Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sport and Big Business

Stephen Curry one of the most exciting players in the league.
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

So apparently the NBA (National Basketball Association) commissioner didn't see Steph Curry hold his hand out to shake it after receiving the most valuable player award second year in a row. Curry was the unanimous choice too which is a first timer. One news outlet wrote:" C'mon, man, you can't do the dude whose $400 MVP edition shoe line just sold out in a matter of hours". A $400 pair of shoes?  Curry's "shoe line"? He's a cobbler too no less. And the award is Kia's, a car manufacturer. This sports icon receives a prize from the generosity of  a car manufacturer and sells shoes on the side apparently.

In the film Gosford Park, one of the best movies I’ve seen about the British class system, two of the maids of the wealthy visitors to the estate of a factory owner are talking about what their lord this or lady that said about each other.  One of the maids questions their conversation and how they think so lowly of themselves that they live their lives through their wealthy employers.

It’s as if persons of such lowly status with no social power have no existence, no culture, no ideas, no independent lives outside of their role as maids, servants to the do nothing class. But we do. The working class creates music, poetry, art and a language all its own with many different dialects representing the different cultures in the class and the different experiences.

It’s not unlike the role that these athletes and sports in general play in people’s lives, as if the team belongs to them and the players are theirs. This and the idle chatter about the love lives of celebrities who, in many cases, are linked to sports millionaires through marriage or some other sort of sexual shenanigans become an outlet.  The amount of clothing sold with the rise of this young athlete Curry and the local team must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Young kids, especially youth of color but not exclusively (Curry is multiracial), worship him as a hero and many will dream that one day it may be them in his shoes. This view, that anyone can make it if they try, will be pushed by the capitalist media in order to strengthen the ideology that failure to advance in society is all about personal individual effort rather than being conditioned for the most part by one’s social status and that racism, poverty, sexism and other social barriers that are connected to it can be overcome if you just put your mind to it.

If you can’t get out of the mess you’re in, you shouldn’t have made the bad choices that put you there in the first place. This is a devastating view of the world that leads to internalized anger and self-blaming. Everything affects us but the society in which we live and the class we are from.  If only I had….....fill in the blanks.

Steph Curry is not your normal basketball star. He’s 6’3 with a slight frame.  He looks small when you see him out there with the big guys so he’s seen as a bit of a small guy success story too. But he’s an extremely talented individual and the present team is delightful to watch. The other thing is that the Golden State Warriors for whom he plays, is a local team that has had its tough times. It is the only basketball team to my knowledge that doesn’t include in its name the name of the city where it plays, Oakland CA.  There is something else to this as Oakland is seen as a “black” town although the power structure has a white face. But the working class is predominantly black and people of color. Then it was the home of the Panthers and more recently a very active section of the Occupy Movement. It is slowly being gentrified as tech firms move in but it has a history including the last general strike in the US which took place in 1946.

Curry is a Christian and according to reports in the media has made it clear he plays for god which is why he pounds his chest and points upward when he scores points reminding himself of this.  This is very popular with those who control the game, own the teams and the media--------it is no threat to those whose billions are made from sports as a commodity, made off the backs of the players, and the people drawn to it as an escape from an increasingly alienating society.  Though what Jesus, quite a revolutionary historical figure by any means, would have to say about the opulence around sport, the worship of sports figures as idols, the whole shoe thing at $400 a pop which would place them out of reach of the vast majority of people especially youth who look to Curry as a hero and a person of integrity, is anyone’s guess.

Religion is much safer than politics. There’s a positive aspect of all this hoopla I accept that. I was in my local pub for one major game and the mood in there was electric, unifying. Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians men and women all feeling good about a local team and this young guy who appears outwardly to be a modest, decent and thoroughly likeable individual. All the issues people face every day take a back seat for the moment, money, housing, the tensions and barriers around racism, crime, sexism, the fear that one’s child might not come home or be killed and that scourge of scourges, terrorists. For a moment in time there is unity. For the 1% this is the sort of unity that is productive unity around a sports team, working class unity is not.

But as with all of us, Curry’s social environment, what social milieu, class and condition he was born in to is far more important in understanding what he has become than individual talent or some supernatural figure. He was born in to a professional basketball family. His parents were not poor. He was able to practice, make a few hoops with professional players due to his situation, something one in hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of youth would never be able to do. He is a product of basketball soil. He went to good schools. He is also light skinned coming from a mixed European and African heritage. In the US, this matters. This is not Curry’s fault, it’s just the major reason he is what he is. Recognizing this doesn't mean he isn't talented.

Of course, if or when Curry doesn’t bring in the bucks, or for some reason was to become more outspoken with regard to politics and the murderous role the US government plays in the world, or more outspoken about the institutionalized racism in US society or heavens forbid, the attacks on workers and unions, he will not be so popular with his benefactors. Muhammad Ali, despite any weaknesses he may have, gave up the best years of his life for his principals when he refused to go to Vietnam.  But meanwhile all is good.  When do we ever hear sports idols talk about the horrific war in Iraq or the genocidal war against the Vietnamese or even the violence of US history? We don’t. They speak on these issues at their peril. And that is freedom?

Sports figures influence youth and the ruling class knows this and uses it to their advantage, it’s why they pay them well. But it’s also why politics is barred. Tiger Woods as one of the first major great black golfers was reminded of this, don’t speak about politics. It’s ok to have bizarre ideas and put rings through various parts of your body from your nose to your genitals but don’t discuss politics or society, don’t challenge the dominant ideas in society.

Healthy competition through Sport is a natural part of human society and culture. In a society where profit, not social need is paramount, sport is a commodity like anything else, it is something to be marketed, sold, used to keep people’s minds out of politics and from thinking about how society is organized and what can be done about it. The ruling class turns what is a crucial aspect of human culture in to a profit-making venture. That’s what we call capitalism.

Marx said of the writer, another important contributor to human culture, that: The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.

More money does not a great writer make. In fact, looking at the level of literature and the writing that feeds the mass media that is billed as human entertainment or for some strange reason, “reality TV,” one might say more money advances the decline of social literature and the written word in all its forms.

The same can be said of sports and sports figures. In a democratic socialist society maybe “professional” athletes will still be part of our lives. But not owned by billionaires and their corporations. They would be amateurs in the sense that they would be free to be athletes as part of a collective human culture, a cultural service in a way and paid for it. Such decisions would be taken out of the corporate boardroom and in to the community.

Sport for the masses should not be in private hands any more than health care or education. All sports teams should be publicly owned. The way things are today is that stadiums they play in are pretty much subsidized by the tax or ratepayers while the profits are privatized; they are socialist stadiums.

It’s not just here in the US. The reason the World Cup is not likely to be won by Zimbabwe or Pakistan has to do with money, not talent. And FIFA’s (football’s governing body) corruption is well known. Humans need to participate more in sports, not watch and worship a few millionaires play it, it should be part of our social existence and interaction. But that would entail more free time. It would mean as workers we own more of the time our life activity takes place in and the capitalists less of it.  Capitalism as a system can afford this but will not allow it.  This does not mean we don’t struggle to reform the system-------one such reform being the struggle shorter working hours------as this is how we learn. It is how mass consciousness changes.  It is the struggle for reforms that leads us to the conclusion that the system cannot be reformed and has to be replaced.

There are literally thousands of working parents who use a lot of what little free time they have coaching or helping keep youth sports events running for the benefit of their own children and their communities, often to keep kids off the streets. They do this under great pressure, handling work and family life, and given that Americans work two months a year longer than workers in other advanced capitalist economies, on average it’s not easy.

It’s a genuine community service, but also for many, it’s in the hope their child will become a Stephen Curry or the baseball equivalent or will get a better education through it. It’s the same reason many working class youth join the military. Society is set up that way.  Curry will be fine America's hero as long as he does what he is expected of him. Let's not forget Pat Tillman. He was one of their hero's----for a while, until it became clear to him something was wrong and he intended to let it be known. You have to follow orders.

Rich kids have other options, better schools, better sports facilities, they don’t need to join the marines to get an education.  Remember, the wealthy have socialism------ they just object to all of us  benefiting from it..

No comments: