I'm glad I read Dave Zirin's "What's My Name, Fool?" for lots of reasons, one of which is that on page 105 he wrote that in 1972, three hundred active National Football League players signed a statement condemning the on-going criminal disaster that was the Vietnam War. If I ever knew about those three hundred football players, I'd forgotten.
Granted, it was not exactly a lonely act of courage to come out against that war in 1972, but still, for that many employees of the pro football/television industry to sign their names to even a mild protest was remarkable.
I asked Dave Zirin whether he thought it was even remotely possible that three hundred current NFL players might protest the war in Iraq. He said such an action would be unlikely without the existence of an anti-war movement similar to the one that began growing in the mid-sixties and eventually accounted for the presence of hundreds of thousands of marchers in the streets of Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
Matters like these are not generally addressed on the sports pages of our daily papers, which is part of the point of "What's My Name, Fool?" (subtitled Sports and Resistance in the United States.) Like a lot of people who make their living writing about our games, Dave Zirin loves sports.
But his concern for justice and fair play is not blinded by his love. He wants the men who own the teams to stop abusing the taxpayers; he wants people to see that the National Anthem and, since 9/11, "God Bless America," have been grafted on to our games to further enhance a partnership between sports and flag-waving that is unique to this country.
Dave Zirin's heroes are athletes who have challenged institutionalized racism and transcended their status as entertainers to become activists in various other fights.
Jackie Robinson is featured in "What's My Name, Fool?", as are Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Readers who've become discouraged by how many of the stories in the sports news these days are about criminals and idiots will be encouraged by renewing their acquaintance with such worthies.