Writer to speak about politics in sports

Nate Ulrich

“What’s my name, fool?”

Those are the words that former heavyweight champion and political icon Muhammad Ali defiantly shouted as he pummeled his challenger, Floyd Patterson, in a 1965 bout.

The legendary quote is also the title of Dave Zirin’s book about the intersection of radical politics and professional sports.

Zirin, a columnist for the Prince George’s Post in Maryland and SLAM magazine, will give a free speech 7:30 tonight in the M.A.C. Center.

“I couldn’t say if students will learn a damn thing from me, but we’ll laugh, yell and have a damn good time,” Zirin said in an e-mail interview. “If you love sports but hate politics, or hate sports and love political debate, there is a seat at the table for you.”

Zirin said examining the political side of sports can give people a unique world perspective.

“Often we are conditioned to think that sports somehow stands apart from the issues that shape our lives, but that’s just not the case,” Zirin said. “In fact, sports can amplify both acceptance of the status quo as well as resistance, which to me makes it endlessly fascinating.”

Kent den Heyer, an assistant professor in the College of Education, Heath and Human Services, helped organize Zirin’s visit.ÿHe said students should take advantage of the chance to hear a speaker of Zirin’s caliber.

“They (students) will be highly entertained,” den Heyer said.ÿ”Zirin is by all accounts an amazingly energetic and fun speaker. They will learn more about the famous athletes who challenged their country and sport bosses by speaking up on the difficult contemporary issues of the time from racism and enforced poverty to war.”

Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are among the athletes and politicians that Zirin writes about in his book.

“First and foremost, the common thread that binds (these) individuals is that their political teeth have been extracted,” Zirin said. “They’ve been made safe and consumable, political Happy Meals served up as McHistory. Let’s get the edge back in their voices.

“Also I think it’s important to learn about the interaction of these individuals. How many sports fans even know that there is a lot to say about Ali, MLK, Malcolm, Jim Brown and Jackie Robinson and how their political lives touched each other? This is about reclaiming our political sports history.”

While trying to give historical figures the “edge back in their voices,” Zirin has been called controversial by some. Den Heyer said the Kent State student government would not sponsor tonight’s speech for that reason.

“When Kent State’s student government denied any money to bring Zirin here, claiming that he was ‘un-American’ for writing about athletes who were not willing to be so-called ‘dumb jocks,'” den Heyer said, “colleagues and I found sponsorship elsewhere at Kent State.”

The speech is sponsored by the College of Education, Health and Human Services and the department of athletics.

Contact College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected].