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The Big Jewcy: Dave Zirin – Sportswriting Game Changer

For many, watching sports is more than just a leisure activity. You live and die by your team’s successes and are never afraid to denounce questionable moves by management. But according to dynamic sportswriter Dave Zirin, owners are taking their fans to the cleaners and getting away with it. In Zirin’s book Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love, he takes on the noble task of profiling some truly shameless owners: the kinds that insist on billion dollar taxpayer-funded stadiums while simultaneously threatening to relocate the team if their demands are not met. The book is a wake-up call for the fans (the people paying for unnecessary new stadiums) to start demanding partial ownership in exchange for their tax dollars. Some of these owners (as you might imagine) are Jewish and as such will not be appearing on our Big Jewcy list. In this interview, conducted via email and edited for clarity, Dave talks about sports fans recourses during lockouts and the touchy issue of athletes speaking their minds.

The NFL Lockout and its very possible NBA counterpart are continually highlighting the flaws in ownership that you mention in your book. What will it take for fans to demand tangible changes in ownership structure? Why has there not been more public fan outrage?

Fans need to organize themselves as independent actors and demand that the owners end the lockout. One problem is that this conflict gets portrayed as “billionaires vs millionaires” instead of the reality that owners ripped up the collective bargaining agreement and locked the players out. Fans need to focus their anger and pressure on the owners. I’m on the board of an organization called with the idea of organizing fans so our voice isn’t forgotten. It’s a sad state when we are locked out of the very arenas we are subsidizing.

You have mentioned before that you think one of the byproducts of the NFL work stoppage will be a player speaking out against concussions as a rebuttal to the lockout’s legitimacy. Do you have any more specifics to add to your claim? Or perhaps comment on an insightful player you think could be a more vocal spokesperson to represent the player’s opinions to the public?

There have been several remarkable quotes from players and they don’t get a great deal of play. My favorite was Troy Polamalu of the Steelers who said, “It’s unfortunate right now. I think what the players are fighting for is something. A lot of people think it’s millionaires versus billionaires and that’s the huge argument. The fact is its people fighting against big business. The big business argument is ‘I got the money and I got the power therefore I can tell you what to do.’ That’s life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up and saying, ‘No, no, no, the people have the power.’

As for concussions, the discussion is there. That’s why the owners have backed off their demand for a longer season. The hypocrisy of cracking down on violent hits while pushing for more games was too monstrous.

You’ve discussed a couple of athletes’ divisive reactions to the Bin Laden story. It seems like sports teams view players speaking their minds as a giant headache. Is this repressive attitude preventing many athletes from speaking out on important issues, or are they going to find a way based on the variety of social media platforms available to them?

I think social media had made a huge difference. One reason is that the level of mistrust between players and the mainstream media is pretty profound. It allows for statements that are more impulsive and frankly more honest. The problem is that it hasn’t changed the dynamic of official media blowback that you reference.

You’re have a book about The American sprinter John Carlos coming out later this year. What in particular about his story did you gravitate towards?

I wanted the story behind the symbol. Having met and spoken with John Carlos on many occasions, I was so taken with his story; his childhood in Harlem, his rebellion as a tween marching on the principals office, and then the mountain of pain he had yo endure after his medal stand moment. It was a story we had to tell.

Are there any current athletes who you have had enlightening interactions with? Maybe someone who you think could do with a little more face time to be able to intelligently discuss pressing issues in their sport?

Definitely Etan Thomas of the Atlanta Hawks. Definitely Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns. Definitely Monica McNutt of the Georgetown Hoyas. These are some of the sharpest people I know, not just the sharpest athletes.

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