud's First Commandment is "Thou Shalt Not Criticize the Owners. Second, Selig and Major League Baseball this year are experimenting for the first time with Faith Days at the Park. As if last season's Military Appreciation Nights weren't enough, the New York Times reported that this summer "religious promotions will hit Major League Baseball. The Atlanta Braves are planning three Faith Days this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks one. The Florida Marlins have tentatively scheduled a Faith Night for September." These religious promotions are attractive to owners because they leverage a market of evangelical Christians who are accustomed to mass worship in stadiums at events staged by sports-driven proselytizers like Promise Keepers and Athletes in Action.

As part of the MLB promotion, the Times reports, "local churches will get discounted tickets to family-friendly evenings of music and sports with a Christian theme. And in return, they mobilize their vast infrastructure of e-mail and phone lists, youth programs and chaperones, and of course their bus fleets, to help fill the stands."

At one of the Faith Days in Atlanta, the team will sell special vouchers. After the game, the stands will be cleared and then only those with the specially purchased vouchers will be re-admitted. Those lucky chosen "will be treated to an hour and a half of Christian music and a testimonial from the ace pitcher John Smoltz." Smoltz is the player who in 2004 opined on gay marriage to the Associated Press, saying, "What's next? Marrying an animal?" Good times for the whole family.

The Rockies right now are a noxious reflection of a time in US history when generals speak of crusades and the President recounts his personal conversations with Yahweh. ("You're doing a heckuva job, Goddy!")

If Monfort, O'Dowd and Hurdle want to pray on their own time, more power to them. But the ballpark isn't a church. Smoltz isn't a preacher. And fans aren't a flock. Instead of using their position of commercial power to field a God Squad, the Rockies might want to think about getting some decent players. There was once this guy named Babe Ruth. Not too much for the religion, and his character was less than sterling. But I hear he could play some decent ball.

The Olympics We Missed

The Winter Olympics have been to NBC what icebergs were to the Titanic. With the exception of the prime-time figure skating competition Tuesday, ratings have been subterranean, as the Torino Games have been routinely trounced by everything from American Idol to the Home Shopping Network. Thus far the network's $613 million investment looks like it would have been better spent on Betamax stock.

A question worth asking is why? The answers speak to everything that's wrong with the arrogance of television networks and the hypocrisy and jingoism at the heart of the games. Let's go through it point by point.

Moldy Nationalism: It's amazing. America has never been a more dynamic, multicultural society and the world has never been more of a global village, but NBC still treats the games as if it were 1980 and the United States were taking on the Eastern Bloc. As Florida writer Pierre Tristam wrote in his blog:

Keep reading... Show less

Super Bowl City on the Brink

"A celebration of concentrated wealth." That's what Washington Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser called the National Football League's two-week long pre-Super Bowl party binge. Every Super Bowl Sunday, corporate executives and politicians exchange besotted, sodden backslaps, amidst an atmosphere that would shame Jack Abramoff. Only this year the bacchanalia -- complete with ice sculptures peeing Grey Goose vodka and two tons of frozen lobster flown directly to the stadium -- is happening in the United States' most impoverished, ravaged city: Detroit.

Detroit's power elites in government and the auto industry are rolling out the red carpet while many of its people shiver in fraying rags. This contrast between the party atmosphere and abject urban suffering has been so stark, so shocking and so utterly revealing that news coverage on the city's plight has appeared in the sports pages of the New York Times and Detroit Free Press, among others.

Only a Bush speechwriter couldn't notice the gritty backdrop while limos clog the streets and escort services are flying in female reinforcements like so much shellfish. Detroit -- and there is no soft way to put this -- is a city on the edge of the abyss. Its 2005 unemployment rate was 14.1 percent, more than two and a half times the national level. Its population has plummeted since the 1950s from over two million to fewer than 900,000, and more than one-third of its residents live under the poverty line, the highest rate in the nation. In addition, the city has in the past year axed hundreds of municipal employees, cut bus and garbage services, and boarded up nine recreation centers.

As the Associated Press wrote, "Much of the rest of Detroit is a landscape dotted with burned-out buildings, where liquor stores abound but supermarkets are hard to come by, and where drugs, violence and unemployment are everyday realities."

Ryan Anderson of Detroit, wrote me a chilling email saying, "The mood is one of Orwellian-flavored siege: dire warnings of a 30-day police speeding ticket bonanza, designed to raise $1 million for the construction of a damn bridge welcoming out-of-towners to the Motor City; the mayor, the governor, and every other notable on the radio urging us all to 'show 'em what we got' [read: Don't further sully our already bad reputation]; and the homeless being taken to a three-day 'Superbowl Party,' where they'll get the actual food and shelter they need until the big game's over, after which they'll be kicked back out on the streets. Welcome to the Poorest City in America, sponsored and enabled by lily-white Oakland County."

Anita Cerf, a teacher in Detroit also wrote to me, "I am appalled by the living conditions of its residents as contrasted with the hype for the Super Bowl and the fancying up of downtown for all the rich out-of-town guests. I live on the East Side, which probably has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and I teach high school dropouts on the Southwest Side. My students have horrific problems, many of which stem from these economic and social conditions. It's disgusting."

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press described the shelter, called the Detroit Rescue Mission, throwing the "three day party" to cleanse homeless people from the city's landscape. As Albom wrote, "Lines formed before sunset, dozens of men in dirty sweatshirts, old coats, worn-out shoes. They had to line up in an alley, because, [the shelter's director says], the city doesn't want lines of homeless folks visible from the street. Even at a shelter, they have to go in the back door."

But these days Detroit is dealing with more than normal tough times. While the Super Bowl is played at Ford Field, the Ford family announced last week that it would eliminate up to 30,000 jobs and close 14 plants in the next six years. The cuts mean it's the unemployment line, and maybe Albom's shelter, for about a third of the 87,000 Ford workers who are members of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

For a city that built a stable "middle class" out of union struggle and the auto plants, this is injury added to insult. But have no fear. NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, will be flying sorties over Ford Field to protect everyone from terrorist missile attacks. There is no NORAD however on the streets of Detroit to protect people from Operation Enduring Class War otherwise known as the Super Bowl.

(If instead of betting on the big game, you want to give to the Detroit Rescue Mission, call 313-993-4700 or send a check to Detroit Rescue Mission, 150 Stimson, Detroit, MI 48201.)

Racism and Coaching in the NFL

Anyone searching for job security shouldn't look for a career in NFL coaching. A full one-quarter of coaches have been canned, including Oakland's Norv Turner, New Orleans’ Jim Haslett, and a myriad of Mikes: Mike Sherman of Green Bay, Mike Tice of Minnesota, and Mike Martz of St. Louis. Mike Mularkey in Buffalo looks safe as Mike Nolan in San Francisco, but both had lousy seasons, so give it a year for the next round of disposable Mikes. The coaching fallout hardly surprises. This year the league has suffered through what scribe Bill Simmons has called "perpetual putridity," making the compelling case that 13 NFL teams now "truly suck."

But perpetual putridity can have its upside. It creates an opportunity for NFL owners to make a serious dent in the apartheid feng shui that defines the coaching quarters in the NFL. The stats are staggering. In the 16 years since Art Shell became the NFL's first African-American head coach, progress has come at a glacial pace. The NFL coaching fraternity makes the U.S. Congress look like Soul Train. 65 percent of the league is African-American yet only six coaches are black. This should neither shock nor stun. A typical meeting of NFL owners resembles Thanksgiving at Hootie Johnson's house. They hire the familiar, the comfortable, the white; even if that means hiring a white coach who has been around the bend so many times that they wear failure like a second skin.

Anthony Prior, a former NFL cornerback whose new book The Slave Side of Sunday, calls out the institutionalized racism in pro football, says the problem is more than skin deep. Prior told me that the culture of white supremacy is so intense, even African-American players can be heard criticizing black coaches. African-Americans in positions of leadership aren't taken seriously, while "I heard white coaches called 'boss' like we're on a plantation."

The irony of all this is that independent studies show African-American head coaches have far outperformed their white counterparts. This is all the more remarkable considering they are almost always set up for failure on the bottom feeding teams of the league where the culture of losing runs so thick fans wear paper and plastic bags on their heads. Coaches are responsible not just for mastering the Xs and Os but also convincing a community that their team won't be a source of shame. That's what Marvin Lewis has done in Cincinnati, where a squad recently known as "the Bungles" just won their division, or what Tony Dungy did in Tampa Bay, when in 1996 he turned the Buccaneers from a punch line into a contender. When Tampa won the Super Bowl in 2003, during John Gruden's first year as head coach, players like Warren Sapp and John Lynch gave props to Dungy in the post-game celebrations.

This year, expect the top three vote getters for NFL Coach of the Year to be head coaches of African descent. There is Dungy, whose Colts flirted with an unbeaten season, the Bengals' Marvin Lewis and also Lovie Smith, whose Chicago Bears were predicted by Sports Illustrated to come 32nd out of 32 teams but instead won their division.

We should also expect owners to take the "whites only" sign off the door for present vacancies. Now is the opportunity for real progress. Unfortunately, we get former wide receiver and current pundit Cris Collinsworth writing, "A great story is unfolding in the National Football League, and nobody is talking about it. There are currently a record-number six African-American head coaches in the NFL, and three of them are leading candidates to be the coach of the year. I find it so interesting that so little has been said or written about the success of these three coaches. But maybe that is the greatest sign of progress."

As Michael Wilbon likes to say, "Don't spit in my face and tell me it's raining." Progress will be when 65 percent of coaches are African-American, not 12 percent. The fact this shameful disparity is not discussed openly is part of the problem, not a sign that we are in a "post-racist" moment. Right now, as the coaching vacancies pile up, it is precisely the time to talk about it.

In fact, the biggest reason there has been even a modicum of progress in recent years is because the late Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri threatened a mass anti-discrimination suit in 2002, when the number of black head coaches stood at two. To squelch Cochran and company, the NFL put in place rules that require teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every vacancy. Collinsworth writes that because of Dungy, Lewis, and Smith's success, "those requirements might no longer be necessary." But Collinsworth gets it all wrong. The fact is that we need someone to pick up the torch from the late Mr. Cochran and shine light on the fact that NFL's owners have a historic choice in front of them: They can rehire the Mike merry-go-round, or give people like Ted Cottrell, Norm Chow and Jimmy Raye a shot. This decision is about justice, fairness and basic hiring morality. It's also about putting the best possible product on the field and delivering the NFL from "perpetual putridity."

The Bray of Pigs

This March's "World Series of Baseball" was supposed to celebrate the explosion of diversity that has forever altered the Major Leagues. Teams from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Puerto Rico, and the little seen but highly regarded Cuban national team were going to play the United States in an unprecedented contest to redefine the slogan "America's Pastime."

But then the Bush administration, yearning for more reasons to be internationally despised, decided to destroy it. In a beautiful act of small government at work, the White House Gang, through the Treasury Department, has denied the Cuban team entry into the United States, effectively gutting the harmless exhibition.

As one Cuban citizen told The New York Times, "Enough already! It's unbelievable. This is about sports, not politics. In Cuba, baseball is our culture. Everyone was so anxious to see these games."

But the White House disagrees. "I think our policy regarding Cuba is pretty well known," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We want people in Cuba to participate in freedom." That is, the freedom to not be a constant source of irritation and embarrassment. The freedom not to criticize neoliberalism. The freedom not to have higher literacy rates and better health care than the United States. Of course, the lack of certain political freedoms in Cuba is very real. But to hear the Bush gang lecture any nation about freedom -- given the fact that they are currently engineering two occupations and defending domestic spying -- is like hearing Hugh Hefner pontificate about abstinence.

In reality, this is consistent with a U.S. policy toward Cuba that began under Bill Clinton with the passage of the Helms-Burton Act. The U.S. wants Cuba to be a pariah nation, its life choked out by an embargo.

The politicians on the "exploding cigars" fringe of government are lauding the Bush decision. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican with dreams of Havana Casinos, chortled with glee. "There are plenty of free Cuban players and Cuban-Americans here in the Majors who would be proud to represent Cuba, and they should be able to and not a totalitarian regime that would share in any proceeds from this tournament."

Perhaps Diaz-Balart needs to dust off his copy of the Baseball Almanac. His team of actively playing Major League Cuban émigrés would consist of just three pitchers, two of them brothers.

Then Diaz-Balart, flexing his chutzpah reflex, compared Bush's "brave" baseball embargo to the 1970s and '80s international sports ban on teams from South Africa. Of course it was a global movement against the racist apartheid system that launched the South African ban, not the U.S. government. Moreover, this act of solidarity was virulently opposed by the Reagan administration and United States Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage.

The anti-Cuban baseball brigade could also affect future U.S. efforts to secure the Olympics. "[The U.S.] will have big problems down the road," said the delightfully named Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee member from Canada. If not reversed, he said "it would completely scupper any bid" by the United States for the Summer or Winter Games.

One of the strongest voices against the ban is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Angelos brought the Cuban team over to the U.S. to play the O's in 1999 because he actually opposes the U.S. embargo. He is somewhat of an anomaly among owners, a lawyer who made his fortune suing asbestos manufacturers and cigarette companies, and defending unions. That doesn't make him a good baseball executive, a fact to which any Orioles fan will attest, but it does lead to some succulent quotes not typical of the owning class. "I think what's worse is that, once again, the U.S., this huge colossus, the strongest country in the world, is picking on this tiny, little country of 11 million," Angelos said.

"And, this time, for what? For their participation in an international baseball event? That seems to me that it makes us look like the big, bad bully that our non-admirers say we look like."

In a later interview Angelos said, "It's not financial. It's a continuation of a vendetta against one who rightly or wrongly defied our administration over the years. As far as the sport is concerned and the hierarchy of Major League Baseball, it's hard for them to act in defiance of a directive out of DC."

Angelos is absolutely right. This is the politics of the vendetta. Major League Baseball and the players union has expressed their intention to fight the ban, but given the thrashing they have taken in Congress over steroids, don't expect anything too robust.

Ironically, this is being celebrated on talk radio, by the same forces that tell players like the New York Mets' Carlos Delgado to "just shut up" anytime they try to speak out on off-the-field issues. When athletes express their opinions about racism, poverty or war, they are told that "politics" has no place in sports. I suppose it all depends what "politics" are expressed -- and for whose benefit.

Why Arnold Killed Tookie

[Editor's Note: WireTap Magazine sent a reporter to cover the protests at San Quentin Prison last night and this morning. Please read Tookie's Final Hour for Jennifer Liss' report and photos from the prison.]

In the end, we can only assume the decision wasn't so "agonizing" after all. Last night Stan Tookie Williams was legally lynched by the state of California, at the behest of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who denied Williams' appeal for clemency. The Governor deemed that a man who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times and brokered gang truces from Newark to South Central was not worthy to walk and breathe among us.

Stan's case for clemency was so compelling it was articulated by people from Desmond Tutu to Snoop Dogg, and yet, watching Schwarzenegger in action has been to observe the nexus of cold-hearted political calculation and cowardice.

Williams' Attorney John Harris challenged the governor to meet with Tookie, saying to the San Francisco Chronicle, "It's impossible to me to believe that if you had met Stanley Williams and spent time with him, that you would not believe in his personal redemption." But that would require a courage the Governor has never demonstrated.

Unlike the movie tough guy always ready to look his victims in the eye -- a quip at the ready -- before shooting, stabbing, or beheading them, Arnold made his decision at safe remove, hanging out this weekend at his son's soccer game, his face a waxy mask of carefree detachment, while Tookie's supporters organized, marched, chanted and prayed themselves hoarse.

When it finally came time for Arnold to announce his personal judgment that Stan Williams should die, tragedy became farce. The Governor's office released an ugly scandalous diatribe that qualifies as nothing less than hate-speech.

As he -- or his script doctor -- wrote:
"The dedication of Williams' book Life in Prison casts significant doubt on his personal redemption. This book was published in 1998, several years after Williams' redemptive experience. Specifically the book is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, George Jackson, Mumia Abu Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths, who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars. The mix of individuals on this list is curious. Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders including the killing of law enforcement. But the inclusion of George Jackson on this list defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems."
For Tookie, all of these folks, from Mandela, to Malcolm, to Assata, are one and the same: people of color who strove for liberation in the darkest of circumstances. For Schwarzenegger, the whole lot is the same as well: people who are his political enemies because they refused to be broken. Notice the singling out of George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother, a book for which there is no evidence Schwarzenegger has so much as skimmed. Jackson was someone who despite being framed for his political activism never stopped organizing. That is the person Schwarzenegger wants to kill by executing Tookie.

Later, Arnold passes judgment on Williams' very redemption, writing, "Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise? . . . Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption." In other words, because Williams has consistently defended his own innocence, he should die. But as Tookie once said, "Many people expect me to apologize for crimes I didn't commit--just to save my life. Of course I want to live, but not by having to lie."

While not surprising Arnold did not have the courage to face Tookie and spew this nonsense to his face, it certainly would have been incredible theatre. In fact, it would have been something of a reunion. In the late 1970s, Arnold and Tookie, about fifty life times ago, admired each other's biceps on Muscle Beach in Venice, California. "Your arms are like thighs!" Arnold grinned.

Amazing the difference thirty years makes.

In that time, Arnold rode his muscles and Teutonic good looks from Hollywood stardom to the Governor's mansion. Yes, he had a spotty past including many allegations of sexual assault and drug abuse. But he passed that off as youthful indiscretion, claimed that he had changed, and a pliant media were happy to believe that Arnold was worthy of forgiveness and redemption.

Tookie, like Arnold, also fashioned an unlikely political career. But his began not with Hollywood riches but as the target of the tough-on-crime laws of the Clinton-Bush years which saw the nation's prison population balloon from more than one to two million. He was convicted of murder in a manner that would make Strom Thurmond proud, called a "Bengal tiger" by a prosecutor who engineered an all-white jury to make sure the "Crip founder" found San Quentin. While Arnold cozied up to the Bush and Kennedy clans, Tookie read dictionaries in solitary, wrote letters to gang kids in LA, and became that most dangerous of political beings: a Black leader in racist America.

In one of his final interviews he said, "So, as long as I have breath, I will continue to do what I can to proliferate a positive message throughout this country and abroad to youths everywhere, of all colors or gender and geographical area, and I will continue to do what I can to help. I want to be a part of the, you know, the solution."

Now another tragedy, along with the murders of Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, and Yu-Chin Yang Lin, has taken place because Stan Tookie has been put to death. But the tragedy is not theirs to bear alone.

Tonight children are being born to mothers without health insurance, in neighborhoods politicians don't enter without SWAT teams, news cameras, and latex gloves. The political class has already branded these kids as human waste. But many of them could have found another path, because Stanley Tookie Williams would have been there to intervene in their lives and show another way.

Now it's up to those of us who stood with Tookie to keep on pushing. This is Schwarzenegger's "mission accomplished" moment for his right wing, pro-death base. But his "mission" will fail. He is part of a 21st century set of rulers who have repeatedly shown, whether in Baghdad or New Orleans, that they are unfit to rule. Their brutality will be met with resistance in the tradition of Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Leonard Peltier, George Jackson... and Stanley Tookie Williams.

The Silencing of Carlos Delgado

Sometimes sports mirrors politics with such morbid accuracy you don't know whether to laugh, cry or hide in the basement. Just as the Bush Administration shows its commitment to democracy by operating secret offshore gulags and buying favorable news coverage in Iraq, the New York Mets have made it clear to new player Carlos Delgado that freedom of speech stops once the blue and orange uniform -- their brand -- is affixed to his body.

For the last two years, Delgado chose to follow the steps of his personal hero, Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates great and the first Latino elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and use his athletic platform to speak out for social justice. Clemente blazed a trail for generations of Latino ball players by standing up for the poor of Latin America and never accepting being treated as anything less than human. Delgado's contribution to this tradition of pride in the face of conformity was to refuse to stand for the singing of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. This was his act of resistance to the war in Iraq. "I think it's the stupidest war ever. Who are you fighting against? You're just getting ambushed now," Delgado told the Toronto Star in 2004. "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 support that. I don't support what they do. I think it's just stupid."

Delgado's anti-militarist convictions grew from spending time and money to help clean up the small island of Vieques in his native Puerto Rico. The US Navy had used Vieques for decades as a bombing-practice target, with disastrous results for the people and environment.

When asked by the Star if he was concerned about taking such a public stance, Delgado, then a player for the Toronto Bluejays, responded, "Sometimes, you've just got to break the mold. You've got to push it a little bit or else you can't get anything done."

But now, Mets' management is pushing Delgado back into the mold. The shame of this is that despite a guaranteed contract and support in the streets, Delgado isn't pushing back. He said at the November 28 press conference announcing his trade to the Mets from the Florida Marlins, "The Mets have a policy that everybody should stand for 'God Bless America' and I will be there. I will not cause any distractions to the ballclub.... Just call me Employee Number 21." And we saw him grin and bear it when Jeff Wilpon, son of Mets CEO and owner Fred Wilpon, said, "He's going to have his own personal views, which he's going to keep to himself."

If opposition to the war were a stock, Delgado bought high and is selling low. There couldn't be a better time than now, a better place than New York City, or a better team than the Mets for Delgado to make his stand. Instead, he has to hear baby-boy Wilpon say to reporters, "Fred has asked and I've asked him to respect what the country wants to do." One has to wonder what country the Wilpons are talking about. The latest polls show Bush and his war meeting with subterranean levels of support. Delgado could be an important voice in the effort to end it once and for all.

He also might have received significant organizational support from Mets General Manager Omar Minaya, the first Latino GM in Major League history, and from Willie Randolph, the first African-American manager of the Mets. Randolph even told reporters, "I'd rather have a man who's going to stand up and say what he believes. We have a right as Americans to voice that opinion." But Minaya merely commented curtly, with an artic chill, "This is from ownership." But Delgado still caved.

The frustrating fallout of all this is evident in media attacks on Delgado for refusing to continue his act of protest. At first glance, it would be welcome to see, for example, Newsday's Wallace Matthews's writing, "Even if you disagree with his politics, Delgado's willingness to break out of the mold corporate America loves to jam us in set him apart from the thousands of interchangeable young men who thrive athletically and financially in our sports-crazed culture...But no. One of the few pro athletes who had the guts to say no is now a yes man. And the silencing of his voice, whether you agree with it or not, is not a victory for democracy but a defeat."

But where were the critics when the then-protesting Delgado was being booed as a visiting player in New York? And where were they when radio commentators suggested he "just shut up and play"? For those of us who amplified his views, and used his stance to speak not only about the war but also the plight of Vieques, his silence is bursting our eardrums.

Ironically, one of the parts of the press conference that was genuinely touching was Delgado's thrill at finally being able to wear a jersey with the number 21 of his hero, the great Roberto Clemente. When it came to political principle, Clemente was a giant who never backed down in the face of bigotry: He lost his life in a 1972 plane crash as he was delivering aid to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua. To Clemente, the Wilpons of the world were little more than mosquitos buzzing in his ears. Delgado could have been our Clemente. Instead, to use his own words, he is just Employee Number 21.

The Champ Meets the Chump

The presidency of George W. Bush is collapsing under the weight of its own incompetence. The polls speak for themselves -- only 35 percent of us approve of his job performance. Fifty-six percent -- including one in four Republicans -- say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and more than half believe Bush intentionally misled the country to bring the United States into war. The response from the White House has been grimly predictable: Admit no mistakes and spin, slash or burn your critics.

On Monday Bush seethed, "Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world -- and that person was Saddam Hussein." (Funny, I didn't know we were being "led" by Saddam Hussein.) Bush went on to accuse opponents of rewriting the past. But this Administration, which has redefined the word "Orwellian" for a new generation, respects history about as much as it respects the Geneva Conventions. In fact, they seem to relish assaulting and rewriting history for sheer sport.

This was seen quite clearly on November 9, when Bush hung a medal around the slack, immobile neck of former heavyweight boxing champion -- and the most famous war resister in U.S. history -- Muhammad Ali. Ali was one of a bevy of recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony. Bush, while Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld chuckled behind him, said, "Only a few athletes are ever known as the greatest in their sport, or in their time. But when you say, 'The Greatest of All Time' is in the room, everyone knows who you mean. It's quite a claim to make, but as Muhammad Ali once said, 'It's not bragging if you can back it up.' And this man backed it up... The real mystery, I guess, is how he stayed so pretty. [Laughter.] It probably had to do with his beautiful soul. He was a fierce fighter and he's a man of peace."

As I watched a video of the ceremony posted on the White House website, it was heartbreaking to see Bush, a chicken-hearted man of empire, bathe himself in Ali's glow and rhapsodize about "peace." To see the once-indomitable Ali, besieged by Parkinsons and dementia, eyes filmed over, hands shaking, led around by a self-described "war President" felt horrifying.

About the only thing Bush and Ali have in common is that they both moved mountains to stay out of Vietnam. The difference, of course, was while Ali sacrificed his title and risked years in federal prison, Bush joined the country club otherwise known as the Texas National Guard, showing up for duty every time he had a dentist appointment. But the Champ still had one last rope-a-dope up his sleeve. As a playful Bush moved in front of Ali, he apparently thought it would be cute to put up his fists in a boxing stance. Ali leaned back and made a circular motion around his temple, as if the President must be crazy to want to tangle with him even now.

This moment recalled the Ali who was never so beloved, so cuddly, so harmless. This was a fleeting glimpse of the Ali who once was able to say things that would have made John Ashcroft demand a federally funded exorcism. This was the Ali who said, "I ain't no Christian. I can't be when I see all the colored people fighting for forced integration get blown up. They get hit by the stones and chewed by dogs and then these crackers blow up a Negro church... People are always telling me what a good example I would be if I just wasn't Muslim. I've heard over and over why couldn't I just be more like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray [Robinson]. Well, they are gone and the black man's condition is just the same, ain't it? We're still catching hell."

Back then, Ali could level criticism about an ill-advised, unfair war: "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."

If Ali had said things like that today about our current war, it would have earned him not not a medal but a one-way trip to Gitmo.

As the great poet Sonia Sanchez remembered Ali's golden era, "It's hard now to relay the emotion of that time. This was still a time when hardly any well-known people were resisting the draft. It was a war that was disproportionately killing young black brothers, and here was this beautiful, funny poetical young man standing up and saying no! Imagine it for a moment! The heavyweight champion, a magical man, taking his fight out of the ring and into the arena of politics and standing firm. The message was sent!"

Perhaps a far more fitting and true tribute to Ali was on display at an antiwar demonstration last month, where an older woman of African descent held up a sign that read simply, "No Iraqi ever left me to die on a roof." This was a direct reference to a quote attributed to Ali that "no Vietnamese ever called me 'nigger.' " Both statements in a few short words encompass both the anger and internationalism so needed today. These are statements not of pacifism but of the struggle to end war. This is the Ali that they can never bury -- not even under the pall of devastating illness and a mountain of cheap medals.

Monument to a Rotten System

There is nothing "unnatural" about the disaster of New Orleans. When politicians smirk at global warming, when developers look at our wetlands and dream of mini-malls, when billions are flushed in the name of war and tax cuts, when issues of poverty and racism don't even register in presidential debates, all it takes is wind, albeit 145 mph wind, to expose a sturdy superpower as a house of cards.

Nowhere is this personified more painfully than in a monument to corporate greed that has rapidly become the earth's most damnable homeless shelter: the Louisiana Superdome.

The Superdome is perhaps the most unintentionally appropriate name since Mr. and Mrs. Cheney looked at their newborn son and said, "Dick." It was birthed in 1975 with pomp and bombast, as the largest domed facility in the world. It was also funded entirely on the public dime.

In a case of brutal foreshadowing that would shame a B horror flick, the dome was constructed on an old cemetery for the poor. The burial grounds were dug up and discarded with a promise that the Superdome would the centerpiece of a New Orleans Central Business District that would benefit all. The results are certainly now in plain, ugly view. This past week, 25,000 people walked through its doors, many for the first time. They entered a stadium where tickets go for $90 a pop, season passes cost $1,300 and luxury boxes can run for as much as $109,000.

The arena boasts of having a capacity that can comfortably seat 72,000 people, with 9,000 tons of air conditioning equipment and 88 massive restrooms. But for the 25,000 who couldn't afford the oxygen, there has been no air conditioning, and the bathrooms were without electricity, running water or working toilets. Feces and garbage now pack the upper decks. The traumatized people finally emerging tell of dead bodies on the 50-yard line. One man even committed suicide, throwing himself off the upper deck.

Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco called the Superdome shelter strategy an "experiment" when asked if it could hold the storm or the flood. Chuck D's line about housing projects comes to mind when he said, "What is a project but another word for experiment?"

Saints' receiver Joe Horn has looked at the place where he has set receiving records and said that football couldn't be farther from his mind. "It's devastating to us. I've cried three or four times. Seeing kids without any food, elderly people dying and the government saying that help is on the way -- that's the most shocking part."

He's right. That is the most shocking part. Leading this carnival of disgrace is Mr. Shock and Awe himself, George W. Bush. Everyday, President Bush doles out comments that signal his removal from any basic notion of humanity. Perhaps the most galling, "The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

But happy visions of mint juleps with Trent, while Mamie and Prissy tighten Scarlett's corset, just will not sell. The discussion instead, from right-wing editorial pages in New Hampshire and Mississippi to an vocal, angry, civil rights community, is about the racism, profiteering and vile hypocrisy at the heart of this system.

As Norman Solomon wrote, "The policies are matters of priorities. And the priorities of the Bush White House are clear. For killing in Iraq, they spare no expense. For protecting and sustaining life, the cupboards go bare. The problem is not incompetence. It's inhumanity, cruelty and greed."

Frederick Douglass said it even better a century ago in his speech, "What to the Slave is the 4th of July."

Keep reading... Show less

Raphael Palmeiro and the Politics of Distraction

A close compatriot of President Bush squats in a scandal so malodorous it led news shows from coast to coast. It's a scandal that some say is too hot for Bush to comment on. But there was the President, speaking without a stammer or stutter on this issue of pressing national concern.

There was only one curious twist. The scandalized bosom buddy was not the bosomy Karl Rove, but Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Yes, in an era of war and economic crisis, Bush took time to rush to the defense of a four-time All-Star who has become the highest profile casualty of Major League Baseball's steroid testing program.

Bush called Palmeiro a "friend" and said, "He's testified in public [to being clean], and I believe him. ... Still do." Presidential lickspittle Scott McClellan also made clear at a White House press briefing that Palmeiro has the full support of the Oval Office.

It no doubt will puzzle future generations (or present ones, for that matter) why the President felt compelled to comment on what a 40-year-old ballplayer may or may not have ingested. But the reasons are clear enough. This is a case of how the Bush administration's Politics of Distraction have turned around to nip the President in the tush. It all began at the January 2003 State of the Union address when Bush inexplicably took time to talk tough on steroids. As New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady grinned next to the First Lady, Bush put the plague of steroids on the front burner of the national consciousness. This was Politics of Distraction 101, a classic ploy to give the public something to chew over instead of those two pesky countries the U.S. armed forces happened to be occupying.

But a fly flew into the flaxseed oil when bankrupt former all-star, Jose Canseco attempted to capitalize on steroid mania by releasing an inject-and-tell book called, appropriately enough, Juiced. In the book, Canseco names every buttock that cozied up to his all-star syringe. Two of those cheeks, Canseco revealed, belonged to Palmeiro. The repercussions were immediate. Palmeiro had always presented himself as a Holy Joe, a rock-ribbed Republican, a podium thumper for the American Dream. Thanks to Canseco, Palmeiro found himself subpoenaed and forced to testify in front of Congress last March. Grimacing with indignation, Palmeiro wagged his finger and said under oath, "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."

The performance was convincing. So convincing Palmeiro was even named to a Congressional committee that would work to "clean up the sport." Canseco was the liar. Palmeiro the hero dragged through the mud. Never mind that after Canseco joined the Texas Rangers Palmeiro's home run averages jumped from 19 per year to 37. Never mind because the steely-eyed Palmeiro made you believe that his anger was righteous. Now, in the wake of this latest test, he looks like the one thing worse that a liar: a sanctimonious liar. As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post wrote, "In this culture, heaven help you if, after playing that once-per-lifetime, I-swear-on-a-stack-of-Bibles card, you get caught."

But Palmeiro thinks he can whip out those Bibles for an encore. In a teleconference Monday, Palmeiro said, "When I testified in front of Congress, I know that I was testifying under oath and I told the truth. Today I am telling the truth again ... I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period." [the guy has to lay off the periods.]

Palmeiro's state of disgrace also means that we are now treated to the sight of Canseco, last seen living with Omarosa and Bronson "Balki" Pinchot on VH1's "The Surreal Life," posturing like Abe Lincoln, parading around talk shows saying things like (and I love this quote): "Palmeiro's test proves that almost everything in my book is true."

If we are now to accept Canseco's book as holy writ, we should also remember that his Texas Rangers team had an owner named George W. Bush who Canseco describes as "most certainly knowing" that the players were on the juice. This went wildly underreported when the book was released, largely because Canseco's credibility was in constant question.

Now that Canseco has morphed into Honest Abe, we should start asking whether Bush should receive the next congressional subpoena about steroids in sports. We should ask what Bush actually knows and when did he know it. We should press Palmeiro on what his friend in the owner's box, the former cheerleader from Yale, did and did not allow. We should take these Politics of Distraction, which Bush hoisted into our lives, and drop the whole stinking, steaming, anabolic load on his front door.

Live Strong or Live Wrong?

To all the haters that don't think cycling is a sport, and the Tour De France ranks just below watching an apple turn brown, let's be clear: Lance Armstrong has earned the love.

The cancer-surviving cyclist ended his career with a record seventh straight Tour De France victory. Immediately the accolades rolled in, and he has earned every dollop with an athletic tenacity and compelling personal story that's touched the lives of millions.

But one piece of praise seemed to stand out like Judge John Roberts in Harlem. This was gushed from a guy who has taken a few spills from his Schwinn in recent weeks: President George W. Bush.

"Lance is an incredible inspiration to people from all walks of life, and he has lifted the spirits of those who face life's challenges," Bush said about the fellow Texan and "old friend.” "He is a true champion."

The praise struck an odd note considering Armstrong's comments after winning his seventh yellow jersey. They weren't about the Alps, the cobbled Paris streets, or the new bell on his handlebars. They were about Iraq.

"The biggest downside to a war in Iraq is what you could do with that money," Armstrong said through gritted teeth. "What does a war in Iraq cost a week? A billion? Maybe a billion a day? The budget for the National Cancer Institute is four billion. That has to change. Polls say people are much more afraid of cancer than of a plane flying into their house or a bomb or any other form of terrorism."

His timing was fortuitous. A report came out of the Congressional Budget Office the next day that indicated the war in Iraq will cost more -- adjusted for 2005 dollars -- than any war since the Second World War, with a price tag that may near 800 billion dollars.

Armstrong's statement is significant because it represents a sharp turn from his previous statements against the Iraq invasion. When the war was launched out in 2003, Lance's soft anti-war views sounded more James Baker than Ella Baker:

"I know George Bush well, having met him about 20 times, and I support him, but going ahead with this war without the support of Europe would be dangerous ... it would be a mistake to engage in war without the backing of the United Nations and Europe," he said. "If there's going to be a war then we'll be up against a billion Muslims -- so it would be unreasonable for the United States to go it alone against such a huge part of the world."

Armstrong took great pains at the time to compliment Bush with every statement, saying that Dubya sometimes appeared "brash," but that he was "more intelligent than people give him credit for." He added, "Bush isn't a banker from New York, or a tycoon from California. He's a cowboy from Texas."

In 2004, Armstrong's anxiety about the war was rising, perhaps affected by the French protests during that year's Tour. But despite his stronger objections, Armstrong still reserved praise for his "friend" in the Oval Office. "I don't like what the war has done to our country, to our economy," he said. "My kids will be paying for this war for some time to come. George Bush is a friend of mine and just as I say it to you, I'd say to him, 'Mr. President, I'm not sure this war was such a good idea', and the good thing about him is he could take that."

Now in 2005, Armstrong has taken a much harder stance. This could be attributed to possible aspirations for political office. Armstrong in a recent interview laid out his views on a number of issues, describing himself as "against mixing up state and Church, not keen on guns, pro women's right to choose. And very anti war in Iraq," -- which may lead some of us to wonder exactly what political party in our glorious duopoly would even allow him to stand as a candidate.

Some say that he is simply under the sway of his rock star partner Sheryl Crow -- of "War is Not the Answer" t-shirts and the group Musicians Win Without War.

But the real reason for Armstrong's recent statements most likely stems from simple frustration. Armstrong sees his life's work, cancer funding and research, being undercut by this war. He takes this position even though it could lose him his Oval Office access. He speaks out "on foreign soil" even though it could mean derision when he returns.

He will assuredly face words such as those from one internet blogger who wrote "Lance Armstrong should be detained the moment he steps back on American soil, and then he should have a bicycle tire pump shoved so far up his ass that he whistles Dixie when he breathes."

If the cancer that spread to his lungs and abdomen, not to mention the Pyrenees, didn't deter Armstrong, a pustule armed with a laptop and fried cheese probably won't keep him up nights. Especially when the priorities of medical research or "generational war" hang in the balance.

Armstrong has devoted countless hours to the fight against cancer. There is not more money for cancer research because of the war. It's that simple.

It's also not just cancer. In my hometown of Washington, DC, this $800 billion price tag means high rates of infant mortality, shuttered public hospitals, and schools in a constant and eternal state of crisis.

This is a battle for priorities. If Lance wants to see victory, chuckling it up with his "fellow Texan" is no way to lead this movement forward. Instead, Armstrong should ride among the critical mass bikers and anti-war couriers at the national anti-war protests on September 24th in Washington, DC.

Consider this an invite, Lance. Consider this a way to continue to "live strong."

War Games and War Names

"It's a perfect marriage," bleated DC City Council member Vincent Orange, and he wasn't talking about Charles and Camilla. The unctuous Orange was celebrating the National Guard's proposed $6 million purchase of naming rights for Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals -- deal that the Washington Post reports is as good as sealed. So now, in the middle of Southeast DC, the Washington Nats will come to you, "Live from National Guard Field at RFK."

This is the first time a branch of the armed forces has thrown its helmet into the stadium name game. It's worth understanding why.

More than a decade ago, the names of sports arenas still held pretensions of dignity, tradition, and a kind of bloated grandeur. We had the Veterans Stadium, the Boston Garden, Memorial Stadium, Candlestick Park, Tiger Stadium, and the Spectrum.

Then, in the 1990s, all that was holy was officially profaned, and new stadiums sprang up like weeds, selling their "naming rights" to the highest bidder. The century old Tiger Stadium was abandoned to rot in favor of the sparkling new Comerica Park. The San Francisco Giants weren't playing at Candlestick any more. Their new stadium was first named PacBell and renamed SBC Park after the 2003 season. The Houston Astros were left with the most corporate egg on their faces, going from playing in the Astrodome to chasing fly balls in the gloriously named Enron Field. After the inevitable unpleasantness ensued, the team switched to the current Minute Maid Park, an equally unfortunate name at a time when no player wants to be associated with "the juice."

In the history on naming rights, the National Guard's attempted RFK purchase in 2005 will likely prove as embarrassing a display of hubris as the Enron deal.

It's no accident that the purchase comes at a time when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon desperately need the Guard to grow, and grow now. Recruitment is down more than 30 percent, and dissatisfaction among guard members is at an all time high. Lt. Gen. James Helmly, the commanding officer of the Army Reserve, said in January that the Guard and the Reserve are "rapidly degenerating into a broken force." With the Bush White House mis-using the reserve to achieve its imperial ambitions, the Guard has become stretched tighter than Dick Cheney's bikini briefs.

In the late 1960s, the National Guard was a prized place for country club chicken hawks like Dan Quayle and George W. Bush -- a perfect way to avoid Vietnam while not missing tee time. In the era of the volunteer army, the National Guard's most enduring image was shaped by the sight of reservists standing in armed defense of Fredericks of Hollywood during the 1992 LA Rebellion. At the time, a National Guardsman was typically far more likely to help clean up after a hurricane than inspect roadside bombs.

Today, the Guard - the under-trained, under equipped, one-weekend-a-month-National Guard - accounts for an astounding 40 percent of the boots on the ground in Iraq.

Thanks to the persistence of the Iraqi resistance and the so-called War on Terror's expansionist agenda, the Pentagon still needs more warm bodies to sacrifice. This is why, as Time Magazine reports, the Guard has now hired 1,400 new recruiters. This is why -- even though 25,000 soldiers are currently on food stamps -- there are 6 million dollars in the Pentagon Budget to spend on stadium naming rights. This is also why RFK stadium of Southeast DC -- with its decrepit high schools and spiraling unemployment -- is a perfect locale for their new publicity stunt. Since Sept. 11th, Armed Forces enlistment by African-American men has dropped by 47 percent. Presumably, even if they can't afford tickets, folks of color can come on by to sign up at the adjacent recruitment stands.

It's a telling fact that the only person to raise objections to this purchase -- and who could scuttle the deal -- is Sen John Warner (R-VA), who thinks the purchase doesn't do enough to raise the public profile of National Guard and increase its recruitment number. Ted Kennedy lifted his 82 pound head long enough to say that both he and Ethel Kennedy love the name change -- not surprising from a political family who thinks we are "fighting the wrong war," and should be taking on North Korea and Al Qaeda instead. Those new wars will require more troops -- all in the service of military goals that an unreconstructed hawk like RFK would have loved.

The people really gurgling with pleasure are members of the DC City Council. As Councilman Jack Evans put it, "I started laughing when I first heard it because you usually think of Verizon or a bank for a sponsorship. But I wouldn't object to [The National Guard purchase] as long as we get the money."

Evans may be laughing all the way to the bank, but others aren't quite as amused. People like Darryl T. Dent of the Army National Guard or Gregory E. MacDonald and Kevin M. Shea of the Marine Corps Reserve, all of whom signed up for a weekend a month and ended up coming back home in coffins.

Another person not laughing is Celeste Zappala. Just two weeks ago, Zappala was at George Washington University telling the story of her son Sherwood, who joined the National Guard after helping sandbag a flood in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania. But instead of the civic works projects he was seeking, Sherwood was sent to to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq -- the WMD that were never there. Sherwood too came back home in a coffin.

Zappala told the audience what it was like to hear the news from the soldier who came to her door: "He said,'Are you Sherwood's mother? Are you Sherwood's mother?' And I just started to scream and scream and scream. I could hear myself screaming. And he just stood there and he -- a neighbor heard me screaming and came to me and lifted me up ... it was just -- just a terrible -- the really worst moment of my life."

We need to see this attempted name purchase for what it is: an act of aggression by a military bent on increasing its ranks by whatever means possible, including using sports as a lure to hook unwary citizens. If the name is changed, DC residents should respond with the same words as the growing numbers of National Guardsmen who are now refusing to be recalled for duty. Repeat after me, "Hell no! We won't go!"

A Eulogy for Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando's death at the age of 80 will begin a battle over how the "greatest actor of all time" will be remembered. Some will focus on his latter day isolation, his bizarre behavior, and the many personal tragedies that befell his family.

Others will focus exclusively on his iconic status, and when it comes to Brando performances, icons abound. There was the 1950s motorcycle rebel from The Wild One (1954), or the brutal Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) or Terry I Coulda Been a Contender Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954). or his performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

Then there is Brando's influence on acting itself. In a Hollywood built around "movie stars" Brando was at the vanguard of a new generation of performers in the aftermath of World War II schooled in Stanislavsky's "Method" acting style. Taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio in New York, The Method was a rejection of the Spencer Tracy approach to drama of "Just memorize your lines and don't bump into the furniture." Emotional honesty and "becoming" your character were the hallmarks of this style. It was an attempt to use art to break out of what was seen as a stultifying and frustrating gray haze of early 1950s America. Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Laurence Fishburne, Sean Penn, and countless others count Brando as their primary influence.

But the Brando I want to remember, especially now, is the actor who pulled back in the 1960s to focus on supporting the Civil Rights Movement and the broader struggles against war and oppression. In 1959 he was a founding member of the Hollywood chapter of SANE, an anti-nuclear arms group formed alongside African-American performers Harry Belafonte and Ossie Davis.

In 1963, Brando marched arm in arm with James Baldwin at the March on Washington – at a time when marching with a gay, black man wasn't likely to further anybody's career. He, along with Paul Newman, went down South with the freedom riders to desegregate inter-State bus lines. On March 2, 1964, in defiance of state law, Native Americans protested the denial of treaty rights by fishing the Puyallup River. Inspired by the civil rights movement sit-ins, Brando, Episcopal clergyman John Yaryan from San Francisco, and Puyallup tribal leader Bob Satiacum caught salmon in the Puyallup without state permits. The action was called a "fish-in" and resulted in Brando's arrest.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Brando announced that he was bowing out of the lead role of a major film and would now devote himself to the civil rights movement. Brando said "If the vacuum formed by Dr. King's death isn't filled with concern and understanding and a measure of love, then I think we all are really going to be lost." He gave money and spoke out in defense of the Black Panthers; he counted Bobby Seale as a close friend and attended the memorial for slain prison leader George Jackson. Southern theater chains boycotted his films, and Hollywood created what became known as the "Brando Black List‚" that shut him out of many big time roles.

After making a comeback in Godfather, Brando won his second Oscar. Instead of accepting what he called "a door prize," he sent up Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the prize from befuddled presenter Roger Moore and issued a scathing speech about the Federal Government's treatment of Native Americans.

Even in the past several years, he has lent his name and bank account to those fighting the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq.

So how do we remember Brando? He was a celebrity, an artist, an activist, and at the end an isolated and destroyed old man.

We live in a world where most people's talents never get to see the light of day. It is tragic that those like Brando who actually get the opportunity to spread their creative wings, can be consumed and yanked apart in process. Yet, whether Brando was on the top of Hollywood or alone and embittered, he never forgot which side he was on.

BRAND NEW STORIES