The One (Dreadful) Thing They Don’t Call Themselves February 3, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Racism, Sports.
Tags: abby zimet, american indians, First Nations, football, indians, mascots, racism, redskins, roger hollander, sports, washington redskins
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by Abby Zimet
Just in time for the Super Bowl, the National Congress of American Indians has releasedProud To Be, a powerful new ad that seeks to explain why the Washington Redskins name – which never gets mentioned – is a racist horror that needs to be changed. With a fascinating history of the word, from its reportedly “benign” origins to its use in 1860s bounty notices – “$200 for every red-skin sent to purgatory” – to the decades-long fight to change a name that ignorant rich people like owner Dan Snyder, all of whom should know better but somehow don’t, continue to insist is “a badge of honor.” Tell them it’s not. It’s time they join this century.
Qatar’s World Cup Spectacle Brought to You by Slavery November 23, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Labor, Qatar, Sports.
Tags: 2022 world cup, construction workers, fifa, labor, michelle chen, qatar, qatar labor, qatar world cup, slave labor, soccer, sports, teex, texas a&m, worker rights, world cup, world cup facilities
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The big controversies surrounding Qatar as the site of the 2022 World Cup have been the shady bidding process and fears that the desert heat will ruin the soccer games. But in the past few days, the spotlight has finally begun to move to longstanding concerns over the treatment of the migrant workers who will be building the physical infrastructure for the sporting bonanza.
Throughout the summer, according to an investigation by Amnesty International [PDF] released this week, the future site of the sporting spectacle became a death trap for the Asian workers brought in by Qatar and its booming construction industry to work on the building sites of the planned World Cup facilities, including commercial areas and transportation infrastructure.
Amnesty found that the workers were encamped in sweltering heat, fell from precarious heights and suffered heart failure under the strenuous labor conditions. One Nepalese official described the entire system of indenture as an “open prison,” according to Der Spiegel. In light of dozens of reported deaths, union activists predict that up to 4,000 may die on the sites between now and the 2022 games.
Through interviews with the World Cup construction workers, the Amnesty investigators gathered horrific stories of an array of abuses, including “not being paid for six or nine months; not being able to get out of the country; not having enough—or any—food; and being housed in very poor accommodation with poor sanitation, or no electricity.”
Workers testified that migrants were frequently forced to work for poverty-level wages or sometimes none at all. Often, they said, employers confiscated their identification documents, effectively holding them hostage out of fear of being detained for lacking papers.
Unfortunately, while horrific, these stories are far from unique in Qatar. More than 90 percent of the labor that fuels the country’s oil-slicked economy is imported, typically brought in by recruiters from South Asian countries. Not only are these migrant workers non-citizens; in the eyes of their employers, they are barely human. They live in barbaric, squalid dormitories, their movement restricted, invisible under Qatari law and cut off from their home communities.
Under the transnational migrant “sponsorship” system, according to Amnesty, workers were drawn into the labor trade by recruiting agents who falsely advertised decent, high-paying work abroad–sometimes taking on heavy debt to secure a job. The byzantine residence permit system further disenfranchises workers. When employers illegally fail to arrange permits for workers, as was frequently the case in the shadowy migrant labor market, they generally cannot return home without paying extremely heavy fines. The restrictions on migrant workers’ movement mean that “rather than protecting the rights of migrant workers, the government is adding to their exploitation,” Amnesty contends.
Underlying the whole system are fundamentally weak protections for labor organizing on the part of Qataris and migrants alike, as well as prohibitions on migrants forming trade unions. The lack of organization among workers means many migrants remain in the dark about their labor rights. One Nepalese worker explained to Amnesty, “There are many workers who keep working like donkeys, without asking a question. They don’t understand what is legally our entitlements, what our rights are.”
Some have tried to challenge employers. According to the report, the Labour Ministry and the courts have each received thousands of worker complaints, many related to basic wage and hour and other labor issues. But due to fear of retaliation and the difficulty non-Qataris face in navigating the justice system, most aggrieved workers, according to investigators, probably do not go through with the complaint process in the first place.
One worker with the U.S.-based electro-mechanical engineering contractor Krantz Engineering wrote in a desperate letter to Amnesty in April 2013 about his lack of legal recourse for his abuse:
I am writing this email after lots of pain and struggle … I have complained in several places like Labour court, Indian Embassy, High court, CID and National Human Rights Council Qatar but no any positive response from anyone of them … I don’t have money to eat food from last five days as I didn’t get salary from last nine months.
Not all of the employers using this labor are Qatar-based—the report linked multinationals such as Hyundai Engineering and Construction and OHL Construction to the subcontractors building the World Cup-related facilities. In the case of Krantz, Amnesty discovered that one of the company’s subcontractors was receiving technical training from a company called TEEX, which is affiliated with Texas A&M University. When questioned by Amnesty about the treatment of migrants, Texas A&M argued the firm “does not have any role in the management and supervision of the labor force at the facility.”
Amid international criticism from Amnesty and other organizations like the UN, Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee, a managing body for the preparation for the games, has vowed to address the reported abuses, and FIFA has issued similar comments. In a formal response to the Guardian published in September, the committee cited numerous labor protections available to migrants, including restrictions on passport confiscation.
But Sharran Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation tells Working In These Times via email she is unconvinced by Qatar’s promises. “Qatar continues to announce that it will reform the visa sponsorship system, yet nothing changes,” she says. In the wake of mounting criticism over the human rights issues surrounding the event, she adds, “Unless Qatar reforms its ways, FIFA should re-run the vote for the 2022 World Cup.”
There is also a question of who is directly responsible for regulating labor issues. Amnesty’s report focused on infrastructure construction related to the World Cup but not just the stadium itself—including transportation and supporting commercial facilities. In any case, the primarily responsibility, argue human rights advocates, lies with Qatar to reform its overall labor laws and to tighten oversight of private sector labor practices, particularly for international-sporting projects aimed at creating a global commercial spectacle.
This is not the first time FIFA has come under political pressure; earlier this year, populist protests erupted over the lavish costs of the preparations for the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Though FIFA generally urges host countries to comply with international human rights, the World Cup is notorious for inducing local labor violations. For example, labor activists have condemned FIFA for not taking strong enough action against Russia’s temporary suspension of key labor protections for the migrant workers at the building sites for the 2018 World Cup.
The human rights crises haunting World Cup stadiums reveal global sport’s economic realities: the commercial spectacle that brings the world together is built on vast inequalities.
The NFL doesn’t pay federal taxes October 5, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Sports.
Tags: federal taxes, lynda woolard, nfl, nfl commissioner, nfl taxes, roger hollander, tax exempt
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ROGER’S NOTE: YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET UP FROM THE COUCH AT HALF TIME ON SUNDAY TO SIGN THIS PETITION. ME, I PREFER WATCHING COLLEGE FOOTBALL, WHERE PURE AMATEURISM REIGNS (LOL).
Putin Bans Protests In Sochi During 2014 Winter Olympics Amid Outrage At Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws August 23, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Russia, Sports.
Tags: 2014 Sochi Olympics, Putin Bans Sochi Protests, Putin Homophobia, Putin Homophobic, Putin Protests, roger hollander, russia, Russia Anti-Gay Laws, russia olympics, Sochi, Sochi Gay Rights, Sochi Protests, vladimir putin, winter olympics, World News
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Roger’s note: Who writes the script for the IOC? Lewis Carroll? George Orwell? Franz Kafka” The IOC assures us that it is going to make clear Putin’s position on discrimination, which is: there will be no discrimination, but the discriminatory law will be enforced.” Perfectly clear.
A demonstrator holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin with make-up as he protests against homophobia and repression against gays in Russia, in front of the Russian Embassy in Madrid on August 23, 2013. (GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA 08/23/13 02:22 PM ET EDT
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning demonstrations and rallies for two and a half months in Sochi around the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, published the presidential decree Friday, listing an array of measures tightening security in the Olympic host city, including the ban on public assemblies. All “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” that are not part of the Olympics or the Paralympics will be prohibited in Sochi from Jan. 7 to March 21, the decree said.
The Winter Olympics is taking place Feb. 7-23 in the Black Sea resort, and the Paralympics are being held March 7-16.
Government-imposed protest bans across entire cities where Olympics are held are unusual. Putin’s decree could be aimed at heading off demonstrations against Russia’s ban on alleged gay propaganda, a new law that has been sharply criticized in the West.
Among other measures in the decree are restrictions on vehicles entering Sochi. Only cars with local license plates, emergency vehicles and those accredited by the Olympic organizers will be allowed to enter the host city between Jan. 7 and March 21.
Rights organizations have voiced concerns about what they described as the “harassment and intimidation of civil society” advocates in Sochi. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that environmental, human rights and other activists have been “the targets of attacks, detention for peaceful protests and police searches.”
The International Olympic Committee received a letter Thursday from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak giving assurances that the host country will comply with the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination of any kind. The letter, however, defended Russia’s new anti-gay law and said it would be enforced.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Friday that he is “comforted” by Russia’s assurance the charter’s ban on discrimination will be respected.
“We are going to inform now all the national Olympic committees and all the athletes who want to have clarity,” Rogge told reporters after addressing the U.N. General Assembly.
Gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev told The Associated Press on Friday that he would petition the Supreme Court next week to contest the presidential decree banning rallies in Sochi as “violating our right of freedom of assembly.”
Russian authorities have repeatedly denied gay activists’ applications to set up a Pride House in Sochi during the games, but Alexeyev said he would apply for permission to hold a gay pride rally in Sochi on the opening day of the games anyway.
Tags: 2014 Sochi Olympics, anti-gay, Anti-Gay Discrimination, Gay Sochi, Gay Voices News, ioc, lgbt, olympics, roger hollander, russia, Sochi, Sochi Olympics, Sochi Russia, Stoli Boycott
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Between the Stoli boycott and statements from athletes around the world with regard to next year’s Winter Olympics and Russia’s new, draconian anti-gay laws, most of you know what’s been going on. For those who don’t, the short version is this: Earlier this year, Russia passed some horrifically anti-gay laws that make it illegal to “promote” homosexuality. Apparently you can be gay, but you just can’t ever tell anyone about it for fear that you’ll be reported and go to prison. These laws have given cover to neo-Nazi groups and others who take the law into their own hands by beating and murdering any person they think doesn’t measure up to their standard of heterosexuality.
Many have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make strong statements against these laws, and some have even called for them to move the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, to a place that is more accepting of all athletes. The IOC responded by declaring that they’d spoken to Russian authorities and had been assured that Olympic athletes and fans would be exempt from the anti-gay laws while in Sochi. Not so fast, responded Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who made it clear that Olympic athletes and fans would have to respect the host country’s bigoted laws. And today, Russia’s Interior Ministry stated unequivocally that the anti-gay laws will be enforced during the Olympic Games in Sochi.
This game of media ping-pong has left Olympic participants without any actual information regarding the situation in Russia. The truth of the matter is that no matter what kinds of assurances the IOC makes, LGBT people are not welcome or safe in Russia. The IOC can say whatever they want to, but it will not stop some Russian thug in a bar from kidnapping, beating and potentially murdering someone he perceives as gay.
Gay Star News asked the IOC what they thought about plans for athletes to wear rainbow pins or hold hands during the opening and closing ceremonies. They also asked if the IOC would provide a safe space — or Pride House — for LGBT athletes, spectators, dignitaries and others during the Games, to celebrate gay sport and community, as has been done in previous years. The IOC’s spokesperson replied, “[T]he IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary.” Indeed, Rule 50 of the IOC’s charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
So instead of actually standing up for LGBT athletes, the IOC is essentially siding with Russia and issuing a warning to lesbian and gay athletes. The IOC has made it clear that they have a double standard when it comes to accepting all athletes. The Pride House in Vancouver was historic in that it provided a safe space for LGBT athletes from around the world. The IOC clearly didn’t see this as a violation of Rule 50 a few years ago, but it seems as though athletes must now be forced to step back into the closet for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
If the Olympics remain in Sochi, LGBT athletes are automatically at a disadvantage. It’s really hard to perform to one’s full capabilities when one is spending part or most of the day in actual fear for his or her life. Gay New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup told USA Today, “I don’t want to have to tone myself down about who I am. That wasn’t very fun and there’s no way I’m going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.” I don’t think you’ll find a single athlete out there who’d disagree with the notion that you perform better when you don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, many said as much when basketball player Jason Collins came out last year.
At this point, I can’t imagine that there is anything that the IOC can say to actually ensure the safety of Olympic participants or fans, whether it be from the Russian government itself or from vigilantes who are rarely if ever prosecuted for their crimes against LGBT people. While boycotts and news stories have been effective at getting the word out about the atrocities being carried out against LGBT people in Russia, none of this will actually make anyone safer in Russia. And none of it will stop LGBT athletes from constantly having to look over their shoulders as they compete for Olympic gold.
Follow Jamie McGonnigal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mcbenefit
Olympics Petition Delivered August 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Russia, Sports.
Tags: all out, anti-gay, anti-gay crackdown, gay rights, human rights, lgbt, olympic committee, olympics, olympics petition, putin, roger hollander, russia, russia olympics, winter olympics
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Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.
In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.
He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.
We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.
Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.
Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!
Thanks for going All Out,
Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.
PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate
A Super Bowl of Struggle? The NFLPA’s Demaurice Smith on Opposing Indiana’s ‘Right to Work’ Agenda January 30, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Indiana, Labor, Sports.
Tags: anti-union, dave zirinon, demaurice smith, indiana, labor, labor law, labour, nfl, nflpa, organized labor, players association, professional football, professional sports, right to work, roger hollander, super bowl, unions, workers rights
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Roger’s note: given the outrageous and obscene salaries that some elite athletes make, it might be tempting to dismiss the concerns of sports professional from a labor point of view. This would be an error. The vast majority do not make those multi million dollar salaries, and even if the average player is well paid in comparison with other classes of workers, the same issues are involved with respect to working conditions, benefits, etc. And one should not forget the physical beating that professional athletes take and pay for the rest of their lives. In other words, the principle of worker rights is most definitely in play with respect to professional sports. The NFLPA executive director put it most succinctly: “First and foremost, it’s important that our young men understand that they are just like every man and woman in America who works for a living. The minute that any sports player believes for whatever reason that they are outside the management-labor paradigm, I guarantee you that the minute you start thinking that way is the day you will start to lose ground.”
DeMaurice Smith: First and foremost, it’s important that our young men understand that they are just like every man and woman in America who works for a living. The minute that any sports player believes for whatever reason that they are outside the management-labor paradigm, I guarantee you that the minute you start thinking that way is the day you will start to lose ground. Our guys get their fingers broken, their backs broken, their heads concussed and their knees torn up because they actually put their hands into the ground and work for a living, and I would much rather have them understand and appreciate and frankly embrace the beauty of what it is to work and provide for their family.
[On this issue] we are in lock-step with organized labor. I’m proud to sit on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. Why? Because we share all the same issues that the American people share. We want decent wages. We want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when we get hurt. We want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like “Right to Work,” I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue. This bill has nothing to do with a “right to work.” If folks in Indiana and that great legislature want to pass a bill that really is something called “Right to Work,” have a constitutional amendment that guarantees every citizen a job, that’s a “right to work.” What this is instead is a right to ensure that ordinary working citizens can’t get together as a team, can’t organize, can’t stand together and can’t fight management on an even playing field. From a sports union, our union, our men and their families understand the power of management and understand how much power management can wield over an individual person. So don’t call it a “right to work.” If you want to have an intelligent discussion about what the bill is, call it what it is. Call it an anti-organizing bill. Fine. If that’s what the people want to do in order to put a bill out there, let’s cast a vote on whether or not ordinary workers can get together and represent themselves, and let’s have a real referendum.
DZ: What would you say to someone who says, ‘Well, people who support this type of right to work legislation, they are just doing it to protect unions. They don’t care about the majority of workers who aren’t in unions”?
DS: Well take a look over the last 100 years. I used to say that we have forgotten a lot of the lessons from organized labor over the last 100 years, but I’m now convinced that we never learned them. Whether your talking about fire escapes outside of buildings or sprinkler systems inside of buildings, fair wages for a days work, laws that prevent child labor, things that led to the abolishing of sweatshops in America, let alone management contributing to healthcare plans or a decent pension… all those things over the last 100 years were not gifts from management. Someone in a corporate suite didn’t decide one day that they would bestow that wonderful right upon a working person. The way those rights were achieved was through the collective will of a group of workers who stood together and said, ‘This is what we believe is fair, and we are all going to stand together and demand that those things be provided to us. We’ll do it as a collective group. You may be able to pick off one of us or two of us or five of us, but you will not be able to pick off all of us.’ When you look at legislation that is designed to tear apart that ability to work as a team… that is not just anti-union. That is anti–working man and woman, and that’s why we weighed in on this one.
DZ: When you put out a statement like this, does it also goes out to every player so they’re aware of this campaign?
DS: It goes out to the players, the board, and the executive committee, and here in this case, we actually reached out to former Indianapolis Colts, former players who went to college in Indiana, and those players who live in Indiana, and asked them if they’d want to sign on. So we have a very impressive list of players. Rex Grossman is a local player who signed on. Jeff George, former quarterback for [among other teams] the Indianapolis Colts, also signed on. I’m proud of our guys who signed off on this because I do think that they appreciate and understand that in the same way that those things that we were talking about things that have been changes for good for ordinary workers in America, there isn’t a player in the National Football League who shouldn’t understand that every benefit that we have in the collective bargaining agreement is one that was negotiated by a collective of players standing together. Coming out of this lockout, perhaps it was the first time some of our young men understood what the collective bargaining agreement is all about. [Author’s note: De Smith said after the interview that Tim Tebow was behind the NFLPA 100 percent during the lockout. Given some of my own critiques of Tebow’s politics, I felt obliged to include that nugget.]
DZ: The news this week was that this bill was rammed through committee, so it is advancing through the Indiana State House. Has there been any talk about what else the NFLPA might do? Any follow up to the statement that you put out?
DS: I wrote an op-ed that has been placed in the main Indianapolis newspaper. If the issue is still percolating by the time of Super Bowl, I can promise you that the players of the National Football League and their union will be up front about what we think about this and why. Look, we have players who played in Indianapolis obviously, but I made no secret coming into this fight that the lockout, organized and implemented by a group of owners, was not only designed to hurt players but all of the people who work in and around our stadium: the hospitality network, the network of restaurants, bars, all of those things that are connected and touch our business were affected by the lockout that we frankly did not want to happen. So there is never going to be a day where players are going to divorce themselves from the ordinary people who work around their sports, and we’re sure as heck not going to divorce ourselves from the fans who dig our game.
DZ: If the legislation is still percolating, there will be people who will be doing legal, nonviolent protests around the Super Bowl game to try to leverage the spotlight of the Super Bowl to raise the issue for a national audience, and I know that they’re getting various union endorsements to do so. Is that something the NFLPA would support, the idea of a demonstration, a legal, nonviolent demonstration outside the Super Bowl?
DS: Yeah, possibly. We’ve been on picket lines in Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel rooms that they had to clean because they were not union workers. We’ve been on picket lines in Boston and San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal protest is something that we’ve done before.
We’ll have to see what is going to go on when we’re there, but issues like this are incredibly important to us. If we can be in a position just to make sure that we raise the level of the debate to the point where it is a fair and balanced discussion about the issues, I think that is something that our players can help do. Obviously, players have a very high profile, and I think its important for them to take on issues which are important to them and be in a position to talk about them, raise the level of consciousness about them.
If we do one thing by making this statement, and it is raising the level of the debate, and to have real people ask real questions about it, we’ve served our purpose.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, amir bar-lev, andrew o'hehir, football, irag, jon krakauer, nfl, Noam Chomsky, pat tillman, patriotism, roger hollander, sports, tillman story, war
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Friday, Aug 20, 2010 17:50 ET
The Chomsky-reading NFL star killed in Afghanistan wasn’t who you think he was — no matter who you are
The death of Pat Tillman, the National Football League star turned Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire — or “fratricide,” as the military puts it — in Afghanistan in April 2004, was a strange event in recent American history. On one hand, Tillman’s death was covered far more extensively than those of any of the other 4,700 or so United States troops killed in the Iraqi and Afghan combat zones. To put it bluntly, he was the only celebrity among them.
On the other hand, Tillman’s story remains poorly understood and has little social resonance. As a colleague of mine recently put it, Tillman didn’t fit, either as a living human being or a posthumous symbol into the governing political narratives of our polarized national conversation. That’s true whether you’re on the right or the left. If he struck many people at first as a macho, hyper-patriotic caricature — the small-town football hero who went to war without asking questions — it eventually became clear that was nowhere near accurate. Yet Tillman was also more idiosyncratic than the equally stereotypical ’60s-style combat vet turned longhair peacenik.
Mind you, Tillman might well have become a left-wing activist, had he lived longer. He had read Noam Chomsky’s critiques of U.S. foreign policy, and hoped to meet Chomsky in person. But as Amir Bar-Lev’s haunting and addictive documentary “The Tillman Story” demonstrates, Tillman was such an unusual blend of personal ingredients that he could have become almost anything. It’s a fascinating film, full of drama, intrigue, tragedy and righteous indignation, but maybe its greatest accomplishment is to make you feel the death of one young man — a truly independent thinker who hewed his own way through the world, in the finest American tradition — as a great loss.
“The Tillman Story” was made with the close cooperation of Tillman’s parents and siblings, who have worked tirelessly over the past six years to expose the circumstances of Tillman’s death and the extensive military coverup that followed it. The film is also meant, to some extent, as an antidote to journalist Jon Krakauer’s 2009 book “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman,” which the family strongly disliked. (Tillman’s widow, Marie, allowed Krakauer to read Tillman’s journals, a decision other family members apparently regret.) Bar-Lev’s dual goals are to document the family’s long crusade to pry the grisly truth about Tillman’s death and the ensuing campaign of lies from the military bureaucracy, and, perhaps more important, to capture the unconventional background that produced someone as unusual as Pat Tillman in the first place.
To use the Shakespearean cliché, Tillman was a man of many parts, and that goes back to his childhood in a rural California valley south of San Jose, where his parents, Pat Sr. and Mary, encouraged an almost libertarian blend of self-reliance and free thinking in their sons. (The Tillmans are now divorced, but have worked closely together on the campaign to unpack the military’s deceitful behavior.) He emerged as a mixture of qualities that seem simultaneously liberal and conservative, all-American and heterodox. He was a football star and avid outdoorsman who read Emerson; an agnostic or atheist who read the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon out of intellectual curiosity; a man who relished the high-testosterone simulated combat of sports, and excelled at it, while also maintaining an introspective personal journal he allowed no one to read.
As a friend of mine recently observed, many of Tillman’s characteristics would seem completely normal among the metropolitan educated classes: He never went anywhere without a book, and typically rode his bike rather than driving a car. But Tillman wasn’t a bearded, chai-drinking grad student riding that bike to yoga class in Brooklyn or Silverlake or Ann Arbor. He was the starting strong safety for the Arizona Cardinals, and parked his bike next to his teammates’ Porsches and tricked-out Escalades. Bar-Lev’s film is a bit light on Tillman’s football career, and doesn’t include any interviews with teammates. You have to wonder how much they liked or understood him.
Now you’re asking the obvious question: If Pat Tillman was such a smart and interesting fellow, why did he walk away from an easy life of fame and money and volunteer for combat on the other side of the world, where he wound up standing on an Afghan hillside and shouting, “I’m Pat fucking Tillman!” at somebody who was shooting him in the head with a machine gun? There’s no easy answer, and in making his film with the Tillmans, Bar-Lev has agreed not to go too far in trying to answer it directly. The Tillman brothers and parents want to respect Pat’s refusal to discuss his reasons in public, so the film never quotes from the journals that Krakauer read.
Nonetheless I think “The Tillman Story” and Krakauer’s book paint roughly the same picture, in that Tillman’s decision to go to war was more personal and philosophical than ideological. He believed that the U.S. was at war after 9/11 — with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, not Iraq or Afghanistan or Muslims in general, Krakauer says — and decided he had a moral responsibility to take part. He believed in an old-fashioned code of masculine honor and valor, but he had also begun wondering whether his life as a professional athlete was shallow and meaningless. You could almost say he joined the Army in a search for personal meaning and moral purpose.
After serving a tour of duty in Iraq, Tillman returned home with grave doubts about the morality and efficacy of that conflict, and began to make contact with people who opposed the war. (This is the Chomsky-reading period.) Bar-Lev makes clear that Tillman could have asked for a discharge at that point to resume his football career; the owner of the Seattle Seahawks was eager to sign him, and the NFL would no doubt have made a big show of welcoming a returning hero. Again that old-fashioned moral code intervened: Tillman disliked military life and thought the war was wrong, but he wouldn’t use his fame to avoid fulfilling his three-year commitment. (He had joined up as an ordinary enlisted man, although he would almost certainly have been given an officer’s commission had he requested one.)
I’m only guessing here, but one of the things the Tillman family hated about Jon Krakauer’s book was probably the author’s tendency to view Pat Tillman’s death as a case study in the evils of war and the limits of idealism. I might incline toward that view myself, but the Tillmans don’t. Right-wing propagandists quickly learned that the Tillman family wasn’t going to stick to the pious, patriotic script. (Pat’s drunken younger brother, Rich, at the nationally televised funeral: “Pat isn’t with God. He’s fucking dead.”) But the Tillmans aren’t interested in starring in an antiwar morality play either. As they see it, Pat Tillman died as he lived, as an American who thought for himself, hewed to his own course and kept his word. It’s the rest of us who have betrayed him.
“The Tillman Story” opens Aug. 20 in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities, with wider national release to follow.
How Sports Attacks Public Education March 5, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Sports.
Tags: arne duncan, berkeley, DAVID ZIRIN, education, education reform, public education, roger hollander, sports, sports riot, student protest, students, tuition
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“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass
On Thursday, I was proud to take part in a student walkout at the University of Maryland in defense of public education. It was just one link in a National Day of Action that saw protests in more than 32 states across the country. I am not a student, and haven’t been since those innocent days when Monica Lewinsky mattered, but I was asked to come speak at a post walkout teach-in about the way sports is used to attack public education. It might sound like a bizarre topic, but it’s the world that students see every day.
At the University of Maryland, as tuition has been hiked and classes cut, football coach Ralph Friedgen makes a base salary of 1.75 million bucks, which would be outrageous even if the team weren’t two-steps past terrible. Friedgen also gets perks like a $50,000 bonus if none of his players are arrested during the course of the season.
Ground zero of the student protest movement is the University of California at Berkeley. Over at Berkeley, students are facing 32% tuition hikes, while the school pays football coach Jeff Tedford 2.8 million dollars a year and is finishing more than 400 million in renovations on the football stadium. This is what students see: boosters and alumni come first, while they’ve been instructed to cheer their teams, pay their loans, and mind their business.
The counterargument is that college athletic departments fund themselves and actually put money back into a school’s general fund. This is simply not true. The October Knight Commission report of college presidents stated that the 25 top football schools had revenues on average of $3.9 million in 2008. The other 94 ran deficits averaging $9.9 million. When athletic departments run deficits, it’s not like the football coach takes a pay cut. In other words, if the team is doing well, the entire school benefits. If the football team suffers, the entire school suffers. This, to put it mildly, is financial lunacy. A school would statistically be better off if it took its endowment to Vegas and just bet it all on black.
If state colleges are hurting, your typical urban public school is in a world of pain with budgets slashed to the bone. Politicians act like these are problems beyond their control like the weather. (“50% chance of sun and a 40% chance of losing music programs.”)
In truth, they are the result of a comprehensive attack on public education that has seen the system starved. One way this has been implemented is through stadium construction, the grand substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in this country. Over the last generation, we’ve seen 30 billion in public funds spent on stadiums. They were presented as photogenic solutions to deindustrialization, declining tax bases, and suburban flight. The results are now in and they don’t look good for the home teams. University of Maryland sports economists Dennis Coates and University of Alberta Brad R. Humphreys studied stadium funding over 30 years and failed to find one solitary example of a sports franchise lifting or even stabilizing a local economy. They concluded the opposite: “a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area….Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy.” These projects achieve so little because the jobs created are low wage, service sector, seasonal employment. Instead of being solutions of urban decay, the stadiums have been tools of organized theft: sporting shock doctrines for our ailing cities.
With crumbling schools, higher tuitions, and an Education Secretary in Arne Duncan who seems more obsessed with providing extra money for schools that break their teachers unions, it’s no wonder that the anger is starting to boil over. It can also bubble up in unpredictable ways. On Wednesday night, after the University of Maryland men’s basketball team beat hated arch-rival Duke, students were arrested after pouring into the streets surrounding the campus. In years past, these sporting riots have been testosterone run amok, frat parties of burning mattresses and excessive inebriation. This year it was different, with police needing to use pepper spray and horses to quell the 1,500 students who filled Route 1. In response, students chanted, “Defense! Defense!” At the Thursday teach in, I said to the students that I didn’t think there was anything particularly political or interesting about a college sports riot. One person shot his hand up and said, “It wasn’t a riot until the cops showed up.” Everyone proceeded to applaud. I was surprised at first that these politically minded students would be defending a post-game melee, but no longer. The anger is real and it isn’t going anywhere. While schools are paying football coaches millions and revamping stadiums, students are choosing between dropping out or living with decades of debt. One thing is certain: it aint a game.
© 2010 The Nation
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.