The Politics of Sports

Dave Zirin Speaks at Concordia

Dave Zirin, a modern day Hunter S. Thompson without the suitcase of narcotics, was at Concordia on Sept. 21 to discuss the politics of sports and the corporatization of franchise ownership.

As part of their alternative orientation, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group invited Zirin to discuss his new book on the greed of owners and the consequent political and social ramifications.

In his opening remarks, organizer Jaggi Singh explained the importance of “the political side of [the] phenomena of sports, which so dominates our popular culture.”

Zirin is unique among sports journalists for delving into the dark side of the sports business apparatus. Where most sportswriters will only discuss in-game exploits, scores and statistics, Zirin invests his energy in exploring the deeper significance of sports, which he sees as interconnected with the political.

“[There’s a] disconnect between sports and people who see themselves on the left,” said Zirin, adding that he believes this is hindering the reclamation of a powerful social vehicle and allowing corporatization to succeed unchallenged.

Zirin went on to prove his point by alluding to the fact that Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billy Jean King and Martina Navratilova are more than just sports legends—they are icons that have transcended the games they played and are symbols of a transformation in political society.

“Sport is the closest thing to a common language that we have in the world. If all of sports was racist, reactionary refuse then it wouldn’t be sports, it would be NASCAR,” said Zirin.

“if all of sports was racist, reactionary refuse then it wouldn’t be sports, it would be NASCAR,”

-Dave Zirin,
Author of Bad Sports

In his book, Zirin shines the spotlight on anonymous, super-wealthy, Montgomery Burns-like owners that put profits before fans. Take, for instance, the prospective owners of the Quebec Nordiques, media conglomerate Quebecor and its founder Pierre Péladeau. They would be the prime beneficiaries of the proposed publicly funded arena to bring hockey back to Quebec City.

“If there are going to be public expenditures to get the Nordiques back, then there also should be public ownership. No more socializing the debt of these projects and then privatizing the profits,” Zirin said.
Zirin pointed out that owners, some of the wealthiest individuals in our society, have been able to suck cities dry of money to build their gargantuan stadiums by getting massive amounts of public funds, while not returning any of the profits.

“Look at the wonderful cities of Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Oakland, [and] Cleveland—it’s an American tragedy—what do they have in common? They have declining populations, ageing populations, the complete erosion of anything resembling a manufacturing base and union labour, and new publicly funded gleaming stadiums,” he said.

He said it’s not just North American pro-sports that are haunted by the spectre of malfeasance, but international competition as well. For example, there are the Olympics, the World Cup, and, as we can witness right now, the Commonwealth Games in India.

Zirin, in his weekly sports column written about the social cost and impending disaster that is the 2010 Delhi games, sums it up nicely: “Injury. Death. Destruction. Despair. Deficits. None of these have stopped the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. But risk to the health of the athletes? Strike up the concern.”

To conclude his speech, Zirin delivered this ominous warning: “We have to turn on to sports and how sports operate, or it’s going to turn on us.”

Dave Zirin’s book Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, is on bookshelves wherever books are sold. His column can be found at and you can tune in to his radio show on Sirius/XM.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 07, published September 28, 2010.