Dave Zirin on Why Progressives Should Embrace Sports

| 10/27/2009 5:31:34 PM

Dave ZirinPeople with progressive politics shouldn’t reflexively shun sports, says sportswriter and Utne Reader visionary Dave Zirin.

He should know. Zirin is the rare sports journalist who dares to promote left-field politics. In his Edge of Sports columns, his XM Sirius radio show of the same name, his stories for The Nation, and numerous other outlets, he has championed Title IX for advancing women’s sports, taken on the corporatocracy that runs the big leagues, criticized big stadium subsidies from the public till, and addressed issues of race, gender, and sexuality like few other sports personalities.

I recently spoke with Zirin in a lively and enlightening conversation that covered the left’s sports-phobia, the value of the alternative press, and his physical resemblance (or lack thereof) to Muhammad Ali. Here it is:

You’ve staked out a unique niche, exploring the social, cultural, and political issues that swirl around sports. How did you come to define this turf, and what are you trying to accomplish?

“There’s this deeply mistaken idea in our culture that politics is just what people do on Capitol Hill, when in fact politics is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and in the games we play. And oftentimes, in our society, some of most honest discussions that we have—about racism, about sexism, about homophobia, about corporate power—happen on sports radio and in the world of sports. We can say that we wish this wasn’t so, but as the expression goes, you don’t have to believe in gravity to fall out of an airplane. I mean, it is what it is.

“But unfortunately, people who see themselves as progressives or on the left have completely ceded this very dynamic political space to the right wing. I know so many people on the left who on general principle shun sports. They say, oh, it’s too corporate, it’s too racist, it’s too sexist. And there may be truth in that—but sports is also part of the human experience: It’s physical expression, it’s beauty, and it’s been the site of some of the most electric struggles of the 20th century.

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