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Sports Stars and Extreme Capitalism from Necati Ateş to Stephan Curry: The Continued Atomization of Extreme Capitalist Society

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Necati Ateş in Action For Galatasaray. Image Courtesy Of: https://alchetron.com/Necati-Ates-145199-W

 

The other day a friend sent me a picture of himself with Turkish football star Necati Ateş. In and of itself, this small “event” is not very significant; a friend had a random interaction with a famous footballer in a restaurant—itself a democratic space since everyone has to eat. Yet, for me, it was indicative of the fact that extremely wealthy celebrities, like footballers, do not have to be distant from the very people that support them: the average fan. I was moved especially by Mr. Ateş’s smile; he seemed genuinely happy to be in a photo with my friends. For me a simple picture—while maybe not telling one thousand words—did show that 1) celebrities can be accessible and 2) that celebrities can also be normal people. That this kind of interaction took place in Turkey is not insignificant.

 

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Some Beautiful People in a Beautiful Picture. Mr. Ateş is Pictured Third From the Left (In the Middle, So To Speak). Image Courtesy of E.C.

 

The extreme capitalism of the United States is based upon a belief in the supremacy of the individual; in advanced industrial capitalist societies the individual is effectively subordinate to the system. As an American-born kid growing up in Turkey I was often asked if I saw famous people on a daily basis. Of course I didn’t, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island (a beautiful city yet hardly a destination for A-List celebrities). And even if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles, celebrities—in the United States—often frequent such exclusive places that a normal, middle class citizen would be unlikely to even interact with such people. The country is simply too big (and too stratified) to be conducive to such interactions. But in Turkey it is different—the country is smaller, and people are—generally—more ready to interact with their community than people in the United States. And that is one reason that Turkey is such a warm and inviting country.

Mr. Ateş seems to show, in this small interaction, that there can be a place for humanist interaction in societies that are negotiating the relationship between capitalism and “extreme” capitalism. In the United States, it is difficult to get the autograph—let alone a picture—of a star athlete. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that often-times athletes (and celebrities) come to believe (due to encouragement from the culture industry) that they are somehow “above” normal society—Beyonce’s self-beatification during the Grammys is a good example of this process.

 

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The Beatification of Beyonce; Celebrities as Above the People. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beyonce-grammy-goddess_us_58a203d0e4b0ab2d2b17d4ce

 

Similarly, some athletes completely disregard the people that support them. NBA star Steph Curry’s comments regarding Donald Trump are an example of this process. After the CEO of the sportswear company Under Armour called President Donald Trump “An Asset to this country [the USA]”, Steph Curry (who is himself sponsored by Under Armour), said “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’”. While I would not go so far as conservative commentators who called for Under Armour to “rip up” their agreement with Mr. Curry, I would say that Mr. Curry’s comments are ill-informed; he evidently did not realize that many normal people—including parts of the middle classes in the United States—indeed voted for Mr. Trump precisely because they felt forgotten by mainstream America’s celebrity culture. It is a process that has characterized the neo-liberal era in the United States; even in 2000 a University of Wisconsin sociologist noted how ignoring middle-America was problematic. Evidently, no one listened.

 

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Steph Curry In Action for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Image Courtesy Of: http://clutchpoints.com/steph-curry-deflects-question-about-kevin-durants-comments-about-his-defense/

 

A society divided between rich and poor cannot sustain itself and, sadly, celebrities are perpetuating this divide in the United States currently. While I agree that sports stars should speak their mind (since they are a large part of the public sphere), they should do so in an informed way. By succumbing to blind ideology, they send the wrong message to their fans. Mr. Curry would have been better off taking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s path, who attempted to bridge the gap in American society rather than widen it further. In so doing, Mr. Johnson showed that he is more in tune with his society than Mr. Curry and—coming from a celebrity—this is something to be commended. Money, and the search for it, need not distance us from our own humanity. Unfortunately, extreme capitalism in the United States tends to glorify the celebrity. I appreciate Mr. Ateş’s actions for showing a side of Turkey that current news stories tend to miss: it is a beautiful country with extremely kind people, struggling to stand up to the ravaging forces of extreme neoliberal capitalism. If only more American celebrities could recognize the dangers of their own disconnectedness from wider society.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On America IV: Politics As Sport? Stark Divisions Hinder the Ability to Address Real Societal Problems

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Just a Little Humor: Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/2/27/1492361/-A-Thought-About-Politics-as-Sport

As the rumblings regarding Donald Trump’s election victory continue, I am still shocked to see how base the level of discourse is; it is much more reminiscent of an argument about sports than one about politics. It is one driven by emotion and not fact, knee jerk reactions rather than contemplation or serious thought. Aides for Mr. Trump and erstwhile rival Hillary Clinton engaged in an unprecedented shouting match at Harvard University and when “chosen” people (such as campaign aides) are unable to engage in civilized debate it is no wonder that debate amongst us connection-less “mere mortals” (the masses) is of equally low quality.

For me, the fact that “race” was the main point of contention between the aides was the most interesting part of the exchange:

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned [Trump campaign chief executive Stephen] Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.

‘If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,’ she said. ‘I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.’

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”

‘You did, Kellyanne. You did’ interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.

‘Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?’ Conway asked. ‘How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?’

 

We must try to look past the language of state media (the Washington Post). Ms. Palmieri is depicted as having “choked up”. Of course, in a country where cry-ins were organized post-election, this kind of emotional response is accepted—dare I say expected—from Ms. Clinton’s supporters (and Mr. Trump’s detractors). On the other hand, looking at this from a feminist perspective, I would say that this is a glaring example of portraying women, like Ms. Palmieri, as weak and emotional (typical stereotypes of women in American society). State media’s decision to add the “choking up” detail, which is utterly meaningless in the context of the story, is troublesome since it is offensive to women.

Then again, some segments of America might be thinking “state media would never insult feminists or women,” right? Because state media’s opponent, Mr. Trump, is the misogynist and sexist, right? Perhaps…but this misses an important point. Just because someone says they aren’t racist or sexist or anything else, it doesn’t mean that they are—actually—what they claim to be.

In a conversation with fellow sociology graduate students earlier this week I pointed out how minority groups are continually disadvantaged by ostensibly “progressive” forces. I argued that it is a form of social control, designed to divide people so as to prevent opposition to the dominant narrative. After all, the ghettoization of African-Americans in American cities is most glaring in the major urban centers of “progressive” and liberal states, just look at Chicago, Boston, or New York. Erica Lehrer’s study Jewish Poland Revisited explains how many American Jews are taught that all Polish people are anti-Semitic, creating an unhealthy “Us versus Them” narrative. This is sustained because many American Jews never have meaningful interactions with Poles during their visits. It is the same in the United States; northern “progressives” have never actually interacted with African-Americans because they have been ghettoized (and demonized). In my own education, a private high school in New England, I was basically taught that all Southerners are racist bigots. In reality, having lived in the deep south, I have learned that there is far more interaction between Whites and African-Americans—most of which is overwhelmingly positive—in the south then there even could be in the liberal and progressive north.

In our discussion, a student told me that sociologists do research to benefit society and create equality. I asked the student what “benefiting society” even means? From my perspective, I have seen sociology often further divide people—such as the working class—by emphasizing arbitrary dividing lines. A chapter in a book I’m currently reading for my research about sports and politics says “whereas class has virtually disappeared from much of the sociological writing on sport, there is no shortage of references to gender, sexuality, ‘race’, ethnicity, national identity, disability, and so on” (Alan Bairner in Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sports, Ben Carrington and Ian Mcdonald, eds.: 207). I don’t think that the sociology of sport is alone among fields of sociological inquiry in experiencing a phenomenon where class is continually ignored in favor of smaller, compartmentalized, differences. I also have no doubt that many of these divisions cross-cut class, and that emphasis on these differences only serves to further fragment society.

We live in a society where many academics have been co-opted by the culture industry; they agree with the dominant media narrative. Of course, this is dangerous for democratic society. The “educated” must think independently and speak up when there is exploitation and not just pay it lip service. A friend in my department told me that some research results that portray minority groups in negative lights are being suppressed in academia, since it could have “detrimental consequences”. Does this mean that academics are purposefully censoring themselves in the name of “racial equality”? I would say it does, and that is very problematic. To me, that is inherently racist, belying the “progressive” ideals of so many U.S. academics.

Race, Sports, and Politics in the United States: The Case of College Football

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As my “About Me” page states, I attended the University of Texas for my Master’s degree. As is the case with many of those who attended UT, I too was indoctrinated (!) into following the Texas Longhorns (American) football team—Hook ‘em Horns. Since my days at UT, I have continually followed my team’s fortunes. These days they aren’t doing so well and could be headed for a third-straight losing season, something unheard of in Austin, which has led to rumors that the coach, Charlie Strong, could be fired. Since this is a football blog and not an (American) football blog I will not go into specificities about sport; rather I will focus on politics.

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As the Article States, Charlie Strong Is Undoubtedly a Good Man. Unfortunately, The Bottom Line Is What Matters in (Extreme) Capitalist Sports–and Societies. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/want-texas-keep-charlie-strong/

 

Mr. Strong is an African-American, and for an (American) football coach that is a rare quality. But it is also a quality that can lead to a lot of—perhaps—undue controversy. The Houston Chronicle, on 20 November 2016, came out with a story claiming that the low number of African-American coaches in college football is due to racism. This is an interesting assessment of the situation, but the president of Texas A&M University said, in reference to the lack of minority coaches, “I don’t think anyone would deny that it looks like a significant under-representation”. The Houston Chronicle’s story says that 11.7 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision (the highest tier of college football in the United States) schools have African-American coaches. According to another story, however, this figure is close to U.S. Census data that says 13.3 percent of the American population is African-American. The 11.7 percent of African-American coaches, then, means that the number of African-American coaches is actually nearly proportionate to the number of African-Americans in U.S. Society. So…where is the problem?

Unfortunately, the problem is historical since the heinous history of institutionalized racism in American society looms behind many aspects of American culture, sports included. What’s worse is that it creates an inequality that fails to address the true problems, and a troublesome double standard emerges. When, in late October 2016, a fan at a college football game in Wisconsin depicted current president Barack Obama in a noose state media (the Washington Post) called it a “racist incident”. On the other hand, following Donald Trump’s election victory, when protestors in Los Angeles burned President-elect Donald Trump’s head in effigy and a Houston haunted house showed Mr. Trump hanging from a noose and when, in New York, Mr. Trump was hung in effigy outside his residence there was no similar outcry. Even when, in the New York incident, American flags were burned there was no outcry—state media didn’t even report it! To a neutral observer this is very odd and it begs the troubling question: Is it because Mr. Obama is African-American but Mr. Trump is white?

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Uproar In Madison, WI. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/10/29/fan-in-trump-mask-holds-noose-around-fan-in-obama-mask-at-wisconsin-game/

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But None In New York. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2016/11/hillary-supporters-hang-trump-effigy-outside-his-nyc-home/

 

Given the uproar at a simple college football game in the small town of Madison, Wisconsin—where fans of the University of Wisconsin heaped shame upon the (admittedly) poor taste of the fans who disparaged the current President of the United States—it is interesting (not to mention shocking) that the burning of the American flag on 5th Avenue, the heart of “America”, was not similarly condemned.

It is the product of a society that has been—continually—unable to come to terms with its racist past which creates a worrisome double standard not only in society, but sport as well. Sage Steele, an anchor for America’s largest sports network ESPN, sent a good message to America when she said:

As a self-proclaimed, proud bi-racial woman — my father is black and my mother is white — the word “diversity” is fascinating. These days, I call it “the D word”. Why? Because everyone likes to say it. At work, at home, at the podium, at colleges and universities. Diversity. EMBRACE DIVERSITY! Fortunately, millions of Americans of all races, religions and cultures do just that. But, how many of us actually mean it? Specifically, how many people of color actually mean it? Or is it simply a socially acceptable, politically correct term that just sounds good, and feels good to say, or to demand? Unfortunately for way too many African-Americans and people of color, I believe it’s the latter. I’ve actually believed this for years and have spoken publicly about it a few times recently, contemplating when the best time would be to fully “go there”. In light of recent events around the country and personally, I feel the time is now.

[…]

 You don’t get a hall-pass just because you’re a minority. Racism is racism, no matter what color your skin is.

 […]

Believe it or not, we can disagree and still be civil. Respectful. Kind. Accepting of our differences. Isn’t that what DIVERSITY is all about? EMBRACE DIVERSITY…but mean it. All the time, not just when it’s convenient for you. I pray that we can all begin to have more open-minded, non-judgmental, healthy conversations to ensure that diversity applies to ALL Americans, all of the time.

I could not have said it better myself, and it is remarkable that we miss out on how counterproductive this refusal to embrace diversity really can be. The reason for the dearth of African-American coaches in college football is just one small example of the issue. As the article states:

Given the history of major institutions hiring black coaches, the problem is not a resistance to hiring, but rather that a black coach is extremely difficult to fire because groups such as TIDES and people such as Ty Willingham might call you a racist.

The only color that college boosters and alumni care about is green, the color of money that flows into the school as the result of a winning program with sustained success over a long period of time. Schools such as Texas and Texas A&M have given the “power” to black coaches they believe will deliver that kind of success.

If the media and former head coaches-turned-activists wouldn’t launch inquisitions and hurl accusations of racism, more would do it [coach college football teams].

As is the case with industrial football, money is all that matters to those in charge of sports teams; all they want is success on the field so as to line their pockets. Understandably, that means having the power to hire people who can bring success. Unfortunately, the flip side of that means having the power to fire people who don’t bring success and teams will become more reluctant to hire African-American coaches if firing them leads to controversy. To cloud such issues with race only serves to miss the point entirely, and it unfortunately supports a dangerous and divisive double standard in society that helps neither whites nor African-Americans. Rather than fomenting race-related controversies where none exist American society would be better served focusing on how to alleviate the poverty and violence in African-American communities, the kind depicted in ScHoolboy Q’s poignant video for the song John Muir. Just a bit of perspective from a marginal sociologist with a multi-cultural background.