According to political sportswriter Dave Zirin, athletes have great influence on public discussions of sensitive issues, what he calls the “power to puncture privilege.”
Zirin said the U.S. is extremely divided racially and socioeconomically, but sports are able to equalize all aspects of our culture.
And sports’ popularity among all strata of our society allows it to comment on events or trends that some people might not have heard about otherwise.
Zirin’s lecture, “Social Issues in Sport,” was featured as part of a newly created “Beyond the Field” lecture series, focusing on how sports and society are intertwined.
The series was coordinated by the sport management branch of UConn’s Neag School of Education. When asked why his voice as a writer is in demand in today’s political climate, Zirin responded, “Some sports writers see politics as a risk, but I see sports as a great lens to view societal issues.”
Zirin currently works as the sports editor for “The Nation,” a progressive weekly magazine that focuses on politics and culture. In addition, he is also author of the online column and podcast called “Edge of Sports,” which examines the intersection of sports and politics in today’s society.
Moderators Sofia Read and Charles Macaulay, sport management graduate students, used Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest from last year’s NFL season as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion of activism in sports.
Zirin praised the San Francisco quarterback as an example of an athlete taking massive financial risk to advocate for justice. He cited the U.S. women’s hockey team, and their recent protest for equal wages and support from USA Hockey, as a result of the “Kaepernick effect.”
Zirin said he took comfort in the fact that the efforts of Kaepernick, and all those who knelt during anthems last season, are not meaningless: they demonstrated the power athletes have to fight for what they feel is right.
When Zirin spoke about the Kaepernick controversy, he repeatedly referred back to famous African American boxer Muhammad Ali.
Zirin, who wrote a book called “Muhammad Ali Handbook,” said that the boxer was similar to Bob Dylan, in that both had social views far ahead of their time, which are very useful to look back on today.
Zirin also discussed “fandom” at the start of the lecture, and how obsessive sports followings can be repurposed into impactful activism. He brought up his son’s wild love for the Washington Wizards, and how he tries to combine that kind of passion for sports with a critical eye toward the world it inhabits. Here, Zirin’s infectious love for sports was on full display. The crowd responded well to his references to old teams, or derogatory Jets jokes.
The next lecture in the “Beyond the Field” series is by David Leonard titled, “Race and Sport,” and will take place on April 27 at 4 p.m. in the Dodd Center’s Konover Auditorium.
Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.