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Sport as a Reflection of Dangerous Trends in U.S. Society: The Case of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open

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A few days ago American tennis star Serena Williams opened up regarding her now infamous U.S. Open Final Loss to Naomi Osaka on 9 September 2018. In a forthcoming interview, Serena Williams reasserted her belief that sexism played a role in the penalties she was assessed during her loss, saying “If you’re female, you should be able to do even half of what a guy can do”. While the equality of male and female athletes should certainly be something we all strive for, it seems that (as with so much in current U.S. society) the point was missed.

 

Most American commentary on the debacle was conspicuously one-sided, as commentators looked to either blame the rules, the umpires, or—of course—sexism in a bid to deflect blame. Even the few articles which acknowledged the blame that lay with Ms. Williams’ actions seemed to do so half-heartedly, with Jerry Bembry of The Undefeated opining that, “like solid officials have done in every sport when confronted by great athletes expressing themselves in the heat of the moment, [Spanish Referee Carlos] Ramos should have looked away and ignored her continued complaints”. Make no mistake, Mr. Bembry should be commended for at least acknowledging that some of the blame lay with the athlete’s behavior, but essentially telling a referee to not do their job—by ignoring unsporting behavior—is hardly something that would alleviate an existing double standard (if indeed there is one); quite the contrary, such actions would only encourage double standards to continue!

 

And indeed this is why Serena Williams’ outburst says something about the current state of American society which goes far beyond the tennis court and sports, or even ideas of “sexism” or “racism”. Rather, Ms. Williams’ behavior—as one non-American commentator in the Australian press, Greg Baum explained—was one which caused everyone to lose:

 

In her outbursts, she invoked sexism and, implicitly, racism, and so managed to set back both those momentous causes. Williams came from a long way back in life, but she is now just about the most privileged black woman in the US, the most indulged, too. It makes it hard to buy the interpretation that this was some sort of stance against oppression. And it obscures the mighty, desperate and real battles that are being fought around the world in the name of both.

 

Mr. Baum’s comments are far more useful than those emanating from the U.S. media, which goes to show that there is a very real problem in American society which is being actively ignored by the news media. In fact, one look at the fifteen minute highlights of Ms. William’s interactions with umpire Carlos Ramos shows just how ugly things got. The American fans, instead of calming Ms. Williams down, decided to—in effect—egg her on by cheering for her whilst she berated the umpire. The crowd’s behavior goes beyond just the boorish and banal form of nationalism which American sports fans can sometimes be guilty of, rather it was done with the sense that she was doing something “right” . . . which completely overshadowed the well-deserved victory of her Japanese/Haitian opponent, Ms. Osaka.

 

It seems that American society has allowed improper behavior—like the poor sportsmanship of Ms. Williams in this instance—to be excused by invoking the rhetoric of “social justice” (indeed, cartoon criticism of this incident was roundly criticized as “racist”, again missing the point of what social criticism is all about). What American sports media fail to see is that this trend does not look good in the eyes of the rest of the world, nor does it serve to further any of the causes which it purports to further! Indeed, as Mr. Baum points out, the fight for racial and gender equality is a very real and very righteous cause. But by excusing immature behavior in front of the world by invoking these same causes, it only serves to demean and obscure those messages. Just like encouraging referees to “look the other way” does nothing to ensure fair refereeing, invoking “sexism” and “racism” to defend poor sportsmanship only serves to belittle the fight for equality which these causes are engaged in.

 

American news media would do better to encourage and congratulate Naomi Osaka for a well-deserved victory in what is the biggest moment of her career to date, rather than try to find excuses for Ms. Williams disrespectful behavior. After all, sport is above all a human endeavor which celebrates the accomplishments of athletes, regardless of their background; poor sportsmanship goes against those humanist values of mutual respect. Sport is certainly a political field, but we must do our best to not allow sport to be completely consumed by politics. By focusing solely on intersectional identities like “race” and “sex”, we obscure the “human” and—through the obsession with categorization and political correctness—risk losing our own humanity as well.

 

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Genoa: While Football Might Be Able to Bring People Together, the Media Keeps Trying to Drive People Apart

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These days, it seems that outrage—and anger—is what sells. The main(lame) stream media is all too ready to produce stories which strike fear into the hearts of normal citizens, in a bid to foster some kind of outrage. Most recently, CNN published another of their (extremely slanted) op-eds, with the headline “Trumpesque alt-right nationalism must be defeated in Europe”. The author, Guy Verhofstadt, is a former Belgian PM and president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE). In his piece, Mr. Verhofstadt writes:

 

For too long, in both the US and Europe, populists have gotten away with selling a retreat to isolationism and protectionism, wrapped up in a rose-tinted notion of absolute national sovereignty, as a solution to voter’s problems. Progressive voices must now challenge these assumptions and once again make the case for internationalism.

 

While one could argue that “internationalism” has been tried before on the Eurasian landmass in another form—which was also a transnational “union”—to disastrous results, this is not quite the kind of journalism CNN supports. For CNN, the panacea is to be found in strengthening—and not dissolving—the European Union. This is, of course, to be expected from a news organization which publishes a line like this: “The new divide in European politics is not between left and right, it is between nationalist illiberalism and pro-European liberal democracy”. While the divide is certainly not between left and right, this sentence certainly does present it as such while missing the point that nationalists need not be “illiberal” at all. In fact, nationalism may just be the one thing that can keep Europe together, given the increasing meaninglessness of the “multicultural” European Union which has enriched elites at the expense of normal citizens across the continent.

But CNN does not understand the unifying power that nationalism can provide. Indeed, in a late August Op-Ed about the tragic bridge collapse in Genoa, the headline boldly claimed that the collapse “shows what’s wrong with modern Italy”. Noting that the Morandi Bridge was badly in need of a makeover, the story quotes Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister—and “long-term EU critic”—Matteo Salvini as tweeting “If there are European constraints that prevent us from spending money to secure the schools where our children go or the motorways where our workers are traveling on, we will put the safety of Italians before everyone and everything”. While this seems to be a very valid criticism of the European Union project, the writer of the Op-Ed Silvia Marchetti was quick to dissuade readers from believing it. In the next sentence, the story follows Salvini’s quote with “But the truth is that the public funds earmarked to modernize roads or build new ones are allocated, but often never actually spent. The money is there, but we don’t know what to do with it”. Unfortunately, this type of pedantic reporting only serves to distract readers and shape their opinions.

 

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A Typical Ad from Cnn.com. Here the goal is to encourage readers to choose the “summarize the news” option, which in reality just means a swifter form of indoctrination. As long as individuals stop relying on their own discerning analyses of the news–and instead outsource the “thinking” to CNN–then the world is in for a very dark future indeed. Image Courtesy of Cnn.com.

 

Instead of giving a fair presentation of a perspective which has validity—since the EU certainly does require states to not put their own interests first—CNN chose to further the globalist narrative (since criticizing the European Union does not fit the main(lame) stream media’s agenda). It would seem that news outlets like this would do well to learn a little bit from the football fans. In the wake of the disaster, fans of both Genoese teams came together to mourn. In a difficult time, the local identity of being Genoese—and Italian—was what brought people together, not the pan-European “identity”. If nothing else, the fans can perhaps be a model for politicians, reminding them that their most important job is representing their localities, their people, and their country. The European Union should be of a secondary concern to Italian politicians whose job is to ensure the safety and prosperity of Italian citizens, since all countries have the right to determine their own futures.

 

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Genoa and Sampdoria Fans Together. Image Courtesy of Ultrasworld_Official’s Instagram page.

The Hyperreality of Corporate Virtue Signaling: Nike and Colin Kaepernick

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Nike’s bizarre decision (bizarre because it cost them almost four billion USD) to make Colin Kaepernick, the mid-tier professional football player who started protesting what he calls “racial injustice” in the United States by kneeling for the national anthem, the face of their classic “Just Do It” advertisements. While this is of course an absurd reflection of the commodity fetishism of post-modern life, arguably the response has been even more absurd.

 

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With a Multi-Million Dollar Sponsorship Deal, One Has To Ask: What Exactly Did This Gentleman Sacrifice? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thenation.com/article/on-colin-kaepernicks-nike-ad-will-the-revolution-be-branded/

 

Surprisingly, various media outlets (like Yahoo Sports) have reported on the responses in an extremely partisan nature; the opening paragraph of Jason Owens’ piece says “In the time-honored tradition of consumers expressing their rage at companies aligning with perceived liberal policies, people took to Twitter on Monday to light their own property on fire”. While the idea of consumers lighting their own purchases on fire is absurd, to tie it to “rage” at companies with “liberal policies” is as absurd as it is untrue. Indeed, many so-called “liberals” burned (or at least threatened to burn) New Balance shoes when the company seemingly came out in support of U.S. President Donald Trump after his election. This is hardly a partisan issue, but it does raise some real questions.

CNN offered another piece of partisan “analysis”, with LZ Granderson explaining the “hypocrisy of Nike outrage” for readers. While this outrage is certainly hypocritical, Granderson—who is apparently a political analyst—offers a poor explanation of this hypocrisy. Granderson connects it to Donald Trump’s (and indeed wider conservative America’s) support for the military. For Granderson, the idea that Pat Tillman (the former NFL football player who quit football and enlisted in the army, only to lose his life in Afghanistan), sacrificed more (i.e., his life) than Mr. Kaepernick, and President Donald Trump’s praise for the U.S. military, are both hypocritical because of the bad blood between Mr. Trump and the late John McCain (widely recognized after his death as a war hero). Of course, Mr. Granderson here fails to recognize that Mr. Trump’s support for the military need not equate to sanguine feelings towards Mr. McCain, especially given the latter’s role in encouraging American adventures in Libya, Syria, and Iraq in the name of globalism. Thus, given the ideological divide between the two politicians, these claims of “hypocrisy” don’t really stand up to scrutiny; quite the opposite, it seems that Mr. Trump is in keeping with his nationalist—and anti-globalist—rhetoric, as (rhetorically at least) Mr. Trump has criticized America’s imperialist wars in the past.

While Granderson’s analysis leaves much to be desired, his assertion that there is hypocrisy in the outrage over Nike is spot on. Unfortunately for Mr. Granderson, however, that hypocrisy has nothing to do with Donald Trump, Colin Kaepernick, racial injustice, or “right” and “left” divides in politics. The hypocrisy inherent in the outrage over Nike, rather, has everything to do with the moral degradation and regressive nature of the American Social Justice Warrior (SJW) mindset. In this instance, the virtue signaling and self proclaimed “anti-capitalists” of the American “left” are lapping up the virtue signaling of corporate America, somehow believing that a transnational corporation—like Nike—is “standing” (pardon the pun) for “something”. The idea that Nike—a company that has based its manufacturing policies on the exploitation of child laborers and impoverished workers in the “third world” so as to sell their products at a premium in the “first world”—cares about morality is bizarre to say the least. Where is the “virtue” in manufacturing shoes for 1.65 USD (if even that) in southeast Asia and selling them for 165.00 USD in Manhattan? Is this standing for something? No, Nike is no paragon of virtue (like FIFA is no paragon of virtue).

Unfortunately, pundits like CNN’s LZ Granderson are not doing their jobs as journalists when they allow Nike to engage in a classic example of what philosopher Herbert Marcuse called “Repressive Tolerance”; capitalism takes what is critical of it (say, protest) and commodifies it before selling it back to the world having taken the teeth out of the criticism. By standing silent in the face of this insult to the American public—and by allowing Nike to engage in what can only be called corporate fascism—the media sends the message that corporations can join the virtue signaling of the SJW class. This is because of an increased focus on “morality”, given Donald Trump’s perceived lack of morality according to the main(lame) stream media. Indeed, Levi’s—a company highly identified with the culture of cowboys and the “wild west”—has picked up on this as well, teaming up with nebulously named “gun control groups” in a bid to signal their own virtue. Not only does this reinforce the dangerous message that corporations “are people too”—after all, they can virtue signal with the best of them—but it also represents the high point of extreme capitalism: the commodification of ideology.

By adopting Colin Kaepernick as the “face” of their advertising campaign—in a bid to virtue signal—Nike is insulting not only the American public, but also its customers all over the world. Nike is simply trying to generate a new “grand narrative” of corporate tolerance which stands in the face of their history of exploitation as they engaged in—to borrow Richard Falk’s term—“predatory globalization”, exploiting low-wage workers throughout the so-called “developing” world. Nike has, for years, been involved in the global “dictatorship of bureaucratic economy” which, as Guy Debord notes in The Society of the Spectacle, “must be accompanied by permanent violence”. In this case, the violence is wholly symbolic (to borrow Pierre Bourdieu’s terminology): those who stand with Nike win the virtuous labels of “tolerant” and “progressive”, and those who stand against Nike are violently tarred and feathered with the labels “racist” and “intolerant”. Of course, out of this paroxysm of symbolic violence, no winner can emerge.

This event shows, more clearly than ever, that French philosopher Jean Baudrillard was correct when he said that we are now living in a “hyperreality”, where “simulations come to constitute reality itself” and “the boundaries between information and entertainment, images and politics, implode” (Best and Kellner, 1991). As the masses eat up what is proffered by the culture industry and the mass media, I am left wondering just how the American educational system has failed so spectacularly and created a mass society of the spectacle (again, pardon the pun). Unfortunately, vast swathes of the American public continue to fake outrage at everything…except, of course, that which they should be most outraged at: their own complicity in becoming mindless pawns of the corporate interests of transnational corporations like Nike.

 

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Just Do It! Listen To Our Virtue and Get Back In Line and Consume! Image Courtesy Of: https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/does-nike-still-use-child-slave-labor.557694/

 

This is why it is important that we all stand up for our countries against the dangerous ideology of globalism, which merely serves to legitimate corporate greed and exploitation.