Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Bully of the Big Ten

There's a home game in Bloomington today -- oh yeah, did I mention it's football? I pay so little attention to these things. But then most of my American readers, at least, will know that it's football season. Or is it duck season? Wabbit season?

Anyway, on Saturday afternoons on our community radio station there's a regular program of country and vintage rhythm & blues, featuring fake cracker-barrel commentary on the issues of the day, especially sports. The DJs declared Ohio State University "the bully of the Big Ten" (I guess this explains it, but only for football -- other Big Ten sports have their own bullies), and one said he hoped "we" would beat the bully. "Will they be using our blimp?" he then asked, mixing his pronouns. Whose blimp, and who's "they"? Will OSU, the big bullies, use Our Blimp to fly over the stadium and give wedgies to all the IU fans? If "we" use the blimp, maybe to go neener neener neener at the OSU fans, will that help or hurt "our" chances of beating the bully?

Friends who work in restaurants tell me that business was booming last night, and I guess the influx of sports fans is good for jobs and such. Much like last weekend's Lotus World Music and Arts Festival. But the hordes of happy drunks I saw downtown last night outnumbered the crowds I saw last weekend for Lotus. The game started tonight at 7, and it's 9 p.m. as I write this; we'll see how little IU does against the big bad bully. But meanwhile, and more importantly, the State Legislature continues to slash funding for higher education, including IU, and it doesn't matter how many football or basketball games IU wins.

By happenstance there was other hot sports news this weekend on a global scale. The Huffington Post has an item about conservatives reveling in Obama's "Olympic failure," i.e., his failure to convince the Olympic Committee to hold the 2016 games in Chicago. Sam Stein sniffed that Republicans' reaction was "potentially, a risky one, not just because polling data showed that a vast majority of the country wanted America to host the games." It isn't only conservatives who are reveling, bitchez! Dave Zirin had a piece at The Nation, partially recycled at the HuffPost, celebrating Obama's and Daley's failure to push the Olympics on Chicago, and Zirin is not a conservative. (I've relied on his analysis before, here and here.) He argues that "This is a victory for the people of Chicago. Pushing back against immense pressure from the Daley political machine, organizations like No Games Chicago went grass roots, corner to corner, and spoke out against the Olympic storm of gentrification, tax hikes, and police misconduct." But also:
Now is the time to stand with the people of Rio. It's no secret why the IOC licked their lips at the thought of Brazil. Like China, Brazil is an emerging market yet to be fully "branded" by global multinationals. They also have a police force that shoots first and asks questions never. Their President Lula, who comes from a radical union background, has clearly shown the decrepit, corrupt, IOC Mafiosi that he is willing to play ball. If history is any kind of a guide, the pain for Brazil's working people is now on the immediate horizon. It's our duty to do whatever we can to express solidarity with the favelas, the landless peasants, and the workers about to stare down the barrel of "Olympism." Our work has just begun.
Here's an interesting coincidence for you: Stein at HuffPost cites a Zogby International poll which "showed that 84 percent of Americans support having the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Chicago." Zirin cites a Chicago Tribune poll which found that "a staggering 84 percent of Chicagoans are opposed to spending any public money on the Olympics." I'd say the Chicagoans know better what's best for them, whether or not the IOC had good reasons for turning down Daley's and Obama's bid.

Finally, after properly trouncing the Democratic Party for failing to get a public option (whatever that is) through the Senate Finance Committee while funding an abstinence-only sex ed program, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show showed New York Senator Chuck Schumer, with a weak grimace of a smile on his face, explaining why the Democrats were "feeling good" and making "progress." "Oh, wait a minute, I get it!" Stewart jeered, "you're the lame dad at the Little League game: 'Just because you lost doesn't mean you lost.'"

Let me see if I can put this clearly. Sport is not politics; politics is not sport. Setting up proper health care for ordinary citizens matters a great deal -- it is, in fact, a life-and-death matter, unlike who wins the Superbowl or today's IU-OSU football game, which doesn't matter at all. Not in the slightest. And the worst thing about organized sport, even worse than the amounts of money wasted on Albert Speer stadiums and the like, is that it is intended to teach people from childhood that winning a game is as important as feeding the poor or preventing war. And it works -- that's why Americans spend their free time following sports instead of attending to what their government is doing.

But these episodes show just how corrupting is the American tendency (is it usual elsewhere? I don't know; I'm concerned with America because it's my country, drunk or sober) to turn even political conflict into a sporting contest, where supporting your home team is all-important. The whole adversary approach to political matters is a very bad thing for people, though not for career politicians and their corporate base. I've written about that before too, pointing out that it turns questions like a stimulus package or health care reform into personal triumphs or failures for the President. If George W. Bush had failed while in office to get the 2016 Olympics for, say, Houston or Dallas, the same conservatives would be foaming at the mouth right now, ranting about the corruption of the Old Europe and so on. One could reverse my focus to address the corrupting infuence of politics and nationalism and corporatism on the Olympics, but the whole point is that is that sports do not matter. People do.