Welcome back, this is going to be the thrilling companion and somewhat conclusion to last month’s blog. Before we start, let’s check in on some of last month’s villains and see what’s changed in their situations.
Also – spoiler alert:
We began by looking at the NBA (National Basketball Association) and how although there is a long way to go, they seem to be on the more progressive end of social change in the sporting landscape. I mentioned that it was only a matter of time until a female was named head coach of an NBA team and indeed at least three females were shortlisted for various head coaching vacancies this year. Despite being ridiculously qualified, none ended up being hired as a head coach. Disappointing, but I do believe that the time is coming soon when at least one organisation will be brave (because apparently it takes courage to not be a dick) and hire the NBA’s first female head coach and be richly rewarded for it as looking into the females shortlisted this round, they are total winners and I have no doubt they will continue that trajectory.
It will be, unfortunately, a difficult job – much more difficult than for a man in the same situation – because there will be as much attention on her gender as her ability. However, in sport, for better or worse, winning cures everything. If she is successful then you’ll see it become normalised almost overnight and other organisations will follow suit. The sooner that happens and we can all move on with our lives and this isn’t noteworthy anymore the better. I can’t wait to see the first female head coach hoist up a trophy, it’ll be a watershed moment.
Next we looked at the Washington Football Team and the lame duck “investigation” that took place. A couple of people lost their jobs and there was a token fine to be paid but no real accountability. The biggest change was that owner Dan Snyder (he assures us voluntarily) was removed from any public facing role and newly minted co-CEO Tanya Snyder – his wife – assumed those duties. It seems no coincidence that her promotion to co-CEO happened mere days before the verbal report was delivered to the NFL (National Football League) commissioner. There has been some positive change at the organisation but to claim this has been anything less than the NFL covering it’s own and Snyder’s ass would be disingenuous. The impression is that the NFL has said to Snyder: “Don’t make us look bad again.” and perhaps the simplest way to make sure that didn’t happen was to kind of do the right thing a bit.
After that we went to the NHL (National Hockey League) and looked at the disappointing decision by the Montreal Canadiens to draft Logan Mailloux into their team. When a player is drafted, it’s not very often they play for the team that drafted them in the first year or two, instead they play in more minor leagues to continue to develop and eventually make the jump to the big stage. Logan was expected to play for the London Knights in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) this upcoming season, but the OHL has indefinitely suspended him, scuppering that plan. Good on the OHL for stepping up and showing some moral leadership. Logan himself has also acknowledged publicly the impact this will have on the victim – as yet there has been no mention of any efforts to help her heal from this and move on other than saying “I’m like, real sorry about that”. At the bottom of the pile though are the Montreal Canadiens who really only care about getting a hockey player who plays well for them and makes them win more. Whether they like it or not, high-profile organisations and the people that comprise them are role models for society and guide us as to what behaviour is acceptable. The Canadiens organisation seems to have the stance that Logan’s crime was a bit of an oopsie and not ideal, but hardly anything to lose sleep over because he has talent at sport. We have to be better than that. The ability to generate money should not be an immunity card, yet organisations such as the Montreal Canadiens continue to wield it that way all the same.
Finally, Taylor Walker of the Adelaide Crows has endured a punishing amount of heat from media and fans over his racist remarks to a fellow football player. While strongly condemning these acts is warranted and necessary as there can be no tolerance – vitriol and abuse serve no purpose. Condemnation does not equal hatefulness. For a person to change they need to be allowed to grow. What Walker said was a knee-jerk response. It was the insult he had loaded in the chamber and ready to go. Why? Why was that comment what his brain had as an insult ready to go. It’s not what my brain has. To be fair my brain normally freezes and has nothing and only hours or weeks later will I think of a zinger that I wish I’d said so I’m not the best counterpoint. The best outcome is that a deeply and openly remorseful Walker has the capacity to change the wiring of his brain so that rhetoric no longer exists in his mind, or at least he has the capacity to avoid using it in the future. That’s what we want. Public shaming doesn’t really help that happen and is really some unflattering schadenfreude. Expressing disappointment and rejection of his action is fine, being abusive is harmful not only to Walker but in fact to the victim as well.
Walker has publicly apologised and has removed himself from his club and is taking time to consider his future. I hope he comes out a better and more sensitive person and becomes an example and advocate for equality. The Adelaide Crows and the AFL (Australian Football League) have continued the narrative of focusing on their reaction to the perpetrator, rather than acknowledging any role in fostering an environment which allows such situations to occur. Systemic change is needed but that is glossed over as we seem to prefer gorging ourselves on outrage which the AFL is happy to enable at the expense of initiatives that promote introspection, accountability and internal cultural change.
Also: Fallout 1 and 2 are still art. Fallout 76 still sucks.
Now that we’re all up to date, I think what this goes to show is that Big Sport is as much in the PR business as the sport business. They do their best to be seen as socially and morally responsible without actually having to follow through on anything at all. It reminds me of when I was a primary school student and I was sent to the principal’s office with the person I’d been fighting with and we were made to apologise and say we wouldn’t do it again. I certainly didn’t mean it and neither did the other person. The principal certainly knew we didn’t mean it but we had to go through the motions anyway and the only thing that changed was we would fight where we weren’t as likely to get caught. The next time we showed up in the principal’s office was likely because someone was badly injured. This was inevitable yet nobody really did anything to stop it until the damage had been done.
The fundamental issue at play with all of this is that until it becomes a problem for the person who has the power to change things, they seem inclined not to. Whether it is me not caring about having to say sorry and only caring when I am inconvenienced by a busted face or the Montreal Canadiens not caring at all about the victim because it doesn’t impact their team success the pattern is clear and I don’t need to beat anyone over the head with it. The question is, as I alluded to last blog, what can we do about it?
The consequences of not being able to break this cycle are quite a bit more far reaching than sports people being awful. It’s probably more accurate to say that the continued existence of the human race depends on being able to flip the script. If we are reactionary and wait until it’s too late with the existential crises facing the human race at the moment it will be exactly that. Too late. We won’t be able to acknowledge we should have acted sooner and tidy things up, we will be gone.
Which brings me to the Olympics. We have to start looking for solutions somewhere and the Olympics is a topical place to start. It has no special exception to the rule of big sport being awful and has its own lurid history of being terrible to people. Tokyo is now dealing with a massive outbreak primarily because of the Olympics despite evidence showing over 80% of Japanese residents wanted the Olympics cancelled. Once again, big sport wins and regular people lose.
Even in Australia, we learned that Olympic athletes were paid bonuses for medals and Paralympic athletes were not. The Government has since declared it will pay bonuses to Paralympic athletes but the inequality was only addressed because it was highlighted and made people look bad. If it wasn’t brought to public attention nothing would have been done.
In spite of my recent grim outlook on big sport, I still love sport. I have loved the Olympics since I was little. My glowing opinion of them has come back to earth somewhat as I have learned the darker side of what goes on to create the big show but the games themselves are fascinating. For all the flaws the Olympics has, and there are many, it does prove that humanity can work together for a common cause (even if the cause is dollars and good PR). The Olympics has endured and the Tokyo Olympics had representation from every country in the world, excluding North Korea (and the Vatican City I guess).
I may not be trying hard enough but I can’t really think of any other instance where we act as a global community and play by the rules (mostly, kind of) for a common cause. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is certainly not above reproach and certainly continues to contribute to the staggering concentration of wealth and wealth inequality we see in the world but for the moment, let’s keep our focus on the working together bit.
For all of the bad I have described above and the innumerable paragraphs I don’t have time to write, I believe sport offers us a path to redemption. At its best, sport unifies. It promotes civility, grace and honour even when pitted fiercely against each other. Sport can be uplifting, it can break down barriers and create teams that are so much more than the sum of their parts.
A great example of this is the 1980 Miracle on Ice. Even if you don’t have a clue about ice hockey, most people would know something about the Miracle on Ice, even if it’s just that Disney made a movie and Kurt Russell gave a speech in it. It was a seminal moment that gave the people of the USA hope when they needed it. You can watch the final moments of the game and the famous call here.
Another moment which many will remember from the 2021 games was the shared gold medal in the men’s high jump. It was not without controversy however by the official rules it was completely legal and sanctioned and proved to be a moment where to share in victory was the most obvious and wonderful choice.
And who can forget Eric the Eel? Given a wildcard qualification into the Olympic Games, the other two competitors both false started leaving Eric to complete the 100m Freestyle event solo. We cheered every glorious second of his race. You can relive it here. The fans at the pool had paid their money to see world class athletes and yet the highlight that endures is Eric Moussambani. There were no bronx cheers, we were all united in our admiration for someone who did their best. Eric had never swum in a 50m pool before the Olympics.
These qualities do exist in humanity. Sport is a microcosm of some of the very best we can be as humans. Yes, sadly at times it is also an example of some of the worst we can be as humans. What you will notice in the examples of how great sport can be is that it is people. People make sport great because they can. The Miracle on Ice was a team of amateurs who came together and beat the odds through passion and determination and teamwork. The men’s high jump dual gold medal was because two fierce competitors opted to share their victory, years in the making, rather than prioritise individual glory. The people in the stadium willed Eric to the end of his race, they wanted to raise up this young man and celebrate his effort.
You may also notice in the examples of how bad sport can be, it is when it is commercialised. Whether it be the rich white, male ownership group of the NFL circling the wagons and covering up their misdeeds; the tone-deaf selection of a convicted sex offender to the Montreal Canadiens; or the AFL stoking the fires of outrage without any effort to change a clearly unhelpful and widespread culture that they continue to contribute to – the concentration of wealth and power and the corruption is breeds is evident.
The clear message is that within the purity of sport, people can find hope, unity, acceptance and compassion. This is how sport should be. It should also be clear that the concentration of wealth and power leads to all the opposite outcomes. Distrust, individualism, fear mongering and and segregation. The problems we have in front of us are too big for any of that. It won’t do any more. In fact it’s what has gotten us into this mess so you can be damn sure, despite assurances to the contrary, it is not what will lead us out of it. If things go on as they are, there will be no more Miracles on Ice as it will have all melted and Eric’s homeland will not be producing any more Olympic athletes as it will become uninhabitable – it is at a high risk for many climate change factors.
The painfully obvious solution is that there needs to be a redistribution. The Covid-19 global pandemic has shown that we can react on a global scale. We can work in unison. Mostly, kind of. We need to decarbonise. We need to invest in renewable energy and transition people and industries away from fossil fuels. There is no choice, it has to happen. Well there is a choice, there’s always a choice. The other option is we become a casualty in the mass extinction we are currently experiencing (that we caused).
Yet even more painfully we are being forced to sit in the principal’s office while the monied interests of the world who wield all the influence and power tell us that they are doing heaps, even more than they need to! That we should take personal responsibility and recycle. That new coal mines and gas pipelines have been rigorously tested and meet strict environmental standards and definitely won’t become stranded assets in like 12 minutes. They know it’s bullshit. We know it’s bullshit. Yet we sit here, repeating the same script that has played out since the dawn of time.
War. War never changes.
Except it has to. If we are to survive and prove that we are on the good side of the great filter as it relates to the Fermi paradox we must change. Otherwise we all get a front row seat to our annihilation. We can’t sit in the principal’s office and read our lines and get punched in the face later. We need to take power back and unite. It’s possible. It seems like it’s not but it is. As I read from one commenter who responded to a question of why NASA didn’t try and solve a problem like hunger in Africa instead of going to Mars: “This implies that solving hunger in Africa is an engineering problem when in fact it is a political problem, which is much harder to solve”. This isn’t a case of not knowing the solution. We absolutely know the solution. Now we need to make it a problem for the people who can most affect change. I could continue down a rabbit hole here and write many more paragraphs on the topic and I expect I will in time, however for right now it boils down to this:
I often find it easier to understand things through the prism of sport as I am familiar with it. Hopefully this blog has shown that sport can be fantastic or awful depending on how it’s wielded. I hope I’ve also shown that this applies more broadly and to make things fantastic (or at least, humanely livable for the human population instead of an incomprehensibly cruel concentration of wealth and power that rivals any made up dystopia) we have to go off script.
I’ve said ways of doing this before but if you want one really great way to do that here in Australia, switch your Super. Most Super funds still invest in many polluting companies. Future Super is all about ethical investment and is directly taking money away from polluting companies and investing it into clean and renewable companies and technologies. The return on investment is at least similar and often exceeds regular Super funds and changing over is as simple as filling in an online form so please do it. Every person that shifts over is so helpful. Fill in the form here:
That’s all I’ve got. Switch your Super. Go off script. There’s no other choice. Also: