The Greatest Political Statement Ever

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  • In the words of that great American, George “Kingfish” Stevens: well now, hol’ de phone, Andy!
     
    The person that needs to hold the phone in this case – the better to prevent himself from taking wild flights of fancy – is Dave Zirin, who writes a weekly sports column entitled “The Edge of Sports.”
     
    Zirin wrote a column about Chris Kluwe, a punter for the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings. The title of that column was “Chris Kluwe and the Greatest Political Statement by Any Athlete Ever.”
     
    The “greatest political statement by any athlete ever” was Kluwe’s blog on Deadspin that purported to respond to Maryland State Del. Emmitt Burns.
     
    Some background: Burns is a Democrat that represents part of a predominantly African-American district in Baltimore County. So you can’t blame mean, old, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, women-hating racist Republicans for this one.

    In late Augus,t Burns sent a letter to one Steve Bisciotti, owner of the Baltimore Ravens. Burns might be a Democrat, but he’s against same-sex marriage. Brendon Ayanbadejo might be a Ravens linebacker and special teams player, but he supports same-sex marriage.
     
    Burns, in his letter, urged Bisciotti to stop Ayanbadejo from making public declarations in support of same-sex marriage. An incredibly stupid suggestion, yes.
     
    Kluwe decided to rush to Ayanbadejo’s defense, not that the linebacker needed any. And Kluwe decided to be every bit as incredibly nasty as Burns was incredibly stupid.
     
    In the blog that Kluwe couldn’t resist emailing to Burns, Kluwe called the delegate “a narcissistic (bleep) stain.” Then Kluwe called Burns a name that’s synonymous with a well-known body orifice.
     
    Burns’ mind was “rapidly addled,” according to Kluwe, who suggested that the delegate might want to hire an intern or two to help him with the longer words in Kluwe’s piece.
     
    This was no “great political statement,” as Zirin would have us believe. It was the puerile, bilious ranting one might expect from a spoiled brat.
     
    A far greater political statement – assuming you believe Kluwe’s bit of invective was a political statement, and I don’t – came down the pike in 1965. Muhammad Ali, then in a dogfight with the sporting press over his religion and whether he should even be called Muhammad Ali, said this about the Vietnam War:
     
    “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
     
    Nine words, not nearly as many as in Kluwe’s profanity-laced ad hominem attack, but much more powerful. Even more powerful was the political statement Ali made two years later, in April of 1967.
     
    He said not one word.
     
    I remember standing outside a West Baltimore grocery store, waiting for my brother Mike, who had an excited look as he approached me.

    “He didn’t go!” Mike exclaimed.

    Mike didn’t even have to explain who “he” was, or where “he” didn’t go. I knew immediately that Ali must have refused induction into the armed services and that the story had just broken over the news.
     
    Ali’s silent statement in Houston, Texas was like a shot heard 'round the world, even having an impact on one 15-year-old boy and one 12-year-old boy whooping it up outside a Baltimore grocery store because he “didn’t go.”
     
    One year and four months later, on Oct. 19, 1968, two other athletes made an even greater silent political statement.
     
    American Olympic sprinter Tommie Smith had just won gold in the 200-meter race. John Carlos, his teammate had won the bronze.

    Every African-American, whether he or she was living at the time or not, knows what happened next. On the victory stand, as “The Star Spangled Banner” played, Smith and Carlos, each wearing a black glove on one hand, thrust those gloved hands skyward in a Black Power salute.
     
    I don’t have any poll numbers to back up my analysis, just the reaction of those in my neighborhood and the high school I attended, which was still pretty integrated at the time.
     
    Many blacks supported the gesture Smith and Carlos made; far more whites were outraged. (One year later it was revealed that a U.S. Army lieutenant named William Calley had personally slaughtered 22 South Vietnamese civilians – including a 2-year-old toddler – at a place called My Lai. Some of the same Americans that hated Ali, Smith and Carlos – who had killed no one – LOVED Calley. Go figure.)
     
    Ali, Smith and Carlos not only took unpopular stands, but also lost money because of those stands. Kluwe hasn’t lost one dime.
     
    If Zirin is looking for “the greatest political statement by any athlete ever,” he’d better look well into the past.
     

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