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Recent Sports Related Tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump Reflect Deeper Moral and Economic Issues Within American Society

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On 22 November 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump continued his Tweeting, this time focusing on two sport-related topics: The release of 3 UCLA student athletes from jail in China and the National Anthem protests in the National Football League (NFL). It is important to note that these Tweets represent much more than just President Trump’s penchant to sometimes speak before thinking; rather, these Tweets reflect real issues in American society that go far beyond the President’s personality.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

When the U.S. President personally goes after a private citizen it understandably makes the news. After securing the release of Lavar Ball’s son from Chinese prison, the outspoken father took to the news and refused to thank the President. It was this ungratefulness which led the President to Tweet:

 

Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail! (19 November 2017) 

Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful! (19 November 2017)

It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence – IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think…..LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool! (22 November 2017)

 

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Mr. Trump (L) and Mr. Ball (R) Are Now Feuding Apparently. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sportingnews.com/ncaa-basketball/news/lavar-ball-cnn-interview-video-donald-trump-feud-son-arrested-china-ucla/i55mlxrks9ab1131a7bzx0b04

 

While it is certainly odd that the President of the United States of America is personally addressing an oddball like LaVar Ball (who is basically using his own children as a vehicle for his own profit), the oddity of this event should not blind readers to its importance. The uber-individualistic nature of modern American society has resulted in a marked loss of societal morals. Instead of expressing outrage at shoplifting in a foreign country—which reflects poorly not only on wider American society but also on Mr. Ball’s ineffectual parenting skills—state media is busying itself by attacking the President.

CNN—one of the major shepherds of the sheep in American society—“analyzed” the Tweets in an article by Chris Cillizza; it shouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Cillizza missed the point entirely. That said, it is time for another example of why media literacy is important. At first, Mr. Cilizza provides his readers with a bit of armchair psychology: “At the root of Trump’s personality is grievance and a sense of victimhood”. I was not aware that CNN journalists are now moonlighting as psychologists, but I digress. Cillizza goes on to describe Trump’s Tweets as “racial dog-whistling” before closing his piece with this clincher: “Of all the ways Trump has changed politics and the presidency, his ‘me first, second and last’ view of the world is the most profound and troubling”. After reading the article, one would be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Cillizza lives on another planet.

After all, is he not aware that “me first, second and last” is the view that most Americans subscribe to? Are those not the same views that Mr. Ball has when he refuses to apologize, knowing that this publicity can only help him sell more of his third rate athletic shoes? (Indeed, the spat has garnered 13.2 million Dollars in free advertising). Are these not the views that his son had when he knowingly shoplifted in a foreign country? And are these not the views of many millennials, a generation of which twelve percent believe it is acceptable to speed in school zones? What is “most profound and troubling” (to borrow Mr. Cillizza’s words) for me, however, is a topic that is glossed over and lost in the rhetoric of racism. It is widely known that race paints over the inequalities of capitalist society, providing a false consciousness which divides the working classes. In Mr. Cillizza’s piece race is again used to blind readers; here it is employed by the writer to mask the fact that shoplifting is unacceptable and that being grateful is important. Yet, instead of outrage about three young African-American men disrespecting their country—and their own sense of morals—we have outrage about the alleged “racism” of the President of the United States.

Similarly, Mr. Trump’s second Tweet from 22 November 2017 is also warped by the interpretation of the news media; again the message—and signs of a failing society—are masked. The Tweet in question reads:

 

The NFL is now thinking about a new idea – keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season. That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!…..

 

While readers know I have written about the National Anthem protests before, the issue here is about what can only be called extreme capitalism. The commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, has asked for a 50-million-dollar salary and a private plane and lifetime health insurance for entire family. Now, if Mr. Goodell were a pauper, this would be understandable (maybe); instead he currently makes . . . 30 million dollars a year. Thus, the figure he is requesting (demanding?) would be a near doubling of his salary! At a time when the average CEO in the United States earns 354 times what the average worker earns, Mr. Goodell’s desires are nauseating. For comparison, the gap in the United States can be compared to Switzerland, the country with the second largest CEO-to-average worker pay gap, where CEOs make only 148 times what the average worker makes. Unfortunately, however, there is little outrage at Mr. Goodell’s greed since—just like in the case with Mr. Ball’s ungratefulness—race is used to distract the public from the real issues.

 

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The Wage Gap is Certainly Increasing. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/25/the-pay-gap-between-ceos-and-workers-is-much-worse-than-you-realize/?utm_term=.aac68d3472f6

 

Jerry Jones, the owner of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys who has been critical of Mr. Goodell before—specifically regarding the commissioner’s handling of the national anthem protests—threatened a lawsuit against Mr. Goodell before dropping it. Of course, Mr. Jones’ opposition is understandable since Mr. Goodell is using the protests to provide the public with a face of “tolerance” and “respect” for those protesting racial inequality while, at the same time, getting richer and richer off that same public! Despite the clear economic inequalities being perpetuated by Mr. Goodell, all anyone can talk about is race. Jemele Hill, an ESPN journalist who could be called a bigot herself (although mainstream media would never say it despite the fact that ESPN had to suspend her due to comments she made on social media), described Mr. Jones’ standoff with Mr. Goodell as “laughable”. Again, Ms. Hill ignores the economic inequalities due to her obsession with race.

Race was even brought in to bring down Mr. Jones after he opposed Mr. Goodell: A 2013 video of him allegedly making “a racially insensitive remark” surfaced a week ago. For the purposes of this piece it does not matter whether or not Mr. Jones made the comments or meant the comments to be “racially insensitive”; what does matter is that—in the digital age—scandals can be manufactured so that those who dare voice opinions that do not match those of the masses are vilified and, ultimately, eliminated. The world has seen this type of behavior before in the totalitarian states of mid 20th century central Europe, the only difference there was that those who were vilified and embarrassed were later murdered. Yet, just like in Stalin’s Russia, the masses will stand by as scandals erupt in the modern United States. Content with their own manufactured sense of moral superiority, the masses will shake their heads and scold those who are vilified; they will not speak up, content as they are with their own—fleeting as it may be—sense of safety. What the masses do not realize, however, is that the scandals will come for them as well the moment they dare oppose the masses. In such an environment one has two choices: Be silent or be destroyed.

 

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“Wut?” Indeed. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2017/11/12/16639956/roger-goodell-50-million-salary-plane-insurance-nfl

 

Clearly it is a dangerous situation. In the digital age the walls quite literally have ears. Anything one says can—and likely will—be held against them by the morality police. In the mean time, race will continue to be used to mask the true inequalities facing everyone regardless of their race (or gender or sexual orientation, the other Sociological catchwords). In these two cases, President Trump’s Tweets on sport open a unique window from which we can view some of the issues in American society today; it is our job to interpret the issues in a balanced and unbiased manner. That is something that—sadly—mainstream media continually fails to do.

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Media Literacy And Syria’s Improbable World Cup Dream

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I have written about media literacy in regards to Syria in the past, and a recent Daily Mail piece on the Syrian national football team’s World Cup hopes offers another chance to dissect media narratives. We know that Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war for half a decade. Yet, despite international opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian “state” has not yet fully collapsed because there is still—on some small level—a modicum of national “identity” left in the battered nation-state. This tragic civil war shows the dangers of allowing division to triumph over dialogue, and a recent article regarding the Syrian national football team shows why alternative readings of modern media narratives are necessary to form independent positions of thought.

Journalist Ian Herbert of the Daily Mail wrote a piece on 30 September 2017 entitled “Syria are on the brink of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup… but will their team just be a propaganda tool for the murderous Assad regime?”. With all due respect to Mr. Herbert, I took from his article the opposite conclusion: It is possible that Syrian qualification for the World Cup would actually be a propaganda tool for FIFA instead? I came to this conclusion after a critical reading of the article, which I will share here.

In the article Mr. Herbert makes a few arguments that could lead the reader to an opposite conclusion, yet the title has already framed the issue at hand for readers; no independent analysis is necessary and the reader is made to believe that anything good that happens for Syria’s national football team is bad. That the headline should be one of the first signs of a biased media piece is not very surprising. In just the second and third sentences of this article, we are shown how evil the Assad regime is: “One of the national team’s goalkeepers was deemed an enemy of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and survived several assassination attempts. Another was jailed. A talented member of the nation’s Under 16 squad was killed by a bomb a few years ago”. An educated reader, of course, will already know that this is the case. It will not seem out of place; it fits with the headline.

 

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Just Who Stands To Gain From Syria’s Possible Qualification For The World Cup? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4936834/Syria-brink-World-Cup-just-propaganda.html

 

In the fifth sentence, we see the shift: “Such is the backdrop to the most extraordinary of all the World Cup play-off ties: Syria‘s journey to the brink of qualification. Beat Australia over two legs, and Syria will have one final qualifier — possibly against the USA, of all countries — to earn a place in Russia”. Here are the seeds of a feel good story, one fit for a Hollywood movie. The team from the war-torn country, that the West is saving from a tyrannical leader, will face their liberators (here Australia and possibly the United States) in football and play for a right to go to the World Cup. What a narrative it is.

The article goes on to inform us that the seeds of the team’s performance were planted in the midst of the Assad regime a decade ago:

 

As the [Syrian national] side progressed deep into the qualification stages, the charismatic [coach Ayman] Hakeem has persuaded several of a golden generation developed in the past decade to put their abhorrence of Assad to one side and return to the international fold.

 

But before we get to thinking that there was actually a positive aspect to life under Assad, the author wakes us up:

 

They include veteran striker Firas al-Khatib, whose young cousin was killed in an attack on Homs, and Omar al-Somah, Syria’s most celebrated footballer due to his goal-scoring exploits with Saudi club Al Ahli – but this is by no means the fairy tale it seems. 

Assad’s regime is providing the team’s finances and seeking a propaganda coup. In the early stages of qualification, some of the team’s players wore shirts featuring an image of Assad at a pre-match press conference. 

Making it to Russia would create the impression of normality and order in his country. It would also give a headache to FIFA, who vehemently oppose political interference in football.

 

It is shocking that the writer makes the reader believe that Syria’s success would be a boon for the Syrian regime and not the West. As the author explains, there are few in Syria who do not want their country to win—and the piece ends with this quote from striker Firas al Khatib:

 

The people could do with some kind of enjoyment and happiness. The reason why I have come back into the team is very complicated but I can’t talk more about these things. Better for me, better for my country, better for my family, better for everybody if I not talk about that, but if we can win and go the finals it will lift the people. The people deserve that.

 

I do not think one could find anyone from a Western audience who, after reading the quote above, would not support the Syrian national team. It would be very, very difficult not too. And it should not come as a surprise to anyone that this particular quote was the one selected to close the piece. So why does the title of this piece conflict so much with its contents?

Perhaps it is because the author does not want to dwell on the fact that there might just be life beyond politics. Maybe it does not all have to be about politics, maybe we can—for once—celebrate Syrians being able to come together for the purpose of supporting their national football team. Or maybe it is because there are clearly some footballers—like apparently Firas al Khatib—who have some sense of national identity left that they care to spend their energies for their country’s team, since this would go against the anti-nationalism rhetoric of Western media outlets like the Daily Mail. Or maybe it is even because the truth hurts too much: the truth might just be that Syrian qualification for the World Cup will mean a propaganda coup not for Assad, but for FIFA. After all, FIFA has far more to gain from Syria’s qualification. It will mean a feel-good story about a country pulling itself together against all the odds, and those stories always sell. An emotional story about Syria will also help FIFA sell the World Cup and paint over the fact that they gave the 2018 World Cup to Russia (where stadiums are in trouble according to The Daily Mail) and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a state sponsor of terrorism. In short, it seems like FIFA has much more to gain from Syrian qualification for the World Cup than Bashar al-Assad does.

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Russian Stadiums For the 2018 World Cup Are…Different. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4947998/World-Cup-venue-Ekaterinburg-Arena-odd-new-stands.html

 

Who knows, with reporting like this, maybe the Russian football fans who branded the BBC “Blah Blah Channel” were right: mainstream media is too busy building narratives to actually report on anything in a non-biased objective way. Maybe it is because, in the age of 24 hour media available on the internet, journalists are no longer tied to their consumers. If no one pays for news anymore, then there is no longer a system of checks and balances. If journalists cannot be held accountable, then we–as the public–lose a valuable resource in the public sphere.
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Spartak Moscow Fans Voice Their Opinion. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/spartak-moscow-fans-brand-bbc-10056759

 

 

In the Wake of Diplomatic Crisis With Qatar, Six Countries Demand the 2022 World Cup Be Moved As the Shortcomings of Modern Journalism in the Ideological Age Come to the Fore

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Once again, football is not immune from international political developments. On 15 July 2017, Reuters reported that “Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt had collectively written to FIFA asking it to remove Qatar as hosts [of the 2022 FIFA World Cup]”. The aforementioned six countries allegedly called Qatar “a base of terrorism”. The move stems from the June 5 2017 decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain (and later Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives) to cut diplomatic ties with the wealthy Gulf state.

The diplomatic row, no doubt, is a geopolitical move by Saudi Arabia to isolate rival Qatar for pursuing close ties with Iran and supporting Islamist politics in the Arab Spring and beyond. One of the most interesting parts of the row is Saudi Arabia’s attempt to shut down Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera. While football fans are well aware that the Qatari World Cup is a farce—the decision to grant the competition to the Arab state was one based solely on financial concerns and not sporting concerns—they may not be aware of how important the World Cup is to Qatari soft power both regionally and globally. One other important aspect of Qatari soft power is the media company Al Jazeera (as well as Bein Sports).

The globalized world is one where media conglomerates, like CNN in the United States, rule. These “journalists” are far from the Hemingway-era muckraking journalists who risked their careers and personal safety for stories; these days journalists seem all to willing to toe the line desired by their employers. Unfortunately, Al Jazeera is no different. Take Al Jazeera’s coverage of the 15 July 2017 anniversary of last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. An opinion piece, written by Ismail Numan Telci of Sakarya University, is particularly appalling.

Mr. Telci is also a member of SETA, a pro-government think tank in Turkey. That alone should uncover the biases inherent in his piece. What is more problematic, however, is that his entire article focuses on the UAE and Egypt’s alleged support of last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. It is not a coincidence that both of these countries also recently cut ties with Qatar; Al Jazeera is opportunistically using the anniversary of the failed coup in Turkey to further Qatar’s geopolitical agenda by slamming both the UAE and Egypt. This, of course, can hardly be considered independent journalism. Instead, it is journalism designed to adhere to a certain political and ideological line.

It is yet another example of why—in the globalized world of instant news media—we must all be wary of what we read; we must remain cognizant of the inherent biases hiding in all news media. Nothing is written in a vacuum and sadly journalism is not free; Al Jazeera is an arm of Qatari soft power and that inherently limits its freedom of expression. Indeed, on Al Jazeera’s sports section there was no mention of the threat to move the 2022 World Cup, as far as I could see.

 

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Nothing To See Here…Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/topics/subjects/football.html

 

Yet, because Al Jazeera is the most globalized of all Arab (or for that matter Middle Eastern) news networks, it has the greatest sway on public opinion. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt have a comparable news network with international reach. While this gives Qatar an advantage in shaping the narrative of Middle Eastern politics going forward, no one should think that this coverage is “unbiased” in the manner that traditional journalism, before the advent of 24/7 news coverage, once strived to be. As for the football? It remains to be seen how Qatar will negotiate this latest setback regarding their World Cup, since allegations of slave labor in stadium building have already been well publicized…