Are Sports Boring? And an Old Lefty Stronghold in the West Village.

Buried among the tree-lined streets of the disarmingly quaint but often cloyingly conventional 21st Century West Village, are remnants of the old, rough round the edges, lefty activist, Jane Jacobs West Village.  

Keeping the pulse of the old guard is The Brecht Forum, on West Street, in Westbeth (if the Brecht Forum keeps the pulse, then Westbeth, the massive artist housing complex, very possibly provides it), founded in 1975 as part of the New York Marxist School. Today, it keeps the old activist streak alive with lectures, debates, and festively anti-establishment events such as the upcoming 913 Theater Festival (inspired by Glen Beck’s 912 Project; Beck is no stranger to this dangerous threat from the radical left as evidenced in this particularly lively tirade). Other upcoming Beck-baiting type programs include: “McCarthyism Then and Now,” and a monthly appraisal of Global Capitalism.

Last week, as a prelude to the world’s largest global sports extravaganza and in the midst of the NBA and NHL finals (well, perhaps not too many people had hockey on the mind, though more should!), the Brecht Forum hosted a debate asking whether or not sports are boring. Standing in the “Boring” corner was Arun Gupta, a founding editor of the Indypendent.  Across, at the “Seriously?” end of the debate was Dave Zirin, the ubiquitous radio sports commentator with lefty activist credentials as polished as Gupta’s (Zirin is sports editor of The Nation, currently has a book out titled A People’s History of Sports in The United States and has another book coming out called Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love).

Zirin and Gupta had 15 minutes apiece to state their case while cute Indy volunteers outfitted in their favorite teams’ shirts and hats walked through the aisles selling beer and peanuts (the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-sports, illustrating one of the most wonderful trademark qualities of New York – a city where high culture, serious politics and sports love each other; as I learned after living in Montreal for a few years, and then in New Zealand, this is not always the case; actually it is rarely the case. I moved back to New York).

As many, including Zirin, suspected, the real argument is not whether sports are “boring” but whether they are worthwhile and deserve our attention or whether they are actually a pernicious force that dulls the senses to more important issues.  Is it an opiate of the masses that manipulates the unthinking hordes into submission and sometimes violence? Or does it reflect the world around it and provide a forum for discussing almost every relevant issue confronting us today, from rogue finance, to sexism to violent nationalism and sectarianism?  (Old Firm matches still draw quite a rambunctious crowd after all). And what role does the left have in this discussion? Should it enter the fray or turn its attention toward more pressing issues?

Zirin, on the attack wearing a Los Suns jersey, began with some historical references: Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Ali and 1980’s, racially charged, New York of Yusef Hawkins and New Park Pizza where any real integration happened almost only through sports.  And to dismiss any notions that sports might not be as relevant today, Zirin pointed out “the stubborn fact that next week half the world will be watching the World Cup.” Indeed, as shown in a press conference yesterday, where else can we witness someone from North Korea close up, discussing Dear Leader before taking the field against Brazil (and hoping they figure out this would be an opportune moment to defect).

Zirin reminded the audience that apart from the obvious fact that sports are as human and natural an act as clothing and feeding ourselves, they are also an ideal way of engaging in all of the grand arguments that matter.  And he rightfully recoils from the elitism that discounts sports as a language for serious conversation. Dismissing sports gives credence to the charge that the left can be elitist and tone deaf  to the people it purports to care about.

Nevertheless, Arun Gupta believes we would be better off without sports. He concedes that sports were once socially and politically relevant but points out that the sports heroes Zirin idolizes made their mark nearly half a century ago. As regarding the recent Suns franchise stance against Arizona SB170, he remarked that it was an action taken by a large corporation for undeniable financial benefits. 
More interestingly, Gupta reminded the audience of the various ways in which pro-sports have  tried to manipulate their fans to counter waning interest and profits, including implementing new rules to make games more “exciting,” such as the OT shoot-out in hockey to keep games from being tied (Americans seem not to enjoy games that can end in a draw, as evidenced by many who did not appreciate what an amazing feat the result of the England-USA match was this past Saturday).

Gupta also attacked pro sports for being grossly apolitical, noting that unlike other celebrities whom the Dems and the GOP woo each election cycle, with lavish fundraiser galas in Hollywood and NYC, sports stars don’t get too much attention from the pols. And examples of recent pro athletes taking stands can actually be somewhat discouraging, as in the case of Carlos Delgado, who maintained an informed anti-war stance while playing with the Jays in Toronto by not standing up for the national anthem but then quietly abandoning this as a condition of playing with the Mets.

There is no question that corporate interests have helped dilute so much of the essence of pro sports, but this is not a problem specific to sports. Which gets to the heart of the matter – it is not sports that are becoming more “boring,” or that present these problems, but they do provide insight into the larger picture.

And, as a reminder to those who love to misquote or half-quote the Karl Marx line about religion, Zirin  reminded us of the original, as applicable to sports as it ever was to religion: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

The heartless, soulless world came first, not sports. Sports make it so much more bearable.


4 Responses to “Are Sports Boring? And an Old Lefty Stronghold in the West Village.”

  1. Daniel Altman Says:

    You know, this is why most intellectuals should shut up about sports. George Will, you go first.

  2. Geoff Hurst Says:

    North Korea did not show the match at home, nor did they (he?) permit supporters to accompany the team to S. Africa, importing some Chinese impostors to sit in the stadium and wave N. Korean banners (!) Brazil (ranked first) and N. Korea (ranked 150th) put on an entertaining match, but Brazil should be docked a point for letting in a goal. By the way, did you read the NYT editorial about Haiti’s greatest World Cup moment? In 1974, they scored an early goal vs. Italia, who won 3-1, but for a quarter hour, they did lead 1-0. The times said that the great Italian goalkeeper, Dino Zoff had not let in a POINT (!!!) for over 1000 minutes prior to the goal. What is wrong with these candy eating Americans!!?? What is wrong with Robert Green, it might be asked as well!

  3. Geoff Hurst Says:

    Oh! I forgot to tell you that the last time the North Koreans participated at this level, they reached the quarter finals in England (1966) and only a brilliant match by Eusebio for Portugal (he was from their colony in Mozambique) put them out!!

  4. This Summer of Sports (& Some Sports Reading Recs) « Ida Post Says:

    […] Ida Post Smart is the New Black « Are Sports Boring? And an Old Lefty Stronghold in the West Village. […]

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