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Here's Zirin's point: athletes are basically not supposed to be political beings. When they sign their contracts, they sign away their rights to speak out about anything. (Think Ozzie Guillen and his "misstep" as Marlin's manager: he expressed admiration for Castro's longevity as a dictator and faced major fallout from his management, MLB and the press.) On the other hand, "at every sporting event we are encouraged to colletively celebrate the displays of nationalism, patriotism, and miliatry might that festoon every corner." Think beyond the national anthem: think fly overs, the new (hideous) camo jerseys, corporate culture of sponsorship, etc. When we attend mainstream sporting events, we witness giant spectacles of homoeroticism while passively supporting (or more, paying for) homophobic corporations that further homophobia in boys growing up with these mens as role models. And don't even get me started on the Olympics (I wouldn't want to throw a wrench in THB's next venue!) Sports are political. Somehow, this doesn't bother me nearly as much as the religious and nationalist part.
Zirin's book is uneven. It clearly reads as a bunch of previously-published essays glommed together into a book, which is unfortunate. Some of the parts are really great, and I learned a lot about the NCAA and the awful exploitation of the kids playing ball for our enjoyment. The NCAA makes so much money, it's ridiculous, and the kids don't get a dollar, not even for the sponsored gear that's plastered all over their bodies. If they get cut from the team, no matter for what reason, they lose their scholarships. Tough shit dude, you're here for an education, I mean to play sports, I mean for an education. Can't play? See ya. I even felt sorry for the bajillionaire NBA and NFL players who got locked out by owners pleading poor even though they were double-bajillionaires, ten times over. Did you know that after football, NFL players don't get health care? Sure, they're rich, but they get beaten up for a living, for our (well, not mine) entertainment and then don't have any right to healthcare, which most of us would agree is a basic human right. Let's just say that post NFL they have more than a few pre-existing conditions that might disqualify them for health insurance. But I didn't like how Zirin conflates gender and sexuality- I'm sure he knows the difference but his essay mushes the question of the treatment of female athletes, gender distinctions and homophobia into one, and they're not. And although I'm convinced: the Green Bay Packers are the best, we need more good examples. If you're going to read a Zirin book, I'd go with "Bad Sports." Otherwise, follow him on twitter (he posts a lot of his articles there) or check out his podcast, Edge of Sports.