'What’s My Name, Fool?'

Dave Zirin's history of sports and politics still timely

'What’s My Name, Fool?'

Politics and sports don’t mix. This sentiment can be found in the columns of Peter King, or most biographies of the politically nebulous Michael Jordan. And, most recently, from the lips of Jordan’s former coach Phil Jackson, the current head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Politics and sports don’t mix was Jackson’s response to the Phoenix Suns' May 5 protest of a new Arizona immigration law built on suspicion, a protest that had the politically aggressive Suns don jerseys that read “Los Suns." Jackson’s opaque comment made me think of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a dangerous animal that can only be defeated by wrapping a towel around one’s own head. The beast is so thick it believes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you. Turning a blind eye can make everything go away. So goes the history of politics and sports.

This sentiment is highlighted in author David Zirin’s What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books, 304 pp., $15). Zirin devotes numerous amounts of space to the importance of the usual suspects like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the 1968 Olympics. Yet Zirin uses these figures to set the stage and add context to the detail and uniqueness of current issues. Zirin writes of the controversy behind the names of sports teams like the Washington Redskins, and the rebuttal of a 2002 University of Northern Colorado intramural basketball team called “The Fighting Whites." This team’s mascot was Ward Cleaver-esque, with the slogan “Everything’s Gonna Be All White." You can't make this stuff up.

The last third of the book will make some wish Zirin would wrap a towel around his head. He deals with sexism and gay-bashing, subjects many Americans wish would go away. Zirin highlights the sexual assault story of Katie Hnida on the University of Colorado football team, the trauma of gay football player Esera Tuaolo, and, of course, how much money it took Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson’s current star player, to evade a rape conviction.

Sports are more than just fun and games to Zirin. He shows the importance of sports and politics in American culture, how sports can change lives, whether we want them to mix or not and how much some wish we could just wrap a towel around our heads and make it all go away.

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