The message of 1968 - Page 3

Author Dave Zirin talks about a sports moment that changed the world


"John Thompson says that Black athletes have the blessing of the burden of representation," he noted. "It's a burden because if one athlete does something, then it's an issue for all Black athletes to deal with, for instance Michael Vick's involvement with dog fighting. It's not Peyton Manning's problem that Chris Herron [a white one-time basketball standout from the mid-2000s] got on drugs. It works in a different way for Black athletes. The blessing part is the you're part of a tradition, you stand on the shoulders of men and women like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Wyomia Tyus, and Mohammed Ali, and you have an ownership of that tradition. It's true that Steve Nash and all athletes are part of the tradition, but it runs more seamlessly through the African American community."

These days, the sports world is talking about another scandal, this time the ugly situation at Penn State. Zirin discusses those problems in the context of a bankrupt culture, where the NCAA — the self-proclaimed moral arbiter of college sports — refuses to speak to hypocrisy that links all the problems in order to ensure its own survival.

Sooner or later, he said, the NCAA will either sink beneath its own corrupt weight, or athletes — who because of the professionalization of youth sports know each other in many cases from their early teens — band together and demand some compensation for the money that they generate. College presidents are the loudest complainers and the most important enablers."