Remember, way back in the 1990s, when the weirdest thing Dennis Rodman ever did was dye his hair purple and date Madonna? Man, those were the days…
Rodman’s latest (documented) outburst of erratic behavior came Tuesday during a contentious interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo in the form of an oftentimes incoherent rant defending his decision to bring a team comprised primarily of retired NBA players to North Korea to stage a few exhibition games. If you haven’t seen the interview, here it is:
If you can’t set aside nine minutes of your time, there are also several two-minute, we’re-only-doing-this-for-the-
To address Rodman’s outburst, I need two sentences:
Had he behaved exactly like he did not via teleconference on network television but instead, for example, in a hospital, he would have likely been (1) restrained, (2) tested for possible drug and/or alcohol use, and (3) diagnosed with altered mental status. It was bizarre, but the discussion more or less ends there.
To address the questions posed by Cuomo and the subsequent answers provided by Smith and The Worm, I need a bit more space.
The main point of contention throughout the interview was Cuomo’s assertion – which does reflect the opinion of many of our fellow citizens – that, given Rodman’s seemingly friendly relationship with Kim Jong Un, the former NBA star should be using his apparent position of power to affect change in the leader’s oppressive regime, specifically in negotiating the release of American prisoner Kenneth Bae. Paradoxically, this seems both a reasonable request and one that is exceptionally short-sighted. Reasonable in that it feels appropriate to ask someone to use his “in” to assist in what has so far been a fruitless negotiation (in fact, Rodman did request Kim Jong Un release Bae last spring, albeit via Twitter). Short-sighted in that none of the players present are in any bit prepared for what would inevitably be a tense conversation that could possibly put them in danger. It’s one thing to tell someone, “Fix this! You do it!” from a comfy studio chair on the other side of an ocean; it’s another to find oneself dropped in a situation that would require a very negative public statement made about the ruler of the country in which one is currently located, not to mention a ruler who has recently had an ex-girlfriend and an uncle executed for reasons that remain somewhat unclear.
…Which brings us to the situation in which Rodman, Smith, et. al find themselves dropped.
There’s a phrase that gets overused at times like these involving social conflict and human rights issues: “If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.” This is clearly a case of hyperbole, and unless one is speaking directly to the numbers and variables on either side of a mathematical equation, it is rarely true in the complex nature of everyday life. [The only instance I can think of in my own experience that might support this statement is when arriving at a house party in college and hearing someone say, “There are way too many dudes here”. In this case, you are either part of the problem (a dude amongst too many) or part of the solution (a chick to dilute the dude concentration). Then again, there may be some transgender attendees, so perhaps that analogy doesn’t completely work either.] To suggest a group of ten US citizens participating in a basketball game loosely affiliated with Kim Jong Un’s birthday celebration is detrimental to the possibility of improved US-North Korea relations and the prevention of future human rights violations is a bit of a leap. It’s likely not making either of these things worse. Conversely, it isn’t exactly making anything better.
It’s in vogue right now for writers to refrain from printing the name of the Washington professional football team. [See? I did it right there.] It’s a nice gesture and I understand the rationale behind it, but if we’re being honest, is it really going to lead to the team’s name being changed? With Dan Snyder in the picture, the answer is most likely not. The team is still getting press and attention regardless of what they are called, which translates to sustained popularity, ticket and apparel sales, and most importantly, financial gain – why would the (narcissistic, soulless) team’s owner feel compelled to alter something when the bottom line has not been affected? The sportswriters in this scenario aren’t hurting the cause, but really, they aren’t making it any better. In this instance, a better – albeit more difficult and unlikely – approach would be to stop reporting on the team entirely, combined with a boycott of tickets and team gear bearing the mascot’s name. One could say a similar choice could be made in the case of Rodman’s team; they are not hindering diplomatic relations by participating in the exhibition games – for all we know, they may even be helping this process – but they could certainly send a clearer, more immediate message by choosing to skip out on the invitation and withholding their services until progress has been made. It’s the question of going about one’s business versus taking a (potentially life-threatening) stand; there’s a time and place for both, and I’m not sure either is clear in this case.
Smith repeatedly stated throughout the interview that the players in North Korea were there to promote diplomacy and engage in a positive cultural exchange through sports; he also said that they did not anticipate the amount of negative press it would create. I’m inclined to believe that these assertions are both mostly true, although I suspect the financial compensation associated with the appearance likely played a role in their involvement with a perceived enemy of the state. If Smith is correct, that games similar to these may spread goodwill and open the door for international political discourse, it will be a welcome change to the status quo. Of course, he also argued that politics don’t have a place in sports, which is contradictory to his original message. Perhaps politics and international athletic competition don’t (or shouldn’t) mix, but that notion didn’t exactly prevent the United States and Soviet Union from boycotting consecutive summer Olympic Games hosted by the opposing nation. Granted, these boycotts were enacted by national governing bodies; things are much different when it comes down to one or a group of individuals acting independently.
We have an all-too-frequent habit of believing that our favorite athletes (or actresses or musicians) should somehow also all be champions for a cause or diplomats to other countries. Sure, it would be wonderful if everyone with a position of power and a public voice could use their notoriety for good; the most recent example of this is former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, a huge advocate for marriage equality who was cut from the team under seemingly suspicious circumstances. But for the vast majority of professional athletes, their societal contributions are limited to simply being athletes, and there is nothing wrong with this. Did Muhammad Ali fly to Iraq to negotiate face-to-face with Saddam Hussein for the release of American prisoners in Kuwait? Yes, but he’s MUHAMMAD ALI. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth. I’m sure the people clamoring for LeBron James to use his platform at the Olympics to speak out against the atrocities in Darfur or the Chinese oppression of Tibet had reasonably good intentions, but seriously, let the man play basketball. You’ve won gold medals for your country and championships for your city, but what have you done for us lately? Not everyone possesses the same conviction, presence, or preparation as Ali or Kluwe, and that is perfectly acceptable. It’s foolish to think that virtually anyone with a public voice can or should be an ambassador for change. And in the case of the North Korean basketball birthday extravaganza, let’s put it this way – would you really want Dennis Rodman negotiating your own hostage release?
Did you watch the video?