November 14, 2011

Writer’s Voice for Irate Fans

Date published: 05/19/2011
Publication: Albany Times Union

By Jennifer Gish

Dave Zirin says he’s a radical sportswriter.

He’s not really that radical. He just speaks for a lot of fed-up fans. And maybe that’s radical since we’ve been abused by team owners for years now.

When Zirin, who will offer a talk with a screening of his documentary “Not Just a Game: Power, Politics and American Sports” on Saturday at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, starts railing against publicly funded stadiums and seat licenses, fans should hoist their foam fingers in support.

And he’s not just some snooty social commentator who thinks sports are barbaric and crude. He’s one of us, just bolder.

The fan code says you don’t abandon your team at any cost. But Zirin, who grew up in New York City taking the B train to Madison Square Garden, did take one radical step: He broke off a lifelong relationship with the Knicks because of owner James Dolan, who he’s described as “a rager, a screamer, a narcissist and someone who has helped create a work environment that is by some accounts as agreeable to women as a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ video shoot.”

He compares his ex-relationship with the Knicks to spousal abuse. You might make a commitment to your husband, but eventually, he says, there’s a breaking point.

His latest book, “Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love,” is beautifully timed with sports labor negotiations and potential destruction of our NFL season this fall. He interviewed thousands of fans and offers a sort of a bill of rights, putting forth the not-so-radical ideas that parents should be able to take their children to games without dipping into their college funds; there should be a salary floor so franchises have to field competitive teams for fans; and if public money is used to build stadiums, a representative of the public should sit on the team’s board of directors.

“I feel like the only reason I have a career is that what I’m talking about seems to connect with a very large audience,” he says. “They’ve reached the end of their rope for corporate gouging. There’s frustration with the system where they help pay for the stadiums but can’t afford tickets.

“Fans are voting with their feet and drifting away from sports. You see sports themselves becoming very secondary for young people, and the problem is the owners themselves. The owners don’t seem to care yet because they do so well with public subsidies, with luxury boxes and with these huge sweetheart individualized cable deals.”

But he’s not giving up.

He defends the rights of fans, who make the games what they are and are as much a part of the sports experience as the players.

It doesn’t appear that matters to those who bankroll the teams we’ve loved for years, and that’s where Zirin steps in, telling us like a trusted best friend that we’ve finally got to do something about our bad relationship.

Reach Jennifer Gish at 454-5089 or [email protected].

If you go

What: Dave Zirin gives talk and screening of his documentary “Not Just a Game: Power, Politics and American Sports”

When, where: 8 p.m. Saturday, The Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 Sixth Ave., Troy

How much: $10 suggested donation, ($5 student/low-income); community potluck barbecue at 6 p.m.

Contact: 272-2390, email [email protected] or visit for directions and more information

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