Hey, Boston2024: Give It Up Already

By Aaron Leibowitz

AP

Associated Press (that’s me in the bottom right)

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/hey-boston2024-give-it-up-already-e4c16379fdda)

Some people just can’t take a hint.

On Wednesday, WBUR released a statewide survey in Massachusetts that showed 39 percent support for the 2024 Boston Olympic bid and 49 percent opposition.

That confirms what we’ve known for months: Locals don’t want the Olympics in Boston. They didn’t want it when record snowfall crippled the city’s transportation system this past winter, and they don’t want it now.

This September, the United States Olympic Committee can officially submit one American city’s bid for the 2024 Games to the International Olympic Committee, with the host city to be announced in 2017. Boston has no business making it that far. The time is past due for public officials to heed the advice residents have offered at meeting after meeting, in poll after poll, and pull the bid.

To put it another way: You know it’s time to let it go when David Ortiz, Larry Bird, Michelle Kwan, Celtics owner Steve Pagiuca, Patriots owner Bob Kraft and Red Sox owner John Henry all support the bid, and it’s still not enough to sell the people of Boston.

Last fall, behind closed doors, the city organized an unelected team of boosters to obtain the blessing of the USOC. On January 8 at an airport in Denver, the USOC chose Boston as its bid city, over San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The whole process occurred without any chance for the public to express whether it might want a three-week party — the type that tends to alter the historical course of a city — to come to town.

Since then, it’s been one fiasco after the next. There was the gag order Mayor Marty Walsh signed barring public employees from speaking negatively about the bid. There were questions regarding the acquisition of land, and whether Boston2024 had informed business owners of potential plans. There was the release of boosters’ salaries — after much public pressure — which was met with outrage and led to former governor Deval Patrick relinquishing his Olympic-sized paycheck ($7,500 per day).

More recently, a Freedom of Information Act request by the Boston Business Journal revealed that, despite pledges of no public funding for the Games, Boston2024 will actually need public money to fund land acquisition and infrastructure costs for a temporary Olympic stadium. And on Tuesday, Boston Magazine asked a simple question with no clear answer: Has anyone at Boston City Hall even read the Boston2024 bid book?

Some in the media continue to insist that Greater Boston’s lack of support for Boston2024 is an embarrassment, simply more proof that it’s a city of naysayers and NIMBYs. Those silly Bostonians are acting all curmudgeonly again. They don’t like anything — even the Olympics! Of course, everyone knows the Olympics are “great” for host cities! There aren’t a million and one legitimate reasons to not want this mega-event in your backyard!’

“Dear United States Olympic Committee,” begins Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung in her May 21 column titled, ‘Dear USOC: We really do want to host the Games.’ “You may think Bostonians don’t want to host the Olympics, but then you don’t know Boston. We love to hate. We love to complain. We love to hate that we complain. We are difficult people. Just ask the British.”

Leung concludes: “Stick with us, USOC. I know we’re trying your patience. But it’ll all come together. It always does. Or it won’t. And we’ll complain about that, too.”

An alternative version of that column, more rooted in the reality of how people here actually think and feel, would look something like this:

“Dear United States Olympic Committee: You may think Bostonians don’t want to host the Olympics, which would mean you’ve seen the polls that show we don’t want to host the Olympics. If you know Boston, you know we love our city. We love to hate ideas that we believe will make it worse. We love to complain about its affordable housing crisis, the closure of public schools, and the failing subway system.

“We’re passionate and critical, and we don’t like when unelected elites impose plans on us while shifting attention away from what really matters. We’ve paid enough attention to past Olympics and to the 2024 bid to have serious, valid concerns about cost overruns, taxpayer funding, mass surveillance, displacement, gentrification, human trafficking, targeting of homeless people, and effects on non-profits. If that makes us difficult people, then yeah, we are a pain in the ass. Just ask Boston2024.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I lived in New York for the first 18 years of my life and have lived in the Boston area since 2010. I have been assisting with grassroots anti-Boston2024 efforts over the past eight months, and I’ve never felt more proud to live here. Watching people organize, ask tough questions, demand their voices be heard, and fight to protect their communities from unwanted outside forces has led me to conclude not that Bostonians are fun-hating, sports-bashing nut jobs, but rather that they know a bad thing when they see it.

If another city wants to host the Olympics, that’s their prerogative. As for Boston, we’ve made our decision clear. The Olympics are not for us. The 2024 bid is not cutting it. Now go away.

Advertisements

Sports can be saved: Cautious optimism after FIFA’s very bad day

By Aaron Leibowitz

The Guardian

The Guardian

(This article was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/yes-sports-can-be-saved-44942c46b5da)

When I awoke to the news that a handful of FIFA officials had been arrested at a hotel in Switzerland on corruption charges, I first rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Then I read the headline again. Then I stuck my head out the window and yelled, “Anything is possible!”, Kevin Garnett-style.

A total of 14 men were charged, and seven were arrested in Zurich early Wednesday, as the result of an FBI investigation charging widespread corruption in FIFA—including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering — over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, the Swiss attorney general’s office announced a separate investigation to address bribery in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

We all know FIFA is corrupt and have known for a long time. But this type of action is unprecedented. This, if handled properly (big if!), could deliver a legitimate blow to an organization that has successfully sullied the most popular game on Earth, most recently by (probably) taking bribes to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and by turning a blind eye to the slave labor and many deaths surrounding its stadium and infrastructure construction.

On the one hand, that it took this long for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to face a serious challenge to his power is mind-boggling. It’s yet to be determined — Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the investigation into other FIFA members is ongoing — exactly how much blood Blatter has directly on his hands, but at the least, he sits powerfully atop a thoroughly corrupt organization and has profited handsomely from that power.

Today’s events are still cause for optimism, though. Perhaps soccer, the beautiful game, can be saved from the hideous governing body with which it’s become synonymous. Perhaps the same will go for football and the NFL; big-time college sports and the NCAA; the Olympics and the IOC.

That might sound naïve, but I’m not saying a sports utopia is going to arrive tomorrow. I am saying it’s no coincidence that, over the past several years, all four of the aforementioned sports monoliths have suffered significant public relations blows. The NFL has been exposed for trying to hide the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, and for sweeping decades of domestic violence by its players under the rug. The NCAA has been exposed for exploiting athletes while shielding itself behind the “student-athlete” myth. The Olympics have been exposed as a massive scam for taxpayers and communities; in Boston, which is bidding for the 2024 Games, Olympic boosters have been torched by the public for an irresponsible plan and an overall lack of transparency.

Here’s the problem for Sepp Blatter types in 2015: keeping a secret these days is damn near impossible. The Dr. Evil underground lair approach doesn’t work anymore. Donald Sterling gets caught. The police get caught. Sepp Blatter’s cronies have gotten caught. Perhaps Blatter, too, is on the verge of getting caught.

In 2015, when people learn they’re being swindled, manipulated and lied to, they tend to speak up. They fight back. They demand better. Same goes for athletes, who have become increasingly willing to raise middle fingers to the sports-industrial machine and question their position within it.

Don’t get me wrong: my optimism is cautious. The fact that the U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for the FIFA investigation doesn’t exactly fill me with hope that justice will be served. But regardless of how this case plays out, FIFA’s reputation has been delivered a crushing blow. This could lead to the withdrawal of World Cup sponsorships by the likes of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It could lead to teams staging boycotts of international tournaments. Eventually, it could open the door, just a crack, for a new organization to provide competition for FIFA in the global soccer landscape (as is currently being attempted in the realm of American college sports).

Whether you believe sports can truly be “saved” from its corrupting forces — amoral governing bodies, greedy owners, corporate influence, globalization itself — probably depends on your view of where our entire planet is headed. If you believe what The Guardian’s Jeb Lund wrote of the NFL in January — that “the league has sought to make the game only part of a broader monument to late-stage capitalism” — then you may agree that wide-scale sports change is on the horizon.

Regardless, after what happened Wednesday morning, it would seem disingenuous to just throw up your hands, admit that sports are morally screwed, and carry on assuming nothing will ever change. Sports, if they can’t be totally saved, can at least be better.

Soccer can be so much better. It got better today.

The NFL is one giant military recruitment tool

By Aaron Leibowitz

(AP Photo)

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/the-nfl-is-one-giant-military-recruitment-tool-ae28276185e4)

Sometimes, even when you know in your heart that something is true, it feels good to get some validation — to see damning, indisputable proof.

When I woke up last Friday morning, I already knew that the National Football League uses jingoism to promote its brand. I knew that the league profits off the glorification of violence. I knew that the NFL and the military work hand in glove.

I did not know, however, that the National Guard has paid NFL teams millions of dollars to honor veterans on stadium Jumbotrons.

A report by Christopher Baxter and Jonathan D. Salant of NJ.com found that the New York Jets’ in-game “Hometown Hero” segments are actually paid advertisements, even though the team presents them as pure-hearted attempts to honor those who have served.

That finding led Baxter and Salant to dig deeper and learn that the Defense Department has paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million since 2011, the large majority of which has come from the National Guard.

It’s one thing for an NFL team to have a military sponsor. It’s another for a team to help the military engage in undercover recruitment.

National Guard spokesperson Patrick Daugherty told NJ.com, point blank, that recruitment is the Guard’s goal: “Promoting and increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of military service in the New Jersey Army National Guard increases the propensity for service in our ranks and garners public support for our Hometown Team.”

The Jets’ spokesperson, Bruce Speight, did not address the fact that the Jumbotron salutes are not publicly presented as sponsored content, but he did echo Daugherty’s point: The Jets (as well as at least a handful of other teams) are happy to take military money to aid recruitment efforts — even, apparently, if they need to be dishonest to do so.

“As with all of our sponsors,” Speight said, “we have worked with the National Guard to create tailored advertising and marketing programs to meet their specific objectives, which in this case was recruitment and retention by targeting our fans and audience through media and stadium assets controlled by the team.”

NFL teams taking advertising money from the military is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. Private entities are allowed to choose their sponsors. But for the love of Goodell, can you at least give me a heads up when I’m about to be recruited?

I should probably note that those “Hometown Heroes” salutes have always felt weird to me, even before I knew that some are fraudulent. When I’m at a game and 50,000 fans are standing and cheering for a veteran, I almost feel compelled to turn to the person next to me and say: “Please know I’m clapping because I respect this veteran’s courage, not because I endorse any policies or actions by the U.S. military.”

But now, those moments have gone from kind of contrived and groupthink-ish to downright disgusting. Fans’ tax dollars go to the military, and the military gives some of those dollars to the NFL (which was tax-exempt until recently) to make those same fans think the NFL cares about the military. In other words, we are paying the NFL to pretend to give a crap, and then we’re expected to applaud them for it. To take it one step further, we’re expected to applaud a salute we paid for inside a stadium that we, the taxpayers, likely helped pay for.

The biggest takeaway, in my mind, is that the NFL is essentially one big military recruitment tool, with all proceeds going to the NFL. I already kind of knew that. But now I know it. When I turn on a game, I have every right to assume everything I see is disingenuous; every flyover, every salute to the troops is no more than a ploy to get young football-lovers like me to do America’s bidding.

I can’t help but think about Pat Tillman, who left a career in the NFL to join the U.S. army in 2002 and died in 2004 from “friendly fire” in Afghanistan. Tillman, from the moment he enlisted until well after his death, was used by the government and the NFL to push a narrative of American heroism and “the ultimate sacrifice.”

After Tillman’s death, president George W. Bush delivered a message to Arizona Cardinals fans on the Sun Devil Stadium Jumbotron:

“Pat Tillman loved the game of football. Yet, as much as Pat Tillman loved competing on the football field, he loved America even more. … Courageous and humble, a loving husband and son, a devoted brother and a fierce defender of liberty.”

Because we all know there’s just one thing more important than football — America — and if you love America, you drop everything and fight on its behalf.

(AP)

What President Bush forgot to mention is that Tillman had actually come to oppose the very war he was fighting. Bush also left out the part where the U.S. government misled Tillman’s family regarding the circumstances of his death, the details of which remain murky to this day.

But the narrative of Pat Tillman, American Warrior, was profitable for the NFL. It also was profitable for the military, so it was the narrative we heard.

Ultimately, it’s about transparency. If the military wants to pay the NFL to assist in recruitment efforts — which makes perfect sense, considering the NFL and the military share common values and appeal to similar demographics—at least be honest about it. That way, I can do what I wish with the information.

That said, the only reason the NFL is so tight-lipped about the truth is that its truth often is ugly as sin. The league has tried to hide the reality of what football does to the brain, and while people will argue that players “know what they’re getting into,” that’s not really true. Only in recent years have we begun to understand what football players are risking, and for that we have scientists, lawyers and outspoken NFL retirees to thank.

Meanwhile, the league has swept numerous cases of domestic violence under the rug, another issue that’s only come fully to light because of the work of journalists, activists, and videotape.

Now, as we learn that the NFL has been feeding us military propaganda disguised as reverence, we shouldn’t be surprised, but it should come as a reminder to keep our guard up whenever the NFL is involved.

Watching the NFL is a personal choice. I haven’t been able to quit it yet. But more and more, I know precisely what I’m supporting when I watch.

Why sports fans get to be angry and Baltimore does not

By Aaron Leibowitz

MzMzNTAzZDRiNiMvZ1V2bmc5MzN0blNhZXNNTGl4Wld5VjlIR1ZVPS8zeDE5Mzo0ODkzeDMwNzEvOTAweDUzMC9maWx0ZXJzOnF1YWxpdHkoNzApL2h0dHA6Ly9zMy5hbWF6b25hd3MuY29tL3BvbGljeW1pYy1pbWFnZXMvZzllbGQ0cmFodHB3NmRyY3RueTdsdnhmMnBxcHRmZjNjbmt5enYzcWsxa3A3YXdpdHowaTBi

Matt Rourke/AP Penn State University, 2011

If you want to understand America’s response to the uprising in Baltimore, look no further than the response to rioting in the wake of sporting events. Sports fans are not vilified for “destroying their own communities.” Sports fans are characterized as “unruly”; they are “blowing off steam” or just “partying too hard.” Cars burn, businesses are looted, people are hurt, and damages pile up in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But when most of the fans are white, no one tries to explain their behavior as pathological. No one asks why white people act this way.

Contrast this with reactions to riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. In recent days, I’ve heard acquaintances, journalists and politicians speak about the black population of Baltimore with scorn, disgust, and an unmistakable dose of paternalism.

When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay McKesson on Tuesday night, it was not so much a Q&A as it was Blitzer begging McKesson to condemn and apologize for the violence and property damage that has accompanied the protests. If Blitzer had one iota of sympathy for the protestors, if he cared one bit about why they were protesting, you couldn’t tell.

The uprising in Baltimore is a response to the death of Freddie Gray; it’s a response to the police killing black people in Baltimore and around the country at unfathomable rates; and it’s a response to the dire economic situation in sections of Baltimore that’s been many years in the making: white flight, the loss of manufacturing jobs, predatory housing practices and the war on drugs have all played a role in creating a segregated city.

Black residents of Baltimore are angry about these things, and they’ve taken to the streets demanding to be heard. Some have looted. Some have destroyed property.

At Penn State University in 2011, students and fans became angry because their school’s football coach was fired for ignoring a colleague’s history as a serial child molester. They took to the streets, clashed with cops and destroyed $190,000 worth of stuff. Any amount of shame that was directed toward Penn State rioters is dwarfed by the condemnation of Baltimore. It’s not even close.

Who gets to be angry in America? Who gets to act on that anger? What constitutes a valid reason to lose your cool? Whose expressions of emotion are validated and whose are demonized?

Sports, at an intersection with race and gender, help us frame our ideas about acceptable emotional expression. In our society, public displays of emotion are taboo: Real men don’t cry. When women cry, they’re being “dramatic”; when they show anger, they’re not being lady-like. Anger is especially taboo for people of color: President Obama can’t get angry, because America is terrified of an angry black man.

Typically compassionate people are conditioned to respond coldly and dismissively to certain emotions expressed by certain individuals. People are left with very few socially acceptable ways to release emotion without repercussions — and that’s where sports come in. We get to care about sports; we get to kick and scream and argue about sports; we get to cry about sports. White guys get to riot about sports (and occasionally heckle protestors outside of sports bars) and receive little more than a tsk-tsk as retribution.

I’m a case in point: Most of the times I’ve cried in my post-early-childhood life — like, really cried — have been in response to personal sports failures or the failures of my favorite teams. Logically, I know that sports results don’t matter, and I care deeply about many people and non-sports related things. But I’ve been conditioned to bottle up emotions. Sports provide a space to release them.

That’s how we get to a place where white riots after a game are treated as understandable, if somewhat immature, while black riots over state-sanctioned murder and wide-scale injustice are widely condemned and met with confusion: Why are they doing this? What’s wrong with them?

“You are suggesting that broken windows are worse than broken spines,” McKesson told Blitzer. “The pain that people feel is real.”

We’ve been conditioned to be numb to that pain, to see organic outbursts of anger and cries for justice as some kind of overreaction. Baltimore, we’ve decided, is not feeling appropriately.

I’ve destroyed property in my own home because my favorite sports team lost. I probably shouldn’t demonize people pleading not to be killed.

On Branch Rickey and the Negro Leagues

By Aaron Leibowitz

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/on-branch-rickey-and-the-negro-leagues-f5bb56cd0dfe)

1 RICKEY ROBINSON

Remember when you first learned that Christopher Columbus was not really some Explorer Extraordinaire, but was actually a pretty terrible human being? That’s how I felt recently — albeit to a much lesser degree — when I dug deeper into the relationship between Branch Rickey and the Negro Leagues.

The story of Rickey and Jackie Robinson, as told in classrooms across the United States, is equal parts reality and fairy tale. Rickey, of course, is the man who signed Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. And racial segregation in baseball did end in 1947, when No. 42 made his Major League debut. Brooklyn’s General Manager undeniably believed that integrating the game was the right thing to do, and his actions surely took a certain degree of courage; though relatively little compared to what Robinson mustered each time he stepped into the batter’s box. All of this is true.

And it’s also terribly oversimplified.

As a little kid obsessed with the Mets — thanks in large part to my grandparents’ Brooklyn roots — knowing the story of Rickey and Robinson made me proud to be a baseball fan. Jackie Robinson, American Hero. Branch Rickey, White Savior — the man with the moral fiber to challenge a separate-but-unequal system and pave the way for hundreds of black players to reach baseball’s biggest stage.

Over the years, I’ve come to view that Disney-esque narrative compromised. I learned that Rickey could never have signed Robinson if not for a preceding social protest movement against Jim Crow, spearheaded in baseball by black journalists. I learned that Robinson was much more than a man who kept his head down and refused to fight back; he had complex political views that changed over time and ranged from conservative to radically progressive. I learned that the weight of the abuse Robinson endured during his career took a massive toll on his well-being.

I also learned that MLB’s integration sparked the demise of the Negro Leagues, but I had little knowledge of who was really responsible.

Last week, with MLB celebrating its annual Jackie Robinson Day and every player donning No. 42, I decided to do some deep-dive investigative reporting (okay, it was a Google search) to better understand Rickey’s role in the unraveling of what was, at the time, America’s largest black-owned business. What I found surprised me.

On the day he signed Robinson in 1945, here’s what Rickey had to say about the Negro Leagues, according to William C. Rhoden in his book Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete:

“There is no Negro League as such as far as I’m concerned. [They] are not leagues and have no right to expect organized baseball to respect them.”

In accordance with this line of thinking, Rickey refused to compensate Negro League owners when he acquired their players, and other MLB clubs followed suit. This was exactly what Rube Foster — the “father of black baseball” and one of the game’s best pitchers in the early 1900s — had feared. Foster knew that unless entire Negro League franchises were absorbed by MLB, the latter simply would pluck the best black talent and ultimately ensure the demise of its competition.

Owners of Negro League teams, enjoying a period of prosperity in 1947, were blindsided. Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley, for example, “put too much emphasis on merely having players in the Major Leagues and not enough weight on negotiating an appropriate role for the Negro Leagues themselves in the integration process.”

For several years after Robinson’s Dodgers debut, the Negro Leagues served as a player pipeline of sorts for MLB until, in 1951, when minor league teams in the South desegregated, the Negro Leagues were rendered useless for MLB’s purposes. Rickey, who in the 1930s was the first to formalize the farm system as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, was among those who pushed for the integration of the Southern minor leagues.

“Black participation in ownership was demolished for decades to come,” Rhoden explains.

“Certainly, Robinson’s presence in itself challenged white supremacy and his acceptance was a symbol for the black masses bombarded with falsehoods of black physical and mental inferiority,” writes Malaika Jabali of For Harriet“But the other side of integration that is rarely acknowledged goes beyond this symbolism: Robinson’s role ultimately was to stifle one of the few institutions of black economic power that, after almost a century, blacks have yet to reach in any athletic league.

Beyond his refusal to acknowledge or compensate Negro League teams, Rickey also made a point of telling black fans how to respond to Robinson’s groundbreaking achievement. Prior to the 1947 season, Rickey met with a group of 30 elite black New Yorkers and told them, according to Robinson biographer Arnold Rampersad, that “the one enemy most likely to ruin [Robinson’s] success is the Negro people themselves.”

“You’ll hold Jackie Robinson days and Jackie Robinson nights,” Rickey said. “You’ll get drunk. You’ll fight. You’ll be arrested. You’ll wine and dine the player until he is fat and futile. You’ll [turn him into] a national comedy and ultimate tragedy.”

Branch Rickey was bold, brash and courageous. He was, in many ways, ahead of his time, and he went to great lengths to protect Robinson and make him feel welcome in Brooklyn. But he was also a political and social conservative, supporting the temperance movement and becoming a staunch anti-Communist later in life. Above all, he was a businessman, seeing green in the integration of baseball and seeing the Negro Leagues as a stumbling block on the road to economic control.

None of this is to say Rickey was a “bad person.” Rather, it’s to point out that the historical figures we often anoint as saints are complicated; history is complicated, even if it surrounds the awe-inspiring tale of a national hero. The truth, more often than not, is not so pretty.

“A black institution was dead,” Rhoden writes, “while a white institution grew richer and stronger.”

That’s part of the Rickey and Robinson story. And it’s too important for teachers and baseball lovers to ignore.

Sexist pigs make bad sports journalists

By Aaron Leibowitz

Image via zap2it

Image via zap2it

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/sexist-pigs-make-bad-sports-journalists-65d33d50cb38)

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Examiner announced it had hired Jay Mariotti to write about sports. Yes, that Jay Mariotti.

In 2010, Mariotti was charged with seven misdemeanors related to a domestic disturbance. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation and community service. In 2011, he was charged with stalking, domestic violence and assault. He again pleaded no contest and was handed more probation and more community service.

If the folks at the Examiner decided this was the type of guy they wanted writing for them, I suppose that’s their prerogative. More likely, they decided he was worth hiring because he’d “stir controversy” and “generate buzz” and get people to talk about their publication in angry think-pieces like this one.

But beyond the hire itself, the publication’s attempt to justify it is what should really be raising eyebrows. Get a load of this piece by Mark Segal Kemp, the new editor of SF Weekly (theExaminer’s sister publication), in which he explains why it’s totally cool to have a domestic-abuser-at-worst and super-creepy-stalker-dude-at-best cooking up hot takes on sports:

“Here’s the deal: Of course we know about Mariotti’s troubled legal history. We know he was accused of domestic violence and that he pleaded ‘no contest’ and got probation for it. But we didn’t bring Mariotti here to write about domestic violence. We brought him here to write about sports. And he’s a terrific sports writer.”

Domestic violence and sports: No overlap there!

The assumption that all it takes to be a great sports journalist is knowledge of sports and the ability to form sentences is what allows editors to justify hiring (or not firing) journos who just happen to be sexist pigs on the side.

Asking sports journalists to become experts on domestic violence is one thing. Asking them to have a basic understanding of the subject is another. And asking them not to be physical, verbal or emotional abusers of women seems like a more than reasonable request.

Which brings us to the sexist, abusive conversation that transpired Wednesday on Twitter between Dan Bernstein and Matt Spiegel, two writers and on-air personalities for Chicago sports radio station “670 The Score.”

Here’s how it went down via Twitter:

CA_kGGeUwAA5kCB

It begins with Spiegel making an unnecessary, condescending critique of a Chicago sports reporter who works for CSN. It’s uncalled for, but not abusive. That’s when Bernstein jumps in to inform us that, while he doesn’t care how well this reporter does her job, he does “enjoy her giant boobs.”

Spiegel goes along for the ride; Bernstein says “boobs” a few more times; end scene.

We could talk for hours about why two adult men felt compelled and entitled to speak publicly about a female counterpart’s job performance and body. For now, though, the point is that they dehumanized a fellow sports journalist — and that women in sports journalism deal with this kind of crap all the time.

In the aftermath of that ugly interaction, a handful of women in the field called them out:

The SF Weekly piece about Mariotti received similar responses:

These tweets are awesome, important, and on some level, probably therapeutic.

But whenever something sexist passes the lips or fingertips of a sports media man, about 90 percent of the critiques I see come from women — even though about 90 percent of “mainstream” sports reporters and editors are men.

Putting the burden on women to stave off every troll and call out every misogynist is unfair. That’s an exhausting task. Plus, the sad reality is that when men call out other men, the latter group of men is more likely to take the criticism seriously.

That’s why, when Dan Bernstein goes full-objectification mode (he’s donethis before), his overwhelmingly male teammates at The Score should say something, publicly or privately, to Bernstein or to his boss.

Will anyone among this male cast of characters decide enough is enough?

To be fair, this is something I, too, can work on. It’s easy to see sexism and discount it as “not my problem,” or to simply decide it’s too stupid to warrant a response. On the one hand, you don’t want to feed the trolls. On the other, imagine if every time a man in sports media said something sexist, 100 more told him it’s not okay.

Now as much as ever, sports intersect constantly with issues of gender and domestic violence, race and class, history and politics. Those who cover the games only stand to become better at their jobs when they are sensitive to, and have general knowledge of, those topics.

If that’s too much to ask, demanding that sportswriters not spew sexist vitriol would seem to be a decent place to start.

Real men quit football

By Aaron Leibowitz

ESPN.com

ESPN.com

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/real-men-quit-football-ad8cf88ea0f5)

There is perhaps no greater killer in human history than male pride. Just about every war can be traced to a bunch of men who felt angry about their masculinity being questioned. And just about every act of violence has roots in man’s desire to assert his superiority over other man (and women).

Football, however, is just a game, not a war. But it’s a sword fight in its own right.

That’s why, when San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland announced Monday that he is retiring from the National Football League after just one season due to concerns about the long-term effects of head trauma, it was an act that required tremendous courage.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland, who is 24 and was one of the NFL’s best defensive rookies this past season, told ESPN’sOutside the Lines. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

In training camp, Borland sustained what he believed to be his third concussion. He played through it. He needed to make the team.

“I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and know about the dangers?’” he said.

Borland began to study the relationship between football and neurodegenerative disease, consulting concussion experts and former players in the process. His research pointed to the connections between brain damage sustained playing football and issues such as depression and memory loss — connections the NFL has gone to great lengths to hide.

Learning the facts, Borland said, made his decision “simple.” But there’s nothing simple about it.

Real men don’t quit, or so they say. Real men finish what they’ve started, or so goes the popular wisdom. Real men appreciate the opportunities they have. Real men suck it up, accept the risks, and continue to play for God and country and honor and glory and Goodell.

Allow football writers Mike Florio and Adam Schefter to explain:

The idea that walking away from the money and fame of professional football might actually be a prudent decision is scary for those whose lives are defined by the game. But by swallowing his pride, Borland may be saving his own life.

Does this mark a tipping point for the NFL? In the past week alone, four players age 30 or younger have retired, though only Borland explicitly cited concussion concerns. Ex-NFL wide receiver Sidney Rice, who retired last year at the age of 27, recently told CBS News he did so for safety reasons.

“I wanted to be able to function,” he said.

Another telling sign that Borland’s decision was the right one for him — and one that doesn’t deserve scorn or criticism? Other NFL players seem to respect and understand him:

Borland deserves to be celebrated. At the same time, those who continue to pursue NFL careers should not be shamed. For many, the decision to play pro football — a prerequisite of which is the decision to forego a quality education and play uncompensated in college— is a function of economic necessity. Not every player can afford to quit, and that’s part of the problem.

Still, by retiring, Borland is sending a message to future players that it’s okay to walk away. If a player chooses to continue playing despite being fully aware of the risks and despite feeling financially secure, then that’s his decision alone. Borland is saying that pride should never be what gets in the way of a full and happy life.

Football is dying the same slow death as patriarchy. It may take a while, but the changes are happening before our eyes.