Leave Josh Alone

Dallas Mavericks All-Star Josh Howard has been raked over the coals of public opinion this week for daring to say what more than a few athletes think. He was caught on someone's cell phone camera saying that he doesn't stand for the national anthem because "I don't celebrate this [expletive]. I'm black." Judging by fan and media reaction, you would have thought he was barbecuing some bald eagle over a flaming pit of American flags. You would, given the peals of outrage, never know that there's been perhaps some more pressing news in the papers this week.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to his eternal credit, has posted some of the anti-Howard emails he has received and they are the most vile, racist trash you could read outside a Klan chat room. (http://blogmaverick.com/2008/09/18/thanks-for-the-advice-on-josh/).

Many of these courageous e-bigots actually attempt to link Howard’s mini-rant to the ascension of Presidential candidate Barack Obama. Their crude threats reflect a white fear as old as the United States itself: that no matter how much blood black Americans spill for this country, their loyalties are dual and divided. It's a fear that -- in a backhanded way -- acknowledges that racism is still so prevalent in our society that loyalties of the descendents of slaves must be suspect. But instead of confronting the reality of racism, the e-bigots among us instead lash out in both frightening and filthy fashion.

Well, count me out. Count me out as someone who will pile on Josh Howard. Howard is someone who said, during his 2004 senior year at Wake Forest University, that the war in Iraq "was all about oil." He then saw his draft stock plummet to the point where he was picked after no-talents like Reece Gaines and Ndudi Ebe. I saw one scout even call Howard a risky pick saying that "Anti-war views may reflect rumored erratic behavior." Count me out as someone who thinks anti war views are erratic.

Count me out of the fraternity of sports writers who under a kabuki pantomime of liberalism will "defend Howard's right to say what he wants" and then crush him for opening his mouth. Take J.A. Adande of ESPN.com. He starts his anti-Howard piece by writing, "What makes America the best country on the planet is that you are free to stand or sit for the national anthem, to sing along or to yell in anger at the government as much as you want without getting tossed in jail for your political beliefs." What claptrap. Someone needs to send Adande a copy of the Patriot Act. Or maybe he could ask the people who attempted to exercise their Constitutional rights to “yell in anger” at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN, only to be subject to "pre-emptive" raids and prison. Maybe he could ask the journalists who were beaten and arrested by police for attempting to report on it.

But then Adande continues:

"Howard, the Dallas Mavericks forward coming off a year in which he publicly admitted his penchant for smoking marijuana and defiantly partied away during the NBA playoffs, has a termite-ridden soapbox."

Yes, Howard admitted that he is an NBA player who smokes weed. Stop the presses. He also celebrated his own birthday after a playoff game. Adande must think it's a slippery slope: weed, birthday parties, treason. If Howard’s soapbox is “termite-ridden” then Adande’s argument is a house of cards.

This garbage is exactly why it's so hard to get athletes to open up about what they think. Reporters are seen as there to mock any ideas they have beyond "Drink Gatorade… and play one game at a time." Count me out of this smirking and all-too-racist game of journalistic gotcha.

Count me out also as someone who thinks any critiques of the anthem are somehow off limits.

Count me instead as someone who has no clue why this is the only country in the world that feels to need to play the national anthem before sporting events. Count me as someone who believes that sports are beautiful but enforced nationalism before a captive audience is not. Count me as someone who resent the fact that we are raised to see sports and nationalism as inherently conjoined.

Count me as someone who will never criticize an athlete for pointing out their discomfort with this ritual.

I'm always sympathetic when a jock questions the permanence of the anthem. A photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists adorns my wall. I have written in defense of people like Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, drummed out of the NBA for not standing during the anthem, and Toni Smith, the former Manhattanville College basketball player who turned her back on the flag in 2003 to protest "not just the war abroad but the injustices here at home." They were right to question the assumed permanence of this exceptionally American ritual.

Fusing the anthem with sports is a practice that was started in order to build patriotic fervor during World War II. When "the good war" ended and the permanent Cold War begun, it simply never left. It is supposed to represent freedom, but, as we see with Josh Howard, it's the freedom to do little more than smile in silence.

Well, count me out.

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No Pledge

I am not a fan of sports or athletes for reasons too many to mention. I see nothing wrong with Mr. Howard's statement or life style. I for one have refused to pledge allegiance to the flag as long as this occupation and slaughter of muslims continues.
If people haven't been paying attention to the death of our Constitution over the last 8 years then they should be outraged. It is obvious that Howard has and is outraged. I hope he doesn't have to pay too high a price for his patriotism and honesty.

Couldn't have said it better

I am a huge Dallas Mavericks fan and really enjoy how Josh Howard has blossomed. But to be honest, even if I wasn't a Mavs fan, I'd be writing in to these sportswriters like Adande and Smith. I would be, but I couldn't find the right way to attack the idiotic argument that somehow Josh Howard is sub-human (and worse, anti-American.) Dave has just done my work for me.
And this comes from a nine year vet of the U.S. Navy.


Good article! I hope all readers understand that there are many of your fellow Americans that would happily and eagerly support some of the same policies the Nazis used to seperate the "loyal" from the "disloyal". Loyalty in their minds, of course, is swearing complete, blind allegiance to a murdering regime rather than the Constitution. As was once said, when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a bible.

Good for him.

I am no sports fan either. I hunt fish bike kayak hike camp....but have never understood the "need" we have for proffesional sports.

Josh Howard has committed a cardinal sin: He spoke the truth. Conservatives in this country can not handle the truth. It burns them to their very souls because it exposes the lie that lives behind all that they stand for.

As I said I am not a fan of organized sports, but with a site like this I may understand it a little better and with owners like Cuban maybe I could tolerate a little more easily the vast amounts of taxpayer cash that they suck up.

Well Done

Congratulations, Dave. If you hadn't already, I think you just confirmed yourself as America's best sports writer. I've already forwarded this to several lists I'm on, and I am really looking forward to reading your book.

patriotism and the anthem

Albert Einstein said years ago "Heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism. How passionately I hate them..." He did not believe we should fight over artificial geographical lines. Einstein, of course, was a traitor to his own country but a patriot to mankind and the world at large.

It was the people's extreme patriotism and failure to admit their government or country could do any wrong that allowed Hitler to become the monster he became in Germany. Not speaking out when your country's policies are wrong is the antithesis of true patriotism.

After Bush set our country on the wrong track based on lies, I vowed I would not say the pledge of allegiance while our government's policies are not what I believe are right or what I would support. I don't have as much trouble with the national anthem. It is not a pledge, merely a song.

What is even worse is the idea that GOD is an American. That God is okay with whatever this country does and that if this country does it it must be right because America, after all, is "God's" chosen country. It is especially ridiculous that our "patriotism" is determined by our enthusiasm in supporting war and killing people whether they have done anything to us or not. Marine general Smedley Butler , one of the most decorated "heroes" in military history in his "War is a Racket" speech which everyone should read said, "War is a racket. Fought by the many to benefit the very few. Of course it's not put that crudely in wartime, but is dressed into speeches about love of country and putting one's shoulder to the wheel, but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket, and are safely pocketed." He said he spent most of his years in the military being a "racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." He said we should only fight in the defense of our homes AND for the Bill of Rights. The war in Iraq is a war to benefit the military industrial complex Eisenhower warned against. All it has done is kill and maim a lot of people, deplete our treasury, and make us millions more enemies worldwide. To the rest of the world WE are now the "thug" nation I was taught the USSR was when I was a kid.

Right On

You go in all the right directions Dave. Thank you for staying on the "road less traveled" in sports journalism. I thank G*d for your work.

Josh Howard in any uniform

Josh Howard has positive attributes and that's why he has not been traded. More open and willing to use our freedom of speech than most of us. I love to watch Josh Howard and will follow him where ever he goes...with liberty and justice for all...let's keep trying.

Enforced Patriotism

I completely agree with your column and the various comments posted. I think the idea of enforced patriotism is extremely bad for our country, especially in the long run. The right to differ from the established status quo is imperative for the maintained of a free society and Howard's action should not be criticized. Just because someone does not want to stand for the national anthem--regardless of their reasons for doing so--does not mean they should be attacked the way Howard has been. There is something deeply perverse in a nation that fuses sports with nationalism, with Nazi Germany being the most obvious example that comes to mind. Blacklisting players for their political views is terrible and only furthers the incorrect caricature of apolitical athletes.

Throughout this piece I kept thinking about Mahmoud Abdul Rauf and I feel like the mainstream media is vilifying Howard just as it did to Rauf (though, thankfully, not to the same extreme. Perhaps if Howard had been a Muslim too...). I hope that Howard's playing career is not affected by this silly controversy.

One other thing that I think that you should consider exploring a bit more is the media's reaction to white athletes and their political remarks/beliefs vs. black athletes and their political remarks/beliefs. What if it had been Steve Nash refusing to stand for the anthem? I would like to read your thoughts on this point.

The Debt

I feel that as an African-American we have paid and continue to pay a high cost for our citizenship. If we want to be super patriots we can do that considering we have been spilling blood for this country in every conflict she has ever had. And if we decide to reject America based on the historical and curent treatment of our community then that is fine also.

Why the National Anthem Before Sports

You may be the only columnist ever to ask why the heck we have to sing the national anthem before sporting events. Does anyone see the irony of this semi-enforced affirmation of "freedom"? Or what relevance the national anthem could possible have to a sporting event?

It's not quite a fascist as having schoolchildren pledge their allegiance to the government (which I still find utterly astonishing - not that we do it, but that nobody finds it creepy), but it is profoundly disturbing to see tens of thousands of Americans hypnotized by such a violent affirmation of nationalism.

420 bro

If Howard averages 19.9 and 7.0 in the playoffs high as hell, we'll take him in Cleveland. I'll even pack the bong for him!!!

Re: Zirin and Howard

Right on Dave and Josh!! It's nice to know that there are people in the sports world who have some commitment to reality. I'm a white boy from a red state, but I know a load of shit when I see it -- and sportswriters and American politics are immersed in it. There is a price to be paid for ignoring reality on a regular basis, or otherwise thinking that waving "Old Glory" will fix it. As Scott Ritter said, "I can train a monkey to wave a flag."

Please leave the man alone

I don’t have a problem with what he said, I do have a problem with how he said it - thuggish and ignorant. When you come off as ignorant, you lose credibility, then your message gets lost. W.E.B. DuBois spoke about the duality of being black in America. Toni Smith turned her back on the flag. Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith had their own ways of protesting. Michelle Obama said that for the first time, she’s actually proud to be an American. There are reasons why a lot of black people feel ambivalent towards the U.S., Barack Obama’s campaign notwithstanding. Look at the Tuskegee Airmen: they fought for our country overseas and got treated like second-class citizens in our own country. But it just goes to show that we’re very reactionary in this country when it comes to race. We won’t engage in a discussion until something that seems negative pops up, then we want to put our two cents in. We'll give Josh Howard hell, while we stand by and watch Bush run this country into the ground so thoroughly, who knows how long it'll take us to get out from under? But that's Americans for you - paying attention to stupid stuff and ignoring what's important.

Great Article

Great article Dave, need more journalist like you.

Matt Fudge, consider the context in which it was recorded man.....Howard is on a stupid phone camera, not like he was at a podium unfolding a paper and just came out with, "I don't celebrate that _ _ _ _, I'm Black"

Response to "Great Article"

DC, whether Howad was on a cell phone or in front of a regular camera isn't the point. He could've made his point better than that. Now people will be castigating him, especially with his history of smoking weed (which isn't the point, I know. I'm saying that when your history proves to be less than credible, your message will get lost, which is very unfortunate). Just proves once again that there's no such thing as "free speech" in this country.


Let's not get carried away and act like this man is Cornel West or even Kanye West for that matter.
I'm not proud of anything that's been done in our names as Americans over the past 8 years and he has every right to voice his opinion but he came off as an uneducated, embarrassing moron.
I'm sure his professors at Wake Forest were proud of his eloquence.
The way he presented himself precludes the possibility that anyone would take him seriously even though he has a valid point to make.

Hats off to you Dave

I don't what nationality you are Dave, but its people like you that make this world a better place. I like what mark cuban did showing the emails he received all from that one remark howard made. Wow, its amazing how some white people look at black athletes. Praise them on the field but off the field were overpaid monkeys; and they wonder why he said what he said. They don't complain about the pay of golfers, nascar, or baseball; but once brothers take it over, all hell breaks loose. I see all these actors getting millions to act, but a brothers bust his asse every night and oh its absurd the money we get. I will say this though to all those white americans who have stood by blacks during hardships in the past and present my hats off to you. I think for someone like dave to write this article when most of his peers feel like the people in the mark cuban email, i wish you well. Its people like you who I would be honored to meet.


oh by the way. When I first read the responses mark cuban received, its just makes you wan to almost piss on the flag in front of a nascar event. After reading Daves article it reminded that there are white americans who actually can see both views. Black and white. That the flag also represents good american white and blacks who fought during the civil war because they knew that it was wrong.

American not unique here

Great writing. Good point. But just one thing: I WISH that America was the only country that played their anthem before sporting events. I know Japan does and probably many others. Its common - the body of the athlete is representative of the body of the nation, everyone watching in coordinated action, all reinforce the collective identity, all controlled for nationalist purposes. That is why they are so sensitive when an athlete steps out of line. Their whole message distillation and delivery system is turned agaisnt them.

Josh Howard

Right on point. Often times when I listen to sportstalk radio on the AM dial, I have to make sure
I did not change the dial to the Bill O' Reilly or
Rush Limbaugh show ,because the commentary
on the Black Man in America is the same. Sportstalk radio is polluted with middle aged white men who would give up a finger to be able to play professional football on Sunday commenting on the behavior of young black men in their 20's. The combination of envy and racism that screams from Sportstalk 980 in D.C between 4-7 pm makes my stomach turn.
I am not shocked that Mark Cuban received emails that spewed racism and compared Josh Howard to Barack Obama,however I am shocked how black sports reporters such as Kevin Blackestone are the first in line to bash Josh Howard.

Right on point

You're incredible my man. A great piece and one of the few voices out there that is actually able to make a solid sports argument that touches on some serious underlying issues. This piece was a breath of fresh air in a suffocating society. Mad respect from Toronto, Canada!

I agree

As a person living outside the US, I tend to feel that America is fanatically patriotic, to the point of where asking tough questions that might go against the nationalistic fever are either no longer asked and if they are are mocked and ridiculed. People were afraid to be skeptical about the need to invade Iraq for fear of being called a traitor. A little less "USA! USA!" and a little more thinking for yourselves would go a long way. This isn't so much about what Howard said, but more to the response to what he said.

makes sense...

It seems all folks have felt the brunt of this American calamity although there are those who "sheep" their way through it...ROFL!!!
Folks who want to observe the overt hypocrisy over Josh's comments can look no further than that football team's "nickname" in D.C. or the ignorance spewing from Cleveland's baseball "mascot" (then again, opposites attract with the "birds" from KU and the REAL rebels from FSU).

It gets rediculous how folks can gather around and spend their time on silly, unfounded issues while their infrastructure crumbles, their financial sector is fiat currency, and their so-called leaders have practically robbed them blind TO THEIR FACES! Rome burning? G@d bless 'merica?!

Re: Re: "Great Article

Fudge says,
"DC, whether Howad was on a cell phone or in front of a regular camera isn't the point. He could've made his point better than that. Now people will be castigating him, especially with his history of smoking weed"

-Fudge, that's exactly the point, -context- there's a big difference when someone has him on a phone camera, and then making an 'offical statement'. You say, "Now people are castigating him" Please man, as if he made the most eloquent of speeches he wouldn't be casigated, but a real discussion may have been started.....that kind of thinking is absurd.

Response to "Great Article"

DC, I agree with you in one aspect: if he had stood in front of a mike and been as eloquent as Dr. King in his prime, he still would've caught heat. I believe that. But when you come off the wrong way and your personal history is suspect, you give people more ammunition to use against you. Is that right or fair? No. Right is right no matter who says it. But the world we live in isn't always right, and it damn sure isn't fair.

O, Canada

'Count me instead as someone who has no clue why this is the only country in the world that feels to need to play the national anthem before sporting events.'

Canada also plays its national anthem before sporting events. We also play the U.S. anthem when American teams play in Canada.

Dave - I'm sure Chris Shaw will be in touch with you about the fact that Canada is the first nation to allow the lyrics to its national anthem to be appropriated and trademarked for a sporting events, i.e. the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.

Cuban has removed his blog post

Another great article, Dave.

Mark Cuban has removed the blog post you reference here. His explanation is he didn't want the e-bigots to suffer any retribution.

Personally, I think if you're going to send racist hate mail, you deserve all the retribution you get. But it would be good to know what kind of garbage has been said about Josh Howard -- even if the quotes are not attributed to their original authors.

People should know what kind of racism exists in the margins of our society so they can be prepared to confront it when it rears its ugly head.

Dave, you continue to be too damn smart...

...and thus you are uniquely positioned to know better than anyone that there's just no room for that in our culture. dumb it down or pick another country to inhabit.

...and i CAN see Russia from here.

That was great

Very well said, Dave. Very well said.

pledge of allegiance

As a high school teacher in 1998-99 I worked in a district where we had to lead the pledge every morning, there were some students who refused to participate, but we didn't have that choice. I pledge alllegiance to the flag and to the PEOPLE for which it stands....a small thing, but it made me feel better.

After the pledge we had to watch Channel 1!

False Dichotomy: Nash vs. Howard

" What if it had been Steve Nash refusing to stand for the anthem?"

Steve Nash is Canadian, for one thing, so I doubt it really matters. I really hate the anti-Nash thing that comes out every time there's a discussion about athletes who speak out. Here's a suggestion: why not congratulate Nash for speaking out, while attacking those who don't? Why not support Josh Howard (whom I've adored since his days at Wake) instead of attacking Nash?

On the topic of how Josh made his comments--who cares? What this country does is obscene and vulgar. I have no problems with anyone who uses the obscene or the vulgar to point it out. Grow up and stop being such prudes!

In short: Go, Josh! Here's one sports fan who thinks you're awesome.


phenomenal article. Intelligent and articulate. thanks

this nationalism thing is something that I have a lot of hard time understanding, especially in its American fashion.

right to stand

the reason you liberal slugs have a right to stand or not is because of men and woman that gave there lives to preserve our freedoms, but you know what I cant stop this clown and the clowns who think it was the right thing to do but I do have the right not to support any team that this guy plays for or anybody else who disrespects my Country, I dont care if they are black white Canadien whatever, and yes I am a black American soldier.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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