Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Why Conservatives Rooted for Women's Soccer Team to Lose, Black Rappers Promoting Harmful Politics, Why Does the GOP Hate No-Fault Divorce?, Robbie Robertson Sings
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
I’m back from vacation and eager to dig back into the big issues facing us today. Even though I promised myself I wouldn’t indulge in my usual obsessive news overload during my days off, old habits die hard, and I found myself bookmarking dozens of articles I wanted to comment on.
Before I get started, I want to thank all my subscribers who wished me well in the comments section last week. That gave me a nice warm glow that carried throughout my vacation. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Why Doesn’t the Right Understand How Sports Work?
The classic American poem “Casey at the Bat,” chronicling the hometown disappointment when their team hero strikes out, failing to win the big game, has been subverted by right-wing commentators and politicians giddy at the U.S. women’s soccer team losing in the World Cup round of 16. Shockingly, there finally is joy in Mudville—not because the mighty Casey got a hit, but because he struck out. The hometown fans wanted their team to lose. Crazy, I know.
Let’s start with Trump, the man who knows something about losing, having twice lost the popular vote for president, lost over a dozen recent court cases (including one that declared him guilty of sexual assault), and who has been indicted on 91 counts of various criminal activity. His assessment in a Truth Social post: “Many of our players were openly hostile to America - No other country behaved in such a manner, or even close. WOKE EQUALS FAILURE.” Then, directly attacking Megan Rapinoe, who missed a critical penalty shot, added: “Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!!”
[BRIEF TAKE: As for his comment that “Many of our players were openly hostile to America,” Trump recently said during a campaign rally, “I could have been relaxing at Mar-a-Lago or in the south of France ― which I would prefer to being in this country, frankly.” That seems pretty openly hostile to America.
Trump implies some moral superiority in NOT taking a stand against injustice. Let’s make a brief comparison: When Saudi Arabia tried to inject a “Visit Saudi” ad campaign into the Women’s World Cup, it was met with massive backlash from human rights groups, host nations, players, and coaches. The Saudi’s human rights violations, mistreatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community, and the murder of an American journalist are all well documented. In 2016, Trump actually acknowledged the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks. (In 2021, the FBI declassified a document that showed the contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the U.S.) However, last year Trump defended hosting a Saudi-funded tournament at one of his golf courses, and the criticism from the families of those who died in the 9/11 attacks by saying, “Well, nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately, and they should have.” Who’s “they”? Weren’t you president with the resources to further investigate? The bottom line for Trump is always his bottom line. How can he personally profit? His criticism of those who aren’t afraid to stand up to tyranny rings hollow since he took money to look the other way.]
Fox commentators were especially self-righteous, wagging their fingers from their rocking chairs on the porch at the shameful shenanigans kids get up to these days. Fox News host Jesse Watters criticized Rapinoe specifically: “Her abrasive and self-centered style was divisive. The kneeling and no hand on the heart did not meet the high expectations the American public has for our athletes to conduct themselves. There is also a way to go about getting a pay raise. Injecting sexism leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
[BRIEF COMMENT: Watters is supposedly a journalist, yet he missed all the sexism at Fox from Roger Ailes to Bill O’Reilly to Tucker Carlson—all fired, and all are costing Fox millions of dollars in sexual harassment lawsuits. Maybe Watters also missed the Women’s U.S. Soccer team’s gender discrimination lawsuit, which was settled for $24 million. Somehow, he also missed the study finding widespread sexual and emotional abuse in women’s soccer (“Emotional, sexual abuse were 'systemic' in women's soccer, new report finds”). Nobody is “injecting sexism.” They are merely revealing its existence in order to eliminate it. I also want to point out that many NFL and NBA players took a knee or didn’t put their hands over their hearts, yet their fans still supported those sports with huge ratings. I would think that what leaves a “bad taste in people’s mouths” is the actual documented sexism in women’s soccer—and women’s sports in general—not their efforts to seek justice. Also, you’ll notice in photos that almost all the team puts their hands over their hearts during the national anthem, so the animosity toward the entire team is mostly based on hatred of Megan Rapinoe, the most outspoken team member.]
Fox’s Laura Ingraham hit some of the same points as her colleague. “I know a lot of folks are angry that anyone could be happy about this outcome, but let this be a lesson for Rapinoe and a lot of her teammates: If you don’t support America, or at least are not perceived as supporting America, don’t expect for America to blindly support you, either.”
[BRIEF COMMENT: If we look at the facts, Americans actually did support the team. Their opening win against Vietnam averaged 5.26 million viewers, a 99% increase from their opening match in 2019. Their match against the Netherlands had 6.43 million viewers, a 21% increase. The US Women’s Soccer team set a viewership record on English-language television in the U.S. I know Ingraham is only a pretend journalist, but maybe do a little research before forming opinions. Contrary to these commentators, it seems like many conservatives actually do know how sports work and don’t root for their teams to lose. They may disagree with their politics, but when the whistle blows, they are screaming for Casey, whether he’s wearing a MAGA hat or an LGBTQ+ pin, to hit that ball out of the park.]
Megyn Kelly scolded, “They refused to honor anything we stand for, and therefore I am thrilled they lost. Good! I’m glad you went down. You don’t support America? I don’t support you!”
The main talking points of these conservative talking heads are: “Woke equals failure” and that the soccer team, especially Megan Rapinoe, didn’t “support America,” which is why they lost, or at least why America should celebrate their loss. The implication is that the values expressed by the team don’t reflect America’s values.
Everything in those talking points is factually wrong, historically wrong, and logically wrong. For Megyn Kelly, it sadly reveals an inability to learn from the past, in this case, her own past. In 2013, she stated, “Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that.” As many historians pointed out to her, Jesus was Jewish and born in the Middle East, likely looking like a modern-day Palestinian. Santa has been traced to a monk named St. Nicholas from where modern-day Turkey is located.
In 2018, Kelly was fired from NBC after stating that “Back when I was a kid, [putting on blackface during Halloween] was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.” She didn’t have the self-awareness or social knowledge to realize that, while such activity was accepted among whites, it wasn’t “okay” because of the pain it caused Black children and adults to see their culture reduced to simplistic and laughable stereotypes.
Ten years have passed for Kelly, but not ten years’ worth of growth, insight, or adherence to facts. That’s not her brand. There’s no money in maturation.
Here are some other sports “failures” who championed social justice: Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, LeBron James, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe, Billy Jean King, Serena and Venus Williams, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and many others. I’ve been promoting social justice for almost 60 years, and I was pretty successful.
What these conservatives don’t understand is that when sports figures use their celebrity to promote social justice, they are, in fact supporting American values by holding us accountable when we fall short. Our Constitution is a contract with the people, a promise to deliver a certain type of government that supports certain values. When someone doesn’t deliver on their contract, you don’t just shrug and hope for better next time, you confront them and demand they live up to their obligations.
The U.S.’s 13th Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz, said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” That is what the best of our athletes are doing: helping set us right.
These commentators do not honestly care about the injustices, or they wouldn’t spend so much time and energy denying they exist—and punishing the people who try to correct them. I’m especially disappointed in the women commentators who knowingly lumped all the women on this team into one monolith—the way they do Blacks, immigrants, LGBTQ+—as if they weren’t individuals. They also know that the causes of inequality in pay and the sexual abuse are real, yet they still don’t think the people affected should address it. They want them to sit quietly, demurely, and smile.
Sports offers a platform. What should athletes do with it? Some choose to use the platform to improve the lives of others, to bring about equality, and to challenge America to keep its promises. Fox also offers a platform, but these commentators choose to lie and misinform in exchange for money. Which group is actually supporting American values?
Team loyalty is an arbitrary thing, whether you’re rooting for your hometown team or a team across the country that your parents loved. But once you proclaim your allegiance to a team, especially one that represents your country, you don’t turn on the entire team because you don’t like their politics of compassion. Here’s the irony: the team that beat the U.S. is from Sweden, a country conservatives routinely bash for being too liberal or “socialist.” American professor of journalism Christian Christensen at Stockholm University Sweden stated that Sweden “has become the symbol of everything that many American Republicans believe is wrong with Europe: feminism, environmentalism, and openness to refugees.” Trump has for years berated Sweden’s social programs.
So, if I’m following the logic conservatives have laid out, Sweden beat the US because they were even more woke?
A Stumble Backward for Black Performers
Opinion by Tayo Bero: Why are Black rappers aligning themselves with the right? (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: Scrolling through Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I came across a clip of rightwing commentator Tucker Carlson interviewing a face I never thought I’d see on his platform: Ice Cube.
As in Fuck Tha Police Ice Cube.
“What planet am I on right now?” I found myself thinking.
In a two-part segment, Ice Cube and Carlson commiserated about cancel culture and cast doubt on the safety of the Covid vaccine. “It was six months, kind of a rush job and I didn’t feel safe,” Ice Cube said about his widely-publicized resistance to the Covid shot. He also claimed that he’s been banned from appearing on the talkshows The View and Oprah because he is too much of an “independent thinker”.
It seems Ice Cube has become quite the conservative media darling lately, sitting down with not just Carlson, but Joe Rogan and Piers Morgan as well. He’s joining a long list of rappers – Kanye West, Da Baby, Kodak Black, Lil Pump – who have all put themselves in dangerous proximity to conservative politicians even as rightwing populism threatens to destroy their communities.
…Kanye campaigned for Trump, and both Lil Wayne and Kodak Black publicly supported the former president after being pardoned by him on his last day in office. In 2020, Trump even brought a supportive Lil Pump out to a Michigan rally (where Trump introduced him as “Lil Pimp”), while Da Baby was also very vocal about supporting Trump’s second bid last year.
…In discussions about money, gender identity, public health and a variety of social issues, rappers and rightwingers have a lot more in common than you’d immediately think. Many people from both groups share hypermasculinity, conservative Christian values, and a distrust of social institutions (justified or not); and on this common ground sits a messy and dangerous alliance full of people who ordinarily would hate each other, but have come together to make vulnerable people their enemy.
MY TAKE: There’s a myth being promoted by Black and White people of wealth that when a handful of Black people become rich, it confirms the promise of the American Dream while also shifting a power dynamic to the Black community. As Sportin’ Life says in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
It’s tempting to dismiss this shift to conservatism as merely a difference in opinion. Black people aren’t a single voice, and to reduce them to that is insulting. I agree. But that’s not what I’m doing. I’m suggesting that the difference is between the rich and everybody else. When you’re a poor Black musician trying to make a name for yourself, you’re filled with rage and frustration against the unfair world that throws more obstacles in your way than in the way of White musicians. You see how that same dynamic plays out for the whole community. That rage against injustice fuels your art and makes you a worthwhile voice. But then you’re rich and successful, and now you just want to keep as much of your money as possible. You also think that because you’re rich and famous, your opinions make more sense and should not be questioned.
How do they justify this seismic shift in the tectonic plates of their philosophy? By embracing the same conservative values that created all the obstacles they faced in the first place. Sadly, what that reveals is that the original philosophy of their music was a lot less subversive, inclusive, or thought-through than originally believed. And it reveals a lack of growth in the use of reason over the years. Worse, they are cozying up to the same people who are pushing voting disenfranchisement of Blacks, censorship in schools that includes excluding Black history, the subjugation of women, the oppression of religion, and much more. All of that makes possible the police brutality they made their fortunes complaining about.
They don’t have to actually say anything about any of those specific issues (that gives them plausible deniability). However, just commiserating with Tucker Carlson (Ice Cube) or appearing at a Trump rally (Lil Pump), or publicly supporting Trump (Kanye West, Da Baby) sends a message to the Black community that these conservatives aren’t so bad, and a message to the White community that the racist policies these politicians support aren’t really racist. It’s wrong factually and dangerous to the Black community.
If these performers really wanted to question the system, they might ask why Harlan Crow, the billionaire lavishing gifts on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is currently funding an academic promoting old disproven studies about the natural superiority of Whites over Blacks (“Why an Unremarkable Racist Enjoyed the Backing of Billionaires”). Or Trump’s recent video praising white nationalist Laura Loomer as “terrific” and “very special” (“Trump praises ‘terrific’ white supremacist conspiracy theorist”). As for Tucker Carlson, on his show, he repeatedly advocated the Great Replacement theory (“left-leaning domestic or international elites, on their own initiative or under the direction of Jewish co-conspirators, are attempting to replace white citizens with nonwhite (i.e., Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Arab) immigrants”). He also famously sent a racist text to a Fox producer (“Tucker Carlson’s racist text message shouldn’t be surprising: Analysis”). Instead, they are cozying up to the very people who don’t respect them or their people.
Celebrity carries a somber responsibility to be aware of the ramifications of everything one says or does publicly—both the good and the harm they might cause. James Brown discovered this when he endorsed Richard Nixon’s second term, resulting in a boycott. Brown then released a song, the title of which says it all: “You Can Have Watergate, Just Gimme Some Bucks and I’ll Be Straight.” “Gimme some bucks” should not be these artists’ legacies.
SUMMARY: Acclaimed political rapper and activist Noname, whose real name is Fatimah Warner, has addressed the controversial Jay Electronica verse on her new song “Balloons,” which has been criticized online for several antisemitic lyrics.
“Here’s the truth,” Noname wrote in an Instagram Story on Sunday. “I am not antisemitic. I don’t hate groups of people. I am against the white supremacy, which is a global system that privileges people who identify as white. I’ve been clear about this for years.”
“I’m not going to apologize for a verse I didn’t write,” the Chicago native continued. “I’m not going to apologize for including it on my album. If you feel like I’m wrong for including that’s fair. Don’t listen. Unfollow and support all the other amazing rappers putting out dope music. Your disappointment truly means absolutely nothing to me, and I say that with love.”
MY TAKE: Noname’s nonsensical response to the backlash encapsulates the problem of not taking accountability. It’s not believable (or logical) to say she’s not antisemitic and yet include antisemitic lyrics from someone who once referred to himself as “Jaydolf Hitler.”
To claim that she doesn’t have to apologize for a verse she didn’t write makes no sense. Including it on her album is an endorsement of the lyrics. She’s spreading the sentiment. Her statement, “Your disappointment truly means absolutely nothing to me, and I say that with love,” is equally disingenuous. If it meant nothing to her, she wouldn’t have responded at all. Plus, it’s insulting to dismiss her fans’ opinions, then say it’s “with love” when she means “with contempt.”
Her reaction doesn’t acknowledge how Blacks might feel about lyrics that promote harmful and dangerous Black stereotypes and how lyrics like that demean the whole community and encourages discrimination, which in turn encourages violence.
Yes, she is responsible for the effects of those lyrics, and her refusal to apologize confirms she endorses the hate in those lyrics.
Kareem’s Video Break
We all need help sometimes. It’s nice to know there’s someone around to help us scale the heights even if it means covering our heads in drool.
It’s great to be back writing this newsletter again. If you haven’t yet become a paid subscriber, please do so today. That’s how we keep this publication going.
The Right’s Latest Target: No-Fault Divorce (The Nation)
SUMMARY: Republicans have been on quite a successful rampage against modern life: banning abortion, trying to make contraception harder to get, dumping books about race, sex, gender, and the Holocaust (the Holocaust?!) from school libraries, tormenting trans people. You’d think they’d take a break, but no—now they’ve set their sights on a new target: no-fault divorce. Leading the charge are Republican legislators in some of the worst states for women (looking at you, Louisiana!) and reactionary anti-feminist ranters like Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, and Steven Crowder.
…Women have the most at stake, though, because women are more vulnerable to men than vice versa. Even in the 19th century, when divorce was hard to get and few women could support themselves, women filed the majority of divorce petitions in the US; today, it’s more than two-thirds. (Jordan Peterson says it’s because women are more neurotic than men, always looking on the negative side. Well, given the sexist nature of most marriages, where women still do most of the housework and child care, they’ve got a lot to be negative about.)
MY TAKE: Can you guess which state recently banned women from wearing shorts, going so far as to arrest 10 women in a marketplace? And, though there is a general ban on smoking in public, they arrest only women caught with cigarettes. Okay, it wasn’t a state, it was actually North Korea (“North Korea Is Enforcing a Ban on Shorts, but Only for Women”). But with the GOP’s full-court press against women’s rights, health, and safety, you probably could have imagined Texas or Florida, or several other states as having passed such a law.
For a political party claiming they think the government should stay out of personal lives, their legislative efforts have mostly been focused on the government deciding most aspects of our private lives. The attempt to dismantle no-fault divorce is the latest insidious assault on women. You might be tempted to declare divorce affects both parties equally, but that is not the case. (Much of the following statistics are based on man-woman divorces, where we see more disparity.) No-fault divorce has led to a “decrease in suicide among wives, domestic violence, and murders of wives by husbands.” In addition, it led to more women entering the workforce, getting higher education, and receiving other legal protections. (FYI: California governor Ronald Reagan signed the country’s first no-fault divorce act in 1969.)
You might also be tempted to blame this attack on women as the crusade of evangelicals, yet, according to one study, the divorce rate among born-again Christians is 33%, while among atheists and agnostics, it’s 30%.
Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona allow engaged couples to agree to a “covenant marriage,” in which they can seek a divorce only for adultery, abuse, or certain other semi-criminal activities. Although covenant marriage has been around for about 25 years, only about 1 percent of couples choose it.
Also of interest is the fact that the divorce rate is at its lowest rate since 1969, 2.9% of the population. Between 1979 and 1981, it peaked at 5.3%. Which brings up the burning question: Why, if the rate is so low, do we even need to pass laws making it harder to get a divorce? Because it’s one more way to virtue signal conservative values (that even conservatives don’t follow).
The “final straw” that leads to 69% of divorces is infidelity, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Even without no-fault divorce, these would be “faults” that would allow divorce. So, again, passing such laws wouldn’t even address the “problem” they want to solve.
The most telling statistic is that 69% of divorces are initiated by women. That’s what this is really about. How to keep women from leaving a marriage in which they don’t thrive or which may even be dangerous? It’s nothing less than involuntary servitude. That is the outcome those seeking to end no-fault divorce are truly seeking.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Robbie Robertson: “The Weight”
Robbie Robertson died last week at the age of 80. He was the lead guitarist for Bob Dylan and guitarist and songwriter for The Band. He wrote some classic songs like “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” He also worked on soundtracks for Martin Scorsese movies like Raging Bull, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street. And he had the greatest hair of any rock musician.
Instead of giving you The Band’s original version of “The Weight,” I chose this video of Robertson, Ringo Starr, and a bunch of other musicians from across the world singing it together. The video taps into the universality of music and how the same song can affect people from all cultures and nationalities.
The song itself is about how we’re all on this pilgrimage, whether we know it or not, to do the right thing. And while sainthood may be too much to ask for, choosing to be on that road can be enough. The protagonist starts by agreeing to do a favor and say hello to someone and ends up doing a series of favors, like an unintentional quest. The fact that he keeps saying yes, that he keeps trying, is what matters.