Posts tagged with: Donald Trump

Kap-tain America and Black Protest in Sports

When we think of sport being adopted as a forum for political causes, we more often than not conjure in our minds the image of African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the 1968 Olympic medalists’ podium, raising their fists during the playing of the United States national anthem – a gesture of strength and unity for those fighting for human rights, they said.

If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.

– Tommie Smith

Controversial at the time, their act has since become synonymous with the empowerment of historically oppressed people, and a symbol of inspiration for millions. They were also concerned, they said, about the way a certain world-famous black boxer was stripped of his title…

From a heritage of slavery, Cassius Clay rejected his family’s slave name of Clay, becoming Cassius X and then – after joining the Nation of Islam – “Muhammad Ali.” Rival pugilist Ernie Terrell still insisted on ignorantly referring to him as “Cassius Clay,” so in his fight with Ali, Muhammad famously pummeled him while asking, ‘What’s my name?!’ and calling him an “Uncle Tom.” Muhammad Ali then went on to sacrifice his boxing career for a court battle as he resisted being drafted to fight for the U.S. in Vietnam, declaring, ‘I got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Vietnamese ever called me a n***er!’ Threatened with imprisonment over his resistance, he simply stated, ‘So what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.’ With mass protests against the military campaign in Vietnam – an unmitigated disaster for the U.S. elites – decades later few even attempt to defend it, in the same way few now defend the opposition to the civil rights movement at the time.

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me – I’d join tomorrow.

– Muhammad Ali

But the civil rights movement has long been oversimplified as a single-issue cause of the legendary Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, when in fact his commitment to social justice naturally reached into the realms of trade unionism, and American culture today generally holds him in high regard while at the same time cleverly omitting the fact he was assassinated while supporting striking sanitary workers. Like Muhammad Ali, he was also vocally opposed to the military involvement in Vietnam.

The creation of communist threats around the world was important for the military industrial complex: weapons manufacturers make millions from war, and peace doesn’t boost profits for their shareholders (this is why the military industrial complex sponsors presidential candidates). The insanity of this is represented by how the U.S. and the U.K. both permit arms sales to human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia, who in turn support the latest threat: ISIS.

Our government officials wear poppies at the same time as neglecting armed forces veterans, using them instead to promote and justify military aggression overseas for – in the case of Afghanistan and especially Iraq – resources such as oil. The rise of militarism and flag-waving is not a coincidence, and the rise of the “Tea Party” and Donald Trump in the U.S. and “Britain First” in the U.K. are a product of this: rampant nationalism within an increasingly militaristic culture, where in order to care about your country – or better yet, your armed forces – you have to support your government’s military aggression overseas that so often put brave servicemen and women unnecessarily in harm’s way, even if it provokes terrorist attacks on your towns (in fact, the terrorist attacks help too, because in turn, they promote nationalism and militarism).

Suppose somebody asks, ‘Do you support the people in Iowa?’ …It’s not even a question; it doesn’t even mean anything. And that’s the point of public relations slogans like ‘Support Our Troops,’ is that they don’t mean anything, they mean as much as whether you support the people in Iowa. Of course there was an issue: the issue was, do you support our policy, but you don’t want people to think about the issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda, you want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: ‘Do you support our policy?’ And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.

– Noam Chomsky

All of these violent atrocities in the West, as well as overseas in bombing campaigns, certainly put sports into perspective, and as we can see, several athletes have realised this and used their athletic platform to raise awareness on issues far more important than a sporting contest.

In the wake of a disproportionate amount of police brutality towards African-Americans in particular, including murders, the last few years have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers would turn out to be embroiled in controversy surrounding the cause, despite society long since redeeming the likes of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Muhammad Ali, all of whom began a battle continuing to this day: it’s the same one Colin Kaepernick is fighting.

As is no secret, the Pentagon takes millions of dollars in taxes from struggling American citizens to pay for bombing campaigns while people at home struggle to pay for healthcare or education – and they get away with it because of the culture of fear, and the perpetuation of the perception of threats from overseas. But what is less known, is the fact that – to further boost militarisation and nationalism in American culture – they went directly to the NFL.

That’s right. Pentagon officials reached into their deep pockets to strike a deal that would be laughable if it wasn’t so cynical: they paid between $60,000 and $1,000,000 to initially 14 teams to have them pause before the start of their games so they could sing the anthem, fly the flag, and – yes, you guessed it – “support our troops.” Yes, as Chomsky suggested, who wouldn’t want to support their troops? It’s unquestionable. And that’s what the Pentagon intended by striking at the core of apple-pie American culture: get the American people associating even their favourite sports with nationalism and militarism. And, as we have seen, it has largely worked.

Hence such a bizarre backlash – despite all history has shown us – against Colin Kaepernick when he decided to drop to one knee during such flag-waving ceremonies. The media quickly confronted him about it, and he was quick to articulate his actions.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

– Colin Kaepernick

The San Francisco 49ers had a change of Head Coach, and the regime change saw “Kap” released from the team. Usually, a quarterback of his stature would have been snapped up by another franchise pretty much immediately. But it didn’t happen. And apart from the same kind of white racists over in the U.K. who called soccer player Eni Aluko ‘bitter’ for challenging racism while being dropped from the national team, most people began to believe this ongoing free agent status was simply because Kap had openly opposed the establishment, albeit by merely taking a knee during the national anthem.

Yes, having the teams observe the anthem was a recent phenomenon in the NFL, but even so, as NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy stated at the time, ‘Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.’ So of course, it’s not like this was even that much of a deal at all.

But the culture had changed: Pentagon money had meant that the rules of the NFL or even of the flag itself were irrelevant – they had successfully created a nationalistic, militaristic culture where people were outraged over something as simple as taking a knee, even if it wasn’t breaking any rules – they were angrier about this than they were about black people being slaughtered in the streets of the United States by officers of the law. Think about that for a moment.

That absurdity is the greatest possible victory for fascists in the Pentagon and in the White House.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.’? You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag – he’s fired.’

– Donald Trump

Of course, the amazing and inspirational women of basketball have been protesting injustice for quite a while longer. Recently, protest has been increasingly prominent amongst their male counterparts, as well – but without the same outcry provoked by American football, something some feel is due to the different audiences attracted by the sports.

Oh, (Colin Kaepernick) is being blackballed. That’s a no-brainer. All you have to do is read the transactions every day, when you see the quarterbacks who are being hired. He’s way better than any of them. But the NFL has a different fan base than the NBA. The NBA is more urban, the NFL is more conservative.

– Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors Head Coach

Pentagon bribery doesn’t hurt, either.

Those around the important, bold and brave Black Lives Matter movement all seemingly unanimously embrace Colin Kaepernick for standing up (or kneeling down) for the worthy cause – including his own brilliant awareness-raising Know Your Rights initiative – but have different thoughts on the prospect of an NFL team finally hiring the excellent quarterback, from what I’ve gauged from the internet the last few months:

In the midst of his legal action against the NFL, some worry that Kap signing for a team would be part of a compromise where it would disprove the claims of being “blackballed,” and potentially contain him (if that’s possible), while subjecting him to further abuse if he continued protesting; others feel his message would be uncompromising yet amplified if he was part of an NFL team, and would be a vindication of his efforts, taking his standing and his protests to another level of prominence, perhaps even expanding the movement even more to the mainstream.

From the excellent “Superheroes In Full Color”

There are indeed pros and cons to both. But just as Muhammad Ali simply wanted to take part in high-profile boxing competition while in his own prime that was stolen from him because he stood up for what was right, Colin Kaepernick is still an American football player who keeps training, and simply wants to play. He deserves to play. Whether he’s a more effective activist as an official NFL player, or outside of the NFL, remains to be seen – but if he does get signed by a team, they will, on principle, enjoy my support, providing they set him loose to both play, and protest, with freedom. I’ll be buying the merchandise, just to prove a point of popularity.

As history has told us, sport means nothing without principles, but is at its best when it retains them, free from the vested interests of war profiteers and corrupt politicians. In fact, its enjoyment for all of us is heightened when its participants stand up for fairness on and off the playing field…otherwise, you’re just cheering for a jersey.


Is the News Really Faker Than Wrestling?

Donald Trump might be President of the United States, but he’s a really bad businessman. That’s a well known fact. He inherited a fortune of between $40 million and $200 million – and then blew most of that. Of course he got ahead with financial assistance from his father, but he also got by with a little help from his friends. While his Trump Plaza Hotel, Casino & Convention Center was another white elephant, things might have been much worse without event promoters like Don King taking a gamble of their own and hosting shows there.

Another promoter who took such a chance was Vincent K. McMahon, Jr, the professional wrestling guru who had successfully taken his own father’s north-eastern promotion and gone national, running roughshod over regional promoters who had for years held gentlemen’s agreements to host the “World Champion” against their respective area’s top stars, but never cross over or encroach on each other’s patch. This ruthless ambition, coupled with a desire to take pro wrestling from smoky bars and into arenas of smoke-and-mirrors, led McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation to become a global phenomenon, in 1987 culminating in “WrestleMania” at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan, where Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant, billed at 7’4″ tall, before what McMahon’s WWF announced to be a “world indoor attendance record” of 93,173.

Upon learning that it appeared Hulk Hogan, who left the show as “World Champion,” earned more money than every other wrestler on the event combined, Jesse Ventura attempted to set up a wrestlers’ union, an idea promptly extinguished by McMahon himself after none other than Hogan ratted them all out to protect his own position. Making it in Hollywood alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Predator and The Running Man, Jesse joined Arnie in the political arena, but not before first using his Screen Actors Guild membership to claim royalties from his WWF commentating duties.

Despite the success of WrestleMania to the point where it was able to fill stadia, McMahon agreed to stage not one but both of his follow-up WrestleMania shows – in 1988 and 1989 – at the Trump Plaza, which held less than 20,000 spectators. Donald Trump was so pleased by this that he sat in the front row, right at ringside, at each of the events. Trump and McMahon remained trusted allies as a result.

What’s more, breaking the age-old Magic Circle-style code known as “kayfabe,” Vince McMahon went against wrestling tradition and admitted to the State of New Jersey Senate that, of course, all matches were predetermined and that shows were not sporting contests but simply entertainment (a word that you’ll notice became more prominent in Vince’s publicity as the years progressed). These admissions removed the scrutiny and taxation faced by other athletic promoters, something Vince’s wife Linda had been battling with for years while running the business behind the scenes.

Yes, if you hadn’t guessed, pro wrestling was officially “fake.” And the grudge matches and publicity stunts weren’t the only fictitious part of the whole presentation: Andre the Giant’s height and even WrestleMania’s success itself had been embellished – it turned out that there were not, in fact, 93,173 in attendance at all, as explained by Dave Meltzer, who has for years largely been the only serious and widely-respected documentarian and critic of pro wrestling:


So from that front row seat where he’d sat through hours upon hours of heroics and histrionics, staged fights and scripted challenges, Donald Trump learned from pro wrestling how to perform, how to gain notoriety, and how to throw away any factual basis to his threats, promises, or claims while garnering attention – hence running The Apprentice and using Vince’s line ‘You’re fired!’ on mainstream media. To truly test this knowledge and showmanship, he joined McMahon in his own storylines in 2007 and Trump took to the stage of WrestleMania where the two wagered their own infamous hairstyles on their respective chosen charges, with wrestler-turned-Celebrity Deathmatch star Steve Austin playing the role of the Mills Lane-style special guest referee.

Vince McMahon lost, getting his head shaved. But he didn’t mind public humiliation as part of the show; after all, he had nothing else left to prove.

Fellow billionaire Ted Turner, owner of CNN, TNT and TBS, so begrudged Vince’s refusal to sell the WWF to him that he threw everything from his other successful ventures into the wrestling organisation he did acquire, WCW – even if it meant losing Pay-Per-View revenue by putting top main event marquee matches on Monday nights, up against the WWF’s flagship show. By the time AOL Time Warner bigwigs came in to take over Turner’s businesses, they realised WCW was leeching off the other initiatives, so sold it off from Turner’s empire – ironically, to none other than McMahon himself, meaning he’d bought Turner’s wrestling company, rather than the other way around.

Vince immediately portrayed the turn of events as the victory of an up-and-coming underdog against a mighty multinational conglomerate – mostly driven by his own jealousy of Turner – and given the somewhat petty, classless way Turner had gone about trying to crush the WWF, it was easy at the time to applaud McMahon for the upset. But there were other forces, too, that contributed to sympathy for Vince and Linda McMahon around this time.

WWF star Mick Foley, who hit the news for his death-defying stunts to a backdrop of fan-made signs reading “Foley is God,” wrote New York Times bestseller Foley Is Good: And The Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. In that book, he highlighted how the right-wing Parents Television Council clashed with the WWF for their increasingly mature programming content that included racy storylines and Foley’s own violent performances. The PTC was set up by L. Brent Bozell, III, son of infamous communist witch-hunt leader Joseph McCarthy’s ally L. Brent Bozell, Jr, and according to Foley’s book utilised similar scare tactics against the wrestling company, even blaming four playground deaths on WWF performances. Wrote Foley: ‘It was a strategy that has produced marvelous results in the storied history of smear campaigns. No one could possibly prove that they were not a witch during the Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The Jewish people could not prove that they were not a cause of economic problems in Germany in the 1930s. Alleged Communists could not possibly prove that they were not communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. And Bozell probably believes that the World Wrestling Federation cannot possibly prove that wrestling did not play any part in those four deaths.’

The rags-to-riches WWF later humorously co-opted the campaign against them by creating an on-screen parody of the PTC called the RTC (Right to Censor), while company directors like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr – a liberal politician – continued to defend the WWF publicly in opposition to the ultra-conservative “religious right.” The McMahons eventually weathered the storm, just as they had in the 1990s when the feds targeted their company specifically for rampant steroid use, nearly putting the WWF out of business, just as Vince had been pursuing his labour of love, the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF).

The McMahons after their successful steroid trial defence.

But after Ted Turner’s WCW had been bought – and promptly crushed; shut down – by Vince McMahon, his rebellious streak began to arrive at its end. There was no more competition. He’d become more rich and powerful than he’d ever imagined, and the family business was suddenly becoming the monopolising ultra-corporate interest he’d criticised Turner for pursuing: stock traded as WWFE (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment), with its initial public offering in 1999, partly to raise finance for his latest pet project, the XFL, after the collapse of the WBF.

Vince was obsessed with being more than just a “carny” pro wrestling promoter; he banned from his shows words like “wrestling” to be replaced with terms such as “sports-entertainment”, “wrestlers” instead called “superstars” even if they were unknown, and screamed into commentators’ headsets to have them refrain from saying “belts” or “bouts” or “feuds.”

As an alternative to the NFL, the XFL, of course, was another failure, and admittedly the mainstream media were not without fault, with their instant ridicule of the product challenging the American football establishment, despite the fact the XFL actually inspired change in the NFL as well.

After the XFL was gone, along with directors like Lowell Weicker, Jr, the all-powerful, all-knowing yet unknown WWFE shareholders remained, and Vince’s campaign to “Get the F out” – changing the WWFE to simply WWE after the World Wildlife Fund had taken legal action on use of the acronym “WWF” – was one of his last attempts of edgy rebellion, by definition a surrender to long-established forces. Far from being diehard fans of his product, the shareholders were of course only interested in the bottom line, which meant no more experimental creativity, and no more risks. The product, to this day, has remained ultra-corporate, formulaic, and stale, full of hyper-scripted content and product placement.

It also meant no more scandals.

When mild-mannered Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit – secretly suffering from severe concussions and brain damage – shockingly killed himself and his family, while pro wrestling roving reporters like Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller were trying to draw attention to the industry’s need for better wrestler rights (something Jesse Ventura had wanted while fighting to form a union), the mainstream media instead threw investigative journalism completely out of the window and claimed steroid abuse and ‘roid rage had caused the killings, despite the fact they had occurred not, in fact, in a fit of rage but over the course of a weekend.

It didn’t matter. The feds returned, and the McMahons were back in front of them again having to explain themselves, only briefly touching on wrestlers’ rights enough to force Vince to introduce a WWE “Wellness Policy,” but stopping short of preventing them tying wrestlers into unfairly binding contracts while calling them “independent contractors” and making them pay for their own travel, injury bills and pension plans.

Vince (far right) famously rolls his eyes during Linda’s speech conceding to Chris Murphy in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Linda, meanwhile, had by this time unsuccessfully run for office more as a personal ambition, and as seemingly an annoyance to Vince. Until Vince realised he could get the government off his back for good if he had influence there.

When they found out their old oddball ally Donald Trump was now running for office himself, they pumped around $7 million into his campaign to help get him into the White House. Trump’s approach, ‘unparalleled in modern presidential history,’ was to guarantee influential positions for those willing to pay for it by putting him in power.

Almost all of these cabinet picks have massive conflicts of interest from the public’s perspective, but from their own perspective they now occupy the corridors of power for the express purpose of deregulating the business sectors in which they operate. Trump’s simply giving them dividends on their investment. When he campaigned suggesting he meant business, you’d better believe at least that much is true.

It might treat pro wrestlers shamefully, but WWE is safe and sound even though it may have no soul left. No longer innovative, ground-breaking, or risk-taking with liberals on its board taking on the McCarthyists, today it’s part of the establishment it used to rail against. In their pursuit of more money and power, they’ve been swallowed whole by a shareholder profit motive and their political allegiances, and they’re a bigger part of the problems they used to cite and complain about. Even Ted Turner opposes Donald Trump, who in turn attacks CNN. Now, Turner is the favourable anti-hero, and Vince the establishment stooge who didn’t make it on his own in the end but was bailed out and bought and controlled by investors and politicos.

Linda McMahon has been appointed Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the McMahons – and therefore WWE – have reach right into the White House. There resides a President who, true to pro wrestling live-action pulp fiction, claims his predecessors are “McCarthyists” while he himself was mentored by Joe McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn. But again, truth doesn’t matter, and if you argue with him, state your case, or even present cold hard facts, you’re labeled “fake news” – what the Nazis used to call lugenpresse to discredit evidence against them.

Trump, like the McMahons, know too well the dishonesty of the corporate mainstream media and its various agendas, but is now exploiting that in order to attack any and all evidence against himself. In many ways, the press brought it on itself, but the lies of this President are on such a scale that they threaten to provide a smokescreen over the truths we do get from mass media and journalists. It’s frightening to dismiss all of it as “fake news.”

No, the only truly “fake news” these days is that coming out of the Trump administration, you can be sure of that. In a regime targeting environmentalists, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, women and the LGBT community to name a few, they’re relying on the white nationalist Steve Bannon to handle the propaganda strategy while sending Sean Spicer to berate the press that are being kicked out if they don’t report on Trump favourably. When confronted with facts, they present “alternative facts” (also known as lies). In true Orwellian fashion, to Trump lies are truth and truth is lies – or “lugenpresse.”

Again, this is far more fake than pro wrestling, where chair shots to the head gave life-shattering concussions and supposed “superstars” pay for their own trips and healthcare costs and often end up making more money on the independent circuit. The dangers of pro wrestling are very real, but now the carny promoters are part of Trump’s administration, they don’t have to worry about that. They’ll just keep promoting Trump instead – a superstar more dangerous than Hulk Hogan, more scripted than John Cena. A superstar they helped to create to gain influence, in exchange for millions of dollars and the spirit of entrepreneurial rebellion.

They taught him how to create a show and tell a story, even if it wasn’t true or real. And now Mick Foley is finally right: the real world is faker than wrestling.