GUEST WORDS - For a decade now, Dave Zirin has been working the fertile media ground between sports and progressive politics.
That toil has produced sheaves of articles at The Nation and elsewhere, a weekly program on SiriusXM, countless radio and television appearances, and five books culled largely from his articles and published by leftist presses. Zirin’s newest volume, “Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down,” returns to his favorite topics: race, gender, unions, the corporatization and corruption of sports, and athletes willing to speak out on any of the above.
Weirdly, Zirin has almost no direct competition. More and more outlets provide scores and highlights, and there’s no shortage of hard information, trivia and hyperbolic man-shows for serious and casual fans alike. But sports journalism, with a few notable exceptions, remains narrow and predictable.
One reason for its timidity isn’t peculiar to the sports world but is especially apparent there. Writers who criticize local teams risk losing access to the sources they rely on for their livelihoods. Beat writers who cover the White House, Wall Street and the Pentagon face similar risks, but the stakes are lower in sports, and perhaps for this reason, the power relations are cruder. To put it plainly, most writers flack for the teams they cover, and no one really cares.
ESPN analysts are less beholden to specific franchises, but the network’s image and outlook are unapologetically corporate. Like Matt Taibbi and Michael Hastings at Rolling Stone, Zirin is a kind of designated iconoclast. From his perch at The Nation, he can criticize the sports establishment without fear of devastating reprisal.
You don’t read Zirin for his deathless prose; he’s a fine phrasemaker and an effective speaker, but he writes like he’s trying to beat the rush out of Dodger Stadium. Nor is his analysis always unassailable.
What makes his work important, even indispensable, is his selection and emphasis. Simply by raising the issues he does, Zirin makes a unique contribution to our understanding of American popular culture. A sports lover who uses that gigantic canvas to make important social statements, Zirin speaks to and for fans who long ago tuned out the cliché parade on radio and television.
Vol 11 Issue 6
Pub: Jan 18, 2013