A Jock for Justice

A coach of Dave Zirin’s once said: “Sport is like a hammer. You can use a hammer for all kinds of things; you can use it to build a house, or you can use it to bash somebody’s head. Choose wisely.” 

Zirin, sportswriter and social critic, has chosen sports as a means to expose the injustices of our time.

Whether it’s using the Caster Semenya story to question the gender binary, or the Arizona Diamondbacks to condemn the state’s controversial immigration policies, Zirin is a refreshing voice in the sports world, a world that is too often ignored.

In his latest book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, Zirin takes on the sports-industrial complex.

The book documents how owners blackmail cities into financing new stadiums, usually at the expense of working class communities.

Zirin is not the first person to talk about the negative impact of professional sports on communities. Along with overly optimistic job projections and cost-overruns, there is growing concern about the high opportunity-costs associated with publicly financed sports stadiums. It is counterintuitive to sports fans and city boosters alike, but studies are increasingly showing that stadiums end up on the negative side of the balance sheet. Montrealers only have to look eastwards to the Olympic Stadium for a reminder of this truth.

These studies are sometimes about as accessible as a country golf club, but Zirin, on the other hand, brings this message to the people. With his witty critic-ism, Zirin’s writing is able to connect with a younger audience, whether sports fans or social justice activists, his style like a more subversive blend of Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Nader.

In fact, at times, Bad Sports reads more like a political manifesto than sports journalism and seems to be laying the groundwork for a future fans movement, as Zirin encourages fans to act and reclaim the teams and sports they love.

Zirin brings up the case of Liverpool FC, where fans recently started a movement to take back their beloved team from soccer-ignorant owners Tom Hicks and former Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett.

Bad Sports also tells of the little-known case of the Green Bay Packers, the sole community-owned, not-for-profit major professional team in the United States. Over 110,000 Packer fans across the United States own shares in one of the NFL’s most popular and prestigious teams. At Lambeau Field, the concessions are run by local organizations, and profits are distributed amongst local charities.

QPIRG-Concordia is invi-ting Zirin to speak on Sep. 21 as part of Disorientation. “The Politics of Sports,” will begin at 7:00 p.m. in H-110. This will be preceded by a book signing at 5:00 p.m. at QPIRG. The event is free and open to all.

Bad Sports: How Owners Are
Ruining the Games We Love
Dave Zirin
Scribner Books
240 pp $28.99

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 05, published September 14, 2010.