Bradford here. *fistbumps* If you're an original reader, you've probably figured out that Morgan and I trade Leadoff Hitter duties every week. Next week, you'll hear from her, then the following week, me, then next week, Morgan, until the eschaton. If you're a new reader, don't miss my partner-in-pen learning to sympathize with the victims of alleged violent crimes (think the Patrick Kane story, or the Kobe trial) by weaning herself off athlete hero worship.
Perfect timing, I guess, for me to heap mountains of praise on Aaron Rodgers for his decency towards Muslims after the brutal Paris (and Beirut! And Baghdad! And Nigeria!) terrorist attack. While discussing Green Bay Packers’ loss to the Detroit Lions this past Sunday, Rodgers noted his dismay after a fan screamed “MUSLIMS SUCK” during Lambeau Field’s moment of silence:
“I must admit, I was very disappointed with whoever the fan was that made a comment that was very inappropriate during the moment of silence. It’s that kind of prejudicial ideology that puts us in the position we are today as a world.”
On the heels of what might be the most significant act of terror to hit the Western World since 9/11, in a political climate so fearful of Muslim foreigners that 31 governors have announced their intentions to refuse Syrian refugees — including the Packers’ home state of Wisconsin — Rodgers defended his Muslim friends, neighbors, and cheeseheads. Moreover, his post-game statements demonstrate the inherent respect for Muslim life necessary for a diverse and inclusive society.
Since 2013, young Muslims from the West have jettisoned their homes and communities to join ISIS. The mythological appeal of the Islamic State is too complex to address in this space (The Atlantic’s “What ISIS Really Wants” appears to be a good starting point), but many agree that radical Islam's perverse narrative is most attractive to Muslims in a society that marginalizes the decent and peaceful. ISIS successfully radicalizes would-be recruits by promising a home that understands, if not celebrates their piety. A claim of this magnitude is most effective when the society Muslims are asked to leave have repeatedly rejected their innocuous, non-violent attempts at faithful religious and cultural life. That’s not just an abject failure of a nation’s pluralistic ideals, it’s kerosene for extremism. ISIS wants you to hate Muslims, and religious slurs at an NFL game help their cause.
Crushing the allure of ISIS requires more than mere air strikes and apologetics. It demands a persistent effort to communicate that Muslims do not have to forsake their beliefs to enjoy the religiously-unaffiliated liturgy of Western life. Sports have the mystical power to join tens of thousands of strangers to scream in unison, eat plastic nachos, and wear the identical wardrobe for five hours straight in the snow in December. Living in New York City, I can attest that all Sikhs, secular humanists, and Seventh-Day Adventists hold to one eternal truth: Boston sucks.
Plenty of Muslims are fighting the pull of the Islamic State by building an ethos of cultural affirmation, with arguments and approaches far more robust than a post-game soundbite. (Sara Khan’s work in the UK is one of the best examples.Fouad Ben Ahmed is another.) But, thanks to the distinctly American virtue of throwing footballs really far, really hard, Rodgers has become a cultural leader. His excellence on the gridiron gave him a unique position him to amplify the ideas of Muslim voices to an audience that needs to hear them most. AsUmmah Sports founder Amaar Abdul-Nasir writes for Muslim Matters, there are very few athletes willing to advocate for important causes, especially in the prime of their careers. After all, at times it can be hard for athletes to represent the communities they come from in a high-profile way. So when Abdul-Nasir later asks, “Should the Muslim community expect its high-profile athletes to exemplify the best Islam has to offer, while simultaneously acting as goodwill ambassadors for a religion that is often misrepresented by the media?”
Maybe. But, I’m grateful it’s a burden Rodgers was proud to share.
Stick to sports.
This edition of Foul and Fair is sponsored by PORZINGIS!
Delay of game.
The friendly that wasn't. Outside the stadium, gunmen terrorized the city of lights. Inside Stade de France, the president and thousands of fans sat mesmerized as their national team took on rival Germany. “It was so weird,” sports reporter Cyril Olivès-Berthet told The New York Times. “The players were running and doing their game, and the fans were chanting their normal chants, ‘Aux Armes, Aux Armes,’ a typical chant that is a warrior thing about taking arms and going to war. When France scored the second goal late in the game, they all waved their flags, and the players celebrated like they always do.” Here is what happened after the refs blew the whistle.
Listen to Wembley Stadium sing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
Michael Phelps and the fatherless epidemic. Each of the last three Olympics, I’ve wondered about the conspicuous absence of Michael Phelps’ father. NBC Sports features on the swimmer have profusely included his devoted (and emotional) mother. But what about Fred? “For me, not having a father always there was hard,” Phelps reveals in Tim Layden’s recent Sports Illustrated profile. “I had...guys who acted as father figures. But deep down, inside, it was really hard. That was something that was a struggle for me to talk about for a long time, even with friends or my mother.” This is not the story about how Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time. It is the story of how Michael Phelps became a man.
“Vibrant, soulful, smart, cool. And brave.” Say you like what we do and want to read more? Perhaps The Undefeated will be that forum for you soon. Previously nicknamed “Black Grantland” the vertical has suffered from persistent leadership issues. Black Twitter’s 3,869th-favorite sportswriter Jason Whitlock (ranked somewhere between Lolo Jones and Sheriff David Clarke): out. Former managing editor of The Washington Post Kevin Merida: in. Here’s Merida with more on what to expect:
“The Undefeated will appeal to African Americans who want to see their actual lives and experiences reflected in a sports site, who want to understand black athletes better than they do, who appreciate irreverence and swagger and also sophistication and intellect, who want to take a bat to inequality but also want to laugh and cry and be uplifted. I think The Undefeated will appeal to anybody, regardless of ethnicity, who cares about these topics and wants to be inside the conversation, and not outside of it.”
(Note: After you finish the Merida Q&A, sports media commentator Richard Deitsch asks whether networks showing NFL games will also air ads for the upcoming Concussion film. Read it.)
Don’t play sports, pay for sports. The school that knocked Baylor out in the NCAA tournament earlier this year can’t afford its football team. So, it’s billing its expenses in the form of student fees. It’s hardly the only offending university, an investigative report by The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Huffington Post recently found. At Georgia State and its kind,“students who have the least interest in their college’s sports teams are often required to pay the most to support them.”
It gets worse. The study found that schools that end up subsidizing their athletic departments are also more likely to serve a poorer student body than those with access to outside revenue.
Fake scandals plague perfect Panthers. Carolina fans apparently can’t get their own team’s record right. (8-1 or 9-0? Gold and white or black and blue?) And apparently Cam can’t dance after scoring a touchdown without angering a mother. (Would the Panthers be willing to shoulder something for the Niners?!) At The Charlotte Observer, Jonathan Jones suggests it’s not athlete
“Of course Newton’s dances are a form of self-aggrandizement. There is an inherent “look at me” nature to any celebration – white or black player, quarterback or otherwise. But perhaps unwittingly, Newton is introducing a culture foreign to a good portion of Charlotte. Historically, there’s resistance when that has happened. Sometimes it’s followed by acceptance.”