Entries by: Detroit Red

Kneeling & Tweeting… and Speaking Truth to Power

Written by :
Published on : September 28, 2017


On Saturday night in Alabama, and then again on twitter, our hate-monger-in chief made it crystal clear that he has a bigger problem with black athletes speaking their minds than with the rise of tiki torch-wielding Nazis in his own backyard. Sunday, football players across the league came out in previously-unseen numbers to make it clear how they feel about the president’s ham-fisted efforts to quash free speech. And as we wrap-up week 3 of the NFL season with QB-turned-activist Colin Kapernick still out of a job due to the despicable and ongoing attempt by the league’s owners to silence him, here are 6 other moments in the history of sports when athletes have dared to transcend their role as national entertainers and took stands against racism and fascism.


1) Master Race No More

Olympian Jesse Owens delivers a swift and graceful repudiation of Hitler’s aryan supremacy theory by besting the Germans, and everybody else in the 1936 Games. In front of an audience that included der fuhrer himself, Owens struck gold 4 times – winning the 100 meter, 200 meter, long jump, and the 4×100 relay.


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Not content with the symbolic victory, and knowing that America itself was still lagging behind in the global race towards full equality, Owens later proclaimed that: “When I came back to my native country…I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.” Owens knew the fight against bigotry would be a marathon. What he might not have predicted was that his first strides out of the starting blocks in Berlin would pave the way for generations of “woke” athletes to come.


2) “Aint’t No Viet-Cong Ever Call Me Nigger”

Heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali defies his draft notice for service in Vietnam and issues a bold statement of solidarity with oppressed peoples of color the world over. His anti-war stance cost him his belt and earned him a five-year prison sentence (later overturned by the Supreme Court); but it also galvanized a generation of his progressive-minded peers.


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“The Ali Summit” as we now call it, is perhaps the watershed moment in sports-activist history. Future Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and several other athletes and community leaders all came together at a 1967 Cleveland press conference to proclaim their support for Ali’s position and deepen the ties between the anti-war and anti-racist movements. Who knows… if our own orange Il Duce keeps sending hate-tweets about famous black athletes maybe we’ll see something like it again soon.


3) The Pre-Kapernick Sit Downs

Kap gets all the flack but he’s far from the first sports star to use the anthem to air a grievance. Long before his controversial kneeling, two marquee players, one from the hardwood and one from America’s favorite past-time were sitting-it-out for different, if not similar reasons.


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Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a sharp-shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets, started skipping the pre-game ritual in 1996 because in his opinion the American flag was a symbol of racism and oppression. He was fined by the league, harassed by fans, received death threats and even had his house burned down. His compromise with the NBA, brokered with help of the player’s union that had his back (You hear that NFLPA?) was that he would pray silently with his head down. To this day he remains committed to the right to protest and recently spoke out in support of Kaepernick and others.


Carlos Delgado, the two-time all-star first baseman who logged time with the Blue Jays and then the Mets, also made a stand by sitting. In the tense political climate that was post-9/11 America, Delgado began planting himself in the dugout during the 2004 season’s new practice of playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. Delgado saw the sudden song choice as being used to support America’s ongoing occupation of Iraq. He refused to leave the bench for the whole 162 games that year – including an appearance at Yankee Stadium where boos were probably the nicest thing he heard all day.


4) The Round Mound of Tolerance/“That Ain’t on The Cue Card Chuck!”

Basketball legend and outspoken TNT commentator Charles Barkley shocked studio executives at least two different times when he went off script to address issues of social justice while on the air.


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During a Martin Luther King Day broadcast in 2011 the NBA Hall-of-Famer invoked the civil rights leader’s legacy to make a passionate speech affirming the rights of the LGBTQ community. And on a Cinco de Mayo themed game-day, Barkley went on a rant about the passage of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which basically legalized racial and ethnic profiling by the police. He issued a personal ultimatum to the then-governors of Arizona and Alabama: “Leave those people alone. They work their behind off.” He went on: “The Hispanic community, they’re like the fabric of the cloth. They’re part of our community and any time you try to do any type of racial profiling or racial discrimination is wrong.” Not too shabby for a tv talking head — and a one-time Republican at that!


5) Say It Loud – The Fists Heard ‘Round the World

Everybody knows the picture. It’s the quintessential image of Black Power. Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 68’ games in Mexico City, with heads down in defiance and with black-gloved fists raised high in the air.


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What most don’t know is that the two runners — Smith who won gold in the 200 meter, and Carlos who netted the bronze in the same event — had carefully planned their moment on the world stage. As the two victorious sprinters approached the podium, their outfits cleverly spoke to the myriad struggles and oppressions which they sought to shine a light on. They took off their shoes to protest poverty, wore beads and a scarf to protest lynching and Carlos un-zipped his jacket, despite Olympic rules, as a salute to “all the working-class people — black and white…who had to struggle and work with their hands all day.” How about that for inter-sectionality? Neither the sports world nor the country would ever be the same.


6) Teachers and Teamsters and Cheese-heads?

When mini-dictator and Wisconsin Governor, Paul Walker, launched his attack on the rights of public sector workers in 2011, thousands of union members helped flood the streets and government buildings of Madison in response.


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But perhaps none were a more welcome addition to the picket line than the members of everyone’s favorite publicly-owned home team, the Green Bay Packers. About 6 or 7 lesser known players were the first to come out and show face; and then local workers got the big-game play they deserved – Charles Woodson, the team’s defensive captain, union-rep, and all-around football icon released a moving statement in solidarity with all of Wisconsin’s working families. The heinous anti-worker bill was rammed through anyway but workers in Wisconsin will never forget when #21 and his crew of Packers laced up their spikes and knew which side to play for.



The Conflicted Radical’s Guide to Euro 2016 or How I Learned to Just Stop Worrying and Love Les Bleus

Written by :
Published on : July 10, 2016



Just in time for France’s showdown against Portugal in the Euro 2016 Final, a white red who grew up wanting to be black explains why he’ll be cheering for Les Bleus. SBS presents the first installment in what will be a semi-regular series of rants on the always controversial intersection of sports and politics:

Dispatches from Left Field aka The Vanguard is in the Bleachers


The Conflicted Radical’s Guide to Euro 2016 or How I Learned to Just Stop Worrying and Love Les Bleus

For a left-wing trade unionist brought up on Public Enemy and stories of family members marching against racism, war and corrupt governments both near and far, “watching the game” has never just been “watching the game.” Whether it was my old man screaming out “fascists” at pretty much any opposing team that he didn’t like or the way mom – an itinerant fan at best who still figures prominently in this origin story — would make sure to point out which country used to be colonized by who and therefore where our family’s loyalties should properly lie, sports in our house was always connected to the outside world, and always to politics. You couldn’t even relax during commercials because every time a Coors Light ad would come on my dad would treat all in attendance to another from-the-sofa history lesson about the “motherfuckers who fought to keep out the union.”


So how did an angsty young white-boy, reared in an anti-establishment home – the kind of teenager that sulked down to the wood-paneled basement, angry at the world, to listen to militant hip-hop and watch “SportsCenter” — how did that kid become an unabashed flag-waving supporter of the land of wine and cheese?  How did he – I – become a supporter of one of the most barbaric colonial powers in the history of the planet? Well the answer is simple; like the great Sigmund Freud, I blame my mother.



And speaking of my mom, if anyone could have a historical chip on their shoulder against Les Francais, it could actually be her, the child of an immigrant woman whose Russian and Polish background were enough to get her French government papers declaring her as good as “stateless.” Spoiler alert: moms was actually born in France, but to a refugee single mother in a post-war Paris where those from lands to the East were treated with the same type of scorn that so many Arabs and West Africans suffer regularly there today. Childhood poverty, an immigrant mother who worked a string of low-wage jobs in a country that would never totally accept her – that might be enough to raise a daughter none too happy to sing the French national anthem and pledge allegiance to her birthplace. Good thing there was no French equivalent of Public Enemy at the time.


But there are two sides to every croissant… and my mother grew to love life in Paris and the many opportunities it gave her. Not the least of those benefits being a world-class education accessed completely free of charge (even for the child of an immigrant – didja’ hear that America?). So as she came of age in the land of liberté, égalité, and fraternité my mom excelled in her studies, made friends, and ran home from school for bits of bread and chocolate like all the other good little boys and girls. At the same time, years of class room interrogations about her last name and background and her own mother’s continued servitude in the homes of the Parisian One Percent also laid the foundation for my mom to become something of a hybrid enfant terrible. From protesting the French occupation of Algeria to standing toe-to-toe with striking French workers in May of ’68, my mom’s evolving relationship with her country was and still is a complicated one.


But when the legendary French Footballer Zinedine Zidane — the one they call “Zizou” — led a super -talented multi-cultural squad to greatness in the World Cup finals in 1998 and then again at the Euros in 2000, mom and the rest of our family stood and cheered. We celebrated the team’s brilliance on the pitch. We celebrated the great chemistry between “Zizou,” the graceful midfield playmaker, and Henry, the dynamic striker. And we celebrated the greatness of working class Frenchmen born to immigrant parents in rough places like Marseille and the banlieues of Paris (Zizou and Henry respectively) who overcame obstacles to become the best in the world. And it definitely wasn’t lost on any of us that those immigrant parents came from former French colonies. Mom didn’t have to point it out that time – we knew Zizou’s family hailed from Berber country in Algeria and Henry’s from the Antilles. That made donning the Coq Sportif all the more righteous and yet subversive at the same time.



But before we get all bleary-eyed and pour ourselves another Lillet let us remember that for all the promise that Zizou and Henry and company portended for the direction of a new post-colonial multi-cultural France, there have been more than a few troubling reminders that all is not well in Gaule. The violent uprisings in the banlieux in 2005, the rising popularity of Far Right Nationalist Front politicians like Marine Le Pen (“How you say…Le Trump?”), and even the recent controversy around the French Football Federation’s refusal to include embattled star player Kareem Benzema on this year’s side are all signs of a country that has struggled to live up to its revolutionary ideals.


The Benzema case, especially, has given pause to legions of French football supporters, this one included. A publically gracious figure who continues to proclaim both his innocence and love of La France – tweeting things like “once a bleu always a bleu” –  he has become a flashpoint for a volatile national conversation on immigration, Islam, and the conduct of celebrity athletes. The accusation that he was involved in the attempted blackmailing of a fellow teammate by a group of French Arabs is certainly disturbing but almost more unsettling is the idea that he hasn’t even been proven guilty and yet a significant part of the French population has already made up their minds based on not much more than his North African heritage. A National Front official related to Marine Le Pen even went so far as to say that if Benzema didn’t like being left off the squad then he could go play for Algeria; never mind that the man was born and raised in France.



So for a kid who was spoon-fed anti-racism and anti-colonialism since he was wearing environmentally friendly, biodegradable diapers, rooting for Les Bleus, in a weird way, became a kind of catharsis. A way to make peace with complicated histories. A way to celebrate the struggles of immigrants who came to the West to give themselves and their children a second chance at a better life; as cleaning ladies, or as teachers, or as star half-backs wearing a nation’s colors on their chest.


This year’s showing in the Euros again leaves the French at the doorstep of history. As they face down another former colonial empire in Portugal in today’s final, I know my family and I will all be rooting for Les Bleus. Not because we think France is perfect or the best, and not because we aren’t totally disgusted by the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment there – because we are. And not because I’ve sold out my political principles based on a “bourgeois notion of nostalgia,” as some of my more hardened comrades tell me while they break my balls for the one-thousandth time. No, when my family shouts “Allez Les Bleus,” it’s because we’re hoping that the beautiful game, played by a beautiful group of immigrants and the sons of immigrants – Like Dimitri Payet, Patrice Evra, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko – might just be able to elevate us all to somewhere better than we are right now.


Plus mom likes it when I say nice things about France and a wise man once told me that there never stop being perks for kissing up to your mother.



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