Published: Sat, 03 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Sat, 03 Dec 2016 15:15:42 -0500
Wed, 28 Sep 2016 14:34:00 -0400LeBron James was asked at this week's NBA media day whether he would join San Francisco 49ers second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other athletes in sitting for the national anthem as a protest against police brutality. "First of all, I'm all in favor of anyone, athlete or non-athlete being able to express what they believe in in a peaceful manner," James, a member of the championship-winning Cleveland Cavaliers told the press. "Standing for the national anthem is something I will do, that's who I am that's what I believe in, but that doesn't mean I don't respect and don't agree with what Colin Kaepernick is doing." James said he didn't like the negative attention Kaepernick was getting from "some people," saying his protest was the most peaceful he had seen, and that he didn't ask anyone else to join him. Later at the same presser, James was asked about the opening of this year's ESPY awards, where James was joined by three other basketball players to urge athletes to be more socially active. James told other athletes they had to "go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them." Last week, the NBA sent a memo to tell players to contact the league and union officials about coming up with ways to create "positive change" in their community. "We're not politicians, so we weren't up there saying America is bad and things of that nature," James explained at this week's press conference, "that's not our position, because America has done so many great things for all of us." James said his and the other players' intentions at the ESPYs was to "continue the conversation" and that the league's memo was a success that came out of that. In talking about police brutality, James mentioned his own children, and talked about his oldest son, who is 12. "I look at my son being four years removed from driving his own car and being able to leave the house on his own," James said, "and it's a scary thought right now to think that if my son gets pulled over, and you tell your kids if you just comply and you just listen to the police they will be respectful and things will work itself out and you see these videos that continue to come out." "It's a scary ass situation," James continued, "that if my son calls me and says he's been pulled over, that I'm not that confident that things are going to go well, and my son is going to return home. James insisted neither he nor anyone else had all the answers, and that's why he wanted "the conversation to continue to keep going." "Because I'm not up here saying that all police are bad, because they're not, I'm not up here saying that all kids are greats and all adults are great because they're not," James explained, "but at the same time all lives do matter and it's not just black or white, it's not that, it's everyone, it's tough being a parent right now, when you have a pre-teen, but the conversation is continued from the ESPYs and that's definitely a good thing." In December of 2014, LeBron James joined several other NBA players in wearing "I can't breathe" t-shirts to protest the killing of Eric Garner by police in New York City.[...]
Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:00:00 -0400There was something very weird about the decisions by the NCAA and the ACC to pull a number of championship events out of North Carolina. The organizations did so to protest the infamous House Bill 2, which forbids localities to enact equal-protection measures for LGBTQ people and requires transgender individuals to use restrooms that align with their anatomical sex, not their gender identity. The organizations did not want to lend even tacit consent to prejudice. As ACC Commissioner John Swofford put it, "the ACC Council of Presidents made it clear that the core values of this league are of the utmost importance, and the opposition to any form of discrimination is paramount. Today's decision is one of principle." This is commendable, for all the reasons House Bill 2 is not. Targeting transgender people in particular for state-sponsored discrimination is an ignoble enterprise based on ignorance, fear, and disgust. Transgender people do not go down their road lightly; for some the path is so harrowing suicide seems less painful. Treating them with a little respect and common decency hardly seems too much to ask. Still, the coverage of the moves by the athletic bodies was occasionally surreal. Here, for instance, is The New York Times: "Already, the University of Vermont had canceled a women's basketball game to be held at the University of North Carolina, and the State University of New York at Albany had canceled a men's basketball game at Duke. In addition to men's basketball, the affected championships are for women's soccer, women's golf and women's lacrosse in Division I; baseball in Division II; and men's and women's soccer in Division III." Notice anything odd? You should: To protest discrimination, athletic organizations are pulling events that are strictly segregated. The irony is all the richer for the fact that the discrimination being protested—discrimination on the basis of gender identity—is the very sort of discrimination that occurs when schools field separate teams for men and women. If "opposition to any form of discrimination is paramount," then why do the ACC and the NCAA abide a college-sports system that separates players by sex? Sure, society has reasons for the distinction. For instance, having separate teams for men and women provides opportunity for twice as many people to play. But that's not much of a reason, is it? We could increase the number of players even more if schools further divided teams by race, so that schools competed for the white male basketball championship, the white female basketball championship, the Asian male basketball championship, the Asian female basketball championship, and so on. Nobody thinks that is a good idea. Another argument: The average male has more upper-body strength than the agverage female. So what? Sports teams don't field average players—they field extraordinary ones. Two extraordinary women recently graduated from the Army's Ranger course; why shouldn't extraordinary women be permitted to play on men's sports teams, too? A league opposed to "any form of discrimination" should be pushing for—in fact, demanding—such a change, shouldn't it? If you have what you think are valid reasons for separating teams by gender, then you are essentially making the point that some values outweigh the principle of nondiscrimination. But then, supporters of House Bill 2 make the same point: Some things matter more. Once you concede some things matters more, you're simply haggling over details. Gender is hardly the only area in which discrimination is still widely practiced. At the University of Virginia, certain scholarships are limited to African-American students. Georgia Tech has a scholarship exclusively for male students, and another that grants preference to women and minorities. You can find many similar scholarships all across the country. What's more, most colleges and universities support racial preferences in college admissions—and some of them, such as Duke, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court to defend them fro[...]
Tue, 20 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) In Michigan, the OK Conference, a high school athletics conference, has sent a letter to school administrators saying that fans at games can chant "U-S-A" only before or after the National Anthem. Conference officials say they believe that using the chant at other times may be a way of taunting opposing players or fans by implying "U suck ---."
Tue, 13 Sep 2016 12:15:00 -0400The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the incredibly wealthy organization that rules over college sports, just announced that they are pulling seven championship events out of the state of North Carolina and will be moving them elsewhere. The NCAA objects to the passage of HB2, the legislation passed earlier in the year that blocks the passage of municipal antidiscrimination laws beyond what the state already covers and—this is what's getting all the attention—requires that people use the restrooms and facilities of their birth sex in schools and government buildings. The NCAA notes the factors that contributed to this move that put North Carolina in a different class than other states that don't necessarily have anti-discrimination protections for gay or transgender people: North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one's birth certificate, regardless of gender identity. North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community. Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff. These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut. I would point out that the second item here isn't quite accurate. It only applies to government buildings and schools, and private businesses can accommodate transgender people however they choose. Of course, we are talking about an organization whose events frequently happen in government-owned or run facilities. As for the last item, when the NCAA points out the relationship between college sports and government employees and how states could have the power to actually stop college-athletes from traveling to other states, isn't that yet another good reason to question why the heck taxpayers are subsidizing any of this travel in the first place? The NCAA should feel free to boycott or to not do business with the state of North Carolina, just like any other business in the country. But the NCAA's operations are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, even as it brings in huge amounts of revenue—$1 billion a year. Students who attend colleges (public and private), their parents, and really, the massive government system that subsidizes college costs, are forced to fork out money to the NCAA to pay for all of this. What about those of us who don't think it's appropriate for taxpayers to be subsidizing the travel expenses of college athletes to any state, regardless of its positions on discrimination? Not only is the NCAA making bank at our expense, that money's not even trickling down to the athletes themselves. Do the athletes support the NCAA's decision here? Maybe. Doesn't matter. They're there to serve the NCAA's interests. It doesn't have to be like this. The NCAA could be like any other business if we demanded it. There's certainly a big enough market to actually pay college athletes and to end athletic subsidies. Below are a couple of ReasonTV pieces about the college sports economic environment. First, why the heck aren't we paying college athletes? src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l4TVXywzeTk" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Second, why are we subsidizing college sports at all? src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Rd9QDevZn-0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Wed, 07 Sep 2016 14:35:00 -0400
(image) The Santa Clara police union responded to comments made by now backup San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick that were critical of police by threatening to boycott work at the stadium. The police chief in Santa Clara, Michael Sellers, stepped in to try to defuse the situation.
"I will urge the (union) leadership to put the safety of our citizens first," Sellers said in a statement to USA Today. "I will work with both sides to find a solution. In the meantime, I will ensure we continue to provide a safe environment at Levi's Stadium."
Police officers working 49ers home games are paid overtime rates but are supposed to be paid by the team. This is not an unusual arrangement—as NinersNation.com notes, many stadium leases include clauses requiring some level of police protection, and in general, police officers around the country may take "side work" that is still billable as overtime.
In the case of Santa Clara police, the 49ers are supposed to pay for their protection, but due to mistakes made by police that is not always that case. In June, a civil grand jury in Santa Clara recommended the city investigate whether any taxpayer money was used on stadium operations (the referendum that green-lit the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara also prohibited taxpayer money from being used). A part of the problem Is that city officials, like police officers, are responsible for flagging their work at the stadium. They don't clock in with the 49ers but included time worked at the stadium on their official timesheets. If they don't correctly mark the time as having been spent at the stadium, the city doesn't know to bill the 49ers and pays the employees itself.
Police had been at odds with the NFL and over NFL players before. Police sued when the NFL banned guns in football stadiums and refused to carve out an exception for off-duty cops. And just in July, the police union in Cleveland threatened to stop working Cleveland Browns games because one player posted a photo of a cop being attacked. "I will pull Cleveland officers, sheriffs, state troopers out of First Energy Stadium this season if he doesn't make it right," police union head Stephen Loomis told TMZ, according to NBC Sports. "You're a grown-ass man, and you claim you were too emotional to know it was wrong? Think we'll accept your apology? Kiss my ass."
The NFL season starts tomorrow with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos hosting the Carolina Panthers, who they defeated in Super Bowl 50. The 49ers' first home game is on Monday night, against the Los Angeles Rams. The Browns' first home game is the Sunday after that against the Baltimore Ravens, who used to be the old Cleveland Browns.
Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:00:00 -0400New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered an unpleasant surprise to some Pennsylvanians over Labor Day weekend. Starting next year, New Jersey will be taking a larger share of the fruits of their labor. Christie announced on Friday that he will terminate a 39-year-long deal between the two states that allowed residents of Pennsylvania who work in New Jersey to pay The Keystone State's comparatively lower income tax rate. The change in policy affects about 125,000 Pennsylvanians—most of them in Philadelphia and the city's suburbs, according to the Associated Press. When the tax deal was struck in 1977, New Jersey had a 2.5 percent top income tax rate and Pennsylvania had a 2 percent top income tax rate. Today, things are quite different. Pennsylvania uses a flat income tax rate of 3.07 percent. New Jersey has a progressive tax, with rates ranging from 1.4 percent to 8.97 percent. Practically, that means a Pennsylvanian who works in New Jersey and earns the average per capita income of $50,000 will see their their effective tax rate nearly double next year. Christie, a Republican, did not even try to hide the fact that he's ending the longstanding tax deal in order to pad his state's bottom line. The Christie administration hopes to collect $180 million annually by dumping the tax agreement with Pennsylvania (it was one of several tax reciprocal agreements that exist between states, like the one that allows workers in Washington, D.C., to pay taxes in whichever state they live). "In the longer team, it's just one more example of New Jersey not having a welcoming tax environment," said Joseph D. Henchman, vice president of legal and state projects for the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. At least the change won't drop New Jersey any further down the Tax Foundation's annual rankings of state tax climates. For 2016, it was already ranked dead last among the 50 states. Pennsylvania ranked a mediocre 32nd in the nation. Pennsylvanians who are unhappy with their higher tax bills can perhaps find solace in the fact that they will be helping to pay for the retirements of New Jersey state workers and to close a budget gap created by years of questionable spending on corporate welfare. That's because—despite Christie's claims that he needs more revenue to balance the budget—New Jersey remains a classic example of a state with a spending problem, not a revenue problem. On a per capita basis, only five states collected more revenue in 2013 than New Jersey's state and local governments did (two of them are Alaska and North Dakota, where tiny populations and a reliance on oil and natural gas excise taxes skew per capita measurements like this). Meanwhile, spending has increased almost every year during Christie's administration: the state spent $29 billion in 2010 when he took over the governorship but the budget Christie signed in July spends $34.5 billion. Christie blames the spending increases on the state's escalating pension costs. New Jersey's unfunded pension obligations total more than $80 billion, and mandatory state bond disclosures say the two main retirement funds could be completely out of money by the mid-2020s. To be fair, New Jersey's pension crisis predates Christie's time in office—and it will still exist when he departs. Still, Christie shares in the blame for failing to bring those problems under control. In 2011, Christie reached a deal with Democratic lawmakers that would have curtailed state spending in favor of increasing contributions to the pension system (state employees would have to pay more into the system too). In theory, the deal could have closed the unfunded pension gap within a decade. In reality, Christie couldn't follow through. Facing political pressure and revenue shortfalls, the governor reduced pension contributions in favor of spending that money in other places. One of Christie's favorite ways to spend money is by handi[...]
Sun, 28 Aug 2016 12:39:00 -0400Colin Kaepernick, who plays quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem at a pre-season game. In case anyone missed his intent, Kaepernick clarified it after the game: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." Although it encourages players to do so, the NFL doesn't require them to stand during the playing of the anthem. Kaepernick's protest has drawn a huge amount of online reaction, much of it flatly critical. Fellow football players have been more supportive, though hardly uncritical. Former football player, Biggest Loser participant, and ESPN analyst Damien Woody tweeted: This is what comes with a free society, unless ppl hate democracy — Damien Woody (@damienwoody) August 27, 2016 Justin Pugh of the New York Giants tweeted: I will be STANDING during the National Anthem tonight. Thank you to ALL (Gender,Race,Religion)that put your lives on the line for that flag — Justin Pugh (@JustinPugh) August 27, 2016 As the legendary sportswriter and young-adult novelist Robert Lipsyte—he was among the first sports-beat scribes to write about characters such as Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King as agents of social change—told Reason a few years back, sports isn't a respite from all the political, cultural, and economic battles of the everyday world. No, it's a prism through which to view, engage, and debate those very concerns. People who say that sports is not the place to talk about serious issues are trying to live in a fantasy world. I've never felt comfortable during the playing of the national anthem during professional sporting events, simply because it strikes me as either an empty gesture or a forced ritual. Standing for the national anthem before a hockey or baseball tells us precisely nothing about anyone's patriotism or feelings toward the country, especially when it is forced. Yet Kaepernick's gesture strikes me as a particularly weak display considering the apparent depth of his feelings on questions of police violence toward racial and ethnic minorities. I share many of his concerns about systemic racism stemming from policies such as the drug war, but his overly broad and condemnatory language strikes me as easy to dismiss, especially given the economic, legal, and culurals perks afforded to professional athletes. Given his slumping career, many people on social media are simply writing him off as a fading malconent. That sort of reaction—how dare you say anything critical of the system that made you rich and famous!—also strikes me as risible. There's no doubt that athletes and other entertainers take professional risks when they speak out on politically charged topics. As Damien Woody suggests, they have every right to do. Where would we be without figures ranging from Jackie Robinson to Frank Sinatra to Eartha Kitt to Curt Flood to Charlton Heston to Woody Harrelson using their celebrity to raise concerns? Independent of whether we agree with them on any given concern, celebrities are often powerful and eloquent spokespeople for causes that are otherwise ignored by the public. More than a few have paid for being outspoken in lost opportunities, but some also become incredibly effective change agents (certainly Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King were). If Kaepernick's outrage at disproportionate police violence against blacks and minorities is as strong as it seems, I hope he becomes a more effective and thoughtful advocate for policy change. What do you think? Is Kaepernick taking a bold stand for equal treatment under the law? Or a spoiled brat? And is Am[...]
Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:00:00 -0400
(image) The McKinney Independent School District in Texas will now be spending nearly $70 million on a football stadium for its three high school teams. When voters approved the spending in May, the stadium was supposed to cost about $63.5 million. But the school district says labor and concrete costs went up 50 percent between the time the plan was approved and the final bids came in, as local TV station WFAA reports.
"We decided this is something that we'll be using for 50 or 60 years so we want to do it right," a spokesperson for the school district told WFAA. The district says it has unspent money from other bonds it can use to plug the gap.
Back in May, when a majority of voters initially approved the spending, the school district's super intendendent, Rick McDaniel, insisted school leaders were "visionaries." "And we believe we have a vision for McKinney ISD that will propel us forward for a long time," he said in May. Not visionary enough, apparently, to anticipate price increases or cost over-runs.
Supporters of the stadium proposal argued it would increase economic activity in the area, and that the district hadn't built a football stadium in 1965, which is located in a residential area.
McKinney is about 35 miles from Dallas, which has a little-known professional football franchise that may attract people in the area too. Arlington, the city the Dallas franchise is located in, raised taxes to pay for a new stadium, and is reportedly paying it back faster than expected, but Dallas was expected to get more of the benefits from the Cowboys hosting the Super Bowl in 2011 than Arlington. The McKinney school district, too, has been raising taxes. A hike in 2013 was blamed on the state cutting funding, although the decision to spend $70 million on a high school stadium illustrates the moral hazards involved in state funding of local government operations.
Related: Reason TV's "Sports Stadiums Are Bad Investments. So Why Are Cities Still Paying for Them?"
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Tue, 23 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) An Obama administration official got into a fistfight with a Native American college student over a Washington Redskins shirt the student was wearing at a Pow Wow in Washington, D.C. Barrett Dahl says William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative of American Indian and Alaska Native Education, approached him, called him stupid and uneducated for wearing the shirt and attacked him when he turned to walk away. Mendoza says when he confronted Dahl about the shirt Dahl told him he'd be happy to step outside and explain his reasons for wearing the shirt. Mendoza says he approached Dahl later to apologize and Dahl threw coffee at him and hit him.
Mon, 15 Aug 2016 12:00:00 -0400Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently said he was in "very serious negotiations" with the Washington Redskins about building a stadium in Virginia. In plain English, the literal translation of that statement is: "Hide your wallet." When it comes to taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich, McAuliffe is like his predecessors, only more so. Since 2010 Virginia has ladled out nearly $700 million worth of economic incentives trying to lure businesses to the commonwealth. Such handouts have nearly tripled in the past decade. In his first year alone McAuliffe handed out more than $68 million—then went to the General Assembly and asked for more. Those efforts have not always gone well. In one instance, the commonwealth shelled out $1.4 million to help a Chinese subsidiary ramp up operations in Appomattox. The project—which McAuliffe had lauded as "transformational"—turned out to be vaporware, and 300-plus jobs that had been promised never materialized. In another instance, the state paid Norfolk Southern $2 million to shift jobs from Roanoke to Norfolk, in defiance of a state law prohibiting the use of incentives for relocation projects. Lately the governor has been offering subsidies to companies like Dollar Tree ($9 million) and Motley Fool ($350,000). But such figures are chump change compared to the funds shelled out for sports teams, which routinely fleece the public out of huge sums for fancy new arenas. Over the past two decades, taxpayers have been forced to fork over more than $7 billion to build or renovate NFL stadiums. In some cases, taxpayers are still paying off the bonds for stadiums that have since been abandoned. Civic boosters routinely claim that new stadiums will generate all sorts of ancillary economic benefits. But multiple studies have debunked that talking point. A survey of the literature, by scholars at the Brookings Institute, found "no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development." Most evidence suggests that sports subsidies cannot be justified on the grounds of local economic development, income growth, or job-creation. In fact, after 20 years of academic research on the topic, "peer reviewed economics journals contain almost no evidence that sports stadiums or franchises measurably improve local economies." This seems to be Richmond's experience. Some of the city's schools are crumbling, to the point that a ceiling tile fell and hit a student on the head—not once but twice. Yet four years ago the city took money from schools to build a new $10-million practice field for the Redskins training camp. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell kicked in another $4 million. The city's Economic Development Authority agreed to guarantee the Redskins another $500,000 per year. But fan attendance is down and much of the spin-off economic activity that was supposed to materialize has not. As one Arby's owner near the training camp told The Times-Dispatch last year, "We thought we'd get a bigger impact with all those people right across the street." (Things do seem to be going a bit better this year.) Small wonder, then, that last week a survey showed three-fourths of respondents think the city's investment in the training camp has not paid off, and it should stop forking over a half-million dollars a year to the team. That's true even of Redskins fans who have attended a training session—72 percent of whom also think the annual fee is a lousy deal. And really, can you blame them? According to Forbes, in 2015 the Redskins were worth $2.85 billion, and the year before enjoyed revenue of $439 million. The average value of an NFL team rose 38 percent last year, thanks in part to $4.4 billion in TV broadcast revenue. Collectively, the NFL is worth about $62 billion, which makes it considerably more valuable tha[...]
Fri, 12 Aug 2016 14:15:00 -0400The last time Enkelejda Shehaj competed at the Olympic Games, she was representing Albania. That was in 1996. Three years later, with the government of her home nation collapsing and fearing for her family's safety, Shehaj flew to the United States with two suitcases: "One with my clothes," she told NBC Sports. "And one luggage, it sits there in my closet with all my medals, magazines, articles that were written about me and all the diplomas and everything that had related to the sport. That's it." Shehaj completed the complicated process to become a U.S. citizen in 2012 and this week she's back at the Olympics, competing as a member of the U.S. team in Rio de Janerio. Her story is one of the more dramatic ones, but Shehaj is far from being the only immigrant competing for the Stars and Stripes at this year's Summer Olympics. According to research from Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, there are 48 members of the Team USA who were born in other countries. Edward King is another foreign-born Olympian, but this isn't the first time he's proudly represented his adopted homeland—though he was born in South Africa, he's been an officer in the U.S. Navy since 2011. King finished 10th this week as a member of the men's lightweight four rowing team. Phillip Dutton made a bit of Olympic history this week. The Australian-born equestrian rider became the oldest American, at age 52, to win an Olympic medal when he claimed the bronze in individual eventing—a sport that combines three different horseback riding skills. Like Shehaj, Dutton had previously competed in the Olympics for his birth country before immigrating to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen. There's also Danell Leyva, the Cuban-born gymnast who gave maybe the best sound bite of the Olympics when asked about the number of condoms in Rio's Olympic Village. (There are reportedly 450,000 condoms available. "Will that be enough?" was the question. His reply: "For me?"). All told, there are 554 Americans competing at this year's Summer Olympics—the largest contingent from any single country. With 48 immigrants among them, that means 8.5 percent of Team USA was born in another country. That means immigrants are actually underrepresented, since they make up 13.3 percent of the U.S. population, Nowrasteh notes. The largest plurality of foreign-born American Olympians (11 of them) are competing in the track and field events, which got underway on Friday afternoon. There's no accurate way to count the number of U.S. Olympians who are the children of immigrants, but that number would presumably be much larger. The United States' foreign-born Olympians come from all over the world. The 48 competitors were born in 30 different counties on six different continents. Their reasons for coming to the U.S. are probably as diverse as those of any other set of immigrants to this country, but as highly skilled athletes they do have an advantage over other immigrants because they often qualify for EB-1 visas reserved for immigrants "of extraordinary ability in the arts, science, education, business, or athletics." It makes sense to give some people a "fast lane" to becoming U.S. citizens if they have important skills—yes, you could argue about whether Olympic sports should count as important skills, but sports-based-nationalism isn't going away anytime soon so that's not going to change. If you're not an Olympic-caliber athlete, though, navigating the immigration process can be virtually impossible. That's a shame, because immigrants make the country better off, and not just at the Olympic Games. Despite the political rhetoric coming from portions of both major parties, immigration actually stimulates the American economy and generates more business. Rather than displac[...]
Mon, 08 Aug 2016 18:00:00 -0400Say it ain't so, Mike! Tell me those dark purple bruises dotting your much gawked-upon anatomy are the result of some misguided experiment in Greco-Roman wrestling with Barney the Dinosaur. If Jessica Rabbitt gave you a few dozen monster hickeys, I'm okay with that. Or did your nonchalance about contracting the Zika virus prove too optimistic? Just don't tell me those mysterious dark ovals come from cupping. You know, that time-worn Chinese (or possibly Middle Eastern) superstition that claims vacuum suction applied to the body can alter your "qi" energy and thereby cure asthma, herpes, infertility, cancer, and early onset acute gullibility disorder due to excessive gold medal-itis. You've won a zillion medals. You're representing America. Please don't make us look any more naive than we already are. It was only last week that we learned the truth about flossing and we can't handle additional disillusionment. A part of me doesn't want to blame you or your Olympic teammates for buying into alternative medicine. Journalists, tough-minded creatures that we are, have already fallen for the ruse. Glance at any newspaper headline on the topic nowadays and the odds are high you'll find an uncritical report praising unscientific "complementary" and "integrative" therapies. When the entire Portland Trail Blazers team began cupping, The Oregonian quoted star athletes who called it "scientific stuff" that "works pretty good"—without sourcing a single dissenting voice. The Atlantic penned this 4,000-word paean to evidence-free medicine. And don't get me started on Dr. Oz, the homeopathy-hawking surgeon who remains popular despite a recent ratings plunge. That's why it's no surprise when USA Today's headline declared, "Cupping Helps Heal the USA Men's Olympic Gymnastics Team," a ringing endorsement for your brand of magical thinking. How did we ever get so soft on pseudoscience? The media takes its cues from the medical establishment, which increasingly takes its cues from the federal government. Over the last 25 years, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a branch of the National Institutes of Health, has been doling out medical grants by the billions of dollars to promote alternative medicine. As I reported in The Alternative Medicine Racket, the NCCIH has successfully installed all sorts of bogus therapies and quack clinics into dozens of major hospitals and medical schools around the country. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RWbkvCMuU5A" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> In our fact-free world, you can find an expert to validate almost any crackpot belief. Our politicians insist that immigrants are flooding across our borders. The rate of violent crime is allegedly higher than ever. And yes, there's even this scientific-looking meta-analysis proving that cupping really works. Like many studies of alternative medicine, it buries the lede and hopes you don't get around to reading the fine print. (Here it is, at the bottom of the study: "the main limitation of our analysis was that nearly all included trials were evaluated as high risk of bias." Translation: the study isn't worth much.) Nick Gillespie recently wrote about the truthiness of our postmodern world: Sure, the internet and other technologies allow us to live in an ideological bubble that is virtually impervious to non-confirming information and data. But it's equally and even more true that we live in the Age of Transparency where the whole world can fact-check your ass (including mine!). The best way forward, especially in a time when confidence and trust in major institutions are flopping quicker than Cristiano Ronaldo in UEFA play, is for the people in charge of our politics to actually argue [...]
Fri, 05 Aug 2016 15:20:00 -0400The most famous documentary ever made about the Olympics is Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia, which does double duty as a record of the 1936 games in Germany and as a much-cited specimen of fascist aesthetics. The second most famous documentary ever made about the Olympics is probably Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad, which covered the 1964 games in Japan and to my taste is a much better movie. Both are heavily stylized, but otherwise their approaches are radically different. "In my film," Ichikawa later said, "rather than focusing on physical beauty and strength, I wanted to explore the internal dimensions of the athletes. I wanted my film to be sort of the antithesis of Riefenstahl's Olympia." While Riefenstahl's work was in line with her Nazi benefactors' vision, the Japanese government wasn't exactly blown away by the humanist documentary that Ichikawa turned in. ("They even asked whether I could reshoot some of it," the filmmaker later claimed, "but I was able to reply truthfully that circumstances prevented it as the entire cast had left Japan.") The director had been more interested in individual athletes than national glory, and at times was more interested in the losers than the winners. (At one moment, after we watch a runner win a race, the movie jumps ahead to show us the last man to cross the finish line.) Shooting the marathon, Ichikawa's chief concern seems to be the sheer physical pain of completing it—or, for some runners, failing to complete it. With the gymnastics and bicycling events, Ichikawa loses virtually all interest in the competition itself and focuses on filming the gymnasts and cyclists in the most interesting ways possible. Sometimes his attention alights on something seemingly peripheral to the action, like the rain falling on the field and crowd; for a few seconds, he is distracted by a lemon. The film isn't entirely devoid of Big Visions, though. The first 25 minutes, devoted to the torch relay and the opening ceremonies, are a concentrated dose of earnest U Thant–era internationalism. But even here there are a couple of moments that feel like wry, dark jokes, though I'm not sure Ichikawa meant them that way. Like when the Soviet and American athletes march adjacent to each other and an announcer exults in "the friendship that is prevailing between East and West"—and then, immediately afterward, we see a shot of the squad from South Vietnam. The Olympic Channel has posted Tokyo Olympiad on YouTube; it's set so it can't be embedded in a blog post, but you can see it here. You can watch it in one sitting or, if you want to keep an eye on the games that begin today in Rio, you can split it up, interspersing Ichikawa's segments with the more straightforward sports journalism unfolding on TV. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. To see me grousing about the Olympics as an institution, go here.)[...]
Fri, 05 Aug 2016 15:16:00 -0400So the "Games of the XXXI Olympiad" have their official opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro tonight, around 7:30 P.M. ET on NBC. If you grew up digging off-beat sports and are of a certain age (read: my age), this was the day you waited four fricking years for. Finally, a chance to see sports that network broadcasters couldn't be bothered to cover on any sort of regular basis (track and field, rowing, archery, soccer, table tennis, etc), get introduced to a weird, attractive cast of characters from Europe, Africa, and elsewhere (that tragic John Akii-Bua was one fast motherfucker!), and watch Cold War proxy battles up the wazoo (America's '70s decline started here)! God bless you, Jim McKay, you glorious, yellow-jacketed anchorman whose poise and occasional breakdowns guided us through the tragic and the triumphant like nobody before or since. But that was then—and by then, I mean any time prior to the Atlanta games, which featured terrorist violence and the absolutely shittiest mascot of any sports-related event ever (see image to right of Whatizit or "Izzy"). Over the past several decades, the Olympics (both Summer and Winter) have faded as a meaningful arena of athletic competition and spectacle. In this, they are like many artifacts of the long 20th century—World's Fairs, say, and beauty contests—that have outlived their heydays. The World Cup is gaining in strength, while the Olympics...well, it was nice knowing you. Here are some of the many reasons why (relatively speaking) nobody gives a shit about the Olympics anymore, and why that's not a bad thing at all. The end of the mostly-fake-but-still-compelling fiction that participants were "amateurs" who competed out of mere love of the game. A fuller understanding of just how much cheating went on among the athletes. First, it was the massive revelations about juicing by Iron Curtain teams but post-Cold War, it became clear that many Western athletes (Ben Johnson! FloJo! Marion Jones!) who won our hearts were faking it too (except for Carl Lewis, the greatest track and field Olympian yet one who was never fully embraced by the crowds, either). [*]: See below for more explanation. The mainstreaming of sports TV and the ability of less-popular sports to gain an audience independent of the Olympics. The disturbing spectacle of the Games being hosted by tyrannical and/or bankrupt countries and cities that wasted huge amounts of money on conspicuous consumption (Beijing, Moscow and Sochi, and Athens obviously, but let's never forget Montreal too!). An endless stream of scandals implicating national-level Olympic Committees but also the IOC itself in just terrible, terrible behavior. The growth in cosmopolitanism around the globe, meaning that we are no longer as mesmerized by "exotic" athletes from foreign countries. Oscar Pistorius. Bob Costas. Rick Wakeman's 1976 soundtrack to the Innsbruck Winter Games, White Rock. Brazil's political instability, Zika problems, and inability to control sewage. The long, acrid hangover from the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, during which the Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. In the wake of the murders, the head of the IOC, American Avery Brundage, famously declared that "the Games must go on," despite "two savage attacks." For Brundage, a lifelong racist and personal friend of Adolf Hitler (as head of the USOC during the '36 Games in Berlin, Brundage watch track and field competitions from der Fuhrer's box and pressured the American track coach to sideline Jewish runners), the second "attack" during the '72 Games was a threatened boycott of the Olympics by African nations if apartheid Rhodesia was allowed to compete. Beyond all that, [...]
Thu, 04 Aug 2016 14:10:00 -0400Back in October 2009 there were plenty of reasons to think the Olympic torch would be lit in Chicago this summer. Instead, on Friday night, the flame will be lit in Rio de Janerio. Chicago, and the rest of America, should breath a sigh of relief. Chicago's bid for the 2016 seemingly had everything. It had money, as the city promised to spend $4.8 billion for the Olympics, with a good chunk of that total going to build or upgrade sporting venues. It had timing, as it would have been the first American city to host the Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996 and the first Olympics of any kind since Salt Lake City hosted the winter version in 2002 (since World War Two ended, America had never gone more than 20 years without hosting the Olympics). It had star power, as three of the city's most famous residents—President Barack Obama, basketball star Michael Jordan and talk show host turned business mogul Oprah Winfrey—lent their vocal support to the effort. Obama even traveled to Copenhagen, where the final vote took place, to lobby for his adopted hometown. Up against Madrid, Rio, and Toyko in the final round of bidding, Chicago appeared to be a strong contender, if not the favorite. Then, stunningly, Chicago was ousted in the first round of voting, getting just 18 of the 94 votes and finishing dead last in the four city field. Not even good enough for the bronze medal. "This was the most frustrating defeat in Chicago's recent sports history," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh, at the time. This week, Haugh admits he was wrong about that assessment. That frustrating defeat was actually "the day the IOC saved Chicago from itself," he says. "As bad as things seem in a city already fighting violence and the financial collapse of its government and school system, consider how much worse things would be if officials were distracted by hosting an international event as gargantuan as the Games," Haugh writes. "The Olympics likely would have added to the disrepair more than made it easier to fix." More cities should learn from Chicago's experience. In fact, it seems like some are. When city officials in Boston and the heads of the American Olympic Committee backed a bid for the Massachusetts capital to host the 2024 Olympics, it faced popular opposition unseen since residents of Denver voted to kill the city's winning bid to host the 1976 Winter Games. Boston's plan for the Olympics would have cost taxpayers a mere $2.7 billion, though independent analyses suggested the price tag would be north of $15 billion and maybe as much as $28 billion Facing growing public opposition, Boston cancelled its bid last year. Other cities haven't learned yet. Los Angeles quickly swept in to replace Boston as the U.S. bidder for the 2024 games, where it is now seen as a favorite in a four-way contest that includes Budapest, Paris and Rome. Los Angeles does have one thing going for it. Of the 17 Summer Olympics held since the end of the Second World War, only the 1984 event in Los Angeles turned a profit, The Economist reported this week, citing research by David Goldblatt, author of The Games: A Global History of the Olympics. One could argue that the Olympic Games aren't really meant to turn a profit, so that might be a flawed standard for measuring their success. But the Games have become staggering economic disasters for recent hosts. The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens cost the Greek government $16 billion. As with Chicago's lost bid, hindsight makes it clear that Greece never should have hosted the Olympics, history and tradition be damned. Athens can take some small comfort in knowing that it's hardly alone. Jim Pagels has a rundown of the ignominious fates [...]