Wednesday’s Book Review: “Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down”


9781595588159_p0_v1_s260x420Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down. By Dave Zirin. New York: The New Press, 2013.

Dave Zirin does certainly not have writer’s block. He has been churning out books virtually every year since 2005 when he published What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States. He gives voice to my frustrations with his leftist take on sports, politics, and society in modern America. Zirin is at his best, as in the case with this book, when he does not try to write history but instead comments on current issues. Too often, unfortunately, Zirin’s historical work is a bit less sophisticated than I would like. That is not the case with this book. He focuses in Game Over on a series of recent events in the incursion of politics into sports, mostly in the U.S. but also with some discussion of events elsewhere.

The book opens with a narrative of how NFL and NBA owners both sought at essentially the same time a massive transfer of the proceeds of these games from players to the owners. This is greed run amok, not unlike the greed that led to the global meltdown in 2007-2008. The NFL owners locked out the players, but the players’ association was able to draw connections to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and helped themselves get past the general meme that billionaires and millionaires were duking it out over who got more of the lucrative NFL pie. The players especially tied themselves to the thousands of service industry workers who made they livings at the stadiums, bars, restaurants, and other work associated with game day. By emphasizing that the players were working stiffs, albeit well-paid ones for very short average careers, as opposed to those who own the teams and suck local communities dry in stadium deals and exploit workers across the board, the players gained the upper hand in negotiations. NBA players failed to make those connections and eventually caved to the owners demanding more of the take that the NBA generated.

Zirin then discusses a variety other issues, including the Olympics and the manner in which cities place themselves in hock to support this outrageous use of funds when other services suffer, the place of soccer in the Arab Spring uprising of 2011, and the World Cup. He is at his best when reporting on the Joe Paterno acquiesced Jerry Sandusky predatory and horrific practices at Penn State, on the NBA’s and NFL’s (but not MLB’s) opposition to the anti-immigration stance of Arizona, and questions of racism and sexism in sports.

Overall, this is a very fine book. I look forward to other contributions by Dave Zirin to the issues of social justice opened in the sports arena. I should add that a terrific foreword by an appropriately irate Michael Eric Dyson opens the book and contributes to the sense of struggle that we all should be engaged in.

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