Then in 1996, a basketball player named Mahmoud Abdul Rauf refused to stand for the National Anthem. Rauf believed the flag to be "a symbol of oppression and tyranny," and was willing to suffer the consequences. His courage was stunning, but even more shocking was the howling cries for his head. When Rauf was suspended, some news reports resembled lynch mobs. But others likened him to Muhammad Ali, whose title was stripped for being a draft resistor during the Viet Nam war. This was a history I barely knew. As Rauf began to buckle under the tremendous pressure of right wing bombast, it became clear that our side needed a history of the resistance in US pro sports. To aid this effort, I started writing a column called Edge of Sports, and just completed my first book "What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States."This stuff is worthy of my man Howard Zinn, and not only because their names sound alike. Zinn seeks to teach us the hidden history of people's movements that have challenged the system. Hidden, because those who usually write our history have a stake in preserving that system. Anyone who illuminates the acts of subversion, however obscure, that are always rising up, is doing good work.
When some friends back home heard what I was writing, a Friar's Club Roast seemed to spontaneously generate. These guys seemed to magically morph into a gaggle of Henny Youngmans in baggy jeans. "Pro Sports and radical politics?" one budding Borscht Belter smirked. "That will make a helluva pamphlet!" Or "What's your next book, Dick Cheney's Diet Tips? John Ashcroft's Favorite Black History Moments?"
Everyone had a jibe. But my buddies are like Shaquille O'Neal's free throws: simply way off. The history of how social struggles have exploded onto the playing field is vibrant, thrilling and very real.
Zirin wrote an essay about the book for Common Dreams. The book is here.