Dave Zirin

My bias is real. When it comes to tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, they have never been just athletes to me, but people. I have felt an imperative to defend them against detractors, know-nothings and dime-store bigots.

The reasons are obvious: they were once two Black teenagers from the public courts of Compton, treated with contempt — of both a race and class variety — by their sport. They not only survived but thrived.

It is a remarkable — and remarkably unexpected — thing to write, but female athletes are now leading both the United States’ labour movement and the women’s movement for pay equity.

The situation for Palestinian and Arab football (soccer) players in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has, for some time, been dire.

On one side of Israel’s Apartheid Wall, within the formal borders of Israel, segregated youth teams, racist abuse, and heckling — including charming chants such as “Death to the Arabs” — are frequent. On the other, in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, checkpoint detention, jailings, and the bombing of stadiums have become regular features of what is supposed to be the people’s game.

Given the powerful role that football plays as a point of community cohesion in the West Bank and Gaza, this everyday violence feels like a full-frontal attack on civil society, normalcy and hope.

“Now we’re judging people by their religion — trying to keep Muslims out,” said Stan Van Gundy, head coach of the US National Basketball Association (NBA) team Detroit Piston in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“We’re getting back to the days of putting the Japanese in relocation camps, of Hitler registering the Jews. That’s where we’re heading.”

The New England Patriots won the NFL Super Bowl 34–28, in the most gobsmacking, unfathomable comeback in Super Bowl history. Down 28–3 against the Atlanta Falcons, they came all the back to win in overtime in Houston, Texas on February 5.

That will mean joy in the White House — as Donald Trump’s favourite American Football team is victorious. It is also joy for Patriots player Martellus Bennett, who won’t be joining the team upon their inevitable White House visit, in protest against the man inhabiting that space.

Imagine hearing that your favourite athlete had drowned after being stuffed in the hull of a ship in order to avoid authorities and cross a treacherous body of water. Their goal in this alternative universe was to flee violence as well as earn enough to support their families.

That is exactly what happened to the goalkeeper for the Gambian national women’s football team, Fatim Jawara.

Miami Dolphins kneel during national anthem on September 11.

On September 11 in the United States, a small group of National Football League players risked their careers, their endorsements and their livelihoods. They did so through the simple act of refusal.


Residents of the favela of Horto protest against the imminent demolition of their community.

“I am absolutely convinced that history will talk of the Rio de Janeiro before the Games and the much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.


Rafaela Silva.

There is joy in Olympic Rio, make no mistake about it. Maybe it takes two hours to travel 25 miles across the city; and maybe only 15% of the Olympic decorations were delivered; and maybe there are more soldiers on the ground, per capita, than the United States had in Iraq at the height of Bush’s war; but there is joy.


Brazil has been hit by anti-government protests in the lead-up to the Rio Games.

When the 2016 Olympic Games began on August 5, it was the culmination of a harrowing, exhausting decade-long battle between the people of Brazil and the demands of those utterly unaccountable, scandal-plagued sports bodies, FIFA and the IOC.

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