When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first chose to protest during the national anthem, he might not have expected to start a movement that would soon involve the President of the United States. A year later, many NFL players have followed his lead, and now the athletes find themselves at the center of an increasingly divisive issue.
Against this political backdrop, more than a hundred people attended Dave Zirin’s talk, “The Politics of Sports and Sports Journalism” on Thursday, Oct. 13 in Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites. Zirin is an award-winning journalist, the author of eight books, and host of the weekly podcast “Edge of Sports.”
During his talk, Zirin emphasized the fact that Kaepernick’s protest was in direct alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement, acting as a response to the high rates of police brutality against people of color. He then delved into the long history of political resistance among athletes, such as when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem in 1996.
The realization that athletes can use their platforms to create avenues for political resistance is an uncomfortable truth for some, believes Lauren Murray ’18, a double major in journalism and sport studies. “There’s a huge fan base of people who follow sports strictly for sports,” Murray said. “They want to act like it has nothing to do with politics. Dave Zirin explores the side of sports that a lot of people don’t want to discuss.”
Murray has an interest in entering the field of sports politics, and attended the talk after reading Zirin’s book, “A People’s History of Sports in the United States.” But many of the attendees were not sports fans. When Zirin asked how many people in attendance knew nothing about sports, one third of the crowd raised their hands.
“Sports and politics have always mixed,” he said. “We can’t act like sports exist in a vacuum. As long as they have existed there have been people trying to exploit athletes for political ends.”
Zirin expressed also hope for the players’ actions. “The arc of history bend towards justice,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. He predicted that those who don’t support Kaepernick today will be remembered as standing on the wrong side of history, in the same way that those who criticized Muhammad Ali for his political activism in the 1960s were.
The event was sponsored by Ithaca’s Park Center for Independent Media, which was founded in 2008 as a center for the study of journalistic media outlets that operate outside of corporate systems. The Center examines the influence of independent media on journalism, democracy, society and culture. This mission dovetails with Zirin’s own goals and values as a journalist.
“The fundamental basis of independent media is telling the stories that mainstream media isn’t going to tell,” said Zirin. “We control the narrative if we’re willing for fight for it.”