Saturday, October 11, 2008

Probably the Best Sports-Politics Article of this Campaign Season

elocho ESPN trades in part on an antagonism with LeBron James. Bron-Bron appears in ESPN ads, Bron-Bron puts rear-ends in La-Z-Boys in front of NBA games broadcast on ESPN, Bron-Bron graces the cover of ESPN: The Magazine, and even when Bron-Bron was a high-school student, ESPN carried news about the Ohioan wunderkind on SportsCenter.

LeBron_James_HS_lPortrait Yet, ESPN will, once a season or so, run a "news" segment on James's politics. As in, his lack of them. During those segments, ESPN contrasts Bron-Bron with Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, whose careers as professional athletes are inextricable from their politics, and compares him to Michael Jordan, who infamously said, "Republicans buy sneakers, too." Overall, the suggestion is that Bron-Bron has a pulpit, and he should use it.1

Nevermind the apolitical hypocrisy underlying the fact that the ESPNzone in Denver, site of the 2008 DNC, still shills an ESPN-brand tee in the window featuring a simulated ballot with three options: a donkey, an elephant, and ESPN (which happens to be checked).

However, Joseph White, writing for the AP, has written a thoughtful article on the effect the current Obama-McCain contest resonates in NFL locker rooms, where no one present except maybe the boy shoveling up sweaty jocks into a laundry bin will save money under Obama's tax plan, while everyone (except said possibly-non-existent laundry boy) will save around a cool million under McCain's plan.2

While NFL players are all too often portrayed as frivolous or unintelligent, White's article shows how this race resonates in a meaningful way with many of them:

"We're right in the middle," said Washington Redskins veteran Philip Daniels. "We've all got family members that are not doing so well. Democrats would help them out, but Republicans would help us out." (

danielsThere it is in a nutshell. The article is fascinating in that is shows how some players who have come from modest beginnings hold onto that class awareness despite their astronomical contracts, while others have fully immersed themselves into a new social class (which may or may not fully accept them based upon race--for example, how many eyebrows would be raised if Jeff Feagles teed off at Augusta? How many if Adam Jones?).

Read the article.

1 If one were inclined to cynicism, one might problematize ESPN's credibility on the subject: They want a kid who was pushed through high school, used as a cash cow for the St. Vincent-St. Mary high school athletic department, and drafted first overall into the NBA to offer his insight on national politics. It's a bit like asking Doogie Howser how to pick up chicks. [Ed. Note: This is a reference to a fictional child prodigy skipping his adolescence entirely and entering economic and professional adulthood, not some coded reference to NPH, which upon further consideration makes me think I should have just gone with a Tom Hanks-Big simile.]

2 Yes, it is problematic that "save money" is synonymous with the much more general "benefit" in this discussion. As in, although you may pay more in taxes under Obama's plan, the lower- and middle-classes will receive much more help, making it less likely that some desperately marginalized lumpen will break into their (the players') homes on game day or gun them down outside an apartment building. Full disclosure: The editor believes a distinct and meaningful connection exists between the anxieties of poverty, the perceived and real lack of opportunities for so many Americans who earn the least, and the rage one feels when confronting the widening chasm between the material reality of most Americans and the wild extravagance exhibited by those who are paid to catch a football or baseball or to shoot a basket.

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