It has become commonplace nowadays in major sporting events for B-2 bombers to fly overhead in a display of patriotic militarism. Professional sports have been branded in the popular consciousness as something inherently patriotic, conservative, and patriarchal. This perception is seldom challenged in left/progressive circles, even by those of leftist persuasion who (often secretly) follow a particular sport or team. Dave Zirin attempts to dispel this perception in his book What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States.
The book is a collection of essays, columns and interviews that are arraigned for the most part chronologically. Zirin starts the first chapter with the story of Lester “Red” Rodney, sports writer for the Daily Worker. From there Zirin goes next to Jackie Robinson and the struggle for integration in sports, then to Muhammad Ali and the 1968 Olympics. The rest of the book consists of essays from Zirin’s Edge of Sports column dealing with current sports events. This part of the book is sort of a photo negative of mainstream sports journalism. Rather than highly paid athletes endlessly repeating tired cliches and endorsing sneakers, Zirin offers the reader athletes who speak out against sexism, racial injustice, and the war in Iraq. Rather than stories of excessive player contracts, Zirin discusses the larger rip offs committed by Universities in the name of “amateur” sports and Team owners and corrupt politicians in the name of publicly funded stadiums.
What’s My Name Fool is arresting not only in that it is a topic seldom addressed but also in that Zirin is an effective writer who is able to keep the reader interested. It is that quality which makes the book a valuable tool to the activist. While sports, in and of themselves, are not usually a vehicle for social change, the stories Zirin relates in his book show that sports don’t have to reinforce negative racial, sexual and class stereotypes. Zirin’s writing is not esoteric, it is about athletes that the general public know about and are interested in. This book is very good way to introduce sports fans, particularly young men, to the idea of social justice politics and activism. What’s My Name Fool is a good reminder that the potential for revolutionary dialogue exists within a broad range of human activity, not just the “politically correct” activities many activists limit themselves to. If activists are interested in connecting with people “where they are,” Dave Zirin has provided a good tool for doing so.
Dave Zirin, What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States, (Haymarket books, 2005).