Howard Bryant‘s ☛THE HERITAGE: BLACK ATHLETES, A DIVIDED AMERICA, AND THE POLITICS OF PATRIOTISM drops today on Beacon Press. I loved Bryant’s NPR interview where he traced the branding and political apathy of athletes from O.J Simpson to Michael Jordan:
O.J. [Simpson] was the first athlete who really opened the door to endorsements and to the big money. And then with free agency in the ’70s, ballplayers were … on their way to becoming super-rich, as they are today. And then by the time you get to the ’80s, you’ve got Michael Jordan, who really was the guy who identified the player with commerce. And he was the guy who became ‘a brand,’ as they say today.
And you did not hear elite athletes talk about anything important. They did not get involved in social issues. You didn’t see players get involved with Rodney King when we actually saw videotape of what took place. And it’s not just Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson and Patrick Ewing and the rest of them — they did not get involved at all. And I think that the sports fan got really comfortable with that, and that’s why today [when athletes are protesting, it] is so jarring.
Per Penguin Randomhouse:
Following in the footsteps of Robeson, Ali, Robinson and others, today’s Black athletes re-engage with social issues and the meaning of American patriotism.For most of the twentieth century, “No News on the Sports Page” governed how sports were played and perceived in America. The ballfield was a sanctuary from real-world problems. Today, that is a naive notion.The reasons are complex. But among them, post 9/11, sports arenas transformed into staging grounds for American patriotism and pride. As America dealt with terrorism at home, hero-worship of law enforcement took center stage. Police officers threw out first pitches; soldiers’ surprise homecomings became a staple at half time; and teams wore camouflage jerseys to honor those who served. Any critique of police or military authority looked unpatriotic, even when the authority deserved criticism.