(John Carlos, on the right)
Bill Simmons had Dave Ziriin on his podcast Wednesday. Zirin, The Nation’s Sports Editor and the guy who has cornered the market on progressive-politics-infused sports commentary, has criticized Simmons in the past. But he’s written twice now for Simmons corner of ESPN, Grantland, which has positioned itself as the place at the World Wide Leader for smart, erudite long-form writing, and not just about sports. As an aside, I would not be at all surprised if Zirin were hired by Grantland in some more regular capacity in the not too distant future. Given Simmons’ own evolution, the content of Grantland and the fact that Zirin himself has some flair for the pop culture/sports mixture that is Simmons’ calling card and it seems like an obvious fit.
Returning to the podcast, one interesting moment in the podcast comes when Simmons and Zirin discuss the debate that is taking place in some circles about whether countries should boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia. Russia’s passage of a “propaganda” law targeting gays (and their allies) has drawn international scorn. And Russia has stated clearly that athletes at the Olympics who violate the law – by showing open support for gays – may be subject to prosecution. Zirin recently wrote for Grantland (and elsewhere) that he opposes a boycott – that it would be better to show up and protest and have an impact on the global stage than to stay away (a position Simmons agreed with). Zirin pointed to the example of John Carlos, the United States track star who, along with Tommie Smith, raised a black-fisted glove in protest during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Lew Alcindor stayed home in protest from those games, and Zirin and Simmons wondered what the impact would have been had the future Kareem gone there, won a gold medal and raised his own fist in protest. It’s fascinating to think about what that would have meant for Kareem’s legacy, had that been part of it. And it’s certainly fair to point out that *very* few people are aware that Alcindor stayed home from Mexico City, whereas pretty *everyone* knows where John Carlos was.
Later, discussing PEDs, Zirin says the big story is the prevalence of PEDs in the Dominican Republic, where many are legal and available over the counter. Zirin says MLB is having its cake and eating it too. In other words, the DR is becoming a major feeder to the majors, with over a quarter of all minor leaguers coming from there. Baseball’s talent pool, therefore, is heavily dependent on a pipeline from a very poor country in which the incentives to use PEDs are clear, and the disincentives almost non-existent.
Finally, a discussion of public financing for sports stadiums. It bears repeating that there is probably no issue on which there is more consensus in economics than this – publicly-financed stadiums essentially never provide the return on investment that supporters claim is the case.