Monday, November 12, 2007

Steven Wells on U.S. sportswriters

Or heard the (white) cream of the American soccer press in Berlin groan and tut and mutter as US soccer player DeMarcus Beasley refuses to play the "polite negro" and lambasts Bush for his mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina. ("Totally inappropriate!" hisses one, red in the face with anger.)

Who is DeMarcus? DaMarcus, I know. When exactly did this Berlin lambasting of President Bush take place? Why can't I find anything about it? It's not simply that I find it a bit difficult to believe that not one U.S. sportswriter covering soccer (considered a communist sport by some Americans, seriously) would be thrilled if a player got political to any degree (and to their credit, players such as Beasley have spoken out strongly against racist incidents that they've experienced abroad), but what I really think is strange is that I can't find any foreign press mentioning this Beasley criticism of Bush and Katrina. It's hard to believe that any world press members would have hushed that up politely out of deference to Bush. I've been using search engines on the Internet for hours now trying to find any evidence of this lambasting. I've tried German, Spanish and French varients on keywords.
Hey, if anyone else has better luck finding what DaMarcus supposedly said, please let me know.


Anonymous said...

Interesting-I consider the US sports media to be generally politically correct and like most of the US media in general, left-of-center.

As an example-remember how quickly ESPN got rid of Limbaugh in the Donovan McNabb case?

I would also say that the politics of athletes reflects the sports they are in and the socio-economic backgrounds they come from-therefore US basketball players tend to be more liberal than US-born baseball players; NFL players reflect their backgrounds (I would suspect the political world view of Peyton Manning is quite a bit different than that of Deion Sanders, to use an example); and US soccer players are by definition rebels against the status quo and therefore more likely to be left-of-center...

I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule...

Mike said...


I think you're confusing knee-jerk political correctness (like that which causes the immediate criticism or punishment of anyone in the sports media who makes a comment that can be perceived as offensive) with liberal-ness.

The former is driven by the connected needs of sports outlets: (1) to propagate their image as non-political arenas where sports is the only topic of discussion and politics and controversy have no role; and (2) to appease advertisers (and thus avoid any appearance of controversy).

The latter is harder to define, but no more (or less) seeks to stamp out controversy in the sports world than true conservatism.

As for the political leanings of players, I wish that more of them would speak out on their political beliefs. While no sports player is hired because of his or her ability to speak cogently on political topics, I think that more open discussion would be better for everyone.

Anonymous said...

personally I prefer that my sports and music heroes keep their mouths shut...

I tend to not buy albums or support my sports heroes as much when they mouth off on political topics. However, there are exceptions, and Beaz is to be commended on his stand against racism in European soccer.

Mike said...

Why? If you don't agree with them, that's one thing, but why should people who are famous not speak out on topics that are important to them? What harm does that do to anyone?

jason said...

So Limbaugh's comments are only offensive to the "left of center"?

Also, the anonymous poster has probably not ever spoken to a soccer jock. Jocks are mostly jocks.

Marcus Hahneman recently spoke against Britain's gun control, claiming that only criminals have guns there. (They aren't shooting very many people, though...) I still wish him well on the pitch.

As for Katrina. That was such an egregious failure on government to be responsible that speaking up became praiseworthy even for those who normally ought not. It still is. The refugees have become invisible and celebs of every sort ought to take some risk and pitch in.

Anonymous said...

I smell shenanigans. If Beasley or any USMNT member made such statements in a press conference, the German press would have been all over it. Clever though, because it seems like something Beasley might say (seems like a perfectly reasonable assessment of the Katrina debacle to me).

JDJ said...

I prefer when athletes stick to topics that directly affect them, such as Beasley and others speaking out against racist encounters they've experienced as a result of their profession. The entertainment in sports comes from what happens on the pitches and in the arenas, not on the political airwaves. In most cases, the best an athlete can do when commenting on politics is lose some fans because of something he or she said totally unrelated to the sport.

By the way, what do I need to do to get a link here? I love this site and will love to get on your link list. My site is Only Goalkeeping, and I'd love to exchange links. Just let me know...

Steven said...

Steven Wells here. I was there. It happened. I suspect the reason it wasn't reported was that every journalist in the room was there on a Nike freebie. I came away with a load of info—including some racist comments from my fellow soccer journalists—that were never going to get printed in any magazine that relies heavily on the likes of Nike for advertising. And that's just about every sports mag in the world.

Guy Gayle said...

Sorry, the shut up and play argument doesn't fly with me.

As out of touch as we are regarding the pedestal we put athletes on, we are just as guilty in forgetting that they are also citizens of this country with every right to speak their mind.
The unfortunate side effect of being a famous entertainer is that the risk to their livelihood is greater. Imus, Limbaugh, Jimmy the Greek, etc. lost their jobs because they risked losing money for their employers, free speech has nothing to do with it.

As for the assumptions on the left political leanings of black athletes, y'all haven't been listening to Charles Barkley or Lynn Swann, have you? There are more black athletes with conservative leanings than most people think.

A.C. said...

I don't think athletes or anyone has to bypass or hide thier opinions or feelings on issues. More than once, I've expressed political views on this blog, though it's primarily a soccer blog. I'm not going to censor what I think just because it might be political, so read at your own risk. I just don't like life at any level can be compartmentalized. The personal is political. Sports in the U.S. is affected by what happens in the U.S., just like anything else is.
In my experience, soccer players run a gamut of political views, probably due in no small part to key differences in geographical upbringing, religion and the like. They do express these views at times. Jimmy Conrad has expressed liberal opinions, so I'm guessing he might disagree with Marcus Hahnemann on some issues. Julie Foudy campaigned with John Kerry. Catherine Whitehill is an avowed Republican.

There's not much science to how we add links. Usually we do so when people ask or they link to us already and we notice it and return the favor. I've put you on the list now.

Guy Gayle said...

BTW, nice column Steven.

Don't know how you feel about it ethically, but I'd sure like to know the name(s) of those American journos who had a problem with Beasley's stand.

A.C. said...

Great! Steven, then, what did DaMarcus actually say about Bush's mismanagement? I'm not asking you to out other journalists, though if you care too, this blog isn't sponsored by NIKE, or anyone, for that matter. I'm just wondering what DaMarcus said. That's why I wrote the post in the first place.

JDJ said...

Everyone, please don't read too much into my previous comment. I, in no way whatsoever, think it appropriate for anyone to have to censor their personal beliefs. However, the stage from which they do it should be taken into consideration. If someone is at a political campaign or involved in a political conversation or on a talk show then their opinions should be shared for the betterment of the overall cause. However, other times to speak about political issues are inappropriate by nature of the disruption they can lead to. For instance, contesting political views while representing the company you work for without their consent is a no no because of what it could do to the image of the company. In the same way, unless the team is involved in a charity or political discussion I feel that it is wrong for a player to give opinions on issues that may not be held by the club or other players without first prefacing their statements. Once again, all opinion is and should be welcome, but people need be considerate of making sure their views remain associated with themselves, lest they contribute to someone else's image in a way he or she does not desire.

JDJ said...

By the way, thank you for the link, yours is up now as well. Great post and great coversation. It is very appreciated and worthy of the light you have brought to it.

Steven said...

I would have to dig out my notes—and believe me I had a good look when i was writing the blog, so don't hold your breath
. We were all running around from room to room as the various stars held forth. There were only a few of us with Beasley, mostly if not exclusively US hacks.
I remember thinking at the time how great it was that he was speaking out—and then being genuinely dissapointed by the reaction of those writers around me.
I think at the time I was under the illusion that US soccer writers were warm cuddly liberal types.
Several conversations later—about Phlaldelphia and post-Katrina Houston, if I remember—I realised that was far from the truth. There was nothing really overt - just the dumb casually racist crap you hear every day from the ignorant, the scared and the ill informed. But like I say, I was naive, I expected better.
I left Berlin with a notebook crammed with observations abuut the absurdity of the situation. For instance, Berlin is full of statues of Victory godesses (including Nike) which was kind of ironic for one of the most defeated capital cities in history. But nobody working for Nike seemed to realise this. Nor that the stadium the event was held in was the site of the 1936 'Nazi" Olympics.
It really was a strange event. Nike reps talking about how many teams "we've" got, and then parading their "street" lines that looked like they'd been designed by art students on acid.
I soon realised when I got home that I couldn't get the article I wanted to write published by a mainstream magazine.
And even writing it up as a blog would probalby piss on my chips with the magazine I was working for ... oh.
Botton line, check out Zirin.

A.C. said...

It seems to be a theme for Americans in general right now - people around the world expect better of us and too often, we let them down.

I guess the fact that DaMarcus spoke up is the most important aspect - not perhaps the details. I like details, though, and that's why I asked.

I'll readily admit that I was naive about a lot of things when I started in this profession and that I've increasingly become more cynical.

Several articles were written post-Berlin by some writers on Beasley that focused on him criticizing the racism abroad. I suppose it's easier to point fingers about what the rest of the world needs to improve on, then to write about how our country and President have made mistakes.

Still, I guess a lingering objection I have is the uncomfortable feeling that I've been lumped in, as an American soccer writer, with this group in Berlin. I know I'm not like that, and neither is Luis or Jaime Cardenas or Damian Calhoun or a bunch of other writers I know. These are the guys who stepped forward to support me as a female writer due the rights of any other, even in the lockerroom. We might not be as political as Kirin, but there's a whole spectrum of us between that and the unnamed journalists in Berlin.

Steven said...

Apologies if you felt lumped in. The article is just as much about the UK press, but everyone seems to be ignoring that.
I'm sure you're right, that there are plenty of truth-telling, socially aware sports writers in the US. If so I'd love to hear about them and to read them. But I'm also sure that most of them are outside the mainstream. And it's the mainstream I wote about.
Truth is most of the sports writers I know in the US and the UK are OK people, but that's a self-selecting group. If you hang out with the mainstream press pack—particularly the British press pack—at any major sporting event, you soon realise these guys didn't get their jobs because of their inquiring minds, their crusading zeal and their burning desire to speak truth to power.
No surprise, really. Sport is a multi-billion dollar industry and of course its got the bulk of the media eating out of its hand.
But that's a story in and of itself isn't it? The insidious corruption, the backhanders, the freebies, the lack of writers willing to rock the boat.
Good luck geting that published in a mag that takes most of its advertising from equipment manufacturers and fills most of its editorial pages with uncritical "interviews" with say-nothing jocks.

A.C. said...

Sorry, Zirin, not Kirin - but if anyone wants to check out more of his stuff, the second article I linked in the post is one of his.

A.C. said...

The issues in U.S. soccer are complex. One can look at MLS and wonder why there are so few Hispanic head coaches, but then one can listen to numerous Latinos put down the U.S. game as wholly insignificant and promise that any children they have will play for another country - not the U.S. How does class play into the development of players - the expensive club fees for many families? How much of the lack of black involvement in the game is due to the self-selection of other sports as more worthwhile? How does a women's program that is more well-known than the men's reconcile that honor with the reality that the main fundraiser for the USSF is the men's team? Is equal pay justifiable if the situations (no pro league, etc, are different)? To what extent does the team represent the country (good press for President Bush calling the team on the eve of their World Cup game - but then no one writes about some of those players speaking against him about Katrina)without being allowed expression of personal opinion? Are the corporate entities that have propped MLS and U.S. soccer up financially the real "enemy"? If I take a free Galaxy towel giveaway home from the press box, have I sold out my independant viewpoint?
One thing that I hope is clear is that the stereotypical liberal cuddly soccer writer is as much a myth as any other generalization. Crusading zeal is well and good, but at some point, we are sportswriters. We're involved covering situations where, depending on one's viewpoint, a close offsides noncall can be a horrible travesty or an incredible goal. Without demeaning what we do or the social importance and impact of it, we are writing about a game. A greater number of different slants and perspectives is probably the best hope of illuminating any "truth". For some, that will be highlighting political issues that ultimately affect the game. Others will find their own angles, some from the outside, and some from the inside.

ghostwriter said...

I am troubled on a couple of accounts by the underlying Wells article and subsequent exchange.

Predictably, I suppose, my first issue is with the characterization of Jackie Robinson as a "rabble-rousing hardass" in the underlying article. Yes, he got court martialed, or at least they started. But for all of his baseball career he was a man with a considerable temper and a lot to be angry about who conducted himself with quiet dignity while never actually taking a single step backwards in the service of a greater cause. It was a great relief to him to be able to speak out more after he left the game I suspect. He needs no appologies, or agendas, or political statements, he was a hero by any definition. So, for that matter, was Larry Doby.

I am also troubled by the lack of specifics in the Beasley story. I'm sure all writers lose their notes from time to time, but I suspect that many would not publish a story with the kind of racist innuendo in it as this one without having them to back it up. For intance, AC, I'm only new to your material, but you wouldn't and I'd be willing to take your word on the others you mention on that account. I can't say Mr. Wells gets much respect from me (I'm sure he's heartbroken) for handling it as he has.

Finally, I am troubled by any journalism, sports or political or cooking for crying out loud, with a preconceived agenda other than to tell the truth as best as can be. It can be a smaller (just the game, mam) truth or a larger one. But both are properly supported by facts so that readers might make up their own minds, not be spoon fed somebody else's bile.

I hope DaMarcus Beasley did take a strip off the figurative hide of those responsible for the awful Katrina response; and I hope anybody, journalist or otherwise, who thought he was out of line for doing so on account of the color of his skin had a very long train ride on a very hard bench with a terminal case of hemorrhoids as penance.

Steven said...

Oh ghostwriter, sorry to have troubled you, you are so pure and wonderful. I wish I were you.
Last time. I was there. It happened. My memory isn't that bad. Couldn't find the notes I made for an article that never got written before the last World Cup. I must have written close on 250 articles since. Probably more.
If only I had your total recall and doutless marvelous filing abilities.

FC Uptown said...

Those are two of the strangest articles i've read in awhile. Slow news day in LA?

Matt said...

I love President Bush.

Jay said...

A couple things:

- I don't see any conflict between Steven's recollection of what happened and the fact that no one wrote about Beasley's comments. If the writers in question believed that Beasley shouldn't be criticizing Bush over Katrina, it's likely that they wouldn't give his comments a wider audience by publishing them.

- That said, and I should probably go back and read Steven's piece again, but I think it's possible that he is misinterpreting as racism what passes for patriotism in our country these days. Could the writers he describes have been upset because Beasley was criticizing the president, given the all-too-common misconception in the U.S. that even questioning authority is an act of treason? The political climate in the U.S. right now is utterly irrational in its contentiousness -- go read some Ann Coulter if you don't know what I mean.

- I covered the US men and women and MLS from '97 to '01 and didn't run into anyone who was particularly racist, overtly or otherwise. This may be because I'm based in Northern California, and we're about as live-and-let-live as they come, but the U.S. soccer scene in general strikes me as much less racist than parts of Europe. I've certainly never heard monkey noises emanating from a U.S. crowd.

diane said...

I feel like I read a different Steven Wells article than some others who have left comments. I was so touched by it that I had been looking for an email address to send him a thank you when I found the topic and discussion here.

First of all, its an opinion piece, which makes recollection acceptable. That doesn't mean inaccuracy, it means that the premise stands for me even if the examples are less specific than other readers might like. The story isn't about the Jena 6, a very long one in its own right, nor does it need to be a biography of Jackie Robinson, a complex man who paid a huge emotional price for the restraint he employed in order to integrate his sport. (That in itself qualifies him as a hard-ass rabble rouser to me, btw).

Regarding sports-writers, it's assumed that generalizations make exceptions. A lot of the sports press are reporters, not writers, who have even less say in how their material is presented than columnists who work under the same editorial restraints that all advertising supported media exert. If there were no such restraints, journalists like Andrea and Luis wouldn't need blogs to present some of their otherwise less publishable views, even if the blog clearly serves other purposes as well.

I agree with Andrea that the personal is political. Even if inclined I couldn't dismiss discussions of race and class as political, and therefore for some reason not appropriate topics for athletes and sports writers, because I work with kids who play sports in NYC public schools and on local club teams. The issues of class and race in terms of who ends up playing what, are huge, more so once kids get to high school and have to think about what will help pay for college. With the limitations of scouted "developmental programs" for soccer players and extremely limited college money available at only a few schools, it ends up a sport that more kids who have money can play and which few poor kids are able to stick with. In this country that translates to less kids of color playing and few kids of color advancing into the professional ranks. Some of these issues are being addressed with ideas for academies, etc. And of course if soccer ever becomes a revenue sport, colleges will offer scholarships.

Until then, any story or media approach that might make kids of various colors and backgrounds feel more connected to the sport being played in this country is a good thing.

ghostwriter said...

See, I knew he'd be heartbroken.

YankatOxford said...

Where does this Beasley comment come from? At what time? It says in Berlin? Is this for the World Cup? Surely, someone would have mentioned this?

Lack of a source is a bit disturbing, but if he did say it, I have no problem with him saying it. DMB's merely pointing out the truth.

A.C. said...

It wasn't for the World Cup, but for a Nike-sponsored event previous to the Cup - where Nike unveiled the World Cup uniforms of the teams under contract to them. A player representative from each team was flown in for the event. A lot of reporters flew in, too, so they could interview all the players there. I wasn't there, though. Rarely do I get traveling expenses for assignments.

Dan said...

I KNEW I heard Dave Zirin in a soccer context before. He wrote this godawful article for the Nation - - about how US national team fans are warmongering psychos. I assume/hope he did better research on his Ali book.

If DaMarcus noticed that his Bush/Katrina remarks weren't getting play, he could have repeated them to other reporters. Mainstream US sportswriters forced to cover a sport they hate would hardly have passed up a chance to run with "DaMarcus hates America!"
He was probably more focused on the World Cup at that point, so he might not have been Googling himself to see what attention he got.

By the way - sportswriters? Liberal? It is to laugh.

I have a lot of trouble with this, though:

Truth is most of the sports writers I know in the US and the UK are OK people, but that's a self-selecting group. If you hang out with the mainstream press pack—particularly the British press pack—at any major sporting event, you soon realise these guys didn't get their jobs because of their inquiring minds, their crusading zeal and their burning desire to speak truth to power.
No surprise, really. Sport is a multi-billion dollar industry and of course its got the bulk of the media eating out of its hand.
But that's a story in and of itself isn't it? The insidious corruption, the backhanders, the freebies, the lack of writers willing to rock the boat.
Good luck geting that published in a mag that takes most of its advertising from equipment manufacturers and fills most of its editorial pages with uncritical "interviews" with say-nothing jocks.

Not because it isn't true, but because it's so incredibly freaking obvious. What the hell were you expecting? It's like Ralph Nader acting all surprised that GM and Chrysler weren't giving him free cars.

Nike is all about promoting Nike at a Nike marketing event, and you were expecting commentary on old statues? Nike doesn't sell statues. Had you never met someone in marketing before? If you're going to write about it, write about it, don't complain about not being able to write about it. (And since when is the Guardian beholden to Nike, anyway? Or to the sensibilities of the US soccer press?)

C'mon, Steve, live a little.

Anonymous said...

guess i was raised in a different era, but i was always told that folks should not discuss politics and religion outside of their own forum. i like beasley as a player, but i would prefer he keep his mouth shut about politics. i don't care who he supports or if he is bashing on someone i don't like, it just isn't correct. it would be nice if player just showed a little class and kept their opinions to themself