Sports as an outlet for the body politic

When I’m driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.

In part, this reaction may be due to my own areas of interest, but I think it’s quite accurate, basically. And I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that’s far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that’s in fact what they do. I’m sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.

A few weeks ago I heard that quote above on my radio. It’s from Noam Chomsky, which I know will cause some eyes to roll, but regardless of the messenger, his observation is spot on. At least for me.

I used to be much more active in politics. I used to have long conversations about my country and could recite policy facts from memory. But as I grew more disillusioned with the Democratic party and their inability to get anything past the Republicans, I turned toward a political outlet where I felt I had a voice, and where I literally had a voice if I went to games, I turned to football.

Instead of railing against the use of drones to kill American citizens without trial (it’s a violation of the 6th Amendment), I spend countless hours wondering about whether or not someone like Hector Bellerin deserves a new contract (he does, despite an unusually poor tackle rate) and putting together detailed dossiers on players I think Arsenal should sign. I am exactly the person Noam Chomsky heard on the radio.

What I think Noam misses is the fact that as fans we have about as much say in our sports teams as we seem to have in our politics. And I would go one step further and say that they are in essence, the same institutions, run by the same people, for the benefit of these same people.

Both institutions carry the illusion that we have some real authority. There’s a belief that if you “vote them out” that you’re changing things. But just look at the corporate lobbyists who are on Trump’s transition team: Trump has put the former chief economist from Bear Stearns in charge of the Treasury Department transition and he has responsibility over appointing the advisor for “economic issues”. Bear Stearns, you might remember, were the Wall Street Investment firm that collapsed in 2008. That’s just one of a number of examples of how despite who we elect in our country, those in power remain in power. Far from draining the swamp, he’s set sail on one of those fan boats.

The same with Arsenal. What happens if you stop going to games and you suddenly make Arsenal less profitable for Stan Kroenke? Let’s say he sells up. We aren’t getting the club back, folks. We as a collective aren’t going to stump up the billions needed to buy him out. It’s just going into the hands of some other rich guy. Some other rich guy who will pander to our needs so long as we keep filling his pockets. Repeat ad nauseum. Our only hope is that whichever dear leader is running our institution lucks into a brief moment of prosperity, where trophies and glory are our meat and drink for a few years.

As far as political dialog, I have been witness to some ugly scenes about Arsenal over the last 10 years. And sides have been taken with neat little acronyms like WOB and AKB which mimic our political parties GOP and DNC. I could even strain at some parallels between people who want a more authoritarian leader who promises a return to glimmering trophies, like Jose Mourinho, and a leader who inspires hope but who is less than perfect, like Arsene Wenger. In fact, the Arsenal fan base has been as deeply divided over the way that the club has been run as the fans of America have been over the way that America has been run.

And finally, sports teams are very much like countries in that there are haves and have-nots. There are also structures in place to ensure that the have-nots stay down and that the haves stay up. These structures are not perfect. Sometimes a team like Leicester City finds a step-ladder and becomes a feel good story, the myth we like to tell ourselves about the value of hard work. But as soon as they get to the top they are quickly tipped over by the powers that be and pushed back down where they “belong.” There is also a danger that a have can be knocked off the top of the pile. That’s a process that often takes decades. Liverpool haven’t won the League since 1990 and yet they, much like England, are still considered a bit of a world economic power.

I could go on with this analogy for hours but eventually it falls down because the difference between a country and a sports team is that my country can jail me, deport me, or kill me. And my country’s policies can jail or kill other people. So, while the parallels are there between sports and politics, the reason why someone would choose to talk vehemently about sports instead of politics is simple: sports are a welcome distraction in a world where most people are powerless.

Tomorrow, sports. And if you look at all closely you will probably find some metaphors for politics.



  1. I have found it difficult this week to read or care about sport. It just feels so meaningless in the grand scheme of things, so I very much appreciate the political turn taken by this blog in the last few days. I understand we will eventually return to Arsenal and football, as I will, too, but right now I don’t feel it.

    I still can’t believe Donald Trump is the president of the US. I’m currently watching him build a team made up of family members, DC insiders, and lobbyists, some of them who formerly worked for Reagan and Bush. There’s a lot of old, rich establishment who are now in charge of this country, exactly what Trump’s supporters didn’t want. Whose interests do you think they will serve? People who voted for Trump were, I would suggest deluded, and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that Trump himself is firmly entrenched in the establishment. He’s rich, he wants to get richer, more powerful, and he has never once in his life cared about improving the lot of the poor, jobless, and otherwise disenfranchised.

    Sorry, still can’t talk Arsenal. Will try another day.

    1. Trump’s entire campaign always seemed like a weird joke.
      A failed businessman lauded as a good businessman.
      An outsider who stood at the Republican debates and told everyone how he bought the politicians on the stage.
      A guy who was pro-choice before he was anti-choice.
      A guy who has never cracked a bible sold as the Christian candidate.
      A pathological liar billed as the honest candidate.
      A guy who used contributions to his campaign to enrich his family talking about how he will be the only candidate who doesn’t take money.
      A guy who has used the tax code to avoid paying taxes all his life talking about making the tax code more fair.
      A guy who dodged military service, made fun of POWs, and said he always wanted a Purple Heart claiming to be the only candidate who will be tough on foreign powers.
      A guy who supposedly cares about the offshoring of jobs, who offshores his own work.
      A guy who wants to deport illegal immigrants, but uses them to build his buildings.
      A guy

  2. blogs, couldnt help noticing your mention of noam chomsky, whats the general consensus about the man? down here in Nigeria, I studied English Language and I can honestly tell you we hate that guy!!

  3. Uncle Noam… been thinking about him. When I was first exposed to him in college I asked the professor (who knew him personally) whether it drove Chomsky crazy to be powerless and my professor said, “No, he thinks about it as bearing witness.”

    My teenage self didn’t appreciate that. But in the fullness of time I’ve come to understand what integrity means… and what it costs. I’ve come to admire Chomsky more and more.

    I’m having a Fear and Loathing moment, “There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . . So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

    And I think, if there is a rollback that like Helen and Scott Nearing, even if I can’t change the world, I can make my corner of it better.

  4. Socialism and communism have killed millions of people and left millions in misery. My parents fled communist countries (Hungary and Poland) and persecution. They are evil ideologies. From Pol Pot to Mao Tse Tung to Stalin to Castro these are the authoritarian leaders of great socialist movements that destroyed the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

    So you want to call out Trump supporters as racist. Fair enough. Then also call out students of Noam Chomsky, an apologist for these men as condoning authoritarian evil.

    1. I denounce Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin. Also, Hitler. I don’t know if socialism is the reason for the evil people or the tool of the evil people.

      We should also call out capitalism as a tool of the wealthy which is used to commit atrocities all over the world (see the expansion into the new world).

      It seems to me that we will always have powerful people. What we need is to check them at their ideology and if they have something hideous in their platform, we should reject them. It seems to me that what it takes for good people to allow the rise of a dictatorship is for them to do nothing. Or worse, to vote in a racist. But I guess we will have to wait and see what Trump actually does. So far, he’s acting exactly like a puppet of the system. So, I expect him to continue doing that.

    2. Zealotry in either direction is bad. Always. I would even suggest that zealotry itself is always bad. It claims certainty about things that can only be uncertain, and prefers ideology to humanity.

  5. It’s definitely more difficult to worry about football after the result.

    As a white guy without money worries, i’ve been privileged enough that i’ve always felt that as bad things ever seemed, I was sure that, generally speaking, we were on the right track. Even regarding some of the worst elements that hitched their wagon to Trump, there was the feeling/hope that what we were seeing was the last death throws of a small minority who were seeing their hateful, racist, sexist, bigoted views being pushed to the sidelines and becoming more and more irrelevant. Now I’m just not so sure.

    I was going to finish that paragraph by saying that I still think we’re on the right track….but honestly, after writing it I realized just how unsure I was that that was true.

    Even in the days leading up to the election I think the general worry by some was that Trump wouldn’t win, but what will happen when the next candidate with similar views is able to better hide their worst selves?

    But in the end, Trump didn’t even have to do that. He won anyway.

    What if we’re the ones in the minority? What if the good guys are the out of touch weirdos now? As you pointed out Tim, Trump is like the imaginary candidate you’d make up if you were trying to think of the worst possible candidate and he still won.
    I don’t know.

    I guess there’s the hope that if/when he fails spectacularly people will be less likely to vote for someone like him. If he backpedals on all the promises he made to get their vote, maybe more people will see him for what he really is and be less likely to believe someone like that in the future.

    But the sentiment is still there though isn’t it? How do you stop people hating those worse off than themselves and help them to focus their ire in the right direction, at those in power with all the money and all the influence?

  6. Gonna wade into the political maelstrom…

    Let me start by saying I grieve for our nation. I despise Trump as a human being and I am afraid of what he might do as president, in particular to the affordable care act and to the Paris accords. But I do think too many people go too far in condemning the people who voted for him. And I do not think his election portends a return to pre-civil rights America.

    I voted for Hilary. But I did it reluctantly, knowing her for the silver tongued power starved political maven that she is and that I really don’t like a lot of the things she represents. I wanted Bernie Sanders, but after he lost the primary I thought she was far the more preferable of the two candidates based on the issues I cared most about: healthcare and the environment. I also thought that although she had sold her soul for power, she was still far preferable a human being to the other guy for obvious reasons.

    My belief is that most of the people who voted for Trump went through a similar inner decision tree. Rather than viewing Trump as a long sought after champion for their suppressed racism and misogyny, most probably viewed him as a flawed candidate who would nevertheless represent them and their needs better than his opponent. Yes, they voted for a candidate who has said things that cannot be forgotten and should not be forgiven. In voting for him they prioritized other things above that. They were selfish to do so. However, they are not demons and should not be treated automatically as horrible people. To do that only deepens the divide on both sides and weakens our democracy.

    After Trump’s eventual victory, many democrats view a Trump vote as a vote for racism and hate. Although I’m sure there are Trump supporters like that, I can’t and won’t believe that the tens of millions who voted for him did so because of, rather than in spite of, Trump’s worst utterances. They voted for him in spite of the slimeball that he is, in spite of one of the worst run political campaigns of all time, and in spite of national media that was largerly favorable to Hilary throughout the campaign. And they were afraid to come out and say that they would do so in the polls because to admit to being a Trump voter was and is tantamount to admitting to be a hateful redneck. I do not want to live in an America where we label people because of their vote. We have to listen to each other and work together to create a world we can all live in together, no matter our preferences on social issues. Believing in tolerance for all doesn’t mean we can stop at minorities, gays and women. It means we have to listen and respect all our neighbors, even if they are elderly or white or uneducated. It means listening to the views of people who believe differently from us with a tone of respect. There is no other way they will listen to us in return.

    1. I disagree that the media was favorable to Hillary. Down the stretch, when it counted, they savaged her with the bogus email story.

      But regardless, this is a nicely worded way of saying “let’s heal the divide” and “I don’t believe all Trump’s voters are racist.” A majority of Trump’s voters don’t think of themselves as racist, true. But they do so out of what I’m discovering is a profound lack of understanding about what racism means. Racism is about power and privilege. When you vote to elect a man who is openly racist and who has openly racist policies, you have just voted to empower racism.

      I don’t care if you have the privilege to overlook his racism and say “I’m in favor of just his tax cut”, you still voted for a “textbook racist”. And there are real consequences for this, Doc. There are human lives at stake. Racism and sexism is already now out in the open. Trump has not even so much as denounced the racist attacks around the country because they are not a bug, they are a feature.

      I’m sorry dude, we can’t heal the divides until people recognize what they have done and that what they have done was wrong.

      1. Tim, I think Bunburyist sums up my feelings well: “Zealotry in either direction is bad. Always. I would even suggest that zealotry itself is always bad. It claims certainty about things that can only be uncertain, and prefers ideology to humanity.”

        We cannot prefer ideology to humanity. We cannot ask 65 million angry voters to admit they are racist before we are willing to talk to them.

    2. Really considered and well-written post, Doc. Also appreciate where Tim is coming from on this, because racism is a significant problem in this country, and certainly had a part to play in this election. It is, though, part of a number of problems, none of them really distinct from one another, that led to Trump being the winner. For example, I do think people voted for Trump because of real concerns about jobs, and I genuinely feel for them, but that concern is inseparable from the feeling many have in this country that the reason jobs are being lost is because of Mexicans. So it’s always a bit of “both-and” instead of “either-or,” wouldn’t you say?

      1. Yes, racism is an inseparable part of many of these issues. Hence the emotionally charged nature of this election and the conversations yesterday and today, even here.

  7. I posted the above comment prior to reading the comments from yesterday. Yikes, that was quite the exchange!

    As morally correct as it may be to call the Trump vote racist, I don’t think it’s helpful to do so because I don’t think it’ll make this nation a better place to live. I think it’ll deepen the already chasmic divide. How do we expect to make laws for all Americans in a world like that? How can we move our society forward in a world where we are constantly in a state of ideological warfare? Shrill denouncements of others, especially from positions of wealth and privilege, don’t tend to go over well and certainly won’t help people see the errors of their ways. Thoughtfully promote your own views, live the way you think you ought, teach by example, but don’t condemn others, certainly not entire groups. Such condemnations undo the fabric of democracy and corrode our shared core values. When it becomes more important to us to be right than to be decent to our fellow human beings, we are not on the right path.

    1. The nation won’t be a better place to live until the 50% of the people who supported Trump stop doing openly racist things.

      And this meme that the people who supported Trump were poor people downtrodden by the economy is utter bullshit. The poor overwhelmingly supported Hillary. It was wealthy white people, upper and middle-class white people. Trump won every demographic above $50,000 income and among his supporters Immigration and Terrorism were the #1 and #2 issues.

      This was a white wave voting for its own white power.

      1. Not aware of the situation or the issue in the US. So in wanting to understand it. Can I just ask. If people enter the country illegally, then why shouldn’t they be deported?

        I can understand that many of them may have been there for years and built their lives there, and in such cases, deportation carries a terrible human cost and should not happen. But any other aspect to this?

        1. A couple things here. A large percentage (over 40%) enter the country legally. Another large percentage have been here a long time and now have American born citizen children. What do you do with them? Do you send mom and dad home and create an orphan?

          There is also the problem of logistics. Everyone has a right to a trial and we don’t want to deport people who are American citizens. So, that means 11 million trials or at least 11 million adjudications. That means 11 million people in prison. That means 11 million people bused out of the country. What happens if Mexico refuses them entry? That’s not a very far off or crazy idea. The last thing Mexico wants is another 11 million jobless people.

          So, I’m opposed to rounding up illegals at gun point and busing them out of the country. I’m also not sure that illegal immigration is actually a problem. But that’s another discussion.

          If we want to solve this we need to crack down on employers who use illegals. Obama is already deporting the criminals. So, we keep doing that. Other than that, this isn’t a national crisis requiring us to destroy the budget and human lives needed to accomplish the task. You just go slow and steady.

        2. I would like to comment on this. In the past I have worked next to undocumented workers in this country, and now I work to train immigrants (legal mostly) to get into the workforce.
          And I’m a gooner.
          As Tim mentioned, the vast majority of undocumented workers come here legally, and they overstay their visas. They enter the job market, but rarely compete with American born people for jobs.
          I have seen some conflict in the areas of sheet rocking, roofing, and general labor when I worked in construction however, but in my experience direct competition was not that common in Portland, where I grew up.
          I should mention I also lived in SF for 10 years, and honestly if I wanted to get a dishwashing job or as a cook in many restaurants, (both jobs I’ve worked in the restaurant industry in the past) it might be a bit challenging. Although I knew a few Americans working in those jobs in SF.

          So in any case, the 3 main categories of undocumented workers are the service industry, construction, and production. A massive amount of undocumented workers are in these fields, maybe as many as 10-12 million in America.

          1) So, let’s say you decide to deport just 3 million undocumented workers. First of all, are you going get police/immigration officers to mount house to house raids to do it? 3 million? If you did 1000 per day, it would still take over 8 years. And how many agents per shakedown? 5? so 5000 agents working to deport 1000 undocumented workers per day?
          No way, too expensive and not enough cops/agents/hours in the day/paddy wagons/. Old addresses, never even find the undocumented workers would they? So would they start raiding restaurants, construction sites, and farms? Probably. They would cherry pick the easy targets. And would they hire poorly trained militia types with AR-15s to do it? Perhaps. That sounds promising doesn’t it? And what about their children? Probably for each of the 12 million undocumented workers there might be say, conservatively 4 million children going to school here (that are citizens, born here.What are you going to do with them? Send them to adoptive services? Toss them in the ocean?

          Then, the service industries, agriculture, and construction industries would be rocked. Some jobs would be taken by Americans, but do you really think people born in this country will work for minimum wage to pick berries, or carry bundles of roofing up ladders all day? Wash dishes for 9 hours in a hot kitchen for 10 bucks an hour? Naw. Ask restaurant owners in big cities about it. Ask orchard and land owners about this. Maybe I’m way off, but I’ve worked these jobs in the past and I don’t think that much has changed.

          The economic ramifications would be impossible to calculate.
          And that is one small part of the answer to “Why shouldn’t they be deported”

      2. To be perfectly honest there are legitimate reasons why some people want to keep the Mexican workers out of the US, and it’s not just because of racism.The claim that Mexicans come here to do jobs no American workers want ,Is only partially true.

        As someone who deals with sub contractors on daily basis, I can testify this is a blatant lie.

        Industries like flooring, concrete works, roofing, drywall and tapers ,which used to be predominantly the domain of white blue collar workers, are now dominated by Mexicans.

        Flooring business being the prime example. I used to pay $3 per yard for carpet installations some 20 years ago and these prices have largely remained stagnant till today, mainly due to a huge influx of undocumented Mexican workers.
        A typical two men crew can install about 75 to a 100 yards of carpet over padding in a residential setting. No white carpet installer can survive on a $100 per day after expenses, while for a worker fresh from Mexico this is a huge wage hike ( in some cases three fold) comparing to what he was making at home.

        You won’t see a white drywall taper these days and for a good reason. Mexicans work harder, faster and cheaper.
        I never ask the owner of the company if his workers are documented ,so long as his liability and workmans comp insurance docs are in order. Some of his guys look like they came from Mexico weeks ago and don’t speak a word of English.

        Being an immigrant myself, I feel a certain empathy with their plight and since they are honest and hard working , I leave it at that.

        Chicago market isn’t isolated and unique in this. Some of my friends who are developers in California and New York have been experiencing similar demographics changes in work force they hire on their projects.
        Great numbers of non Union construction jobs have gone from white American workers to Eastern European workers , and recently to Mexican workers.
        So when I listen to people like Bill Maher( whom I like) say Mexicans come here only to pick fruit and park our cars, I just crack a smile.

        1. Thank you for that perspective, Tom. Something interesting I heard reported on NPR the other day (yes, I’m an NPR junkie) is that the people who fear Mexicans and their impact on the economy most live in states where there are hardly any Mexicans at all, the Midwest mainly. States like California and as you say, Illinois where there are a large number of Mexicans seem to have a much laxer stance on the issue. Why do you suppose that is?

          My theory is that we fear the unfamiliar. Many of my relatives live in Hungary, a small central european nation which is almost exclusively white and speaks a language that hasn’t really changed in almost 1,500 years and is extremely difficult for most outsiders to learn. They live in their little bubble and they are terrified of losing that bubble to middle eastern immigrants who, they feel, will force them to change their way of life and disenfranchise them from the nation and the lands they and their ancestors have fought for in various conflicts for over 1000 years. Some of them have hardly met a black person or a Muslim, and with the language barrier, conversations with any outsiders become dependent on their own ability to learn English which often goes missing. But they do watch the news and talk among themselves and they are terrified of what they see, because when the news reports on black people or Muslims its hardly ever nice things. They fear that unknown. When I come to visit them they ask me my stance on these things and are seemingly shocked that I am all for a black president and that I have nice things to say about the Muslims who I know and who I work with on a daily basis. My relatives in Hungary are not bad people but they do have some racist tendencies borne out of geographic and linguistic isolation, under-exposure to decent everyday human beings who are not like them, and over-exposure to images of radical jihadist islam. I imagine the Midwesterners who voted for Trump to be of a similar ilk.

          1. Liberal states like California,New York and Illinois have much more relaxed stance on immigration, legal or otherwise, because on a whole immigrants tend to vote Democrat, I think.

            Spent a lot of time in Budapest in the early eighties visiting my father, who was working there on a contract from one of Poland’s premiere construction companies.

            Back in those day Hungary seemed like a western country to the rest of the Eastern block.
            Fun times.

  8. Sorry for being a bit off topic, but as a qurious non-American, why does Noam Chomsky merit eye rolling?

  9. Sorry to butt in but Trump did what was necessary to win the elections. What happens from now onwards has nothing to do with the campaign he did and things he said.

    If you want an honest leader who does what he says – well keep praying hard.

    P.S- I watched Trump campaign retrospectively and it was the most brilliant campaign ruthlessly executed. I became his fan then and there. What happens next is anybody guess. However, USA disagrees with you on trump.

    1. Hi Critic, I’m from the USA and I do not not share your views. So please take me offf your mailing list. Thanks!

  10. And on topic. People discuss sports like an expert because they know they don’t hsve to put in extra efforts to execute their ideas.
    Real social/political/etc. issues are complicated. One needs to put in efforts to actually solve them. Which no one does/tries. At the end of the day such discussions are held among people who like to show off their intellectual capacity. For the sake of show off or to be socially acceptable in certain social circle.

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