Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's not just me.

Economics and politics are very much a part of international sports. Or it isn't. But it is a part of international sports reporting, since stories are always multilayered. What better way to expand on the game than by informing on the international background.

Back in the days of the late thirties, this was important, what with however many stories we have of Hitler and the Olympics, but even today there are interesting combinations to consider. With the world potentially on its way to a new bipolarity, China rising, and the US (mainly due to the hard work of congress) falling, one can't help but feel the tension of something more than the game when talking about Chinese-American sporting events.

And why not? It's not like we have little to talk about. With the NBA lock-out, there's a huge continuing story about every NBA player who wants to get paid to play next year looking to Europe. The place to go would be potentially China (if it were not for a repressive government and pollution you could almost cut out the "potentially"), a beneficial act for all involved, what with Chinese basketball perhaps gaining some international popularity as well as skill set from the best in the world and the Americans increasing a new national brand. Jersey sales always go threw the roof when you play somewhere new, don't you know? And consider if you play somewhere with one billion people?

So international play on its own can be looked at from both political and economic aspects. First of all, professional sports is about money second only to the love of the game and what is a player's popularity but his (or her) own personal play of politics? In Slowness, Milan Kundera talks about "the dancer," the politician who acts only as if in response to the song of the nation, making no actions of his own, other than the ones that the public's eye dictates. Kundera presents the view or at least his character presents the view as a negative, akin to Salinger's phonies. The way athletes must always come up and explain away their controversial opinions mirrors best perhaps that of the politician. Even at the place where politics and sports collide, there is a somber "way of doing things." This is why President Obama can make a joke about his home team the Chicago Bears acquiring the Super Bowl defending and highly approved quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers, only if he follows up with an amendment stating that he wanted Rodgers to back-up the Bears' current QB, the much maligned but overwhelmingly talented Jake Cutler. It's obvious that Barack was making a joke wanting Rodgers to be the starter for his team, but even in sports, he was forced to play the Bernie Goldberg who I think I'm not misquoting when I say "I don't believe that, but that's what I'm going to tell you."

When it comes to China and the United States (mustn't say America, if I can remember, that's the name of a pair of continents) there's a little bit of back story that I'm sure you know better than I do. Namely, China owns a whole buttload of the US debt and that debt just recently got downgraded by a bigwig agency that does that sort of thing. So I guess the issue is that it appears less likely, perhaps a thousandth of a percentile less likely, that China is getting their money. How does this boil into the sports scene? Multiple ways. Both in literal stands framed on sports and in the media's framing of sports actions.

Consider the following: China is, in fact, regardless of the US's debt, somewhat in competition with the United States for the biggest economy in the world. China, of course, has maybe four times as many people as the USA, so I tend to think, you know, go for it, it won't matter if each of your people averages more than 25% of what the American citizen does. The important word, however, being "competition." Sports is not any different. From a national level, there are a lot of local economics tied up in sports. You have money for televising events, for people going to the games, and potentially the importation of rich individuals to play for your teams (consider the US's ability to draw in Pelé or David Beckham). China is trying to make rules now that will lock in any international players who come to the country to playing the whole season there. This is in reference to my above mention of NBA lockout and is somewhat crafty and somewhat stupid on China's part. Just as it would be a major slight towards the credibility of a franchise like the Yankees or the Red Sox to see Jorge Posada or David Ortiz in another team's (especially the other named team's) uniform, Kobe Bryant playing in China would be a big hit to the NBA if a half-season deal was reached to end this lockout.

This is both shrewd and dumb because China hasn't locked up any big names. While I would say it was mildly likely to see LeBron or Kobe in China to build their brand in the highest populated country in the world, I don't think there's any way they're going to go there if they know they're stuck. I termed it to a friend that this should have been a "fine print" deal. It would have been a killer play to find all these NBA players stuck in contract disputes trying to get back to a season that's already lost a lot of steam on account of it started five months late. It's like springing the trap before the mouse has been caught, you know, the cartoon move where the cheese ends up getting tossed up and into the rodent's hand by way of the the air rush from the flipping switch on the trap.

The media can color sports with politics as well. While I think we might seriously consider China's way of dealing with the lockout as a political story, the sports media cannot help but have it that every Chinese and American athletic controversy is due to the shaky relations between the countries. Perhaps they're right. I may be crazy. (But it just might be a lunatic...) Here's a story I'm not going to read that should tell you what I'm talking about. Fighting in sports can't be politics, to me. Unless you just go out there and fight... You can't play a game and keep a political agenda, because there is so much going on. Sports are, ultimately, based in part on violence. Losing your temper is normal. It might be frowned upon, but I just can't see storming the court as a type of protest. You're upset about the basketball game, not the global game of politics.

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