Monday, November 28, 2022

Copa Mundial MMXXII

Going through my previous posts on the game of soccer, most of them corresponding to the World Cup, I noticed a recurring theme. The theme is my assertion that despite all its problems and drawbacks, despite its lunacy, greed, violence and at times its sheer stupidity, the world of professional sports still has the ability to make the world a better place, when it wants to.

In this piece I mentioned how sports help connect us with our past and our departed loved ones.

In this piece I featured a beautiful story written by a Bosnian refugee living in Chicago, about soccer being a truly international language that brings people from all over the globe together who have nothing in common but their love of the game.

And in this piece, I used Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and the captain of the USA Women's 2019 World Cup Champion soccer team, Megan Rapinoe as examples of athletes who took advantage of their moment in the spotlight, to speak of injustice in our society. I don't believe it is at all an exaggeration to say that in their role as advocates for marginalized people, all three helped, and in Rapinoe's case, will continue to help the world change for the better.

That said, the vast majority of professional athletes are pointedly apolitical, which certainly makes their careers and lives as public figures much easier; just ask Colin Kaepernick. Two examples of local sprots heroes who stayed as far away from publicly speaking their minds as possible were Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan. That was their prerogative, and I don't believe any of us should judge these athletes harshly for that. They were after all paid to entertain us, not to tell us what to think.

Using Ernie Banks as an example, as the most beloved athlete to ever wear a Chicago uniform, Mr. Cub probably did more to bring Chicagoans of all races together, in very turbulent times I might add, just as he was, rather than had he been an outspoken advocate for civil rights or against the war in Vietnam or any other pressing issue of the late sixties.

Michael Jordan's stellar career took place in a much different era than Ernie Banks's. Where Banks had a great deal to lose had he gone out on a limb to speak his mind on the issues of his day, for Jordan, who practically owned this town during his tenure here, much less so. When he was asked to publicly support a senate candidate running in his home state of North Carolina against an openly racist Republican, Jordan, who famously moonlights as a promoter of athletic wear responded: "Republicans buy shoes too." 

Although it didn't seem to affect his playing career, Michael Jordan was excoriated for that remark. Years later he noted that the remark was said in a private conversation and in jest.

In the ESPN documentary about him called The Last Dance, Jordan addressed the comment as well as the issue of his being perceived as a role model by saying this:
...everybody has a preconceived idea for what I should do and what I shouldn't do.

The way I go about my life is I set examples. If it inspires you? Great, I will continue to do that. If it doesn't? Then maybe I'm not the person you should be following.
Makes sense to me. 

The funny thing is we are all perfectly OK with athletes and other celebrities making comments we agree with; we often encourage them to do so. But should a celebrity come out with a statement supporting an issue or a cause we don't like, look out. "Why doesn't that so and so just shut up and play (fill in the sport here)" we all say.

Nobody likes so called "cancel culture", especially when it's the other side doing the cancelling. But I'm afraid no matter which side of the fence we are on ideologically, we all cancel public figures in one way or other, whose public statements don't jibe with our own views. It's just human nature I guess. 

That's a pretty roundabout way to get to this year's World Cup, which is taking place at this writing. Specifically, this morning (Chicago time), two big upsets took place, Costa Rica beat Japan 1 - nil and highly rated Belgium just lost to Morocco 2-nil.

But by far the biggest story this year is the host country, Qatar, their human rights record, miserable, the manner in which the games were awarded to the country, corrupt, and the human toll it took to build the infrastructure for the event, unimaginable.

I won't go deeply into of any of these issues, you'll find plenty of details by just googling "Qatar World Cup Scandal".

Suffice it to say, there are many legitimate reasons to object to FIFA (the international governing body of soccer) choosing Qatar to host its games. Along with that come the inevitable cries to boycott the games. From a very unscientific survey, looking at the crowds in the stands, my guess is the boycott is not working. And from that statement of mine you can probably tell that I'm not boycotting them either.

Should I be?

I don't know. I do know that having a Muslim country in the Arabian Penninsula host a World Cup for the first time ever is a great source of pride for many people in that region. For much of my life, the hosts of the World Cup alternated between countries in Europe and the Americas. Only recently has that string been broken, with the selection of Japan and Korea in 2002, and South Africa in 2010. As soccer is truly THE international game, this only makes sense.

The drawback to diversifying the pool of host countries is that there inevitably will be countries whose cultures, values and ways of doing things, clash with the western values that like it or not, we espouse here in the Americas and in Western and Central Europe. A particularly salient value is acceptance of the LGTBQ community. We in the States and much of Europe are only now coming to terms with this issue, begrudgingly for the most part, still kicking and screaming at times.

But we are, granted slowly but surely, coming to terms with it.

This is NOT the case in many parts of the world where LGTBQ people are routinely persecuted as criminals.

I find that reprehensible. But I'm not sure how much my not watching this year's World Cup on TV would serve to change Qatar's policy on LGTBQ rights. Is that a copout? Perhaps.

There was a move afoot on the part of some players to wear rainbow-colored armbands in solidarity with the LGTBQ community of Qatar. That effort was squashed by FIFA who cowardly said the armbands would conflict with their strict dress code for players. Then they handed down a ruling that declared any player wearing such an armband would be met with a yellow card by the referee. Two such yellow cards for any infraction results in an automatic suspension for two games and a penalty to the team who would not be allowed to replace that player on the pitch. I did have a fantasy about all the players on all the teams sporting those armbands, Spartacus style, as they stepped onto the field. What would FIFA do, suspend every player in the World Cup? Then what? 

Not surprisingly my fantasy didn't take place; all the players acquiesced to FIFA's mandate. Had they not, would THAT have changed anything in Qatar in regard to LGTBQ rights? Probably not, but it would have sent a clear and positive message to LGTBQ people all over the world that they are valued human beings and their rights are worth fighting and sacrificing for. 

Alas it was only a dream about selflessness and courage which would have been the greatest act of civil disobedience international sports has seen since this:

American sprinters Tommy Smith, center, and John Carlos, right, raise their fists in protest on the podium as the band played The Star-Spangled Banner at their medal ceremony during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. On the left is Australian runner Peter Norman who wore an "Olympic Project for Human Rights" badge in solidarity with the two Americans. All three were ostracized for their efforts, Smith and Carlos were banned for life from the Olympic Games and despite qualifying many times over, Norman would never again compete for his country. 

The thing is, selflessness and courage are virtues we all respect, but can't expect. How many of us would have the guts to take an unpopular stand in public that could ruin our career and reputation, as it did for these three?

Simply put, that's why we tend not to punish people for not acting heroically. It would be blatant hypocrisy if we did.

That said, extreme, selfless courage on the part of some players did take place last week in Qatar. It may not have been an act of civil disobedience per se as it didn't break any official rules, perhaps an act of subversion would be a more apt description. 

Before their first match of the Cup, going against tradition, the 11 starters for the Iranian national team (pictured at the top of this post), with their arms around one another, refused to sing along as their country's national anthem played. The players did so in solidarity with the victims of their government's purge of protestors reacting to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old woman who died in police custody after she was arrested by the Morality Police (an ironic term if there ever was one), for not wearing her hijab correctly in public.

Apparently, Iran's morality police made their way to Qatar to have a few words with the team who seemed to grudgingly mumble the lyrics to their anthem in their following game against Wales. 

It will be interesting to see what they do tomorrow before their game against the U.S.A. If they win or tie that game, they get to move on to the elimination round while the U.S. team will head home after only being able to eek out ties against England and Wales. My guess is that all will be forgiven back home if the boys from Iran manage to knock the Great Satan United States out of the competition. After their win against Wales, Iran released several protestors who were in police custody.

Should they lose, it's anybody's guess what will happen to the team members in response to their affront to their authoritarian government. 

Given all that, it's a little hard to pick a team to root for, your home team, or a team representing a proud country with a tremendous history who happens to be under a despicable regime, whose players by taking a courageous, symbolic stand, may suffer grave consequences if they lose. 

And you thought sports didn't matter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Biggest Loser

He's back, not that he ever went away. In announcing his candidacy for president last week, the exPOTUS is putting himself in the position of being the Lar "America First" Daly of our time. 

Daly a Chicagoan, was a perennial candidate for every imaginable office from President of the United States, to dog catcher, none of which he ever won. OK that's the one glaring difference, Trump won once. 

You can read about Daly and his antics here

Lar Daly did make one lasting contribution to American politics. Running for president in 1960, the fringe candidate demanded equal time on the national television networks after the famous series of televised debates between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Because of Daly's circus, Congress amended section 315 of the Communications Act to state that fringe candidates needn't always be granted equal time. 

While it's true that Donald Trump did get elected president in 2016, in every election since that he has been a part of, directly or as an influencer, he lost bigly, both for himself and his party.

The first loss was the 2018 mid-term elections where the Republican Party lost control of the House of Representatives as the Democrats gained 41 seats in that body. Maybe that shouldn't count because mid-term elections are usually won in a rout for the party not in control of the White House. This loss was no exception to the rule. On the other hand, in 2018 as the Republican president never failed to correctly mention, the economy was robust and for the most part, except for him, things were relatively stable in the U.S. Given that, the loss of 41 seats in the House very likely was a referendum on the Trump circus and nothing more.

Incumbent presidents rarely fail to be re-elected. Trump did. He lost his bid to be a two-term president in 2020, despite doing his utmost to invalidate the results of a free election and destroy one of the most sacred traditions of our government, the peaceful transfer of power. 

It was a remarkably stupid loss as well because Trump was at the helm during a global crisis, the COVID pandemic. Had he shown only a modicum of competence in handling the crisis, and an ounce of compassion for its victims, he would have won re-election by a landslide, as presidents in power during crises not of their own making almost always do. Instead, he politicized the pandemic, as he did everything else, convincing his foolish supporters there was nothing to fear, that it was all a "Democrat (sic) hoax" designed to discredit him. As a result, more people in the United States died from COVID than in any other country in the world. Well, he did make America First in that category.

Compounding that loss as far as the Republican Party is concerned, the distrust he had sewn of the American election system among his supporters, caused many Republican Georgians one month later, to stay home during two important run-off elections for Senate in that state, which put the U.S. Senate back in the hands of the Democrats. 

Finally, there was the mid-term election earlier this month. Politicians and pundits of all stripes predicted gloom and doom for the Democrats after missteps of the current administration as well as an increase of violent crime around the country and inflation the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1970s. Under normal circumstances, a "red wave" of Republicans winning back control of Congress in massive numbers would have been all but a certainty. But again, Trump stuck his big butt into elections all over the country, publicly endorsing candidates whose only credentials were that they professed their fealty to him. You can say all you want about the ethics of Democrats putting much of their resources into Republican primaries to help defeat viable candidates in favor of Trump endorsed stooges, but you can't argue with success. Race after race, Trump-supported election deniers lost in the all-important state gubernatorial and secretary of state races to Democrats, as well as some highly publicized House and Senate races. 

In the end, the House of Representatives is back in control of the Republicans, but only by a razor thin margin, far from the veto-proof mandate they expected. There will be another runoff election for Senate in Georgia but this time the outcome will not affect the control of the Senate as the Democrats are assured to hold on to control of that body. Not that we shouldn't care who wins that election; should the incumbent senator Raphael Warnock be re-elected, not only will the Peachtree State continue to be represented by a respected, competent senator, but it will have avoided the embarrassment of electing the most unqualified candidate to run for public office since, well since Donald Trump. 

Given his woeful track record at the polls since 2018, one would think that Republicans would get the message and unceremoniously dump Trump as their de facto leader. There are public rumblings of discontent with him in the GOP, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Republican primaries of 2016. But there were similar rumblings after the January 6th insurrection and like good little children, most Republican lawmakers fell back into line with their dear leader. 

I've learned my lesson to never count Trump out. I'm on record in this space saying in 2016 that I didn't think he stood a chance to be nominated, let alone elected president. This time, if enough Republicans grow some balls and challenge him for their party's nomination, he'd easily get the most votes as everyone else would likely split the votes of Republicans who are sick and tired of the Trump shit show. He'd probably have a much harder time in a head-to-head race against Ron DeSantis, who seems to be the odds-on favorite at the moment to be the Republican with the best chance of beating the exPOTUS. 

Come to think of it, maybe another shot at the ring for the exPOTUS as the Republican nominee wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Bad as Trump is, in many ways, DeSantis is worse, and he might have a serious chance of being elected president in 2024. On the other hand, Trump has proven four times in a row since being elected president that he is now a perpetual loser. There's little chance much will happen between now and November 2024 to change that. As we've seen in the last four national elections, Trump, certainly the most divisive president in history, will very likely turn out the vote against him in greater numbers than votes for him. 

I may be eating my words in 2024, but at least right now, through Trump, Lar Daly lives. 

All I can say is this:

Long Live Lar.