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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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Cultural Hegemony, Free Speech, and Terrorism in Turkey: (Un)Happy New Year

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After at least 39 people were killed in a heinous New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub there has been a lot of soul searching in Turkey. What does the attack mean for a country that is rejected by the West on most terms, yet is targeted by ISIS for being a member of the West? Understandably, this “identity crisis” has affected many Turks. The latest news claims that the attacker may have been a Uighur, a member of the Turkic Muslim ethnic group that lives mainly in Western China’s Xinjiang region. If this is the case, it would represent (sadly) yet another example of blowback in American foreign policy, since there have been reports of Uighurs being trained in Pakistan (and, by extension, their client the United States) in order to destabilize China. A 2009 piece in the Washington Post called for increased support of Uighurs in the face of Chinese repression, and such American support is not surprising given the Soviet Union’s support for Uighurs in the past; the policies of the USSR in the distant past—and the United States in the recent past—both aimed to destabilize China, a geopolitical rival to both powers. Now with the rise of the Turkistan Islamic Movement—yet another Jihadist group that has emerged from the Syrian civil war—these policies have been complicated and have begun to produce unexpected consequences.

Given the complicated mix of international intrigue and ethnic affinities that are swirling around the Middle East, it is understandable that there is a sense of bewilderment in Turkey. One disgusting response came from, of all people, a football referee.

 

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The Referee In Question. Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

 

Regional referee from Kutahya province, Suleyman Belli, posted on his Facebook page in the wake of the Reina attack:

“What happened your Santa Claus isn’t always going to bring presents 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Maybe the raki [Anise-flavored Turkish Brandy] and beers you drink will be your bliss on the other side just kidding you’ve been left empty handed 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)”

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Mr. Belli’s Distasteful Post (With an Even Worse Graphic). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

The reference to Santa Claus refers to reports that the Reina gunman was wearing a Santa Claus outfit; it is also an example of the thinly veiled anti-Christian sentiment that has gradually emerged in Turkey during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last 14 years, which also led to a gun being pulled on a Santa Claus character in western Turkey during the last week of 2016.

 

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Santa Claus Has Seen Better Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/noel-baba-protestosuna-10-gozalti-1598573/

 

While Mr. Belli was forced to delete the comment from his Facebook page after public outrage, it is notable that the response—especially from authorities—wasn’t more severe. Unfortunately, it is representative of a far bigger problem in Turkey: many people have accepted the hegemony of the ruling AKP and are all-too-willing to accept, at times, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rhetoric in favor of the party’s pro-Sunni Muslim stance. Of course, this conflicts with the fact that ISIS/ISIL/DAESH—who claimed responsibility for the Reina attack—are also Sunni Muslims. The most disturbing issue is that the AKP’s hegemony means that free speech exists only insofar as it does not hit the government.

Mr. Belli faced no legal repercussions for his disgusting support of the cowardly killing of innocent party-goers. On the other hand, just days later on 3 January 2017, Turkish designer Barbaros Sansal was attacked on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport by Turkish Airlines employees. Mr. Sansal, an outspoken critic of the AKP government, was returning to Turkey after being deported from Northern Cyprus for ”insulting the Turkish nation”. While Mr. Sansal’s comments, in which he criticizes the government for all of the recent instability and closes by telling Turkey to “drown in [its own] s***”, were not the most couth, they were still just his opinion (just like Mr. Belli’s Facebook post). It was Mr. Sansal’s comments, however, which got a response from the AKP’s outspoken Ankara mayor (who football fans know well) Melih Gokcek and led to his arrest for “inciting hatred among the public”.

 

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Mr. Sansal’s Attack. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

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Mr. Gokcek’s Attack and A Few Opposing Views. Note the Ankaragucu Football Club’s Badge in the Post by “Ankara Jan”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

 

Mr. Sansal effectively paid the price for going against the AKP’s cultural hegemony (to borrow the term from Antonio Gramsci) when making his (admittedly uncouth) comments. This cultural hegemony which aims to (re)define the nation state is further dividing Turkey every day. Even a small scale industrial worker in Istanbul became an internet phenomenon overnight after his battle with AKP supporters on social media. After experiencing an unexplained power outage in Istanbul during the first week of 2017, Sehmus Seven Tweeted Energy Minister Berat Albayrak to ask for help since his business had been without electricity for five days. Government supporters attacked Mr. Seven on social media, accusing him of being an Israeli agent, a member of the opposition CHP, and a member of the Kurdish PKK, among other things. In response, an exasperated Mr. Seven said “some [people] called me a Marxist-Leninist! I don’t even know what a Marxist-Leninist is. One [person] says I’m an agent for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, another [person] asks if I’m an Israeli agent. I say there is no electricity and the person asks if I want to divide the country. I don’t get it! I just wanted electricity. I’m a nationalist. I have seven insured employees. I pay my taxes and insurance on time”.

 

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The Exchange between Mr. Seven and Government Supporters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/esnaf-sehmus-marksis-leninist-nedir-bilmiyorum-ben-milliyetciyim

 

Here, Mr. Seven was shamed for going against the AKP’s narrative of developing the country by protesting the lack of electricity. Interestingly, just as the international trend of decolonization in the 1960s and 1970s saw its parallel in the United States with the civil rights movement, we have seen developments in the United States parallel to those in Turkey where a similar attempt to re-define the nation-state has led to further division.

Since Donald Trump’s victory in the election the United States has become divided to a dangerous degree. One of the most sickening manifestations of this division surfaced on 5 January 2017 when four people were held for an attack that was live-streamed on Facebook. In the attack four African-Americans assaulted a bound and gagged special needs man while making “derogatory statements against white people and President-elect Donald Trump” according to the BBC story (CNN later reported that they said “F*ck Donald Trump! F*ck white people!”). The assailants remove part of the victim’s scalp with a knife and make him drink from a toilet bowl while forcing him—at knife point—to say “I love black people”. While the four assailants have been arrested and are being charged with a “hate crime” it doesn’t solve the problem that there is a real division in American society. US President Barack Obama made a predictably weak statement in response to the attack, calling it “despicable” while opining “What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time. Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook. The good news is that the next generation that’s coming behind us … have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race.” I suppose Mr. Obama didn’t realize that the assailants were the next generation—three of the four were 18 years old!

 

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The Assailants in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38525549

 

Instead of realizing that the recent emphasis on racial identity in the United States (please see college sports and the Confederate flag debate)—in order to re-define the country as a racist state—has actually perpetuated further division, Mr. Obama chose to pay lip service without actually addressing the real problems. Until people in the world—whether in Turkey, the United States, or anywhere else—realize that the answer to societal problems is not to be found by dividing people by creating new cultural norms (and hegemonies), however, it is unlikely that we will see any more global stability in 2017 than we saw in 2016, and that in itself should make people think. Many people would do well to make a New Year’s resolution to think more independently—and more critically—about the world around them so as to not fall into the trap of blindly succumbing to cultural hegemony.

Race, Sports, and Politics in the United States: The Case of College Football

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As my “About Me” page states, I attended the University of Texas for my Master’s degree. As is the case with many of those who attended UT, I too was indoctrinated (!) into following the Texas Longhorns (American) football team—Hook ‘em Horns. Since my days at UT, I have continually followed my team’s fortunes. These days they aren’t doing so well and could be headed for a third-straight losing season, something unheard of in Austin, which has led to rumors that the coach, Charlie Strong, could be fired. Since this is a football blog and not an (American) football blog I will not go into specificities about sport; rather I will focus on politics.

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As the Article States, Charlie Strong Is Undoubtedly a Good Man. Unfortunately, The Bottom Line Is What Matters in (Extreme) Capitalist Sports–and Societies. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/want-texas-keep-charlie-strong/

 

Mr. Strong is an African-American, and for an (American) football coach that is a rare quality. But it is also a quality that can lead to a lot of—perhaps—undue controversy. The Houston Chronicle, on 20 November 2016, came out with a story claiming that the low number of African-American coaches in college football is due to racism. This is an interesting assessment of the situation, but the president of Texas A&M University said, in reference to the lack of minority coaches, “I don’t think anyone would deny that it looks like a significant under-representation”. The Houston Chronicle’s story says that 11.7 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision (the highest tier of college football in the United States) schools have African-American coaches. According to another story, however, this figure is close to U.S. Census data that says 13.3 percent of the American population is African-American. The 11.7 percent of African-American coaches, then, means that the number of African-American coaches is actually nearly proportionate to the number of African-Americans in U.S. Society. So…where is the problem?

Unfortunately, the problem is historical since the heinous history of institutionalized racism in American society looms behind many aspects of American culture, sports included. What’s worse is that it creates an inequality that fails to address the true problems, and a troublesome double standard emerges. When, in late October 2016, a fan at a college football game in Wisconsin depicted current president Barack Obama in a noose state media (the Washington Post) called it a “racist incident”. On the other hand, following Donald Trump’s election victory, when protestors in Los Angeles burned President-elect Donald Trump’s head in effigy and a Houston haunted house showed Mr. Trump hanging from a noose and when, in New York, Mr. Trump was hung in effigy outside his residence there was no similar outcry. Even when, in the New York incident, American flags were burned there was no outcry—state media didn’t even report it! To a neutral observer this is very odd and it begs the troubling question: Is it because Mr. Obama is African-American but Mr. Trump is white?

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Uproar In Madison, WI. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/10/29/fan-in-trump-mask-holds-noose-around-fan-in-obama-mask-at-wisconsin-game/

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But None In New York. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2016/11/hillary-supporters-hang-trump-effigy-outside-his-nyc-home/

 

Given the uproar at a simple college football game in the small town of Madison, Wisconsin—where fans of the University of Wisconsin heaped shame upon the (admittedly) poor taste of the fans who disparaged the current President of the United States—it is interesting (not to mention shocking) that the burning of the American flag on 5th Avenue, the heart of “America”, was not similarly condemned.

It is the product of a society that has been—continually—unable to come to terms with its racist past which creates a worrisome double standard not only in society, but sport as well. Sage Steele, an anchor for America’s largest sports network ESPN, sent a good message to America when she said:

As a self-proclaimed, proud bi-racial woman — my father is black and my mother is white — the word “diversity” is fascinating. These days, I call it “the D word”. Why? Because everyone likes to say it. At work, at home, at the podium, at colleges and universities. Diversity. EMBRACE DIVERSITY! Fortunately, millions of Americans of all races, religions and cultures do just that. But, how many of us actually mean it? Specifically, how many people of color actually mean it? Or is it simply a socially acceptable, politically correct term that just sounds good, and feels good to say, or to demand? Unfortunately for way too many African-Americans and people of color, I believe it’s the latter. I’ve actually believed this for years and have spoken publicly about it a few times recently, contemplating when the best time would be to fully “go there”. In light of recent events around the country and personally, I feel the time is now.

[…]

 You don’t get a hall-pass just because you’re a minority. Racism is racism, no matter what color your skin is.

 […]

Believe it or not, we can disagree and still be civil. Respectful. Kind. Accepting of our differences. Isn’t that what DIVERSITY is all about? EMBRACE DIVERSITY…but mean it. All the time, not just when it’s convenient for you. I pray that we can all begin to have more open-minded, non-judgmental, healthy conversations to ensure that diversity applies to ALL Americans, all of the time.

I could not have said it better myself, and it is remarkable that we miss out on how counterproductive this refusal to embrace diversity really can be. The reason for the dearth of African-American coaches in college football is just one small example of the issue. As the article states:

Given the history of major institutions hiring black coaches, the problem is not a resistance to hiring, but rather that a black coach is extremely difficult to fire because groups such as TIDES and people such as Ty Willingham might call you a racist.

The only color that college boosters and alumni care about is green, the color of money that flows into the school as the result of a winning program with sustained success over a long period of time. Schools such as Texas and Texas A&M have given the “power” to black coaches they believe will deliver that kind of success.

If the media and former head coaches-turned-activists wouldn’t launch inquisitions and hurl accusations of racism, more would do it [coach college football teams].

As is the case with industrial football, money is all that matters to those in charge of sports teams; all they want is success on the field so as to line their pockets. Understandably, that means having the power to hire people who can bring success. Unfortunately, the flip side of that means having the power to fire people who don’t bring success and teams will become more reluctant to hire African-American coaches if firing them leads to controversy. To cloud such issues with race only serves to miss the point entirely, and it unfortunately supports a dangerous and divisive double standard in society that helps neither whites nor African-Americans. Rather than fomenting race-related controversies where none exist American society would be better served focusing on how to alleviate the poverty and violence in African-American communities, the kind depicted in ScHoolboy Q’s poignant video for the song John Muir. Just a bit of perspective from a marginal sociologist with a multi-cultural background.

From Women’s Volleyball Uniforms to Colin Kaepernick: The Manufactured Divisions In Society As Seen Through Sports

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I was attending a Gender Sociology seminar at the University of Florida and the conversation turned—of all things—to the uniforms worn by the American Women’s Volleyball team at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Since I am more of a soccer fan I had not seen the uniforms in question at the time, but judging by some of the rhetoric in the class room I assumed they must have been quite offensive. In reality, they look like anything any person would be likely to see in any beach town in the United States. Essentially the uniform is a swimsuit, or a bikini.

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The “Uni” In Question. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/08/09/scant-gender-parity-in-uniforms-for-olympic-beach-volleyball/?utm_term=.2eeb23b6b967

My first reaction to the comments in the class was that “sex sells”. In our modern society where instant gratification is all that matters it seems that the amount of skin shown is directly proportionate to the amount of money made. Just as industrial football in soccer is a commodification of sport, then these uniforms can—in some way—be seen as a form of commodification of sport as well; they might be using physical beauty to sell sport. Which—while not my cup of tea—is in line with capitalism. One need only look at the pictures of soccer stars David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo to see that such cynical marketing affects men as well as women.

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Becks As a Sex Symbol. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.enstarz.com/articles/5367/20120815/david-beckham-underwear-ad-soccer-star-shows-off-body-in-latest-h-m-shoot-photos.htm

Marxist theory itself underlines that the development of capitalism changed the gender roles of men and women; as society shifted from the traditional to the modern egalitarian gender roles began to fade. Gender scholar Cecilia Ridgeway, writing in her book Framed by Gender (2011), explains that:

Under conditions of greater social and material resources, however, the desperate interdependence between the sexes is lessened somewhat, and the egalitarian balance between gendered spheres of influence might be difficult to sustain. With more available resources, the risk is greater that one sex will gain greater access to these resources, creating a tipping factor that consolidates specific gender status beliefs into a diffuse status belief that broadly advantages that sex over the other (Ridgeway 2011, 51).

Interestingly, the discussion about the volleyball uniforms was not in these terms. Instead it was seen as some sort of male dominance that made the women wear the uniforms; the prevailing opinion was that the Olympians were being made into sex objects. This made me curious, and I decided to look into the matter a little more. Many commentators mentioned the controversy over the uniforms, while the Washington Post wrote a strange opinion piece blasting the “scant gender parity” while praising Egypt’s choice of uniforms  (which to me is like comparing apples and oranges, but that is for another day).

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Egypt’s More Modest Uniforms. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/08/09/scant-gender-parity-in-uniforms-for-olympic-beach-volleyball/?utm_term=.2eeb23b6b967

What seems to be lost in much of the discussion, however, is the voice of the players themselves. It is easy to approach the topic with pre-existing biases and opinions, but to ignore conflicting points of view is no way to debate a controversial topic. One CBS story for instance, noted that women’s volleyball players have a choice of uniforms while men have no choice:

The women actually have a choice of what to wear while the men only have one option. The women can either wear a two-piece bikini, or they can wear a one-piece suit. The sport did used to only have the option of bikinis for women, but they changed the rule in 2012 be be more inclusive to other cultures and religions. The men only have one option: a tank top and shorts.

American star Kerri Walsh Jennings took to Twitter to reject the notion that the players were wearing bikinis to get better TV ratings. A useful piece by the Independent Journal Review gave reasons for why the U.S. women’s volleyball team continues competing in bikinis, using quotes from the players themselves. Misty May-Treanor, a gold medalist, said it simply in an interview with Slate: “We’re staying in our [bikinis]. I don’t see too many people changing. To each his own. If you get down to it, it’s about the sport and not what we’re wearing.” And that is precisely the argument that I make. By lowering the debate to such a base level and focusing on what women are wearing when playing volleyball it ignores what is really going on, you miss the focus on the sport and athletes involved. In order for true “equality” to exist people—male or female—should be scrutinized for their athletic prowess, not on what they are wearing. These kinds of debates, rather than furthering a “progressive” agenda (to use the term that is currently in vogue) in society, actually serve to be more regressive. Another example from the sports world can be given.

When the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers (an American football team), Colin Kaepernick, chose not to stand during the American national anthem before a preseason game in protest of racism, his actions elicited varied responses from all over the social spectrum. The president of the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colorped People) went so far as to compare him to Rosa Parks. Although I’m not sure how Ms. Parks would have viewed this comparison, it certainly shows how important people perceive Mr. Kaepernick’s actions to be, and players from other teams are planning to take part in other “demonstrations”.

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Colin Kaepernick. Image Courtesy of: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/49ers/2016/09/07/colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protest/89975464/

Unfortunately, it seems that—as with the women’s volleyball uniforms—things like this tend to increase, rather than decrease, the divide between different people. If it isn’t men and women being divided, then here it becomes blacks and whites.

Former NFL player Ray Lewis made a good point (albeit one that the author of the article, Will Brinson, doesn’t agree with) that the issue with Mr. Kaepernick’s protest is his focus on the flag. Mr Lewis said: “Listen I understand what you’re trying to do, but understand, take the flag out of it. I have uncles, I’ve got brothers, going into the military, that said I will never see you again. To understand that I will always respect that part of what our patriotism should be.” Focusing on the flag itself clouds the issue, and in a different way than Mr. Brinson would have you believe. He writes: “People yelling about whether protests should include the flag or feature the national anthem or whether a certain day is acceptable for protesting only cloud the waters further.” The flag is, for many, a symbol of unity—that we are all Americans. For others, it is a sign of Police brutality and even systemic racism. I understand that. But by focusing on the flag Mr. Kaepernick has made a lot of people upset—his own actions have led to the very “clouding of the waters” that Mr. Brinson blames not on the quarterback, but on his detractors instead. The perceived disrespect towards the flag and national anthem doesn’t solve the problems of racism in the United States; rather it just polarizes people further.

And we can see that in the attacks made on Mr. Kaepernick. There have been claims that his girlfriend, a Muslim, influenced him to protest social injustice. Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to focus on the flag has brought other issues out now that go way beyond the purpose of his original protest, in this case those of Islamophobia and gender equality. But his original message is lost. It is the “progressiveness” that sows division and—ironically—actually makes society regress.

This climate of racial division has led California State-Los Angeles University (CSLA) to debut segregated housing which will, among other things, “serve as a safe space for Black CSLA students to congregate, connect, and learn from each other” according to a list of demands from the CSLA Black Student Union. The freshman in the dorm are wary of calling it “segregation”, but the fact remains that Dr. Martin Luther King fought against the very concepts of “separate but equal” that CSLA’s policy represents! And sadly…other places are doing the same. The University of Connecticut will also have segregated housing this fall, while Oregon State and UC Berkeley are also sponsoring segregated events in what The Federalist rightly point out stems from a “far-Left [that] has found itself championing a toxic form of second-wave segregationism than only exacerbates division”. Even liberal civil rights leaders in the United States spoke against CSLA’s decision.

It is my hope that people stop focusing on differences so much that it stops them from seeing the similarities. People should not focus on the uniforms of the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team to the extent that it overshadows their play; by creating a controversy out of nothing (the players seemed to take no issue with their uniforms), we end up doing the very thing we intended not to do: focusing on these women because of their gender. They are volleyball players, just like a male volleyball player. Focus on them for what they do in sports, not for what they wear. In the same vein, Mr. Kaepernick should not focus on the American flag when he makes his protest to the extent that people forget about his initial protest—it is about race relations, not about nationalism. If he wants true equality in the United States of America, he should know that it will not come by antagonizing those who believe that the flag (and anthem) hold real, emotional, meanings. Respect is a two-way street. A perceived insult to the flag overshadows—for others—the very things Mr. Kaepernick is protesting against and that creates even more of a splintering within society. Black or White, Male or Female, Christian or Muslim, people are people. By creating artificial divisions in society problems will not be solved. Rather, they will be exacerbated to the point that, fifty years on, segregation returns. It is a chilling reminder that blind “progressiveness” can have its unintended “blowback”; by not listening to the opposing sides in society we risk finding ourselves in an intractable situation that will only unravel further, like yarn on a spool.

From Super Bowl to Liverpool: Extreme Capitalism on Both Sides of the Ocean

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In the United States the Super (Stupor) Bowl came and went last Sunday, leaving me in a stupor as always, over the excessive commercialism and heavy drinking that characterizes America’s biggest (!) holiday. The Carolina Panthers were upset by the Denver Broncos in the only game on earth where an off-hand (or maybe not so off-hand) post-game comment can net a business 13.9 million dollars in just hours. It is also the only game on earth where workers are paid 13 dollars an hour to…serve 13 dollar Bud Light beers—one step above (or below, depending on your level of taste and health-consciousness) water—to people who have paid up to 10,000 dollars a ticket.

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It may look like an Eastern European bread line but no, it is just people trying to get home after spending their day trying to eek out a living. Image Courtesy of: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_grind/2016/02/i_sold_beer_and_hot_dogs_at_the_super_bowl_and_got_paid_a_pittance.html.

And it is also the only game in the world that can—despite its disgusting embodiment of extreme capitalism in its most repulsive form—distract people from that same gut-wrenching exploitation in the name of…race?! Apparently, it can. The halftime show this year, a musical performance that half of the spectators don’t remember for too much alcohol consumption and half remember all too well for living up to its sideshow nature (Janet Jackson’s nipple anyone?), stole the show again but not for such titillating (!) reasons as Ms. Jackson’s did in 2004.

This year the star was Ms. Beyonce Knowles, the former Destiny’s Child star and now Mrs. Jay Z. Apparently her half-time performance, which featured a Black Panthers’ salute, rubbed some people the wrong way. Indeed, it even divided the black community. Dianca London notes that “Beyonce’s capitalism [is] masquerading as radical change”, and she further reminds readers that

“Beyoncé’s music is created to generate profit much like Super Bowl 50 and its countless ads so many of us consumed on Sunday. Sure, pop music can be influential on an individual and communal level, but it is dangerous when we fail to consider the ways in which songs such as “Formation” or last year’s “Flawless” are essentially an advertisement for Beyoncé’s brand — making her forever evolving activism (and the public’s eager consumption of it) a self-sustaining cache cow with limitless potential…it is alarming how we as a community unabashedly endorse without question or pause the soft politics of pop icons. It’s problematic to consume without caution, even if we see a reflection of ourselves, our mothers or sisters in their narratives. As much as we might feel empowered by the grace of their choreography and the back beats of their latest anthems, we as black Americans should allow ourselves the space to question the messages we are given, even if those messages are tailor-made for us.”

Others were not so cautious. While praising Beyonce Tamara Winfrey-Harris is unable to ignore the fact that Beyonce’s role in—and support of—extreme capitalism is contradictory to her message: “Racism is not just a social ill. It is baked into the American economy. It is a business. Capitalism is a root of the tragedy of Katrina and the biased American penal system and the continuing primacy of European beauty standards. And getting rich is not anarchy.”

Still, however, Ms. Winfrey-Harris buys into the hype Ms. London refuses to accept: “What is undeniable, though, is that popular culture is powerful. It changes minds. An expression of unapologetic Blackness by Beyoncé, arguably the biggest star in the world, is important. Pointing out the beauty in the sort of Blackness society views with revulsion is revolutionary.”

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Beyonce seems out of place. Image Courtesy of: http://hellobeautiful.com/2016/02/08/beyonce-formation-revolution-pop-culture/

As I wrote following the Baltimore riots, the American obsession with race misses the point completely. What a millionaire star does (regardless of whether they are black, white, or green) in ten minutes should not erase the incredible injustice of people—black, white, or green—who are working for 13 dollars an hour to serve 13 dollar beers. It is…insane. And it is a symptom of a global greed that, quite honestly, knows no color. That is why I, like Ms. London, am cautious of putting too much of an emphasis on any “message” a millionaire star might send. Perhaps a better message would have been sent by paying the workers volunteers who set up Beyonce’s halftime show, since—as Mr. Gabriel Thompson revealed—they are paid nothing to “lug the pieces of the stage onto the field for the halftime show, [putting] in at least 34 hours of rehearsal time [for] two weeks” as “unpaid labor, a subsidy of sorts for the Pepsi-sponsored halftime extravaganza”. Remarkable…but true.

On the day before the Super Bowl, on February 6 2016, across the ocean (it might as well be a galaxy far far away to many in the United States) in the United Kingdom, that other world the NFL is trying to get a foothold in, protests against social injustice characterized by greed took a different—and much more effective—form. Ten thousand Liverpool supporters walked out (and certainly they did not walk alone!) for the first time in the team’s 132 year history during the 77th minute of their team’s match against Sunderland. The reason? To protest the raising of the maximum ticket price to 77 Pounds from 59 Pounds. Of course, the fact that prices were raised should not come as a surprise when you know the owners of Liverpool FC are America’s Fenway Sports Group, who refused to respond to fans’ concerns. After all, they also own the Boston Red Sox…home to America’s highest priced Baseball tickets at just over 52 dollars on average.

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Liverpool fans fly black flags instead of the traditional red flags as they exit Anfield Road. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/06/liverpool-fans-walkout-thousands-ticket-price-protest

The issue of rising ticket prices—and frustration with American owners bringing their brand of extreme capitalism with them—is nothing new in the English Premier League, as evidenced by Jim White’s 2012 article in The Telegraph. It is part and parcel of the industrial football that is re-defining sports in Europe.

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Three years ago Liverpool fans vented their frustrations against the American owners—and their extreme capitalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/columnists/jimwhite/9039432/Jim-White-Love-affair-Premier-Leagues-mega-rich-stars-have-lost-touch-with-their-disillusioned-supporters.html

Protests against this type of greed are now spreading. The Football Supporter’s Federation in England is now discussing a wide-spread walkout of all Premier League games this coming weekend, and this article from The Telegraph has a good graphic detailing ticket prices of all Premier League Teams. Ironically, the cheapest tickets—at 22 pounds—are to be found at Leicester City, the odds on favorites to win the championship. Let’s hope they do. In Germany Borussia Dortmund fans skipped the first twenty minutes of their 9 February 2016 German Cup match against VFB Stuttgart over Stuttgart’s 70 Euro ticket prices for the cup tie. The “Yellow Wall” didn’t leave it at that; they rained tennis balls down on the pitch as part of their protest.

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“Football Must Be Affordable”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102

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Why Tennis Balls? The BBC Explains: “According to Dortmund fan Marc Quambusch, fans were being ironic. He says Germans use the expression “great tennis” to describe something very good.” Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102

On two continents extreme greed—fuelled by extreme capitalism—is threatening sports. As fans have said in both England and Germany, enough is enough. In Liverpool’s case, it may have just worked. On Thursday 11 February 2016, the team’s owners announced that ticket prices will be frozen at this year’s level, 59 Pounds for the most expensive seats. It seems that the protest—perhaps backed by British PM David Cameron, worked. Of course, the team also learned a lesson on the pitch. When the fans left at the 77th minute Liverpool were up 2-0…after the fans left, the team conceded two late goals and drew Sunderland 2-2. Were the two lost points worth the proposed rise in prices? I would argue no, since it is good results that garner more money in the long run. For now, Fenway Sports Group did well to back down.

But it still doesn’t change the fact that across the world greed is governing business more and more. Whether in England, Germany, or the United States, there is too much emphasis on money, and it is slowly taking sports over as well. In the United States we should not be blinded by issues like race—which has lowered the societal problem of economic inequality to its lowest common denominator—because it hinders our ability to see wider issues. Sports is a big business, and if we do not stand up against this greed then we all lose—it does not matter if we are black or white for there is no color in being a sports fan. The fact that the biggest story from the Super Bowl was about race goes to show that people are at risk of missing the larger point. Football—and sport in general—is better with fans. Not consumers. Otherwise, there is no passion. And I would hate to live a life without passion.

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Image Courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/08/fsf-premier-league-clubs-walkout-ticket-prices