A well-told tale about the seamy mess that politics has brought to big-time sports.
Zirin (Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, 2010, etc.), an alternative sportswriter and columnist for the Nation, SLAM and SI.com, charts important episodes and themes that, during the past 30 years, have transformed the “athletic-industrial complex…into a trillion-dollar, global entity,” where branding is the name of the game and the “modern jock should never sacrifice commercial concerns for political principles.” But if that is the context, Zirin has dozens of stories of athletes, even entire teams, taking action in the face of reactionary behavior on the part of the front office or the mayor’s office. The author plays his progressive political hand coolly, because there is no need for him to hyperventilate, so egregious are the acts of racism and sexism, of the misuse of public funds or the NCAA’s greed. He examines how the great international sporting events, such as the Olympics, wreak social and financial havoc on the host countries to the benefit of a few or how such horrible things could happen at Penn State: “Protect the brand above all. In a company town, your first responsibility is to protect the company.” Zirin highlights many moments when athletes stepped to higher ground—e.g., the Phoenix Suns coming out as a team against the state’s anti-immigration bill or the national soccer teams of Egypt and Bahrain doing their part for fighting tyranny. There are also incidents when sport’s corporate worldview has put stadiums over public libraries and youth clubs and collegiate athletic complexes over classroom instruction.
A damning indictment of all that is corrupting sports and a song of praise for athletes standing up for human rights and decency.