This week on Moyers & Company…
Sports, not just reflects our lives, but actually
shapes our lives.
I mean, it shapes our understanding of things
like racism, sexism, homophobia.
It shapes our understanding of our country.
It shapes our understanding of corporations
and what’s happening to our cities.
I mean, in so many different ways, sports
stories are stories of American life in the
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Let us now praise common sense.
Once again a president was about to plunge
us into the darkest waters of foreign policy
where the ruling principle becomes: “When
in doubt, bomb someone.”
Strategists in the White House, militarists
in the think tanks, the powerful pro-Israel
lobby AIPAC, and arm-chair warriors of all
stripes — neo-conservatives and liberal humanitarians
alike — were all telling Barack Obama to
strike Syria, no matter the absence of any
law or treaty to justify it, no matter the
chaos to follow.
Do it, they said, to show you can, or what’s
a super power for?
But they hadn’t reckoned on public opinion.
The people said no!
Not this time.
Not after more than ten years of soldiers
coming home broken in body, screaming nightmares
in their brains, their families devastated.
Not when our politics is an egregious fraud,
unable to accomplish anything except enable
the rich, while everyday people struggle to
make ends meet.
Jeannette Baskin, who lives on Staten Island
not far from the Statue of Liberty, who describes
herself as neither Republican nor Democrat,
told the “New York Times:” “We invest all
this money in foreign countries and fixing
their problems, and this country is falling
Don’t think these people callous — those
pictures of children gassed in Syria sicken
But there are limits to military power when
religious rivalries and secular passions come
armed with blowtorches.
A retired educator named Alice Ridinger in
Hanover, Pennsylvania, spoke for multitudes
when she also told the “Times” that while
she finds the use of chemical weapons “terrible.”
She fears the deeper involvement that could
follow a military strike.
“I don’t think that would be the end of it,”
Truth is, no one knows what would happen once
the missiles fly.
Not the White House or Pentagon; not the CIA
or NSA; not even the all-seeing oracles of
cable television, the editorial writers of
“The Wall Street Journal,” or the seers of
such influential publications as “The Economist”
— hawkish now on Syria despite having been
wrong on Iraq.
In time, the White House, Congress, and the
punditry could all be grateful to a suddenly
attentive and stubborn public.
They may have been spared a folly, thanks
to this collective common sense that became
so palpable it was a force in its own right.
Now politics and diplomacy have a chance.
Perhaps only a slight chance — the “Washington
Post” reports that the CIA has just begun
delivering weapons to rebels in Syria — deepening
America’s stake in the civil war.
But we can’t know if politics and diplomacy
work unless we give them a try.
Meanwhile, give a cheer for common sense.
So with the drums of war quieted for the moment,
millions of us will take a deep breath and
turn our attention from all Syria all the
time to the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Giants
and the Broncos.
Yes, it’s that time of year, when our national
pastimes compete and collide, and there simply
aren’t enough hours in the day or night for
all the alluring distractions offered.
The weekend’s so packed with games it’s hard
to keep up with who’s on first and who’s been
knocked flat on their backs.
Or, to be a bit more cynical, who’s on steroids
and who’s being carried unconscious to the
Which is why I’ve asked Dave Zirin to help
us keep score.
He’s been called “the best sportswriter in
the United States” — the reporter who, you
may remember, challenged the president of
Bridgestone Firestone on whether his product
should be the “Official Tire Sponsor” of the
Super Bowl while the company was fighting
a lawsuit for allegedly using child labor
Zirin’s the first sportswriter in the long
history of “The Nation” magazine.
He hosts Sirius XM radio’s popular show “Edge
And he’s written several provocative, even
scathing books on sports and society, including,
“Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games
We Love,” and this his most recent, “Game
Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World
Oh, yes, Utne reader named Dave Zirin one
of the “50 visionaries who are changing the
Welcome to the show.
Oh, it’s great to be here.
You go back a long way with your chronicling
How did sports grab you?
Well, I mean, I grew up in New York City just
an absolute sports freak.
I mean, I memorized statistics, I followed
all those great New York City teams in the
’80s, the Mets, Knicks, unbelievable.
My room was a shrine to these people.
I mean, folks like Darryl Strawberry, Keith
Hernandez, Lawrence Taylor.
And I never really thought about or cared
about politics very much.
And that really changed for me in 1996 when
I was in college in Minnesota.
At the time, there was a player for the Denver
Nuggets named Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who made
the decision to not go out for the national
anthem before games.
Because he said he felt like it violated his
And he didn’t believe that there should be
a conflation of sports, and as he put it,
paying worship to a flag.
And so a reporter got wind of it and went
to him and said, what are you doing?
Don’t you realize that that flag is a symbol
of freedom and democracy throughout the world?
And Rauf said, well, it may be a symbol of
freedom and democracy to some, but it’s a
symbol of oppression and tyranny to others.
Now when he said this, the sports world just
I mean, ESPN was, like, Rauf spits on the
And everybody was crowding around and watching
And I remember seeing one of the talking heads
say, well, Rauf must see himself as an athlete
activist, you know, like Muhammad Ali or Billie
And I’ll never forget watching that and thinking
to myself, athlete activist?
What the heck is that?
I thought I was this huge sports fan and memorizing
all the stats.
It seems like there’s this whole world that
I didn’t know existed.
And so I went to library, I’ve started reading
a lot of old articles, started digging in
the crates, reading old biographies.
Found a book cowritten by Taylor Branch, actually,
called “Second Wind,” it’s one of Bill Russell’s
And it opened this world to me.
And so I started to think to myself, okay,
if this applies to the past, how does it apply
to the present and how does sports shape our
political lives today?
And you made a beat for yourself out of focusing
on the ground between politics and sports.
Well, it’s such a rich vein because, I mean,
on a given week, it’s never a what am I going
to write about?
It’s, what am I not going to write about?
Because there’s always so much happening in
the world of sports, and there’s always so
many different ways in which sports, not just
reflects our lives, but actually shapes our
I mean, it shapes our understanding of things
like racism, sexism, homophobia.
It shapes our understanding of our country.
It shapes our understanding of corporations
and what’s happening to our cities.
I mean, in so many different ways, sports
stories are stories of American life in the
I know you’ve seen Bill Siegel’s documentary,
a new documentary on “The Trials of Muhammad
What do you think about it?
It’s absolutely brilliant.
Look, I have seen every Muhammad Ali documentary.
And this is by far the best one I’ve ever
seen for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, there is about an hour
of footage in there that I have never seen
All this incredible footage of Muhammad Ali
speaking on college campuses in 1968.
Speaking out with incredible eloquence against
the war in Vietnam.
And it’s a remarkable thing to be able to
see footage that has so long been underground
actually get unearthed for people to see,
and to truly appreciate what it was that made
Muhammad Ali so dangerous.
Because I think that’s what we’ve really forgotten.
And the old-time leaders of the civil rights
movement were concerned that he was going
to take them over the deep end, that they–
Would lose support in the White House and
I think that’s something that people today
don’t really understand is that you had these
two titanic social movements in the 1960s,
the struggle against the war in Vietnam and
the African American freedom struggle.
And then here you have the most famous athlete
on earth with one foot in both.
MUHAMMAD ALI in The Trials of Muhammad Ali:
No, I will not go ten thousand miles from
here to help murder and kill another poor
people simply to continue the domination of
white slave masters over the darker people
of the earth.
MALE SPEAKER in The Trials of Muhammad Ali:
Mr. Muhammad Ali has just refused to be inducted
into the United States Armed Forces.
Notification of his refusal is being made
to the United States attorney and the local
selective service board for whatever action
deemed to be appropriate.
So he’s transgressive on all these different
But the other thing when we look at Ali is
we also have to remember that he didn’t show
up in the 1960s, like, coming down from planet
awesome to educate all of us about politics
I mean, he wasn’t Malcolm X in boxing gloves
When you look at his life, here he is in 1960,
he’s 18 years old, he wins a gold medal at
the Rome Olympics.
And his hero was a professional wrestler named
Gorgeous George Wagner–
And he wanted to bring the showmanship of
professional wrestling into boxing.
And then the ’60s kind of happened to him.
And so, and that’s one of the things that
the movie does, which is so brilliant, is
that it shows the way, the time shaped Muhammad
Ali, and then Muhammad Ali turned and shaped
11:56:26:00 Were you taken by surprise at
the range of voices that were arrayed against
him across a spectrum from the right, William
F. Buckley, to the left, David Susskind?
DAVID SUSSKIND in The Trials of Muhammad Ali:
I find nothing amusing or interesting or tolerable
about this man.
He’s a disgrace to his country his race and
what he laughingly describes as his profession
he’s a convicted felon in the United States.
He has been found guilty.
He is out on bail.
He will inevitably go to prison, as well he
He’s a simplistic fool and a pawn.
That’s the part that I think people don’t
know today and don’t understand today, because
we really, we’ve done to Muhammad Ali what
we’ve done to Martin Luther King, is we’ve
turned them into these kind of harmless icons
who live above the fray of messy politics.
And so just like we don’t learn about the
Martin Luther King who spoke out against inequality
and spoke for government intervention to solve
social ills, things that would make him, of
course, politically controversial today, we
don’t talk about the Muhammad Ali who said
things like, the real enemy of my people is
I am not going to speak out against people
in Vietnam who are fighting for their own
liberation, while here at home my own people
in Louisville are treated like dogs.
You’ve been drawn and written about Martin
Luther King and sports.
How did you come to that?
Well, it just, it was a fascinating thing
in reading biographies of Dr. Martin Luther
King, particularly the magisterial work of
Taylor Branch and then reading some sports
biographies about athletes in the 1960s, how
much overlap there is.
And how much connection there is or the way
that Martin Luther King was somebody who just
kept a close eye about what was happening
in the world of sports.
I think Dr. King was greatly influenced by
Jackie Robinson and Jackie Robinson’s breaking
of baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
And years later he said of Jackie Robinson,
he was a sit-iner before sit-ins.
He was a freedom rider before freedom rides.
And he got how important Jackie Robinson was
to the struggle.
He got that you couldn’t talk about the civil
rights movement without talking about Robinson.
And so because of that and because I think
of a sense in Dr. King that, you know, the
arc of history bends towards justice, that
when there was an athlete speaking out, he
never said, that person needs to just shut
up and play.
So when his closest advisors like, for example,
Roy Wilkins, spoke out incredibly harshly
against Muhammad Ali, Dr. King was someone
who would not do that and would actually exchange
And they even appeared together in public
at a rally in Louisville for fair housing.
And most significantly when there was a movement
in the late ’60s by African American athletes
to boycott the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City,
which of course resulted in Tommie Smith and
John Carlos and their famous raised fist.
Dr. Martin Luther King defended their right
to boycott, calling it an amazing act of nonviolent
And when Martin Luther King decided in 1967
that he would go public with his opposition
to the war in Vietnam, one of the things that
he said was, well, it’s like Muhammad Ali
says, we’re all victims of a system of oppression.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.:
It is my hope that every young man in this
country who finds this war objectionable,
and abominable, and unjust will file as a
And no matter what you think of Mr. Muhammad
Ali’s religion, you certainly have to admire
And so what you had there was Martin Luther
King drawing upon the experience of Muhammad
Ali as a way to defend his own position, which
at the time, was extremely unpopular.
So I always found that incredible fascinating
that here’s Martin Luther King, his own advisors
are telling him, don’t stand against the war
Keep your focus on domestic issues.
And not only does King take that risk, but
he mentions Muhammad Ali’s name.
He mentions the name of a boxer as a way to
And I would encourage people today to really
think about, imagine if a similar figure referenced
LeBron James to say why they were taking a
I mean, it says something about the kind of
stature that Muhammad Ali had.
Is there a sports giant today who is speaking
to issues of social justice the way Muhammad
The main issue is, are there movements in
Because when there are movements off the playing
field, they reflect on the playing field.
So in the last couple of years, we’ve seen
things like the entire Miami Heat team with
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they’re superstars
in the lead, all wearing hoods in protest
of, at the time at the fact that George Zimmerman
had not been arrested for the shooting of
And many athletes like Carmelo Anthony of
the New York Knicks, he was very vocal about
that as well.
So you saw something there where it connected
with players, particularly of African American
players, very strongly, that there needed
to be justice as a result of the Trayvon Martin
The other issue that of course is huge right
now is the issue of LGBT athletes, lesbian,
gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes standing
up and speaking out for their right to their
own humanity inside a locker room.
Now historically, a locker room has been,
it’s been called “the last closet,” like an
incredible bastion of homophobia.
I mean, this goes back to Theodore Roosevelt,
who encouraged young boys to play tackle football,
and said if they didn’t they were sissies.
So, and he popularized that phrase, the sissy.
And it was a way of differentiating, are you
going to be a leader, are you going to be
tough, are you going to lead the new American
century and play football?
Or are you going to be a sissy?
And for women who wanted to play sports, you
had a similar dynamic where wait a minute,
what does it say about you that you want these
so-called male attributes like leadership
and strength and, you know, physical daring?
Like, what does it say about you?
Well, you must, there must be something wrong
You must be a lesbian or they would say all
kinds of things about women who wanted to
And what you’re seeing now in the 21st century
are people really pushing back against that.
So in the last, even just few months, you’ve
had Jason Collins become the first active
male player to come out of the closet in the
history of North American sports.
You had Robbie Rogers, a professional soccer
player who came out and then retired at the
same time, even though he was just 25 years
old, because he said he didn’t think he could
be out in the locker room.
And then after Jason Collins came out, he
got back on the field and played and said,
Jason Collins inspired me.
And you’ve had Brittney Griner who is arguably
the best woman’s basketball player of her
She came out of the closet so smoothly, you
wondered if she was ever in.
And so you have a new generation of athletes
who are using that platform of sports to speak
out about sexuality and human rights and dignity
in a way that I think would do the people
from the 1960s very proud.
As you know, there’s a controversy brewing
over the Olympic Games being held next winter
President Putin has enacted a law threatening
fines or even prison for anything considered
to be gay propaganda.
And some people are calling for a boycott
of those games.
I don’t think that the United States should
boycott, even though I’m horrified by not
just the laws, but some of the attendant violence
that’s taking place in Russia against the
L.G.B.T. community and even their their allies
I’m not for a boycott, because I think first
of all the athletes themselves are going to
be prime to go over there and make a statement
when they’re in Russia.
And I think that history shows that has a
profoundly more powerful effect on the political
culture than if you just stay home.
I had the great fortune of doing a book with
And I asked what he thought about the Russia
And I said, should people go over there and
protest or should they stay home?
And he said, well, if I’d stayed home, no
one would ever have heard what I had to say.
And who would remember that I stayed home
But people remember that I went and I said
So I think you’ve got to give people the chance
to say their piece.
But it’s still very difficult for them, isn’t
And I think there are two big reasons why
it’s so difficult in the world of sports.
The first reason is of course that people
want sports to be as apolitical as possible
because it’s escape.
You know, people just want to sit back, relax,
and enjoy the game.
And it is.
Don’t you go to games for escapism?
Are you always looking at what this means
that we’re not seeing?
Oh no, I like the escapism too, but it’s a
little hard to go see the Mets and be sitting
in a place called Citi Field named after a
bank that was paid for by billions in public
dollars and not think to yourself, yeah, I
think that there’s some political things maybe
going on here that we should pay attention
But also, I think owners tend to be politically
on the right wing of the spectrum.
And when they say, and when a lot of their
friends in the sports media say, sports and
politics shouldn’t mix, what they’re really
saying is sports and a certain kind of politics
Because when it comes to the politics of things
like militarism and corporatism, those politics
are blaring at a typical game.
But when it comes to a player actually trying
to use their hyper-exalted, brought to you
by Nike platform to say something about the
world in which they live, well, then that
can be, as you said, there can be not a very
graceful response to that.
You mentioned the historian Taylor Branch
who wrote that magnificent series on the civil,
history of the civil rights movement.
He said not too long ago that college sports
in particular still reeks with the whiff of
You think that’s true?
I mean, you know, the first person who I could
find who made that analysis of calling college
sports a plantation was a man named Walter
Walter Byers headed the NCAA from 1951 to
He is responsible for the shaping of the NCAA.
And when he left the sport, he said, we’ve
turned it into a plantation system, meaning
that there is a tremendous amount of money
being generated that would flow into very
few hands, and none of that money, obviously,
going into the hands of the people on the
field or on the court themselves.
I mean, it is such a wild scam what happens
in college sports in this country.
And it’s only getting worse.
Do you think college athletes should be paid?
I think they should because of the revenue
that they generate.
I mean, think about it like this, Woody Hayes,
he’s the coach over at Ohio State, his last
year coaching there, he made $43,000 a year.
Today the coach at Ohio State, Urban Meyer,
makes $4 million a year as a base salary,
$4 million a year.
The head of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, makes almost
$2 million a year.
Now keep in mind, the NCAA is a nonprofit.
I mean, I’d hate to think of how it would
operate if it was a industry for profit.
The coach at my alma mater, University of
Texas, Mack Brown, had a so-so record two
years ago, eight and five, and yet he got
$5 million because essentially he took the
team to the Holiday Bowl–
The university officials defended that, saying,
well, look our athletics brought in $103 million
revenue last year.
Well, I mean, there’s some really basic reforms
that should happen right away, because the
argument you always hear when people say that
athletes shouldn’t be paid is, well, they
get a four-year scholarship.
And so the first thing we need to say in response
to that is, that’s factually not true.
College athletes get one-year scholarships
that are renewed on an annual basis.
So you could have a 4.0 GPA and be your class
But if you’re not performing on the field,
So to even call them student-athletes isn’t
I once interviewed a former All-American,
and the way he put it is the way I always
carry with me, he said, we’re not student-athletes,
we’re athlete-students, because the second
we get on campus it’s made clear to us what
our priority should be.
So the reality at this point, it’s basically
they’re campus workers who don’t get paid.
And that kind of injustice I don’t think should
be allowed to stand.
What would you do about college, football
If I could wave a magic wand, I would absolutely
delink these kinds of sports from a university
And I would say look–
It wouldn’t be the University of Texas Longhorns?
I’m sorry, but I said magic wand, this is
just the magic wand.
I have a feeling I wouldn’t get very far in
Texas with this argument.
You might get into the state, but not out.
I wouldn’t get into the state…
But this is the point though, is that WEB
Du Bois wrote about this a hundred years ago,
about the way that he felt like football was
distorting, or as he put it, king football
was distorting the atmosphere at Yale University.
And it’s actually quaint what he wrote.
He said, the football budget is seven times
the classics budget.
And it’s like, well, just seven times, my
And so you fast forward to today, I would
want the NFL with all of its billions to pony
up for its own minor league.
I would want the NBA to do the same.
Beause it really shouldn’t shock us that sports
that draw the most heavily on people of color,
are also the sports that put them in a completely
disempowered position, where they’re training
for these professional leagues without getting
a dime in their pocket.
So if we could delink them, I absolutely would.
We’re not going to.
I get how deep this is in the vein of the
So I think a much more sane approach is first
and foremost, if players can make money off
their individual image, they should be free
to do so.
I mean, there’s something obscene about a
college player who boosters are paying literally
$20,000 to have dinner with, but they don’t
get anything from that.
Or they sign a million things and they each
get sold and the money goes to the university,
but not even a little bit of it goes to them.
But I think a much more sane thing would be
to put caps on coaches’ salaries, caps on
assistant coaches’ salaries.
I mean, would it really be so terrible if
Mack Brown made $1 million a year instead
of $5 million or $6 million a year?
I mean, would the talent pool for people who
want to coach really dry up.
I don’t think so.
That money could then go to a stipend for
all people who play sports, male or female.
And there is, I mean, this has been worked
out that there’s totally enough money in the
system to make this happen, especially if
colleges give up their addiction to stadium
I mean, at Texas A&M where this kid Johnny
Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner is in so
much trouble for allegedly taking a couple
of grand for signing autographs.
They’re about to open up $450 million in renovations
on their foot, and they said they want it
to be a megaphone to the world.
That’s how it was described by the athletic
And so they want it to be a megaphone, but
the person who’s actually been yelling through
the megaphone, so everybody knows about Texas
A&M, Johnny Manziel, doesn’t see anything
Supporters of the present system, critics
of yours would say, but this money, going
to the coaches, going into the program, doesn’t
come from taxes.
It comes from the revenue generated by the
television contracts and all of that.
There’s a lot of truth to that argument.
In some cases though it does actually draw
in, at the state colleges, from state monies,
especially when there are budget shortfalls.
There’s been terrible instances of this in
California, for example, where they were cutting
classes at Cal Berkeley while at the same
time giving their coach Jeff Tedford a raise
and doing hundreds of millions of dollars
in renovations on the stadium.
But the bigger issue is that the television
money is just growing.
ESPN just inked with the power conferences
a 12-year, almost $6 billion contract to broadcast
these college games.
That’s new revenue.
That’s $6 billion.
And then people say, well no, that just goes
back into the athletic department.
And it’s like, well, let’s look at these coaches’
salaries and how they’re rising and still
Let’s look at now there’s an arms race, if
you will, of assistant coaches, where they’re
not making millions of dollars a year.
And so what you’re seeing is capitalism for
some and I don’t even know what you would
call it, indentured servitude for the masses
And the concern is that a lot of these schools
are becoming sports franchises where people
happen to go to classes in between games.
No one I know has covered so well the extent
to which the world of sports has changed.
What would you say is the defining feature
of that change?
The defining feature of that change can be
seen in any city in this country where there
is a publicly-funded, billion-dollar stadium.
That to me is both a symbol and an expression
of everything that’s changed about the economics
Now look, I’m not saying that owners back
in the day were these kindhearted creatures.
But there was an economic system in sports
where if you were an owner and you were goint
to make a profit, you needed to make sure
that largely working-class fans would be able
to pay money and put their butts in the seats
and go to the park.
Now fans have largely become scenery.
The way owners measure profits in this day
and age are public subsidies for stadiums,
luxury boxes at the stadium, and sweetheart
Now what’s so horrible about two of those
three things, the cable aspect and the public
subsidies for stadiums, is that we’re paying
for this whether we’re sports fans or not.
Our cable bills go up, our taxes go up, to
subsidize these kinds of ventures.
And every single economic study shows that
they don’t work.
So what these stadiums–
You mean they don’t produce the revenue.
No, it’s more like a neo-liberal Trojan horse.
Where people end up agreeing to things that
they would never otherwise agree to, because
it becomes wrapped in sports.
And the idea, or maybe a fear that the team
Or maybe excitement at the thought of a new
Yet we all pay a very serious price for this.
I went to college in Minnesota, I remember
going to see the Twins at the Hubert H. Humphrey
And it was not a good stadium.
Billy Martin once famously walked in and said,
how could Hubert Humphrey’s parents name him
after this dump?
So it was a pretty awful stadium.
And so, and I’m all for them having a new
stadium, except the new stadium was built
entirely with public money, even though it
had been rejected a dozen times by the voters
in various referendum.
But the owner, Carl Pohlad, who’s the richest
owner in major league sports at the time,
he devoted, and I, this is without exaggeration,
the last 25 years of his life, from age 72
to 97, to lobbying to get this new stadium.
That was his dream.
And the very week they were going to break
ground on the new stadium the bridge collapsed
in Minneapolis, sending about a dozen people
to their deaths.
A five-minute walk from where I live in D.C.,
the metro went off the rails the year after
the new Washington Nationals’ billion-dollar
So people have to realize whether you’re a
sports fan or not, very real choices get made
about the limited amount of public infrastructure
dollars that we have.
And if they don’t get spent on infrastructure
that safeguards our basic safety, then we
all pay a price for that.
What’s the hold these billionaire owners have
over the city fathers and sometimes city mothers
of a place like Detroit?
I mean, you saw the headlines in Detroit recently.
One day the headline says, city declares bankruptcy.
The next day, the headline says, multi-million
dollar new arena.
Detroit Red Wings.
Over $400 million for a new hockey stadium,
the same week that they talk about Detroit
I mean, first and foremost, it’s not being
built for Detroit, it’s being built for a
gentleman named Mike Ilitch, founder of Little
Caesars Pizza, the man is in his 80’s, he’s
worth $2.7 billion.
And he’s getting over $400 million in public
money for a $650 million arena.
This was signed off on by Rick Snyder, the
same governor who enacted the the anti-labor
laws that are in Michigan that caused so much
controversy last year, and making it a right-to-work
But he says this is a rebuilding project that
they’re doing it for jobs.
What a wonderful opportunity to see excitement.
And this will have a big multiplier effect
in terms of additional development in that
whole area of Detroit.
So it’s a good win for Detroit.
Yeah, once again, it’s like, what kind of
jobs are you creating?
And could that money be used for different
kinds of jobs in Detroit?
Detroit is a place you leave, not a place
You need to have real jobs that create a real
tax base that can fund real schools that actually
And you’ve got to keep the street lights on
and you’ve got to have a garbage collection.
And first of all, the kinds of jobs that it
creates, it doesn’t produce tax revenue.
It produces revenue for Mike Ilitch which
he can then hide and not pay.
But it doesn’t produce tax revenue for the
people who are going to, who actually have
to live in Detroit after this.
So what’s your intuition, if not your evidence,
for what, how that happened?
Well, I do have a lot of evidence on this
one, because fortunately, the public records
are good on this stuff.
And this is about Mike Ilitch having a lobbying
wing at the Michigan capital and having the
ear of Rick Snyder, I mean, Mike Ilitch–
Mike Ilitch wanted a new arena, the same way
the Steinbrenners wanted a new Yankee Stadium.
The same way in this town Fred Wilpon, even
though we didn’t know it at the time, but
he was borrowing money on the new Mets Stadium,
Citi Field, and giving it to his best friend,
who happened to be named Bernie Madoff to
invest it for him.
I mean, and that’s the part of it that just
boggles my mind, especially as someone who
grew up a Mets fan, the idea that sports can
be used as a kind of economic shell game for
people in power.
And I think that really is how it happens.
Because there’s an agenda at the top of society
that wants corporate welfare.
That’s a huge part of that kind of one-percent
And sports is a way to do that without arousing
the kind of ire that otherwise might exist.
You’ve said that what’s happened to sports
in the last 30 years was actually preparing
the public psyche, for what?
I think for the Wall Street bailout more than
I mean, if you think about the trillion dollars
of public money that went to bailing out Wall
Street after the 2008 financial crisis, and
the terms of that bailout as well, asking
nothing of Wall Street, prosecuting nobody,
and preparing people for this idea that says
the role of public spending is really to bail
out private capital.
And that’s the way our society is going to
Money will flow up.
We have a trickle-up economic program in this
So instead of a more classical economic model
that says, if you get money in the hands of
working people, they will spend that money,
and that will stimulate more demand and make
the economy grow, the other thing the other
model is now it’s a finance model that says,
get as much money as possible in the hands
of big business.
And that’s going to be the basis of our economy,
even though it’s going to, in an incredible
sense, be like inequality on steroids.
Now I think the way that sports has operated
over the last, particularly in the go-go 1990s,
when the economy was growing starting really
in Camden Yard in Baltimore you had this preparing
of the public psyche to say, you know what
the role of public money should be?
To give it to private capital so they can
build these stadiums.
So what do we do about this?
Well, I think one of the things that’s exciting
about this moment, right here, right now,
is that you have examples in places like Brazil
of people standing up.
They’re building all the stadiums for the
World Cup and people think of Brazil as this
And, of course, the organization that governs
soccer is called FIFA.
And so the big banners in the streets were,
we want FIFA-quality hospitals.
We want FIFA-quality schools.
And that became an in international news story,
this idea of, no, the stadium doesn’t represent
civic pride, it represents why I have a bad
hospital and why my kid goes to a failing
That, to me, is a huge step.
You know, that there’s that expression that
sometimes in struggle, days are like years,
and sometimes years are like days.
Like what was happening in Brazil was like
years of work happening in a matter of days.
And so the argument is now an easier one to
make with people.
The second thing that’s encouraging is just
I mean, it used to be they would do these
sort of showcase referenda for new stadiums
They don’t do the referendums anymore.
The former mayor here, Rudolph Giuliani was
asked why there wasn’t a referendum for the
new Yankee Stadium.
And he said, well, if we have a referendum,
we’ll lose, which was about as honest as you
So it starts with education, it starts with
And I think–
And anger, doesn’t it?
It has to start with anger.
In Brazil, you could watch the people protesting
the inequities brought on by the spending
for the World Cup facilities, and they’re
saying, we’re mad as hell, we’re not going
to take it anymore.
Yeah, that’s we are going to need a lot of
that in this country.
And I think we need to actually organize with
sports fans and say, okay, you love sports,
but do you really want to feel like you’re
subsidizing the person who owns this team?
Does that seem right to you?
And go to unions and say, okay, you think
there’s union labor in building this stadium
and that’s why you support this project, but
what happens when it’s done?
And then your kids are working for $8 an hour
and the only way you’ll ever go into this
stadium is if you’re selling beer.
Here we are at the convergence of two sports
seasons that always get fans excited, me included.
The opening of football, and the fall drive
in baseball towards the World Series.
But then you have a controversy like Alex
With a 211 game suspension hanging over his
head that he is going to appeal, Alex Rodriguez
about to take his first at bat of the season.
A-Rod, appealing his suspension for cheating,
he used performance enhancing drugs that he
and other players got from that anti-aging
clinic in Florida, Biogenesis.
Talk about A-Rod.
I mean, it’s so interesting, because on so
many levels, I think Alex Rodriguez, there’s
a lot about him that’s very loathsome.
I live ten minutes away from a horrific slum
with mold and ventilation problems and rats.
Alex Rodriguez owns the slum.
It’s called Newport Ventures.
And this has become a big local story in Washington
D.C. that Alex Rodriguez owns this horrific
I mean, so the guy has made $350 million in
He’s loathsome on a lotta levels in terms
of how he uses his money and how he uses his
But at the same time, all of that being said
what Major League Baseball is doing in terms
of attacking him is precisely because he is
such low-hanging fruit in that regard.
He’s not going to get a lot of defenders.
But the part of the A-Rod story which I think
needs to be talked about more is less about
Alex Rodriguez and more about the other players
who were pinched in this biogenesis case.
If you take Alex Rodriguez out of the picture,
all the players who were just disciplined
in the last couple of weeks, they all came
through baseball’s Dominican Republic pipeline.
They were all players either from the Dominican
Republic or from Nicaragua or Venezuela and
they all go through the Dominican to be trained
before coming to the US.
Today, one out of every three minor league
players is from the Dominican Republic, a
country that has a poverty rate of over 40
One out of three minor league players.
Now the other thing about the Dominican Republic
is that steroids are legal and available over
And so I look at Major League Baseball and
I think, “These are people who want to have
their anabolic cake and eat it too.”
They want to be able to develop a huge portion
of their talent in a place that’s a Wild West
for performance-enhancing drugs.
And then in the 1990s, when they weren’t testing,
they made billions of dollars with the power
surge and the increase in home runs.
And now today, as the wheel has shifted, they’ve
become the teetotalers who are cracking down
in the name of public relations.
I mean, every Major League owner is like Claude
Rains in Casablanca saying, “I’m shocked there’s
gambling going on here.
Your winnings, sir.”
So is there a pattern in how baseball chooses
It’s just like we were talking about before
with our cities and with inequality.
I mean, I also think that sports mirrors and
And so what you have baseball doing is investing
billions of dollars in the Dominican Republic,
where they can sign kids as young as 15 years
old for a couple thousand dollars.
They get scouted before their tenth birthday.
They go through these baseball academies that,
I mean, it’s been exposed so many times, like
the substandard health and sanitation in these
A young prospect for the, my hometown team
now, the Washington Nationals died in one
of these academies, a young man named Yewri
And we’re at a point now where I think baseball
has decided that it’s better to be able to
develop talent cheaply because 99 percent
of them won’t make Major League Baseball anyway,
and to sign a bunch of people at higher rates
when 99 percent of them won’t make it anyway.
So it’s like a kind of brutal, brutal farm
system that takes place down there.
Have we seen any of the owners penalized for
failing to enforce the rules about steroids?
Not only have you not seen that, you didn’t
see one owner dragged in front of Congress
when the Congress was doing their steroid
You’ve never seen an owner asked, what did
you know and when did you know it?
Even though we know for a fact that in the
late ’80s, you had trainers going to ownership
meetings saying, hey, there’s these things
called synthetic testosterone, steroids, that
they are going to flood the locker room in
the next few years.
And yet they either chose the policy of benign
neglect or malignant intent.
And we honestly, we don’t know the answer
precisely because they haven’t been asked.
You know, player once said to me, and this
is kind of like my guiding compass to this
A player once said to me, when it comes to
steroids punishment is an individual issue,
but distribution is a team issue.
And he was trying to make the point that when
they crack down, they always go after the
And it’s like the magical fishing net that
catches the minnows while the whales go free.
So now let’s talk about football.
A lot of attention is being paid to the scientific
link between routine football plays and permanent
I want to play you a clip from a Frontline
documentary called “Football High.”
NARRATOR in FRONTLINE: Football High:
12:48:14:00 Starting in 2009, scientists at
Purdue University put sensors into the helmets
of two high school football teams.
The sensors measured every impact the athletes
took over the course of a season.
TOM TALAVAGE in FRONTLINE: Football High:
12:48:32:00 The original intent for this study
was to study concussions.
But we didn’t experience any concussions for
quite a few weeks, so we decided we would
start bringing in some of our players who
had not experienced concussions to just begin
to understand whether or not there were any
consequences from the blows that they were
getting to their head.
NARRATOR in FRONTLINE: Football High:
12:48:53:00 To the researchers’ surprise,
neurological tests revealed that players who
had never reported symptoms of a concussion
had suffered significant damage to their memories.
TOM TALAVAGE in FRONTLINE: Football High:
12:49:03:00 You know what to do.
This is the letters test, zero back, one back
and two back.
CHRIS NOWINSKI in FRONTLINE:Football High:
12:49:37:00 The sensors in helmets find that
high school kids take more force to the brain
than college kids.
And the reality is, we know from the literature
that the young, developing brain is far more
vulnerable to this trauma.
Dr. ANN McKEE in FRONTLINE:Football High:
12:49:52:00 How do you change the game so
that you’re not getting all these small little
hits that don’t rise to the level of concussion?
That’s sort of the nature of the game.
That’s how it’s being played.
Every time we line up, even in a practice,
that’s what’s happening.
So we’re going to have to make dramatic changes
or we don’t change, we don’t change the face
of this disease.
Do you see those changes coming, given the
fact that football is so deeply imbedded,
as you have written and said, in the psyche
We love the violent sport.
There will be changes and people need to recognize
that they will be almost entirely cosmetic.
I think what we have to accept as a society,
as a football-loving society, is that football
is a lot like a cigarette.
You can give it a bigger filter, you can tell
people it has less tar, but no one has invented
a safe cigarette.
You don’t think better helmets will work?
Horribly, some of the studies show that better
helmets can make things actually more damaging,
because it’s harder to detect when you’re
actually hurt, when you actually get your
so-called, your “bell rung” as they used to
Because it becomes the sort of thing where
your brain is banging against your skull,
which is banging against the sides of the
And because there are less exterior injuries,
which might be a telltale sign, you don’t
So it actually becomes worse and more dangerous.
That’s the scary thing about this.
I mean, we don’t, what we know now is that
you don’t need a diagnosis of a concussion
to have a concussion.
I mean, these sub-concussive hits are actually
I mean, I think we’re so attune to thinking
that the danger of football is some 6’4″ 250-pound
linebacker running at four or five speed and
knocking your block off.
But that’s not the danger.
It’s the mundane, daily knocking into the
That’s where the danger is.
I have been a football fan all my life because
I love the surprise of it.
The hail Mary pass that’s in the air, the
beauty of the last-minute tackle.
But the beauty and the surprise seem to be
less compelling to me, given these reports
And given the suicides of several professional
Yeah, Junior Seau who played 20 years and
was not diagnosed with a concussion once.
Dave Duerson, who took his own life by shooting
himself in the heart, just so his brain could
And Junior Seau also took his own life by
shooting himself in the heart.
These are things that I think need to weigh
heavily on the minds of football fans when
they watch the game.
I mean, people like violent movies, they like
violent video games they like violent sports.
But I’ll tell you something.
Boxing is profoundly less popular now than
it was in Muhammad Ali’s day, and that’s because
people actually saw with their own eyes what
people like Muhammad Ali went through after
And I think the more people know about how
players suffer after they leave the game,
the more the sport is going to be in crisis.
Dave Zirin, thank you very much for being
My privilege, thank you.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are
created equal, his Monticello farm team was
obviously not what he had in mind.
They were chattel, possessions toiling in
So it’s not lightly that Dave Zirin and other
observers invoke the plantation mentality
to describe college football today — or the
National Football League.
Tom Van Riper, who covers sports for “Forbes”
magazine, points out that of the 31 owners
of NFL teams, seventeen — more than half
— are billionaires.
Many boast of being self-made in the image
of Horatio Alger, and are now ensconced in
luxury skyboxes far above the proletarians
whose own dreams of glory ride vicariously
on the grunts and groans of bulky but agile
gladiators only one play away from a career’s
A collision with the laws of physics.
Football, like politics, ain’t beanbag.
The fortunes of players can vanish in a single
blow, while high in their plush digs, owners
reap continuing gains from TV and advertising
and the tax breaks and subsidies showered
on them by compliant politicians.
Big-time sports now mirrors the vast inequality
that has come to define America in this century.
Soon after the taping of my interview with
Dave Zirin, the NFL settled a class-action
suit brought by more than four thousand retired
players and their families seeking damages
from injuries linked to concussions.
To the casual fan, it was a win for the players
— a sum of $765 million.
But even if they finally have to cough up,
the owners will feel no pain.
That’s just a fraction of the estimated 10
billion dollars the league generates in revenue
The average payout per plaintiff will amount
to around $150,000 — not nearly enough to
cover a lifetime of lost wages and medical
bills faced by the victims of serious brain
These players and their families haven’t won
It isn’t even a tie.
As another formidable sleuth of journalism,
David Cay Johnston, recently asked in the
“Columbia Journalism Review”, “If the settlement
does not cover all the costs of medical care,
much less lost future wages, who will bear
His answer: taxpayers
When players are no longer insured by the
league and find themselves unable to afford
private insurance for their enduring afflictions,
taxpayers — that includes you and me — will
be the ones to pay, through Medicaid and Social
We won’t even be allowed to see the NFL’s
own extensive research into the neurological
damage caused by concussions.
The settlement allows the league and the owners
to keep it under lock and key.
Something else to remember as we relax in
our favorite easy chair, dazzled and thrilled
by men who can be hurt for life.
If the world were just, they would not be
so matter-of-factly tossed aside, we might
think twice about how we want to be entertained,
and the owners of capital would be amply penalized
for unsportsmanlike conduct.
We began the series last year with three broadcasts
on winner take all politics, based on the
book of that name by political scientists
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.
Their theme was the political engineering
of inequality, or “How Washington made the
rich richer and turned its back on the middle
In the next few months we will be returning
to those core issues.
Next week, the economist Robert Reich — named
one of the best cabinet officers of the 20th
century — will be with us to talk about his
new documentary “Inequality For All.”
ROBERT REICH in Inequality For All:
Now the thing you want to know about this
Mini Cooper is it is small.
We are in proportion, me and my car.
My name is Robert Reich, I was Secretary of
Labor under Bill Clinton.
Before that the Carter administration.
Before that I was a special aid to Abraham
Of all developed nations the United States
has the most unequal distribution of income
and we’re surging toward even greater inequality.
1928 and 2007 become the peak years for income
concentration, it looks like a suspension
WOMAN in Inequality For All:
Last year we made $36,000.
MAN in Inequality For All:
Think I probably make $50,000 a year working
70 hours a week.
ROBERT REICH in Inequality For All:
The middle class is struggling.
People occasionally say to me, “Now what nation
does it better?”
The answer is, the United States.
In the decades after World War II, the economy
boomed but you had very low inequality.
BILL O’REILLY in Inequality For All:
Do you know Robert Reich?
MAN in Inequality For All:
BILL O’REILLY in Inequality For All:
He’s a communist.
ROBERT REICH in Inequality For All:
When I was a kid, bigger boys would pick on
I think it changed my life.
I had to protect people from the people who
would beat them up economically.
Who is actually looking out for the American
The answer is, nobody.
If workers don’t have power, if they don’t
have a voice, their wages and benefits start
We are losing equal opportunity in America.
Anyone of you who feels cynical just consider
where we have been.
One of the purposes of this film, Bill, is
to make sure people understand that the only
way we’re going to get the economy to work
for everybody and our society, once again
to live up to the values of equal opportunity
that at least we aspire to, is if we’re mobilized,
if we’re energized.
If we take citizenship to mean not simply
voting and paying taxes and showing up for
But actually, participating in an active way,
shutting off the television–
With some exceptions.
There’s some exception.
And spending an hour or two a day in our communities,
on our state, even on national politics, and
putting pressure on people who should be doing
the public’s business instead of the business
of the moneyed interests to actually respond
to what’s needed.
At our website BillMoyers.com there’s a thought
provoking variety of analysis and commentary.
That’s all at BillMoyers.com.
I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here,