Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/564/6840

From The Socialist newspaper, 28 January 2009

Book review

A People's History of Sports in the United States

By Dave Zirin
Reviewed by Ian Slattery

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the city were left homeless. Those sheltering in the Superdome were probably there for the first time, as a ticket to see the football team would have cost $90 at least, while a year in the corporate boxes would set you back more than $100,000.

Dave Zirin's book attempts to address not only the modern contradictions of sport, as both a people's pastime and a plaything for the rich, but also chronicles the struggles that sport has exposed, ignored and often ignited.

The chapters on the struggle for black rights are fascinating. Baseball, for example, had an unwritten but blatant colour barrier - an agreement that the professional major leagues would stay all-white - which was only broken in 1947. The efforts of African-Americans in World War Two forced team owners to begin to recognise that they too have 'what it takes' to play professional sports.

Even then, the transition was slow and extremely painful for the initial few players. The 'Negro League' - a professional baseball league set up by the black baseball community with black players - was far more important to the black working class.

Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908, long before African-Americans had won many basic rights in the US. To the joy of the black working class, Johnson beat the former champion, and white supremacist, Jim Jeffries - a victory that sparked race riots in almost every town and city.

Other stories in Zirin's book highlight the role that sports stars, given a voice and a platform similar only to actors and musicians, can play in exposing serious political issues.

Many stood out in the anti-Vietnam war protests, perhaps most famously and, in terms of his global reach, effectively, boxer Muhammad Ali. He openly refused to be conscripted early on in the war, before the anti-war movement was at its peak, and took jail and expulsion over a cushy, non-military role. His stand was front page news, sparking celebrations over the refusal to fight in a horrific war.

Unfortunately Zirin does not go far enough in explaining the downside of having sporting figures, or pin-ups of any other type, held up as the saviour for any given situation. This ignores the role of the mass movement necessary in any successful campaign, and puts enormous pressure on an individual to live up to the expectations of millions of people.

Politicised athletes

With the book's focus on the role of athletes in politics it does, despite the title, gloss over and underestimate the role of the working class. He only fleetingly mentions the Russian revolution, the various uprisings of 1968, the international movement against the Vietnam and Gulf wars. Yet these events, especially the 1917 Russian revolution, were crucial to giving confidence and inspiration to the American working class and helped politicise the athletes of the time.

Zirin focuses on the US but sport has also played an important role internationally. Cricket, to take just one sport not touched on in the book, has been at times a metaphorical weapon against colonialism for the masses of India, Pakistan, the West Indies and other countries.

Zirin's book suffers from a lack of writing on more recent issues, an absence he puts down to a decline of politics mixing with sport in recent years. Yet followers of football in Europe will know that some matches, particularly in Spain and Eastern Europe, have seen a rise in racial tension, while Italian football has sometimes resembled a battleground for the far-right.

However, implicit in A People's History of Sports is the need for an end to capitalism if sport is to fully breathe. Under capitalism sport will continue to be run by the ruling class for the benefit of their bank balances only. Instead, sport must be organised for the benefit and, most importantly, the enjoyment of all.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 28 January 2009:

JOIN THE MARCH FOR JOBS

Defend jobs and services

Era of illusions in capitalism ending

The crisis in manufacturing: Fighting for jobs and living standards

No pay discrimination against young people

Ferengi dealers


Slaughter in Gaza

Coventry protest over Gaza onslaught

Israel: Thousands march in Jaffa against Gaza massacre

Students' angry sit-ins


Anti-racism

Stop the racist BNP

Stop the deportation of Yahya Al-Faifi


Socialist Party campaigns

Socialist councillor opposes Tory plans for education privatisation

Labour's abandoning of the working class

Croydon: Striking against academies

Scotland: Step up opposition to cuts

Fast News


Socialist Party workplace news

Fighting council cuts

Say 'no' to the Metro privateers

Amicus Unity Gazette left with egg on its face

Unison right wing exposed

Victory for left in Glasgow Unison

Solid support for Glasgow strike

Building a fighting Unison leadership


Education

Build a mass movement for free education

Save our school!


Marxist analysis: history

Germany 1919 The Spartacist uprising


International socialist news and analysis

Russia: Bosses sack auto-factory union leader

Courageous socialist activist, campaigning journalist and human rights activist


Socialist Party news

Obituary - Barry Malone


Socialist Party reviews

A People's History of Sports in the United States

The Reader


 

Home   |   The Socialist 28 January 2009   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Sport:

triangleDon't wreck our rec! Campaigning to save green space in Standish

triangleUS: women ice hockey players' strike threat wins living wage

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleBook review: Fighting racism in football

triangleMoving, funny and inspiring tribute to working class heroism

Black:

triangleTower Hamlets Socialist Party: "You can't have capitalism without racism" (Malcolm X)

triangleThe fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against capitalist austerity

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Black workers and the British trade unions

triangleBending the knee v Trump

War:

triangleOctober 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

triangleRussia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangleShocking insight into Isis

Working class:

triangleTories torn - bin them now

triangleNasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

Football:

triangleWomen's football - Sampson allegations

US:

triangleObesity epidemic: end food market anarchy

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments

18/10/17

Port Talbot

Powerful picture of the Port Talbot steel workers' struggle

18/10/17

Russian revolution

October 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

11/10/17

Theresa May

Theresa May, Frida Kahlo and turning women into wares

11/10/17

Docks

Poverty, repression and fightback on the docks

11/10/17

The Socialist

The Socialist Inbox

11/10/17

TV

Shocking insight into Isis

2/10/17

Sexism

Hugh Hefner's exploitation of women

27/9/17

Football

Women's football - Sampson allegations

20/9/17

Letters

The Socialist Inbox

20/9/17

Socialist

Interview: the "socialist John Le Carré"

20/9/17

Women

Refreshing, anticapitalist - but little pointing a way forward

13/9/17

Women

New documentary asks women how their bodies are sexualised and policed

13/9/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

13/9/17

Che Guevara

Intimate insight into a revolutionary icon

6/9/17

Pensions

Bosses' pensions robbery

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

More ...

triangle19 Oct Waltham Forest Young Socialists: Deaths in police custody

triangle19 Oct Swansea Socialist Party: Spanish revolution 1936-37

triangle19 Oct Cardiff East Socialist Party: Is equality for women possible under capitalism?

triangle19 Oct Wirral Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian Revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2