While acknowledging the anti-war movement has received support from the likes of Etan Thomas, Adam Morrison, Steve Nash and Carlos Delgado, Edge Of Sports’ Dave Zirin wonders why today’s sportsmen & women aren’t making a bigger stink.
Anti-war athletes could use this platform if they just stopped operating, in isolation from one another. If the people I cited called a joint press conference to announce a new organization: Athletes United Against War or – what the hell – Jocks for Justice, it would electrify the cultural landscape. Think I’m exaggerating? Consider the case of Toni Smith. In 2003, the Division III Manhattanville women’s hoops captain decided that she was going to turn her back to the flag during the National Anthem to protest not only the war abroad but “the injustices and inequities at home.” Yipping Heads lined up to debate whether Toni had the “right” to express her views. Everyone from ESPN to 20/20 to 60 Minutes wanted a piece of her story.
Remember, this is Division III women’s basketball. Crowds usually rival a well-attended K-Fed concert. If Toni Smith from Manhattanville could, for a brief moment, polarize the Sportsworld imagine what Steve Nash, backed by an organization, could do?
And yet it hasn’t happened and it’s worth asking why. Of the players I have spoken with, two main reasons emerge. The first is pessimism. Like most people in this country, pro athletes don’t believe that they have any power to determine the course of this war. The thought is that the media might give them some coverage, but in the end, nothing would change and they would just earn ESPN radio’s “Just Shut Up Award” for their trouble. One said to me, “The quickest way to win that Just Shut Up award is to have something to say.”
The other roadblock is straight-up fear: fear that taking an unpopular stand would mean a quick ticket out of the SportsWorld along with its attendant privileges. All NBA players know the cautionary tales of Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf. They took stands against US foreign policy and found themselves drummed out of the league like they were the Bush twins in Buenos Aires. Most athletes came up poor and it is not a life anyone wants to revisit.