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What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States

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As London prepares for the 2012 olympics in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings, we look at the history of crackdowns in olympic cities over the past century. Sports writer Dave Zirin chronicles a history of athletes who have stood up to war and racism in the United States, from Muhammad Ali to Pat Tillman. His new book is “What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States.” [includes rush transcript]

Two weeks after the London bombings that left over 50 people dead and hundreds wounded, the city’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, is blaming western foreign policy as motivating the attackers and giving rise to Muslim extremism.

In an interview with the BBC news on Wednesday, Livingstone said, “If at the end of the First World War we had done what we promised the Arabs, which was to let them be free and have their own governments, and kept out of Arab affairs, and just bought their oil, rather than feeling we had to control the flow of oil, I suspect this wouldn’t have arisen.”

Livingstone also referred to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Guantanamo Bay, and policies of foreign occupation as fueling extremism.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to hold talks with police and intelligence chiefs to establish what further powers they need in the wake of the attacks.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke told British MPs of plans to set up a global database of extremists who face automatic vetting before being allowed into the country. The database would list “unacceptable behaviour” such as radical preaching, websites and writing articles intended to foment terrorism.

Clarke also said that Britain had reached an agreement with Jordan which would enable Britain to deport Jordanian nationals suspected of inciting or supporting terrorism. Under international convention, the British government cannot send people back to a country where they might face mistreatment or the death penalty. This new agreement removes this bar to deportations.

While the aftermath of the London bombings continue to be front-page news around the world, few people remember that one day earlier, London won a closely-fought bid to host the 2012 Olympics. History shows that the bringing of Olympics to a city also brings the the utter immiseration of civil liberties.

  • Dave Zirin, News Editor of the Prince George’s Post, for which he writes the weekly column, Edge of Sports. He is the monthly sports commentator for Air America’s “So What Else Is News.” His new book is, “What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined now in our studio by sportswriter David Zirin. His new book is called What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

DAVID ZIRIN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about that history of Olympics past.

DAVID ZIRIN: Well, the starting point is understanding that sports is a trillion dollar business worldwide, and the Olympics is like the ultimate prize. I mean, for the people who run a city, when they make their Olympic bids, getting the Olympics is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa all rolled up into one for these guys. And when London got the Olympics for 2012, when they won that bid in a huge surprise over Paris, they were celebrating in the streets of London, particularly in the board rooms and the banks.

Also people in London wept when that occurred, because people in London had already started organizing about what they understand the Olympics coming to mean. Now, part of the reason why people have this idea about what it means for the Olympics to come to a given town is because of the history that does exist. I mean, when the Olympics come to an area, it may mean a corporate feeding frenzy, but what it also means is it means, as you put it, the utter emiseration of civil liberties, as well as attacks on working people and the poor. And history really does prove this out.

I mean, I’ll just give some of the lowlights here. In 1936, this was probably one of the most infamous ones, when the Olympics were awarded to Berlin, even though it was known at the time the extent of Hitler’s crimes and the crimes of the Nazis, there was a cleansing of the streets of Berlin, as it was put, to make the city look hospitable, as if Germany had emerged from the Depression. And that, of course, meant locking up dissidents, sending people to concentration camps. In 1968 in Mexico City there was the infamous massacre of 500 workers and students by Mexican security forces as they attempted to make their city, quote/unquote, “hospitable” for an international audience.

In 1984 in this country — it’s not just other countries by any stretch of the imagination — in 1984 there were the infamous gang sweeps in Los Angeles, which involved people in the L.A. City Council reviving the 1916 Anti-Syndicalism Act, which was used in 1916 to go after the Industrial Workers of the World, which was a radical union at the time. And part of what this law said was that it outlawed certain hand signals and modes of dress that sort of denoted somebody as being in the I.W.W., and they just applied that to young black men in L.A. So if you were wearing certain colors or gave people a certain kind of high five, it was grounds to arrest people in 1984 in L.A. And those gang sweeps were immortalized in the NWA video “Straight Outta Compton,” which was like a reenactment of the '84 gang sweeps, which people, you know, should check out. It's interesting.

In 1996 in Atlanta, keep it in this country. You had, according to the ACLU, 10,000 black homeless men arrested without cause, and you had a scandalous situation that they swept under the rug where police were found to fill out arrest slips in advance of arresting people, of, you know, black male — you know, they had those filled out going into the streets to make Atlanta, you know, ironically this image of the new South that President Clinton attempted to project at the 1996 Olympics.

But in 2004 in Athens, I think we all saw it go to another level. Athens was the first post-9/11 Olympics. And what we saw there was something that you even hadn’t seen in years past, and that was the presence of 50,000 paramilitary forces, not from Greece, but from the United States, Great Britain and Israel. And their presence was actually in violation of the Greek constitution, but it was welcomed by the Greek prime minister at the time because of that pressure to make Greece, quote/unquote, “hospitable” for an international audience. And that meant the mass arrest of thousands of ordinary people in Greece.

And so I think there is an awareness about what the Olympics bring, not to mention about the fact that they tend to suck municipalities dry of funds, which is why, interestingly, New York City, as you may know, was in the finals to get the Olympics. And something that ESPN radio reported with surprise and shock was that ESPN was being flooded with emails by people from New York, New Jersey area saying, “Please don’t send the Olympics here. We don’t want them in New York City. We don’t want this stadium.” And ESPN, you know, which is, of course, about promoting all things sports — you know, working people be damned — was absolutely flummoxed by this, like, 'Wow! People don't want the Olympics in New York City.’ And they were just scratching their heads. But if they looked at history, they would see why.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Zirin. He’s a sportswriter, and his book is called What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States Why the title?

DAVID ZIRIN: What’s My Name, Fool?, first to be very clear, it’s not a tribute to Mr. T. That was asked to me at one book reading. That would be “Pity the Fool.” No, What’s My Name, Fool?, it’s a reference to really what the heart of the book is about. The book is about the intersection of radical politics and pro sports, about times when movements off the field found expression on the playing field, and to me the high point of that history was the time when the heavyweight champion of the world had one foot in the Black Freedom struggle and one foot in anti-war movement. And, of course, I’m talking about Muhammad Ali.

Now, when Ali changed his name, first from Cassius Clay and then to Cassius X, which a lot of people don’t know — he was shortly known as Cassius X — and then to Muhammad Ali, when he did this, there was just no word for the firestorm that this caused, because, you know, the heavyweight champion of the world, that’s supposed to be a symbol of all that’s Americana, a symbol of, you know, masculinity and standing for the flag, and you had the heavyweight champion of the world join the organization of Malcolm X, join an organization in the Nation of Islam that believed in self-defense against racist attacks.

And I was — you know, I’m trying to relay to an audience today about the firestorm that this caused, and the only thing I could think of is you have to imagine if, say, Jenna Bush joined the Iraqi resistance. I mean, that would be the only way that you could make a comparison to when Ali joined the Nation of Islam and forced people to confront that name change.

Now, overnight, whether you called the champion Clay or Ali, it said everything about you in the 1960s. It said what side you were on in the Black Freedom struggle, what side you were on in the Free Speech fights on college campuses, soon the war in Vietnam. And therefore, Ali’s fights, they had this incredible morality plays, they became. You know, if the champion won, it wasn’t just about an individual winning a sporting event, it was about the confidence of a new and rising movement in a way that people took very personally and very seriously.

Now, you go to the title, What’s My Name, Fool?”, goes to when this name change controversy really was at its apex, and that’s in November 1965, when Ali fought a former two-time champion named Floyd Patterson. And in the lead up to the fight, this is what Patterson said. He said, “I am fighting Clay, and, yes, his name is Clay,” as a crusade to return the title to America and take it from the Black Muslims.

Now, Ali’s response to this was really interesting, because he had no response. This is one of the most loquacious athletes ever. You know, the press called him the “Louisville Lip” and “Gaseous Cassius,” because he liked to talk so much. But he didn’t say anything in the lead up to the fight and actually in the fight itself he let his fighting do the talking. Observers say he could have knocked out Patterson in one round, but actually, he drew it out over nine rounds. Sportswriter Robert Lipsite described it as watching someone pick the wings off a butterfly. And as Ali peppered Patterson with jabs, what he said, and he said it in a loud clear voice so all of press row could hear, he said, “Come on, America, come on, white America, say my name. What’s my name, fool?” And that’s where I got the title of the book. And that’s just the title. So, we got a lot in this book.

AMY GOODMAN: This is an excerpt of the remarkable film When We Were Kings, the documentary about Muhammad Ali’s 1974 championship bout with George Foreman in Kinshasa that came to be known as “the Rumble in the Jungle.”

MUHAMMAD ALI: Yeah, I’m in Africa. Yeah, Africa is my home. Damn America and what America thinks. Yeah, I live in America, but Africa is the home of the black man, and I was a slave 400 years ago, and I’m going back home to fight among my brothers.

AMY GOODMAN: That, a clip from When We Were Kings, Muhammad Ali. You talk about Muhammad Ali being at that time extremely political, outspoken, yet today young people might not know that at all, though Muhammad Ali is the most famous name in the world.

DAVID ZIRIN: Yes, I mean, today, Muhammad Ali’s image is used to sell everything from Sprite to Microsoft with the benefit of computer C.G.I. And there’s no question that what’s happened to Muhammad Ali, you know, is not dissimilar to what’s happened to people like Malcolm X, who is now on a postage stamp, or Martin Luther King, whose image you can now get on a commemorative cup when you go into McDonald’s on his birthday, in that Muhammad Ali’s political teeth have largely been extracted.

And that’s something that, with this book, I want to hope to return to the arena, is like the context of Ali’s politics, because the tradition of Ali and that tradition of resistance is something that’s, I think, very important for people to know. I mean, Ali was just named the number two most important athlete in history in ESPN’s Top 100 Athletes of All Time. But when you saw their tribute to him, I mean, you would have left wondering, “Okay, well, what’s so special about this guy?” And that’s why it’s so important to return to the arena, as we understand sports, that dynamic relationship between struggles on the streets, how it affected athletes, but then also how athletes then, in turn, affected those struggles.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to another clip of When We Were Kings. Muhammad Ali was known as an anti-war symbol to some. This is a news clip from that film.

NEWS CLIPCassius Clay, at a federal court in Houston, is found guilty of violating the U.S. Selective Service laws by refusing to be inducted. He is sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Muhammad Ali then?

DAVID ZIRIN: Well, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title, and he was forced to report to a draft board in El Paso, Texas. Now, this was very interesting, because, you know, Ali was offered the same deal that many past heavyweight champions had been offered, which was, you know, that he could just — you know, it’s not like he was going to be sent to, you know, to Saigon or anything. He could have worn red, white, and blue trunks, boxed at some U.S.O. shows and kept the title.

But instead, what Ali said was — he was quite clear — he said, “The enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my people, my religion, or myself by fighting against other people” — speaking about the National Liberation Front in Vietnam — “who are fighting for their own freedom, justice and liberty.” And so he came out very — there was no mistaking where he stood on this.

So they stripped him of his title for his anti-war views, and he was sent down to the draft office there. And as he went down there, it wasn’t known exactly what Ali was going to do when he got there, because he was facing a prison sentence of five years, you know, in a federal prison. So there was actually a rally outside the El Paso area that was organized by H. Rap Brown and the students at Texas Western, now Texas El Paso. And they were out there, a couple hundred of them, with a huge banner, and what it said was “Draft Beer, Not Ali.” And when Ali went in there and when they called his name to take the step forward, I don’t — I mean, I don’t know if this made a difference, but they made quite a mistake when they called his name in that they called for Cassius Clay to take a step forward, and he absolutely refused. Then they asked for Muhammad Ali to take a step forward, and he absolutely refused.

And there’s a tremendous quote by a writer named Gerald Early who said that “when Ali refused to take that step forward, I felt more than pride in him, I felt as if my honor as a young black boy had been defended. He was the dragon slayer, and I went home into my room that night and I cried. I cried for myself and I cried for our black possibilities.” I mean, that’s just the power that that moment had for people was incalculable, but not something that’s talked about when ESPN Classic does a look at Muhammad Ali.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t there a tradition of Black Muslim resistance to war, Elijah Muhammad being a war resister in World War II?

DAVID ZIRIN: Absolutely. I mean, the thing about Ali, though, was that nexus of him also being the heavyweight champion of the world. I mean, the tradition of athletes going to war is its own book in and of itself. And while there are some famous athletes — you know, Ted Williams comes to mind — who actually flew missions in the theater of war, more often than not, it was a ceremonial role. It was something that you did before the cameras to be on the newsreels before, you know, the film started. It was a way for you to show, you know, your patriotic duty or what not. And Ali just gave the stiff-arm to all of that stuff. He wanted no part of it. And there is this great clip of him in another documentary where he’s just walking down the hall, and he’s saying like 'I will not compromise myself for the white man's money,’ and he’s screaming this at the camera. And that’s really where Ali stood.

And it’s worth saying that now it’s like we talk about this and, you know, obviously I’m greatly taken with his political stance in the 1960s, but at the time he was an absolutely reviled figure in the mainstream press. I mean, he was torn apart. He was popular on the left and on college campuses, in the black community, but in terms of, like, the media culture at the time — sometimes we speak about the media today as if it’s this corporate monolith, as if in the past it was somehow this arena of debate and discussion. But back then, oh, my goodness, there was no Democracy Now! back then. You know, he was absolutely destroyed.

And if I could, I would like to read a brief section of what sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, who was by far the most famous sportswriter of the era, what he wrote about Ali. And you gotta think that Jimmy Cannon is like Mike Lupica on steroids. I mean, he was huge. This is what he wrote about Ali. He wrote “Clay” — of course, he calls him Clay — “Clay fits in with the famous singers no one can hear and the punks riding motorcycles and Batman” — I don’t understand the Batman part — “and the boys with their long dirty hair and the girls with the unwashed look and the college kids dancing naked at secret proms and the revolt of students who get a check from dad and the painters who copy the labels off soup cans and surf bums who refuse to work and the whole pampered cult of the bored young.” I mean, my goodness, if I read that you would think the Unabomber wrote that. It’s this insane rant. But this was the most famous sportswriter in the United States, basically laying it down that Muhammad Ali was somehow less than a human being because he stood up to this war.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Zirin. What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States is the title of his book. When we come back, I want to ask you about Jackie Robinson, about the Williams sisters. I also want to ask you about Pat Tillman. I want to talk also about resistance today of sports athletes. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dave Zirin, sportswriter, author of What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States. Pat Tillman?

DAVID ZIRIN: Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman was a man who was an overachiever as a football player. He went out of college undrafted. He went on to become an all-pro playing for the Arizona Cardinals. And as is well known, he left after 9/11, turned down a multimillion dollar contract to join the army rangers with his brother to fight in Afghanistan and eventually in Iraq, although at the time he thought he was just fighting in Afghanistan.

Now, the Tillman story is a tragic one for many reasons, and I would like to go through it a little bit. First and foremost, Pat Tillman was asked hundreds, thousands of times, according to his parents, to be a recruiter for the army, to go on commercials about join the army, army of one, Pat Tillman. They wanted to put his name on posters everywhere. And Tillman refused. Why did Tillman refuse? We don’t know, because, I mean, he was very iconoclastic. He was known to have hair down to his behind. He did cliff diving, all kinds of stuff. He never came out and said, ’I’m going to go over there and occupy and kill,’ and all this stuff. He kept his reasons to himself about why he was doing what he was doing. And that actually frustrated people in the Justice Department, in the Pentagon. They wanted to use this guy, and they weren’t able to do it. And there are quotes about that, about their sort of frustration about that.

Pat Tillman, of course, died. He died in Afghanistan. He was shot and killed. At the time we were told that he died in the process of attempting to find bin Laden and to take a hill in the caves of Afghanistan. Now, there is a tragic element to this, of course. When Tillman died there was a nationally televised funeral that John McCain spoke at, as well as other politicians from Arizona. George W. Bush during the election campaign actually addressed the fans at the Arizona Cardinals game through the jumbotron to tell them about the heroism of Pat Tillman in attempting to take this hill.

There was only one problem with this scenario, and that’s that it was a total, absolute lie. What happened to Pat Tillman was that he was killed by his own troops. I mean, you read reports of the incident. I mean, it’s almost like a metaphor for the whole war. It is just so — it’s insane. I mean, their Humvee broke down. A section of them broke off to circle around and look for, you know, for help or what not, and they ended up circling around and firing at each other, and Pat Tillman died.

Now, what is so disgusting about this is that the Pentagon knew immediately that this had occurred. But they kept that information secret not only from the media, not only from Pat Tillman’s parents, but also from his brother who was in the same battalion as him and was somewhere else at that time. They even kept the information from him. And, I mean, it’s just — it boggles the mind.

Now, what’s important about this to say is that there is a lot of — I mean, these are not conspiracy theories, but Pat Tillman’s death happened at the same time that the photos around Abu Ghraib were released. And it’s definitely thought now by Pat Tillman’s parents that the reason why they hid the information was because they needed a P.R. boost in the wake of Abu Ghraib. And Pat and Mary Tillman — Pat, Sr., his father — have come out since then strongly and publicly against the Bush administration and against the lies that led, you know, to the lying about their son. They rightly are calling this an obscenity. They were used as props at their own son’s funeral. And so it’s like, what did Pat Tillman die for? He died for P.R. for this war. And that, I mean, I can’t imagine being Pat or Mary Tillman. But they very private people, and they’re coming forward and speaking out. And to that they deserve all of our support in that process.

AMY GOODMAN: David Zirin, I wanted to end by asking you about Jackie Robinson, another very well-known sports figure.

DAVID ZIRIN: Yes. I would like to read a quote about Jackie Robinson, if I could, by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jackie Robinson was a political person. First of all, let’s go with myth and reality about Jackie Robinson very briefly. Jackie Robinson the myth was that he was sort of like the quiet person who suffered in silence. Jackie Robinson once said, 'People see me as sort of the suffering freak black saint.' You know, the person who never talks, has nothing to say, but in reality Jackie Robinson was a very political person. He had a sports column in the New York Post, which was then a liberal publication. He wrote about issues like civil rights a great deal.

His politics were very complicated. He was a Republican, but that was because his family was chased out of Georgia by the Democrat Dixiecrats at a young age, and in his mind his whole life he saw the Democrats as being connected with segregation and Dixie.

But just — when I’ll read this quote — like, a lot of people criticize Robinson for being political. And this is Dr. Martin Luther King in defense of him. He said, “Jackie Robinson has the right to be political, because back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim that walks in the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.” And I think that nails it very well.

Jackie Robinson and this Brooklyn Dodgers team — and I write about this in the book — were in some respects a stalking horse for the whole civil rights movement. In the late 40s and early 50s, before Brown v. Board of Ed., before Montgomery, they’re going around and playing games in stadiums that are segregated throughout the South. You know, the Klan is threatening, you know, that they’re gonna shoot all of the players if Jackie Robinson takes the field. And the players largely who were from the South stood with Jackie Robinson in this process.

And in the book, I interview a person who was at a lot of these games who is still alive, a sportswriter named Lester “Red” Rodney. And Lester Rodney, he has the most amazing stories about fans, white fans in the South starting to cheer for Robinson at the end of games, and this idea of seeing black and white play together on the field. That’s why Roy Campanella once said, he said, “Hey, Brown v. Board of Ed.” — Roy Campanella was the African American catcher of the Brooklyn Dodgers — Roy Campanella said, Brown v. Board of Ed. gets all the credit, but we were doing Brown v. Board of Ed. on the playing field before the Supreme Court ever heard about it.” You know, and that’s what he said, and someone laughed, and he said, “What, you think I’m joking?”

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Jackie Robinson’s history. You talk about how he was a Republican, that he thought the Democrats represented segregation. What it meant for him to be a player, how he was seen, the McCarthy era, and then his relationship with Nixon and with Martin Luther King.

DAVID ZIRIN: Yes. Well, it’s complicated, definitely. I mean, Jackie Robinson was somebody who was never shy about expressing his political views. He was deeply political, deeply articulate. But he also was somebody who was a bit of a political cipher. He bounced around a lot between different views and opinions.

In the late 1940s during McCarthyism, Jackie Robinson had been so successful in integrating Major League Baseball that he was listed as the number two respected American in the United States behind Harry Truman in the late 1940s, despite the fact that he received thousands of death threats throughout the season.

Now, in 1949 Robinson was asked to actually speak at the House of Un-American Activities Committee in condemnation of the great activist, singer, actor and actually former great athlete, Paul Robeson. And it was very — Robeson, just before Robinson came out there, had famously just taken the heads off of the House of the Un-American Activities Committee, I mean, the most blistering speech, where they basically told Robeson to go back to Russia, and Robeson said, you know, 'my family built this country from the bottom up, and no fascist-minded individuals like you are going to tell me what I can or can't do.’ And this was really the first time that HUAC was punctured, you know, because before that there was a lot of, you know, 'I take the Fifth,' and people were remaining mum in the face of their intimidation and their might.

So they called up Branch Ricky, who was a staunch anti-communist. Branch Ricky was the general manager and part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they said 'We need Robinson in here to condemn Robeson.' And Robinson — Ricky actually wasn’t wild about doing it. The NAACP offered to defend Robinson to say, 'You don't have to go in there and speak against Robeson.’ But it has to be said that Robinson wanted to do it.

And once again, you get into a lot of conflicting views about why. And, I mean, the fact that Robinson did it, I would say, is unforgivable. It’s a reason why a lot of activists in the 1960s, like Malcolm X, they pretty much tore Robinson up. Like Malcolm X once said, he said, “Cassius Clay” — this was before the name change — Malcolm X said, “Cassius Clay is our hero. He’s the first real black sports hero. Jackie Robinson is a white man’s hero.” And he said that because of the Robeson incident.

But what Robinson did, if you read the whole transcript, I mean, he came there and he — I mean, the speech is incredible, like he spoke out against HUAC, too. He basically said, ’Don’t tell me about communism, don’t tell me about any of this stuff, because communism isn’t the reason that dogs are being sicked on us in the South. Communism isn’t what’s burning black churches.’ You know, so he has this speech where basically he lays out to HUAC that racism is about America, not about agitators stirring people up. But then, at the same time, he did take a shot at Robeson, saying that — that his people — that he — basically speaking for all African Americans said, are not going to give up our dreams of equality, as he put it, for a siren song sung in bass. And that’s a famous quote, you know, because Paul Robeson had that famous basso profundo voice.

And, I mean, the tragedy of that was that the HUAC people and the media, as well, did not, could not care less about Robinson’s eloquence about racism. They could not care less. What they did was they took the slap at Robeson and ran with it, and that was the headline in the papers the next day: “Robinson smacks down Robeson” was basically the headline. And that led to Robeson’s — it was a factor in Robeson’s political isolation, and it’s worth saying that Robeson was approached for a response to Robinson, and he refused to do it. And he said, 'I refuse to be part of this kind of internecine feud with Jackie Robinson.'

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Robinson wrote in his memoir that he was sorry he spoke out.

DAVID ZIRIN: Deeply, deeply sorry. His greatest regret

AMY GOODMAN: When Martin Luther King went to jail?

DAVID ZIRIN: Ooh, when Martin Luther King went to jail —

AMY GOODMAN: Jackie Robinson’s response?

DAVID ZIRIN: Yeah, Jackie Robinson came out strongly against it. I mean, Jackie Robinson had a very interesting relationship with Martin Luther King, that’s very interesting, because Jackie Robinson, you read his writings on the time, he is always in support of Martin Luther King, always in support of everything King does, except on two questions that are very interesting. One question where he differs with Martin Luther King is on the question of violence and nonviolence. I mean, after one of the church burnings where four young African American girls were killed, Jackie Robinson wrote a column once again in the New York Post. And you always have to shake your head when you think of this stuff actually in the New York Post, because of the rag that it is today. But Robinson wrote that — he said, “Martin Luther King has officially lost me due to his credo of nonviolence,” he said, “because we cannot respond nonviolently when our children are being killed.” The other instance where they differed — and this is to me very fascinating — is, you know, Jackie Robinson was a veteran, so when Martin Luther King, Jr. came out against the war in Vietnam, Jackie Robinson wrote that it was a tragic mistake on behalf of King. And King actually called him up on the phone, and they had like a two-hour conversation on the phone. And when it was done, what Robinson said was he said 'Look, I may not agree with Dr. King on this question, but I will never speak out against him again on this issue.'

AMY GOODMAN: And he appealed to Nixon and asked him to — we only have 30 seconds — but asked him to release Martin Luther King.

DAVID ZIRIN: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. I mean, the Nixon relationship is a complicated one. At the end of his life Jackie Robinson was not a Nixon fan, as when he saw Nixon pursue the Southern strategy in 1968. But the important thing to remember about Jackie Robinson — I’ll end with this point — is not to look at him for sort of a political lead, because he’s all over the place politically. The point is that he represents part of a very real tradition of athletes having more than just bodies and brawn and sweat, but them having minds, as well. Athletes are part of our world. They have a relationship with our world, and it is important for us to engage with them, as we would engage with anybody, as people with thoughts, ideas, dreams and maybe even fighters alongside with us in the move towards a more just society.

AMY GOODMAN: David Zirin, I want to thank you for being with us. This is just part one of our conversation What’s My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States.

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