Author Dave Zirin talks about changing perceptions of politics in sport

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On the projected screen in the Maxwell Auditorium was a photograph of John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Peter Norman on the podium at the 1968 Olympics. Carlos and Smith had their gloved fists raised after placing third and first in the 200 meter race. All three medalists also wore human rights badges on their jackets.

Two years after the last meeting of the State of Democracy Lecture Series gathered at Syracuse University’s Maxwell Auditorium, sports and politics writer and author Dave Zirin addressed a crowd of more than 50 people on Friday to discuss the intersection of sport and society that the athletes’ protest represented.

The three athletes on the 200 meter podium were part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization originally based by black athletes to boycott the games to protest against discriminatory sports policies around the world, although track and field athletes eventually decided to compete.

Zirin, who co-wrote an autobiography with John Carlos called The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, said Carlos and Smith decided on the gesture after the failed boycott and felt they had to do something to represent the struggle.

“I always thought it was so bold,” Zirin said. “They put all this stuff together, but they were so confident in what they were doing that they saw the medal hanger as something that was coming.”

Rule 50 of the International Olympic Committee now dictates that Olympic athletes cannot make political, religious or racial demonstrations, like that of Carlos and Smith, in the Olympic zones.

“People say sports and politics shouldn’t mix. But when they say that, often they mean that sport and a certain kind of politics shouldn’t mix,” Zirin said.

Zirin’s discussion on Friday brought up the fact that ugliness in the sports world means people are constantly complaining. But those who criticize outspoken athletes see the situation the wrong way, he said.

“We have to start thinking, not about the rejection of sport, but about the recovery of sport,” Zirin said. “We don’t step back enough and ask ourselves, ‘Why is this space so often steeped in values ​​that I find abhorrent?'”

Zirin pointed to the treatment of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was detained in Russia in February, as an example of the values ​​from which sport must move away. Media coverage would be much more extensive, he said, if a male athlete with similar accomplishments or notoriety were in the same situation.

“It’s like they don’t even have a language to talk about her (Griner), the same way they don’t seem to have a language to talk about the WNBA,” he said. . “We are fed such a monochromatic diet in our sports world.”

Despite the issues with sports, Zirin said every society has some form of sports and games.

“It’s something that unites us,” Zirin said. “It’s a connective tissue across all possible historical epochs and all possible national and cultural divides – this act of play”

Contact Richard: [email protected] | @richardperrins2

Lola R. McClure