Category: sports

As a Team Owner, I Demand the Green Bay Packers Hire Colin Kaepernick

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Originally published at The Progressive on October 16, 2017

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For many years, I have held two shares in America’s only publicly owned major sports team, the Green Bay Packers. There are no dividends, no special seats, no stadium perks. I cannot sell the shares. I can only pass them on to immediate family. But owning these shares does in fact make me a part-owner. And as such, I am registering my first demand: The Pack must hire Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick’s pathbreaking “take a knee” before the national anthem guarantees him an historic place in the civil rights hall of fame. Begun last year, it is a carefully considered,well-timed, and very public call to pay attention to ongoing police brutality toward black people in this country.

Since Kaepernick quiety began his protest as a San Francisco 49er, hundreds of athletes in various sports at all levels have joined in. Rarely in history has series of protests sparked such a riveting dialog, or been so widely misconstrued. As Kaepernick’s teammate and fellow protester, Eric Reid, wrote in a New York Times op ed: “It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag, and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite.”

Kaepernick and Reid knelt while on the roster of the San Francisco 49ers, who are having a miserable season. Reid is a cornerback and still playing. But Kaepernick, facing certain elimination by the 49ers, chose free agency. He remains one of the most talented athletes in the world, but thus far no franchise has had the courage to hire him.

From the sidelines, President Trump has cheered on discrimination against NFL players who protest, saying owners should issue directives to “get that son-of-a-bitch off the field” and fire them. Since then, multiple NFL players saythey have been warned about doing any kind of demonstration during the national anthem.

Now Kaepernick has filed a legal complaint against the NFL owners for conspiring to deny him a job. Mark Geragos, one of Kaepernick’s attorneys, said in a statement: “If the NFL (as well as all professional sports leagues) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful political protest—which the owners themselves made great theater imitating weeks ago—should not be punished and athletes should not be denied employment based on partisan political provocation by the executive branch of our government.”

The lawsuit and the controversy as a whole underscore the need for all professional sports teams to be owned by the communities in which they live. The billionaire owners treat these public treasures like personal toys and the players themselves like field hands. This has to stop.

On Sunday, Green Bay’s star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sidelined for perhaps the rest of the season by an unnecessary, unconscionable, and unpenalized late hit by Minnesota Viking Anthony Barr. Rodgers was left with a broken collarbone and the Packers were left with a second-string quarterback, Brett Hundley, who led the team to a loss.

Whether or not Hundley plays well enough in ensuing games to justify staying on as a starter, the Packers need to pick up another quarterback.

In 2012, Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, losing by a single field goal. The team has since slipped in part because it lost its superb coach Jim Harbaugh (who has remained supportive of Kaepernick). But Kaepernick’s numbers last season were strong, with 18 total touchdowns against just four interceptions. He is still an excellent passer, with running abilities rarely seen among NFL quarterbacks. At 30 years of age, he’s within his physical prime while being more seasoned and savvy than most of the league’s designated starters.

Throughout the season, I’ve been hoping the Packers would hire Kaepernick as a backup. But now this possibility has become an imperative: The Packers must hire Colin Kaepernick. They need another quarterback. He is the best one available. As an owner, I have made my decision.

The protests inspired by Kaepernick should be honored, not disparaged; they exalt our glorious First Amendment by using it to confront the disease of racism that plagues our nation. In a league in which about 70 percent of players are black, it is what we should expect.

So, as an owner, I now respectfully direct the Packers’ management to do what’s best for the franchise, and the nation.

I further ask that they notify me immediately, so I can be first among the millions to buy a new Packers’ jersey with Colin Kaepernick’s name on the back.

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Harvey Wasserman, a California-based writer and longtime contributor to The Progressive, used to play football. The older he gets, the better he was.

Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter: @Solatopia

 

We Need a New National Anthem

by Harvey Wasserman

Originally published by The Progressive on September 25, 2017

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The magnificent and historic protests of our nation’s athletes during The Star-Spangled Banner at their sports games are not merely appropriate—they’re long overdue.

The protests rightly focus on the travesties perpetrated against our citizens of color. That highly-paid professional athletes would risk their careers to take this stand is a powerful tribute to the devastating impact racial injustice is having on our society, and to their courage as individuals. The National Football League owners’ blacklisting of the superbly talented Colin Kaepernick is hard evidence of what such an exercise of free speech can cost in today’s America.

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But there’s also another dimension here. The fact is that our national anthem is a terrible song, with racist and militaristic overtones. It needs to be replaced, maybe by a single more appropriate anthem…or maybe by many.

The lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. He was celebrating the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore in the War of 1812. The Brits had just burned our nation’s capital, partly in response to our burning their Canadian headquarters at York, now Toronto.

The song as it’s sung in public is not explicitly racist. But as Jason Johnson describes in his piece “Star-Spangled Bigotry,” buried in the unsung lyrics was a nasty put-down of freed slaves fighting for the English. A brigade of black soldiers had just humiliated Key and he was not happy about it. The words were set To Anacreon in Heaven, an awkward tune appropriate for inebriation, which is how it was usually sung.

The Navy adopted the song as a military hymn in 1889. Then Woodrow Wilson adopted it in 1916, via executive order, amidst his campaign to stir martial fervor for U.S. entry into World War I. A strong majority of Americans bitterly opposed the war, but Wilson forced it through with an ugly propaganda campaign against Germans as a race.

It took Congress fifteen years—until 1931—to officially make The Star-Spangled Banner the U.S. national anthem.

And it’s always been an ode to war. Nobody made that clearer than Jimi Hendrix. When he played it at Woodstock, 1969, he inserted a devastating version of Taps. Right-wingers piously branded him “unpatriotic,” but Jimi had served in the 101st Airborne.

Today’s professional sports events—especially the NFL—are tainted with militaristic overtones. Air Force flyovers and armed soldiers in formation are everywhere. Those “bombs bursting in air” have been imposed on what should be peaceful pastimes. Those “patriots” who say politics should not be part of sports should first remove the military presence from our stadiums.

In an era so thoroughly plagued by martial madness, we need a new anthem, one that celebrates peace, social justice and diverse expression. Candidates include Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, sung by radical farmers and workers throughout the 1930s. Other possible songs range from Oh Freedom, America the Beautiful and Amazing Grace to Buffy Sainte Marie’s My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying and Johnny Cash’s As Long as the Grass Shall Grow.

Or maybe it’s time we moved beyond a single national song altogether. In an age and nation so thoroughly defined by diversity, we should be celebrating a multitude of verses.

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Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter: @Solartopia

IT’S A LOUSY “ANTHEM” ANYWAY

by Harvey Wasserman

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The immensely powerful, deeply moving and historic protests of our nation’s athletes against the absurd rantings of our Great Dictator make one thing abundantly clear: the diversity of this nation is not going away.

 

But The Star Spangled Banner should. It’s a lousy song with a racist message.  We need a new anthem—-or to acknowledge many of them.

 

Likewise the dotard illegitimately occupying the White House. We can do better.

 

So let’s combine the campaigns.

 

Words to the Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. He commemorated the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore in the War of 1812, an utterly useless conflict. The Brits had just burned our nation’s capital, partly in response to our burning their Canadian headquarters at York, now Toronto.

 

As Jason Johnson has shown in his “Star Spangled Bigotry”, buried in the lyrics was a clear racist put-down of freed slaves fighting for the English. They were set to a drinking tune, To Anacreon in Heaven.

 

The Navy adopted the song in 1889, then Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Wilson was stirring up fervor for US entry into World War I, which the majority of Americans strongly opposed. He used that war as cover to crush the Socialist Party, which had millions of supporters. He jailed our greatest labor leader, Indiana’s Eugene V. Debs, for daring to speak against a war that killed at least 10,000,000 people and accomplished nothing.

 

Congress turned down the song a number of times before it was officially adopted in 1931, in the midst of the Depression.

 

The iconic version came from Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. He did it with no lyrics. But in the midst of the useless, worthless war in Vietnam, he inserted a version of Taps.

 

Right-wingers freaked out and branded him “unpatriotic.”   Unlike most of them, Jimi had actually served in the military.

 

Now it’s played at July 4th celebrations everywhere. I use it to start all my college history classes. Nobody stands.

 

According to political scientist Bob Fitrakis, in the 1930s American farmers and workers celebrated our country with Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land.

 

There are other candidates…and some heated opinions. The great activist Sheila Parks says:

 

“I am hoping you will listen, again perhaps, to these songs and see what they have to say about white people and Native American Peoples

 

Buffy Sainte Marie :  “My country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying”

 

Johnny Cash: From Bitter Tears – “As Long As the Grass Shall Grow”

 

Maybe someone should write a new one.

 

Or celebrate our diversity by adopting different songs for different events and different teams. Sweet Caroline seems to work for the Red Sox. We Shall Overcome would do well for many public rallies. Hey Hey, Goodbye will serve beautifully at upcoming impeachment hearings.

 

This athletes’ rebellion fits the massive wave of grassroots social democracy that rocked our country just a year ago. Hopefully it will help propel its revival.

 

John Nichols shows in his Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse that Trump’s antics are a clown’s distraction while his corrupt cronies loot our public treasure, financial, ecological, spiritual.

 

His fascistic rantings echo Wilson’s brutal, unConstitutional assault on the farm-labor movements for social democracy a century ago, when he first pitched this anthem, and then stuck us with a catastrophic intervention that killed more than 110,000 Americans and devastated Europe.

 

Those racist lyrics are rooted in contempt for social justice, an inability to handle human diversity, an embrace of for-profit militarism.

 

The Star Spangled Banner is awful, both as a song and for what it celebrates.   Let’s get rid of it, along with that Bum in the White House.

 

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Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States is at  www.solartopia.org.

 

 

The “Fan-Owned” Green Bay Packers are America’s Team…and Just Played Like It

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by Harvey Wasserman

[This article was originally published by The Progressive on January 17, 2017]

All too rare is the sporting event that qualifies as a great work of art. And even rarer is the professional sports team that belongs to the public. The transcendent Green Bay Packers have now entered the Pantheon for both.

By way of disclosure, I am a part owner (two shares) of the Packers, which is part of the point. The team, from the tiniest media market in American sports, is owned by the public. Back in 1922, the team hit hard times due to some bad rainouts. To save the franchise, local business leaders established a nonprofit to take up the slack. Nearly a century later, the franchise and the stadium are still owned by the community. Praise be!!!!!

The Packers have been extremely successful, compiling one of the very best records in all major league sports. And they just won as great a football game as anyone has ever seen or could even invent. But more on that after this anti-commercial message:

American professional sports is now a sinkhole of cynical corruption. Except for the Packers, our football, baseball, basketball, and hockey teams are owned almost exclusively by a bunch of Trumpish billionaires. There’s Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, whose racist epithets and public jealousies of Magic Johnson were beyond unbearable. And Dan Snyder, current owner of the football team in our nation’s capital with the blatantly racist anti-indigenous nickname he has vowed to keep forever. And, there’s the management of baseball’s Cleveland Indians, who may or may not be phasing out the most vile, racist logo in all of sports.

Worse is the grinding corporate grayness with which these franchises are manipulated as owners manipulate the fans’ love for their teams by blackmailing billions in tax breaks, stadium subsidies, and outrageous ticket prices to gouge every last cent they can get.

The most recent travesty involves the double-move of the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles—which would be far better off without either of them. In both cases, decades of loyal hometown fan devotion has counted for nothing. Nor have the billions the host communities have poured into those teams, only to be left holding very large municipal stadiums and other financial bags now absurdly empty.

If those teams had been owned by those towns, like the Packers, this would not be happening.

Of course the NFL cartel HATES the Packers. The combine now has on its books an actual law banning further community ownership of any NFL franchise. But the Packers themselves will not be moving to a bigger media market. Nor will they be enriching some yacht-riding, cognac-guzzling fat cat, or the bottom line of some faceless mega-corp.

Several years ago, the Packers management decided to offer shares in the team for public sale. I snapped up two. There are zero benefits beyond bragging rights and a certificate. No discounts for seats. No dividends. No accretion in value for re-sale. No free dinners with the players.

When I asked the main office about deeding one of my shares to a nephew who wants to be a sportscaster, I was told I could not sell or pass on the shares beyond immediate family.

A few years ago, there was a women’s basketball team in Columbus called the Quest. It had a great star named Katie Smith and won the first two championships in its nascent league. But then the team ran out of money. At the second championship game, I begged the owner to sell the franchise to the city. He looked at me like I was a cross between a conspiracy theorist and a Commie terrorist. The league went out of business. Columbus no longer has a professional women’s basketball team. Nice work, former Quest owner.

Given the choice, most NFL owners and network moguls would probably love to see the Packers go out of business, out of Green Bay, and into the control of fact cats. But, as a stockholder, I say all major sports teams should be owned by their host communities.

Which gets me to Sunday’s game. The Packers began the season with four wins and six losses, having suffered a series of major injuries. They seemed to be going nowhere. But transcendent quarterback Aaron Rodgers predicted the Pack would “run the table” and win all six upcoming games and make the playoffs. It seemed like a throwaway line.

But Rodgers is arguably the sport’s greatest quarterback, a terrific passer and an amazing scrambler with a brilliant football mind. He owns the on-field presence of a zen master. He has also been scandal free and signed a petition to recall Wisconsin’s right-wing governor Scott Walker.

The Packers did run the table, then won their seventh straight game, beating the New York Giants in the playoff wild card game.

On Sunday, they faced the powerful Dallas Cowboys (13-3 in the regular season), with a brilliant rookie quarterback from Mississippi State and a dominant rookie running back from Ohio State. Dallas has a whole history of its own. That includes the obnoxious marketing assertion that it is “America’s Team” even though it’s owned by a highly reactionary corporate elite.

The Packers took an early lead only to have the Cowboys come from behind to tie the game in the final quarter. With just minutes to go, the Packers retook the lead with an astounding 56-yard field goal. The Cowboys then tied the game again with another brilliant drive and not-quite-as-long field goal.

With less than a minute left, it seemed like we were headed for overtime. And the Pack has a sorry history of losing big games at the last minute. On the other hand, Rodgers has a history of pitching high, long “Hail Mary” passes that somehow get caught.

Bottom line: With time for just one play to get in field-goal range, Rodgers rolled left and pitched a perfect right-armed strike thirty-six yards down the sidelines to Jared Cook, who made a spectacular catch that will be forever embedded in NFL lore.

The Packers’ kicker, Mason Crosby, then converted another fifty-plus-yard field goal to win the game. Except that the Cowboys called time-out just before he got it off. So he did it a third time!

The Pack now travels to Atlanta, hoping to get to the Super Bowl, to face either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots, who are coached by Bill Belichick, the Darth Vader of American football.

Whether or not they win it all this year, the Green Bay Packers are an exemplar for what a professional sports team can be. All these franchises should be publicly owned, so they can stay in places like Green Bay and St. Louis, San Diego and Columbus. Where we home fans have secure community ownership, and can wholeheartedly embrace fantastic triumphs like this amazing run from the fabled Pack.

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Harvey Wasserman once played many sports, and was captain of his high school tennis team. Like most former athletes, he finds that the older he gets, the better he was.

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