Sports, bin Laden, and the New Normal

Howard Cosell said that "rule number one of the sports jockocracy" was that sports and politics didn't mix. And yet last night, at the ballpark in Philadelphia, we received another reminder that some political expression is deemed not just acceptable but glorious.
When the killing of Osama bin Laden reached the Philadelphia Phillies fans, amidst their 14-inning loss to the New York Mets, boisterous chants of “U-S-A“ filled the park. This was praised across the sports landscape as a remarkable, yet altogether appropriate moment of national joy. “It was beautiful,” said one radio commentator. “It reminded all of us what is so wonderful about sports in our society.”
The eruption of patriotic emotion at the park should surprise no one. Since 9/11, the sports arena has been an organizer of patriotism, a recruiter for the US armed forces, and at times a funhouse mirror, reflecting the principles of freedom in a manner so misshapen and distorted as to rise to the level of farce.


As the Phillies faithful cheered, I thought about the NFL postponing games following 9/11, but only after a players revolt led by Vinny Testaverde made clear to Paul Tagliabue that no one was in a condition to play a game. I thought about the spread of "Military Appreciation Nights" at the stadium and the increased prevalence of jet flyovers and troops processions in the field. I thought about the military recruitment stations organized outside preseason NFL games.


I thought about Major League Baseball adding the second national anthem, “God Bless America” to the 7th inning stretch. I thought about the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner having chains put up along the side of the bleachers and hiring off-duty police to make sure no one did anything but pay fealty to the flag. I thought about a young man named Bradley Campeau-Laurion who was led from the park in handcuffs because he left his seat to use the bathroom during this celebration of freedom. I thought about ESPN’s week of SportsCenter from Iraq in September of 2004, which allowed the network to do what George W. Bush couldn’t: connect Iraq to 9/11.


I also thought about the athletic-dissenters. I thought about then Toronto Blue Jay Carlos Delgado who refused to come out for the second 7th inning stretch anthem, saying, “I don't (stand) because I don't believe it's right, I don't believe in the war. It's a very terrible thing that happened on September 11. It's (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war. But I think it's the stupidest war ever.”


I thought about then Washington Wizards forward Etan Thomas electrifying a mass anti-war rally in DC in September 2005. I thought about Steve Nash wearing a t-shirt at the start of the Iraq invasion that read “No war. Shoot for peace.” I thought about NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt. Jr. imploring people to see “Fahrenheit 9/11”. I thought about the fiercely brave Manhattanville women’s basketball captain Toni Smith turning her back on the anthem and igniting a firestorm with her courage. I thought of Adalius Thomas, Josh Howard, Nick Van Exel, and all athletes who used their platform and spoke out.


But more than anyone, I thought about Pat Tillman. I found myself wondering [if] the 19 year olds who were turning Ground Zero and the White House into a frat party last night even knew who Pat Tillman was. And if they were aware that a man named Pat Tillman once walked among us, which Tillman did they know? Did they know the Tillman the NFL wants us to remember? That Tillman was a star safety who turned down a multi-million-dollar contract after9/11 to join the Army Rangers, only do die in combat 22 months after enlisting. In the immediate aftermath of his death Tillman became a caricature, used to promote and encourage war.

But the Pat Tillman his family has fought to be known is the actual, thinking, opinionated human being. This Pat Tillman believed that9/11 had been manipulated to justify an illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. As journalist Jon Krakauer said, “He thought the war was illegal. He thought it was a mistake.  He thought it was going to be a disaster. And in the Army, you’re not supposed to talk about that. You’re not supposed to talk politics. And Pat didn’t shut up. He told everyone he encountered, ‘This war is illegal as hell.’” He started reading the anti-war theorist Noam Chomsky and sent word that he wanted to meet Chomsky upon returning to the states. This Pat Tillman died not at the hands of the Taliban but in an incident of “friendly fire”, a fact hidden from his own family for weeks after his nationally televised funeral. Pat’s family has spent years fighting to get the true facts of his case known. I thought about Pat’s brave mother Mary and I was just so sad. We killed bin Laden and all it took was three wars, a million deaths, a trillion dollars, and infinite broken families and broken hearts.


Yes, sports has been co-opted, exploited, scarred, and turned inside out by the aftermath of 9/11 and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Some have wondered if now that bin Laden is dead, life will “go back to normal.” But as we saw in Philly last night, this is the new normal and will continue to be so, until every last troop is home. Maybe then we can enjoy sports as an escape from, rather than a promoter of, this country’s culture of war.


[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by Contact him]

27 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Red, White,and Blue

DZ generally applauds and encourages the intermingling of politics and sports. I was then surprised by DZ's comment that "we can enjoy sports as an escape from, rather than a promoter of , this country's culture of war." Methinks Dave is trying to have it both ways. The various athletes who share DZ's political views are applauded, those who don't are to be discouraged. When sporting events have various "eruptions" of patriotic gore DZ is dismayed.

What I think is at work here is a kind of political correctness. Politics and sports should collide when it's the right(in this case left) kind of politics. For the record I would dispense with all(at least in the US) the national anthems being sung at sporting events.

European/American Imperialism

How easily Americans forget their colonial past.

And how easily they are blind to the current re-formations of the imperialism that brought them to North America in the first place.

"DZ" gives a brilliant discussion about how Americans romanticize "American Indians" and how using symbols and names maintain an embedded racism. (e.g. Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Braves, Chief Wahoo)

It was reported that the code-name the American military gave to Bin Laden was "Geronimo".

Can't "you people" make the connections between your continued imperialistic actions.

Bin Laden was, in the eyes of America, a terrorist. What was Geronimo?

Wake up people!!!

Comrade Zirin: Free Speech for Me, but not for Thee

Too true Moi?

There's no intellectual consistency with Comrade Zirin, so don't even try. The only unifying theme is that Zirin is anti-American. This is a habitual trait among spoiled, wealthy leftists (he went to expensive private schools his whole life and lives in the leafy suburbs of Takoma Park).

To see his hypocrisy in action, on 08/18/10, Comrade Zirin praised expressly political protests at a Washington Nationals baseball game:

"the demonstration outside was combined with actions inside the park where four daring activists stormed the field with one out in the fifth inning, unfurling a banner calling for Selig to move the game. In what could morph into a YouTube sensation, an overzealous security guard attempting to accost them did a less-than-graceful belly flop across the outfield. It might have been the most exciting moment at a Nats game this season. Rosa Lozano, who spent the evening in custody for taking the movement to the outfield grass, said to me after her release, “I did it because when history reflects this egregious time of civil and human rights violations I want to be able to have pride in saying that I didn't stand idly by and allow human beings to be treated like animals because of their immigration status.” Also, as the four were being arrested, two separate banners with similar messages were draped over the outfield walls. These banner bandits daring to display a message that didn’t say “Drink Budweiser” or “Buy Season Tickets” were banned from the ballpark for a year.

One of them, Brian Ward, said to me afterward, "I find it funny how I am being banned from a stadium that I helped pay for with my tax dollars. I say if that is what it takes to get the All-Star Game moved, let's all do actions like we saw today and show that we are willing to do whatever it takes to move this game and overturn SB 1070.".

Another banner bandit, Navid Nasr, described to me a scene in the crowd where “two fans to our left immediately became extremely hostile and attempted to rip the banner away from us. Then something kind of inspiring happened, two or three other fans leapt to our defense, physically put themselves between us and the belligerents and berated them, calling them assholes and telling them to leave us alone and that we weren't harming anyone and that we have the right to free speech.”

Free speech at a publicly funded billion-dollar park! What a concept! That description of political polarization mirrored what picketers saw outside the park. Some fans were very supportive, even joining in with the chants and doing a couple of turns marching around in a circle, in full Nationals gear. Others yelled, and heckled with all the zeal of Sarah Palin at a book-burning. Two demanded to see the papers of a 17-year-old picketer, Nate Taitano, who happened by sheer and utter coincidence, to have brown skin. After the demonstration, the young man said to a gathered crowd, “I was born and raised right here in DC. I should be asking them where the hell they’re from."

Reading Comprehension Lessons Needed

Funny, I read it as DZ calling out the uber-patriotic sports world for ITS hypocrisy in its attempts to have it both ways. You know, the world where sports and politics don't mix ... unless those politics are jingoistic, short-sighted, right-wing pabulum for the masses.


Nats just happened to have planned Military Appreciation Day for May 2nd beforehand.

The national pasttime isn't baseball... it's human sacrifice.

Why so surprised??

I think most people in the US would agree that the war is wrong in more ways than any of us have time to talk about. I know double digit people who have gone to Iraq and are fortunate to have returned with their limbs and sanity! I also know that I have yet to hear ONE of them say what they were there for was meaningful. I know what this country is built on and it damn sure wasn't freedom and equality. The 'freedom and equality' this country brags about so much came at the cost of the lives of millions of African and Native Americans for the most part, and their never ending fight to practice those birth rights. The four fathers of this country are DEF no fathers of mine! That being said, it should be self explanatory for us to question everything that comes out of this countries mouth! You should want to find out as much information as you can in regards to anything I am to be told is anything more than opinion. 'They' being the %1 that control the country and a quarter of it's wealth! Don't piss on my back and tell me it's rain!

Obsessed, are we?

After reading Tornado's constant rants about Dave's background and the city where he lives, I decided to check Takoma Park's entry in Wikipedia. And in my opinion--it ain't as leafy as Mr. Tornado wants us to believe. Median income, $49, 490, $63,434 for a family. And per capita income $26,437. Sounds rather middle class to me.

In all fairness, according to the entry, 10.3% of the population were below the poverty line, with 8.4% living below the said line. Those of you who are interested can look the entry up on Wikipedia itself, so you can make up your own mind, and call me out on if you think I'm wrong.

Is Tornado scaring anyone else?

Your obsession with Dave's life is starting to weird me out. He lives in a "middle class" burb now with a $60,000 median income. So what? I knew Dave growing up in New York City. Great guy, btw. He went to public and then finished at a quaker school. If you disagree with him, say so, but you're starting to get a little scary. Here's an idea to make it fair: Why don't you tell us your name so we can google you and advise Dave on a restraining order?

To Ray in Brooklyn

I was going to challenge Tornado on the same thing, but decided against it. I'm glad you did though, and it's something that probably needs to be done.

But someone really frightening is Bruce J. (the current incarnation of Bruce Jacobs, who always accuses Dave of racism in often threatening terms.) That, and his constant name calling, SCARES the living daylights outta me! I'd sure love to know what kind of skeletons he--and Tornado--have n his closet.

Quick correction for grammar.

That should be has in his closet. My bad there.

hypocrite Zirin

Hey Zirin you racist where are all these anti-war rallies now? Where is Cindy Sheehan? How come she gets no more press? oh thats right because you liberals arent anti war you were anti Bush.Your hypocrisy and lies have been shown to the Country

Bruce's latest threat

See what I mean?

the game

Liberal derangement at work..No threat what so ever..Just playing the same game as socialist lunatic Zirin.The game works both ways

Bruce is an idiot

Bruce don't worry the racist tea baggers and birthers got plenty of coverage. Hey Dave could you do a story on the differing levels of coverage between the professional athletes who publicly questioned Obama's credentials and the Steeler's Bin Laden comment.


Racist Teabaggers? You mean they spent 20 years in a racist church like Obama as well? they donated thousands of dollars to a racist reverand like Obama as well? you mean racist like that Blackchild?

Pity the Illiterate

The Tornadoes' and Bruces' of the world have trouble reading and thinking, which explains why they confuse facts with opinions. Sports media inherently promotes conservative values. Christian athletes are afforded every opportunity to promote their faith in mythology, team owners are praised while they fleece the public at every turn, the national anthem is mandatory. Dave is simply pointing out the hypocrisy of what happens when leftist athletes speak out.

Finally, Bruce, yes...all white, genarally wealthy organizations whose members accuse a bi-racial, Christian president of being a foreign-born Muslim who is not smart enough to get into Harvard are most definitely (not probably) racist.

beg to differ

Geoffrey-Disagree on all fronts..A-Sports media is overtly Liberal..Not even close...Christian athletes are both Black and White.Religion doesnt come in colors..many spoke out during the war and on other issues.can you name the Leftist Athlete that paid a price? Steve Nash for example is beloved in RED STATE AZ.Owners dont fleece fleece fans...Not saying there arent low life owners but no fan is forced to participate.Love sports but it's not like I have to have it like water or food.If fans stop going or participating you watch how fast things change I.E. Ticket prices,concession.all that stuff..Supply and demand my man..Not sure why you would have any issues with the National Anthem being played but whatever Geoffrey..Just dont get the opposition but whatever.Everyone has their causes and issues...Not a birther.Dont care if Obama is a Muslim..But again factually wrong-The T party folks are average Americans-No doubt mostly white..Some stupid.Some racist.Most just good folks who dont like whats shakin in the Country...... ..What I mostly disagree or stirs the most passion for me is how you call these people racist yet the President went to this hate filled church for 20 years...IF ANY OTHER WHITE PREZ DID THE SAME THEY WOULD BE BRANDED BY YOU AS RACIST AND RIGHTLY SO IMHO...And you know it! So you are being intellectually dishonest and a hypocrite..So disagree with you on all fronts

To Bruce

I don't know of any recent athlete that has paid the price except for Pat Tillman, whose death was turned into a jingoistic farce by the Govmt, McCain and the NFL. And he became very progressive once he saw what was happening.

Fans do not choose to pay corporate welfare for cash-cow stadiums, and many fans cannot afford to visit the stadiums that the subsidize.

The Tea Party has an inherently white supremacist agenda - look at the name and their unifying slogan: We want our Country Back. What they want is when white men were totally and charge and no one else had any rights.

Finally, I challenge you to provide one example of Jeremiah Wright's racism. Unless you consider talking back to white supremacy to be an act of racism. You are simply regurgitating the Hannity nonsense.

Oooo Kkkk

Oh Geoffrey you sound like a perfect puppet for Zirin the racist..Yes G the T party is racist but Revvy Wright isnt...LOL...Waste of time..Go read the newspaper.better check in with msnbc you puppet

One Example

Bruce -

There is ample visual and rhetorical evidence to substantiate the the Tea Party accepts the presence of avowed racists at its rallies and town meetings.

I asked for one example of Wright's racism. Just one. You obviously cannot provide it because there isn't one.


Wow, you sir are a true American in the tradition of Thomas Paine. Beautifully written and factual...I really wonder about Tillman's death, as it appears to me that the sociopaths have gained control of our government.


If you need me to provide proof geoffrey that means you spend too much time watching pmsnbc

Poor Bruce

Bruce is a fine example of why there was a time when 50% of all Republicans believed that Obama was not American-born. They quite simply cannot think for themselves. You ask them to defend a baseless, if not outright stupid assertion, and they can only accuse you of something irrelevant to the issue.

Poor Geoffrey

Poor Geoffrey.Sounds like a typical leftist Zombie..Gosh I didnt hear about Rev Wright from the tv newspeople or newspapers so it must not be true..Nice and dumb Geoffrey thats the way they like you...ZOMBIE

The Rant

Well, it looks like Bruce J got the last word in the schoolyard debate; "Oh yeah?"; "Yeah!"; "Oh YEAH!?"; 'YEAH!!" But the article that set such a tirade off is really quite well rounded. I didn't know about Pat Tillman's "conversion", as it were. I was sorry when he died, but I'm even sorrier now. Keep up the fight Dave, but don't let "friendly fire" get you.

The Rant

Well, it looks like Bruce J got the last word in the schoolyard debate; "Oh yeah?"; "Yeah!"; "Oh YEAH!?"; 'YEAH!!" But the article that set such a tirade off is really quite well rounded. I didn't know about Pat Tillman's "conversion", as it were. I was sorry when he died, but I'm even sorrier now. Keep up the fight Dave, but don't let "friendly fire" get you.

Celebration of the Execution of Bin Laden

Thank you Dave, for your thoughtful article in response to the vile celebrations of Bin Laden's assassination.

It was quite an experience to witness sports fans cheering their approval for bin Laden's methods when employed by the US.

The obvious facts that Clinton, Bush and Obama have been responsible for far more deaths than bin Laden -- the embargo against Iraq killed an estimated 850,000 children, and the subsequent invasion and occupation have killed as many as a million more -- were ignored during the outburst of fanatical nationalism that made so many people feel so good about themselves.

Meanwhile, athletes who employed their right to free speech by tweeting their own opinions were told by club owners to shut up.

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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
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