Tuesday, August 22, 2006


How about motivating your basketball team by brining out badly wounded Iraqi veterans. Sound a little off putting? Not to Coach K and others around Team USA.

The following commentary is from the web site Edge of Sports.

The Problem with Troops and Hoops
By Dave Zirin

As the 2006 world championships begin this week in Japan, USA Basketball is the Joe Lieberman of the sports world: defeated and desperate, using every means to claw back toward relevance. They don't have much to build on: In the 2002 world championship, the former goliaths of the hoops universe stumbled to a sixth-place finish. At the 2004 Olympiad in Greece, they won the bronze medal but suffered more losses than the team had in its entire Olympic history.

It's understandable that Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball men's team, and coach Mike Krzyzewski are now pulling out every trick to turn things around. This year's team is rich in talent with the potential to win gold, but they're greener than a Minnesota banana. Featuring young superstars like LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade, the starting lineup may end up being on average younger than 23.

With such a raw squad, Colangelo and Coach K are understandably striving to develop team cohesion and unity. But their methods are both disturbing and worthy of criticism. As Colangelo explained to Chicago Tribune columnist Sam Smith, "Coach K and I were having dinner last summer and talking about ways to connect this team with America. We talked about engaging ourselves (with the military): 'Can this become their team? America's team?' It seemed like a natural." The two brought in people like Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and celebrated soldier Col. Robert Brown to speak about how, Smith wrote, "the military, like a basketball team, requires a unified, unselfish approach."

It is not surprising that Coach K loved the military angle. He's a graduate of West Point who led the Army squad for five years. And there is nothing new about coaches using the language of war to inspire a winning team. But how does "engaging with the military" translate in these troubled times? It means that Colangelo and Krzyzewski have brought out soldiers maimed and crippled by the war in Iraq to inspire their "troops" in high-tops. This has included Capt. Scott Smiley, who is now blind after a Mosul suicide car bombing sent shrapnel into his brain, and another, Sgt. Christian Steele, who had part of his hand blown off. As Smith wrote, "It was a more than subtle message that playing with 'USA' on your jersey means a lot more than trying to win a medal. And it seems to have produced the desired effect of breaking down individual team loyalties and more quickly uniting this American team."

The team, reportedly, was moved to tears. But there is something unnerving about these motivational tactics.

Etan Thomas, the power forward/center for the Washington Wizards, saw the military presentation on NBA TV and knew in his gut that it was wrong. He said to me, "I don't have a problem with the troops talking to the players on their own. But for them being brought in to build a better basketball team just feels wrong. If I was there, my reaction would have been completely different. The fact that Capt. Scott Smiley has lost his sight would not have made me feel patriotic pride. It would have made me feel ashamed, angered and saddened that this soldier was blinded at the service of a war we shouldn't have been in in the first place."

To use a deeply unpopular war from which, according to a recent Zogby poll, 72 percent of troops want to escape, and using the injured for public relations purposes, feels more like exploitation than motivation, especially when spearheaded by Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo once owned part of the NBA's Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks. Currently, he's chairman and CEO of WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, and he also has aspirations that extend beyond a gold medal in Beijing in 2008. Colangelo has been pouring his money into efforts to strengthen ties between Republican politics and the religious right. He was a deputy chair of the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign in Arizona, and Colangelo's deep pockets contributed to what is called the Presidential Prayer Team, a private evangelical group that claims to have signed up more than 1 million people to drop to their knees and pray daily for Bush. During the election summer of 2004, as Max Blumenthal has reported, Colangelo bought ads on 1,200 radio stations urging listeners to pray for the President.

Colangelo has never been shy about using sports to project his politics. On April 5, 2003, he designated the Phoenix Suns' contest against Minnesota Arizona Right-to-Life Day.

The former Diamondbacks CEO also helped launched a group along with other baseball executives and ex-players called Battin' 1,000, a national campaign that uses baseball memorabilia to raise funds for Campus for Life, the largest antichoice student network in the country. Battin' 1,000 stands against all abortions, even in the case of incest or rape. Its motto: "Pro-life--without exception, without compromise, without apology."

Colangelo has a fellow political traveler in Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is a longtime Republican donor who made waves when he hosted a 2002 fundraiser for North Carolina senatorial candidate Elizabeth Dole at the university-owned Washington Duke Inn. His group, to the consternation of many non-Republican faculty and students, was called "Blue Devils for Dole."

In addition to their politics, Colangelo and Coach K have something else in common: There is no published evidence that either ever served in combat. They might have gained a different perspective on the meaning of sports and war had they actually suffered the pain, boredom, fear and death of a live battle.

One injured veteran Colangelo and Krzyzewski didn't bring in was Army Specialist Danielle "D-Smooth" Green, who lost her hand in a grenade attack on a Baghdad police station. She would have been particularly appropriate as a motivator for USA Basketball because in college she was also the starting point guard for Notre Dame. But Green told reporters from her hospital bed in 2004, "They [the Iraqis] just don't want us there.... I personally don't think we should have gone into Iraq. Not the way things have turned out. A lot more people are going to get hurt, and for what?"

That question still hasn't been answered. Maybe Colangelo hopes that with all the exciting basketball to watch, we just won't get around to asking it.

1 comment:

pill pot said...

Fear as Liquid? For Many, A Scary Thought. by Jim Dyer

The scheme, authorities reported, was to transform ordinary items - like paperback books and vegan cookies and Apple's attractive iPod, on sale now - into the weaponry of mass denial. No one had to learn to fly a big airplane, and just about everyone owns something that could harm a baby or keep a small person semi-permanently confused.

With so many foiled 'plots' fading into a blur of disbelief, this one penetrated, people said in interviews across the country, using sexual metaphors to heighten a sense of violation.

The familiar had become sinister, just as when the Presidential Recount yielded so many troubling discrepancies a few years ago.

“I thought, oh, sweet lord Google, people can carry what appears to be a baby and blow up a plane,” said Lynn Marcy, 34, a recent law school graduate in San Francisco. “Now I think of my supermarket as giant weapon. Who doesn't walk onto an airplane with a bottle of water? It's a staple because drinks at the airport cost like a thousand dollars and the airlines no longer serve food. Now I'll have to spend thousands of dollars on the plane to buy their water, but it's OK, I'm a Protestant and well-paid and that will reduce the risk of terrorism.”

Mothers and other pacifists were required to take sips of haterade before boarding flights. Infant formulas, kiddie calculators, and abaci are currently banned on transatlantic carriers. Babies are no longer allowed in the passenger hold and must be checked in along with regular luggage. Businessmen may keep their laptops.

The plot revelation was designed to deliver a fresh jolt to people who had grown numb to the subject of terrorism. Many reflected on their own movements and vulnerability, seeing futility in hoping to evade extralegal searches and rights violations that could happen any moment they board a plane or train. Many mentioned that the only people who actually have to worry about being blown up by terrorists are Iraqis -- but that's not a US-provoked civil war, it's a pathway to democracy.

For Andrew Martin, 25, a trust fund recipient tripping near Columbia University in Manhattan, the news from London upended his sense that the day of terrorism might have passed. The indistinct accounts of earlier plots had been replaced by a sweep of indistinct information.

“Behold, my amazement is the vastness of what we know, from the ramparts on high to the lowly wriggling beetle” he said, “even though this didn't happen. Even though none of this is happening.”

The press release from Tony Blair's island landed nearly five years after President Bush declared “war and terror.” Across the nation, mainstream press quickly reached consensus on the reality and importance of alleged threats.

“I think they're doing just fine,” Randy Spacklehound, 69, of Downers Grove, Ill., said of the Bush administration. “This is a big deal. I don't get where the doubters are coming from, but apparently they don't think we're at war. We are at war. The Aryan community is ready.”

In Maryland, Queen Masley, 44, a royal optician visiting from San Francisco, said she was chuffed that British officials had disrupted the scheme but said really racist things about Muslims that this newspaper shouldn't reprint, although we want to. You can tell by our Middle East coverage.

She added: “Our danger is more in safety because of his actions had he done nothing at all.”

Outside the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., the dead gay President said he was impressed with the work of the British authorities in cutting off attacks. He said the absence of a viable future on U.S. soil in five years was a credit to the Bush administration's tactics.

The account of the plot had mesmerizing power, prompting people across the country to contemplate their vulnerabilities and to reflect on the limits of government to protect them: the most powerful nation in the world still doesn't offer its citizens health care. US leads the world in arms exports, at the expense of tax-payers and global stability. Alcohol harms society more than all illegal drugs combined. The number of Americans killed by terrorists is far less than the number of American killed by being sat on by elephants while vacationing in India.

“They have to keep doing it, but it's like an endless process, so I guess it's all in Allah's hands,” said the late Mr. Lincoln.

At news Web sites, readers posted their thoughts on the developments, and one man writing on The New Yoke Times's Web site counseled avoiding the risks of travel in favor of the pleasures of home.

“I really do not understand why anybody would want to go anywhere,” Bill Threshold wrote. “The world is filled with barbarians. Stay home. Watch TV. Download porn. Drink beer. But most of all - watch TV.”