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ToTomgram: Robert Lipsyte, How the Worst Values of Sports Are Taking Over America

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Say one thing about the world of sports: in some fashion, it invariably reflects developments in the larger world. It hardly matters whether the subject is war or inequality. Take a knee for a moment and think about that or, in the age of Donald Trump, think about the president whose bone spur problems have never stopped him from cheating at golf or promoting his golf clubs while in the White House -- or, in fact, spending the odd day in the White House while he was promoting (and staying at) those golf clubs (and getting ferried from one "lock-her-up" rally to the next to denounce anyone on this planet taking a knee about more or less anything).

If only we could say goodbye to all that! Fortunately, we have TomDispatch's jock culture correspondent (and former New York Times sports reporter and columnist) Robert Lipsyte who knows a thing or two about both sports and saying goodbye to all that. Since, in this ever-changing age of ours, there can be little question that, with the help of a group of Washington "terrarists" -- no, that's not a misspelling -- including The Donald, we are heading for a goodbye-to-all-that future, it's none too soon to consider what Lipsyte calls the Jockpocalypse version of the same. Tom

From the Ballpark to Team Trump
By Robert Lipsyte

A half-century ago, the sporting Cassandras predicted that the worst values and sensibilities of our increasingly corrupted civic society would eventually affect our sacred games: football would become a gladiatorial meat market, basketball a model of racism, college sports a paradigm of commercialization, and Olympic sports like swimming and gymnastics a hotbed of sexual predators.

Mission accomplished!

The Cassandras then forecast an even more perverse reversal: our games, now profaned, would further corrupt our civic life; winning would not be enough without domination; cheating would be justified as gamesmanship; extreme fandom would become violent tribalism; team loyalty would displace moral courage; and obedience to the coach would supplant democracy.

Okay, I think it's time for a round of applause for those seers. Let's hear it for Team Trump!

Even as those predictions were coming true over the past two years, as a longtime sports reporter, columnist, TV commentator, and jock culture correspondent for TomDispatch, I waited with a certain dread and expectation for the arrival of the true Jockpocalypse, the prophetic revelation that Jock Culture had indeed become The Culture. There would be three clear signs, I thought, of this American sports version of a biblical Armageddon.

The first arrived last February, when a leading NFL owner was arrested, allegedly in flagrante delicto, in a Florida massage parlor before an important game. The second hit the news in March, when several dozen parents were caught spending millions of dollars to get their distinctly unathletic children admitted to elite colleges by masquerading as promising varsity sports prospects.

The third and most convincing sign came in April when the world's greatest golfer tacitly endorsed the world's greatest golf cheater. Admittedly, none of those signs was as blatant as ongoing outrages like the growing roster of young women athletes who had been sexually abused by their team coaches and doctors; the continuing corruption at the highest levels of European soccer (where anything goes financially speaking and, as the New Yorker's Sam Knight put it, "The best leagues are awash in Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern sovereign-wealth funds, and Chinese conglomerates"); or the sexism of the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport in refusing to allow Caster Semenya, a South African runner with naturally elevated testosterone, to compete against other women unless she doped down her hormone levels.

Nevertheless, the three signs I've noted reveal how the worst aspects of Jock Culture have indeed transcended all the traditional borders of sportsdom, ruining for many, including me, the full enjoyment of sports. How can a moral person watch games in which players are damaged and exploited? How has sports, cherished as an innocent sanctuary, become such a "guilty pleasure"?

You can argue with obvious justification, historically speaking, that sports was never anything like the chaste Oz of our fantasies, whether you're talking about foul play in the ancient Olympics, the 1919 World Series Black Sox game-fixing scandal, or the contemporary revelations of the widespread use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, especially in baseball, track, and bicycle racing, but those three signs I'm about to explore make, in the opinion of this sports writer, an even more damning case for the coming of the End of Days for sports as a sanctuary of innocence, joy, and pleasure of just about any sort.

Signs of the Jockpocalypse

Sign No. 1: My first instinct was to ignore the story of an aged widower, allegedly paying for some version of sex, who was scooped up after being caught on surveillance video at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, during a local police investigation of alleged human trafficking for the sex trade. However, because it was Robert Kraft, the 77-year-old owner of the New England Patriots, one of the National Football League's most powerful figures, I grew ever more curious -- and not just because he had previously liked to flaunt girlfriends half his age or because he supported Donald Trump.

After all, it was on his watch as owner that the Patriots had drafted two players of highly dubious character. In 1996, the team drafted Christian Peter, who had been arrested eight times and convicted four times of assaulting women while a star defensive lineman at the University of Nebraska, the national collegiate champion. Kraft's late wife, Myra, successfully demanded that Peter, who ultimately had a career with other teams and has apparently turned his life around, be let go.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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