Nader Book Review: ‘What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States’
In “What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States,” author Dave Zirin chronicles the social struggles that have played out on the athletic fields through essays, profiles and interviews with athlete-activists. He depicts the role of professional and amateur sports in the larger issues of politics, commercialism, bias and class. Breaking through what Zirin dubs the “Athletic Industrial Complex,” “What’s My Name, Fool?” (the title is a quote from Muhammed Ali, who courageously used his keen social conscience to fight black oppression and resist war in the ’60’s) encourages fans both to savor sports, and to inspire activists and athletes to speak out and challenge the dominant power brokers of sports and society.
As an increasingly profitable form of mass entertainment (professional sports are now the tenth largest industry in the United States, generating $220 billion in revenue every year), sports are used by the political and financial elite as a way to package, promote and sell their values and ideas.
Zirin explains that some fans have thrown in the towel on sports, concluding that “sports are little more than a brutal reflection of the savage inequalities that stream through our world.” Worse, many sports reporters and editors are shills for the teams and leagues they’re supposed to cover, failing to question the abuses, starting with talented high school players, and telling us to “grow up” and “just deal with it” while, as Zirin writes, “. . . eating free press box sushi while the rest of us are paying $9.00 for a hotdog.”
But Zirin has neither sacrificed his ideals to be a sports fan, nor quit cheering to clear his conscience. To the contrary, he is a passionate sports fan and activist who fights for the integrity of sports while enjoying the comradery of rooting for teams, delighting in the breathtaking artistry of athletes, and admiring the intricate strategy of coaches and players that make spectator sports so appealing. As Zirin explains:
“. . . the very passion we invest in sports can transform it from a kind of mindless escape into a site of resistance. It can become an arena where the ideas of our society are not only presented but also challenged. Just as sports can reflect the dominant ideas of our society, they can also reflect struggle. The story of the womenís movement is incomplete without mention of Billie Jean Kingís match against Bobby Riggs. The struggle for gay rights has to include a chapter on Martina Navratilova. When we think about the Black freedom struggle, we picture Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali in addition to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And, of course, when remembering the movement for Black Power, we canít help but visualize one of the most stirring sights of our sports century: Tommie Smith and John Carlosís black-gloved medal stand salute at the 1968 Olympics.”
The detailed recounting of past events in “What’s My Name, Fool?” is a living history serving as a backdrop for frustratingly comparable issues today, with an eye toward inducing future change on and off the playing field. Readers will not soon forget Zirin’s wake-up call, and they will often refer to it when sports policies and behaviors upset them. We will look back on this book when fans, activists and athletes develop the determination to challenge the injustices of the sports industry and the avaricious world it embodies.
As David Meggysey, former NFL linebacker and author of “Out of Their League,” concludes in the foreword to “What’s My Name, Fool?”: “How we do sport, how we play our games, is a window to see and a format through which to express that vision of a better world. It takes someone like Dave Zirin to make those connections and critiques, and to make it clear that sport can be a powerful carrier of the best within us, which is respect for each otherís humanity and life itself, human relationship and connection, and the joy of play with our fellow humans.”
Dave Zirin’s new book “What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States” is now in stores. Request his weekly column “Edge of Sports,” by e-mailing [email protected], or contact Zirin at [email protected].
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon