Sportsmanship, not brinkmanship

a native Sacramentan and longtime activist for social and economic justice

As someone who grew up in Sacramento in the 1950s, I remember that our passion was spending endless hours playing team sports. Like many people, I did not think about the meaning of sports or society.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, those athletes possessing a social consciousness impressed me. I remember the extended fist of Olympian John Carlos in 1968 when he supported the civil-rights movement at the time. I remember Muhammad Ali uniting with the anti-Vietnam War movement by refusing military induction while stating, “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.” I remember the struggles of Billie Jean King in pursuit of equity in women’s sports, and the humanity and dignity of Arthur Ashe. I even remember a pre-pompous Bill Walton being arrested at an anti-war protest at the University of California at Los Angeles. I concluded that the very nature of the fair play and equality found in sporting events caused athletes to transfer those ideas to society in general.

Well, a lot has changed, including the integrity of sports. Today, we witness Michael Jordan refusing to comment on his mammoth payoffs from Nike, a company that profits from sweatshop labor in the Third World.

Today, many fans seem to relate to sporting events as if the fans themselves were participants with the responsibility of affecting outcomes of games. In 1965, I attended a basketball game in Hornet Gym at Sac State (CSUS). Fans sitting under a basket began to wave their arms to distract free-throw shooters from the visiting team. The home-team coach, old Ev Shelton, went to the microphone to announce that if home fans did not stop this behavior, he would pull his team from the floor and forfeit the game. It worked, and my faith in the fairness of society was reinforced.

Today, our society is seriously considering the pursuit of an unfair contest on the world stage: an attack upon the sovereign country of Iraq. The Gulf War may have cost 100,000 to 200,000 lives. The U.S. sanctions against Iraq since 1991 supposedly have cost the lives of 1.5 million people, a disproportionate number being children. An attack violates all rules of fairness, called international law, as well as all civility between nations. It is akin to a 250-pound, 20-year-old weight lifter getting away with invading his 80-year-old neighbor’s house and stealing from her whatever she possesses.

Let us not embark on an invasion of Iraq that will benefit only EXXON, Mobil, Texaco, Chase and Citibank. Let us return to a time when we had some modicum of social consciousness and tried to achieve fairness.