Story and Photos by Ken Krayeske • 11:25 PM EST
UConn football quarterback Zach Frazer drops back to pass, on Saturday, April 18 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT (left), and a t-shirt wearing leftist gathers signatures on Sunday April 19 outside the Left Forum hosted at Pace University in New York City.
With the recent revelations that the CIA waterboarded two suspected terrorists a total of 266 times (proving how effective a torture technique it truly is not), I wonder why I am spending so much time covering UConn sports?
It seems the inverse of the 9/11 question - how can we laugh after such tragedy? Why examine entertainment in the face of Constitutional catastrophe? With the war on civil rights raging, the excesses of intercollegiate athletics should take a back seat, right? Over at edgeofsports.com, Dave Zirin suggests that progressives should not cede the contested space of the sporting world to the conservative right, because sports are in play in politics.
On Sunday, April 19, Zirin hosted a panel discussion "Sports as A Platform for Dissent" at the Left Forum, a three-day leftist learn-in at Pace University in New York City, featuring of dozens of sessions like "Terror Incognita," "Housing, a Basic Human Right" and "Women's Voices from Iran."
About 30 or so people sat in a windowless classroom next to the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall to grapple with F-16 flyovers of stadium games and the anti-war stances of college basketball players. (And the counter-speech of Yankees' fans cheering for anti-war first baseman Carlos Delgado.)
Zirin, who has written several books and runs a satellite radio show, invited as panelists myself and Toni Smith, the one-time Manhattanville College basketball co-captain. Smith raised a ruckus in the run up to the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq not only on her team, but across the country when, in protest, she would turn her back to the U.S. flag for pre-game national anthems.
All hell broke loose when Smith held her ground before a game against the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Smith's story illustrates how the sports-entertainment complex provides a powerful platform for the human rights struggle. Like a solid sports fan, Zirin listed the historical highlights of players protesting and protesters playing.
My favorite: Black Panther Stokely Carmichael maintained that boxer Muhammed Ali's resistance to the Vietnam draft frightened the racist war machine more than armed, militant black nationalists.
So in light of President Obama's release last week of the 2002 CIA torture memos attempting to legitimize the use of medical professionals to terrorize prisoners of war with the worst trapped-with-the-rat-in-the-cage scenes of Orwell's 1984, we must know how UConn football coach and state-made millionaire Randy Edsall will help the people of Connecticut cover the $170,000 he lost on UConn's trip to the 2009 International Bowl in Toronto.
"No comment," said Mike Enright, UConn sports information officer. Send your deepest sympathies to Mr. Enright, a dedicated state employee who left a family funeral Saturday, April 19 to come to work, UConn's Blue-White spring football scrimmage at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
The no comment was a long time coming, as I emailed Enright the query first on March 12, 2009:
"Ed Daigneault reported in the March 12, 2009 Waterbury Republican that UConn football lost $64,000 on its trip to the International Bowl, and the loss would have been greater except for alterations that UConn atheltics made in how it charged the salaries and bonuses of football coaches to the budget. Given the fact that the UConn board of trustees just voted to raise in-state tuition by 6 percent, and the budget deficit may call for the elimination of up to 160 jobs on campus, are you willing to share the pain and sacrifice of those students and employees, and are you willing to follow the lead of Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, and your colleague Dennis Erickson at the Arizona State University and take furlough days to help the state meet its budget needs?"
Turned out that Daigneault missed some ticket sales, and UConn claims it made $18,000 or so. Although Daigneault correctly uncovered UConn's budgeting magic that charged $250,000 in coaching bonuses to a different account, which, if charged appropriately, would mean a $170,000 or so loss for the International Bowl.
Even so, I gave Mr. Enright an out. I wrote in that first email: "Should Coach Edsall not be interested in an interview, I would accept an in-depth appropriate response by email."
No answer came, despite Enright's repeated promise. He did grant me a press pass to the Blue-White game. And I went, hoping to pose the question at the post-game presser. When I picked up my pass, the receptionist told me to call Mr. Enright.
I did. He told me of the family emergency, and I was impressed he was coming to work after a funeral. On the phone, he stressed that the press conference was about the intrasquad scrimmage and the prospects for the upcoming season. He acknowledged I could ask whatever I wanted at the press conference, and they wouldn't revoke my press pass.
But, he assured me, Coach Edsall would meet any inquiry with a "No Comment." No less than 10 emails and a trip to the stadium and all I got was a phoned-in "No Comment."
This didn't surprise me or the discussion group at Pace U. This is hardly new. Upton Sinclair pierced the veil of college sports in his 1927 muckraker Oil!, later made into the movie "There Will Be Blood". While Oil! didn't spark academic reform in Southern California the way that Sinclair's The Jungle cleaned up Chicago's meatpacking yards, Oil! remains vibrant and topical today.
Consider these lines from the Killing, Chapter XVI, III:
"Wasn't 'Young Pete' showing what he thought of professors, by paying a football coach three times the salary of the best? And of course these hired athletes were hired to win, and did not bother about the rules of the game; they slugged and fouled, and the rival teams paid them back, and there was a nasty mess, with charges and countercharges, bribery and intimidation - all the atmosphere of a criminal trial.
Along with secret professionalism, came its accompaniments of the underworld, bootleggers and bookmakers and prostitutes. Study was a joke to hired gladiators, and quickly became a joke to students who associated with them. The one purpose was to win games, and the reward was two hundred thousand dollars in gate receipts; and when it came to distributing this prize, there were just as many kinds of graft as if it had been a county government: students putting in bills for this and that, students looking for easy jobs, students and alumni building up a machine, and paying themselves and their henchmen with contracts and favors. Such was the result of an oil king's resolve to manufacture culture wholesale, by executive order."
It only takes retired MIT professor Noam Chomsky to connect college sports directly to authoritarian, militaristic policy. Here's Chomsky, from the documentary "Manufacturing Consent:"
"Take, say, sports -- that's another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it -- you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that's of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about -- [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about.
And in fact it's striking to see the intelligence that's used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in -- they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.
You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don't know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn't mean any -- it doesn't make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements -- in fact, it's training in irrational jingoism. That's also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that's why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on."
So finding out how much UConn spends recruiting football and basketball players for its multi-million dollar minor league sports enterprise chips away at the same wall that sheltered the CIA psychologists who figured out that alleged Al Qaida commander Zubaydah feared insects. Reporting that reveals the misplaced priorities in academic institutions aids the reporting that uncovered the Department of Justice memos justifying the placement of a scary looking, yet "harmless" caterpillar in a box with Abu Zubaydah for hours to make him talk, and in the end, terrorize the planet, as well.
The same human frailty rearing its ugly head alongside the grace and poetry of bodies in motion plagues the classrooms training us in comfort for killing and hatred. Any confrontation with this frailty represents positive growth.