Defying the "Jockocracy"
by Dave Zirin
First published in Znet
Howard Cosell once said, 'Rule Number One of the 'Jockocracy' is that pro-athletes and politics should never mix.' But in these times of war and resistance, a new wave of sports stars are demanding to be heard. In Major League Baseball, Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado has come out against the occupation of Iraq. At the Olympics, the Iraqi Soccer Team publicly refused to be a symbol for a war they opposed. In the NBA, all-star guard Steve Nash and forward Josh Howard have said that they were "for shooting jumpers not people." Now we can add NBA center/power forward Etan Thomas to the list of those athletic anti-war rebels who are rewriting the rules of the "Jockocracy".
An outspoken opponent of racism and the death penalty, Thomas is a poet who puts his ideas to verse at rallies and panel discussions throughout the DC Metro area.
Now, in an 'Edge of Sports' exclusive, the Washington Wizards' fifth year player turns his attention and anger toward George W. Bush's war against Iraq. This story is breaking here only because, according to Thomas, the Washington Times was preparing to profile his views until the story was killed by 'higher ups' at the right-leaning paper.
"I am totally against this war," Thomas says adamantly. "But at the same time, I am completely for the troops. Republicans tried to paint the picture that if you were against the war, you were somehow unpatriotic, and that couldn't be further from the truth. What's truly unpatriotic is misleading an entire nation into war under false pretenses."
Thomas shakes his head at Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of John Kerry's call for a more "sensitive" war in the Middle East. "[Bush and Cheney] missed the entire point. They should have been more sensitive to the 1000+ American soldiers that lost their lives because of the ignorance of the White House. They should have been more sensitive to the fact that these were human lives they were ruining. I wonder what they would say to the mothers who will never see their sons again, or the children who will never see their fathers again.. He has sent so many young children, who only signed up for the Army as a way to go to college, into a war that didn't need to happen. And people wonder why the casualties are so high. 18 year-old babies are over there losing their lives everyday, and he has the audacity to say that 'we are turning the corner.'"
Bush's arrogance has been a factor compelling the burly rebounder to speak out. He sees a quagmire developing because of Bush's oft-criticized 'go it alone' style. "He was so insistent about going against the U.N. and now we are bearing the burden alone. He said that he didn't need the help of any other country. Now, we need help and no other country wants to help us because of his unwillingness to allow the U.N. to do their job. The U.N. said that they didn't have enough evidence to invade Iraq, but Bush insisted that they had these weapons of mass destruction, and come to find out, that was untrue. Now we are in way over our heads and progress is moving at a snail's pace."
Thomas also expresses frustration at the media's role in not questioning the drive to war. Fox News' role in particular leaves him both astounded and annoyed. "It amazes me that know-it-alls like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity can actually defend him. O'Reilly said that he was simply given bad info, and he thought he was doing the right thing. Well, it's his job to know. That excuse -- 'I didn't know any better' -- might work when you are seven years-old, but not when you are the President of the United States."
As with the death penalty, Thomas is putting his feelings into poetry.
Below is an excerpt from Thomas' poem on the Iraq War:
Out of the ashes of Iraq come soldiers dressed in fatigues of fire Wearing helmets secured in smoke They've choked off the lies spewed out of the mouth of a burning bush The true warrior's existing wake Who's flames burned them at the stake Cremated their bodies And stuffed them in an urn wrapped in red, white, and blue....
Rummaging through a forest set ablaze by one lethal match With witty catch phrases forever attached to the side of their kingdom Operation Iraqi Freedom Links to Al Qaeda Eminent threats And weapons of mass destruction.....
They've been skillfully thrown into the lion's den Out of the frying pan and into the furnace Their courage exceeds any measuring stick But they can hear the footsteps of death creeping around the corner For they've been led into the eye of the storm Transformed into peacekeepers Lending a helping hand for the poorly planned post-war strategy......
Thomas knows he may feel some heat for speaking out against Bush's war but feels an obligation to do so. "I have never had a problem standing up for what I believe in. I admire the athletes of the past, like Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. Athletes that used their position as a platform to speak out on social issues and stand up for a cause. Basketball is not my life. To quote Bill Russell, 'You're not going to reduce me to an entertainer. I'm a man who stands up for what I believe in and you're going to respect me for it.' A quote I live by is, 'I speak my mind because biting my tongue would make my pride bleed.'"
When athletes like Etan Thomas step forward and make their voices heard, they do more than rewrite the rules of Cosell's "Jockocracy". They reclaim the humanity of all athletes normally presented as having muscles and tattoos but not minds. They also provide an outlet for the millions of people who oppose the priorities of this government yet embattled and embittered, feel they stand alone. When 6' 10" Etan Thomas stands up, you feel like you can straighten your back and walk tall by his side.
Dave Zirin's book What's My Name, Fool: sports and resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books) comes out in spring 2005. To have his column sent to you every week, just e-mail edgeofsports- email@example.com.