Category Archives: donald trump

Closing the door on an L.A. Olympics

 

This is just a guess, but I’d say that any prospect Los Angeles had of staging the 2024 Olympics already has been stopped at the border by Donald Trump’s blindly intolerant (and thoroughly un-American) attempt at a Muslim travel ban. I base this, to some extent, on New York City’s failed bid for the 2012 Games, rolled out during the Bush administration’s war in Iraq when at least some International Olympic Committee voters couldn’t get past the idea of “giving the festival of peace to a nation of pre-emptive strikes.”

Post 9/11 and leading up to the 2005 vote to award the 2012 Olympics, President Bush—unlike Trump now—had declared that he was imposing no religious test with his foreign policy. But there already was an anti-diversity elephant in the room. And this time, it is much worse.

So, while there is no divining some IOC members’ allegiances and prejudices, others’ downright partisan governmental considerations and even others’ well-meaning conviction that they are the United Nations in Sneakers, it’s a safe bet that smuggling this grand embodiment of international respect and goodwill past Trump’s wall of xenophobic scorn simply does not compute.

On Feb. 3, L.A. officials met the International Olympic Committee’s formal bid deadline, throwing their hat into the ring with Paris and Budapest. The vote to determine the 2024 host city won’t come until the IOC’s September meeting in Lima, Peru. But already, in response to Trump targeting of seven Muslim-majority countries, Iran has uninvited American athletes to a world wrestling competition it is hosting this month. That is a dramatic reversal in U.S.-Iran relations in that sport, which have been exceptionally warm for years in spite of the lack of diplomatic ties between the countries. The U.S. Olympic Committee, furthermore, is bracing for disruptions in other international competitions as a result of Trump’s executive order.

Naturally, LA2024 bid chairman Casey Wasserman is trotting out the old argument that sports and politics don’t mix, that the “power of the [Olympic] movement…[is]…to unite the world through sport, not politics,” and that his group will be “judged on the merits of our bid, not on politics” by the IOC.

The L.A. proposal makes a point of highlighting that it is “a city full of creative energy and extraordinarily united—not separated—by its breathtaking cultural diversity.” But neither that, nor Trump’s recent radio appearance claiming he “would love to see the Olympics go to Los Angeles,” plays nearly as well as French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve’s words, during a Paris bid press conference shortly after a man was caught wielding machetes at the Louvre, that his country prefers to “build bridges, not walls.”

L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti had warned last summer that if Trump were elected president, it could have a disastrous effect on his city’s Olympic chances. And, in a statement issued after Trump’s Jan. 27 announcement of his travel ban, Garcetti said such an action “only fans the flames of hatred that those who wish us harm seek to spread.”

Having covered the Games 11 times, I consider myself an Olympic patriot, with a belief in the possibilities of fellowship through global sport. The Games really do (at least temporarily) put small dents into nationalistic and cultural differences, even though so much about the event is thoroughly political, with all the flags and medal counts.

So I side with Olympic poohbahs who balk at rewarding the politics of exclusion. In the 2005 IOC vote for the 2012 Games, when New York City was one in a murderer’s row of seductive candidates alongside London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow, one of the boosts for eventual winner London was the support it had gotten from the Muslim Council of Britain, representing 400 Muslim organizations.

When that vote was taken in Singapore, British prime minister Tony Blair, French president Jacques Chirac and Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero all attended to schmooze with the IOC, but George W. Bush stayed away. Wisely, I’d say.

Now, the USOC is attempting to dance around the Trump us-against-everybody mindset by proclaiming that, “Like the United States, the Olympic Movement was founded based upon principles of diversity and inclusion, on opportunity and overcoming adversity. As the steward of the Olympic Movement in the United States, we embrace those values. We also acknowledge the difficult task of providing for safety and security of a nation. It is our sincere hope that the executive order as implemented will appropriately recognize the values on which our nation, as well as the Olympic Movement, were founded.”

Fat chance.

Or….

?

Locker room banter, hazing and respectful reactions

Let’s think about the weekend’s massive protest marches in terms of physics. For every action, according to Newton’s third law, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

It just might take a while. So a presidential candidate was exposed for his vulgar bragging about sexual assault in an October revelation and, about three months later—after scores of more indignities, and after the serial aggressor has become president and sworn to reverse “American carnage”—demonstrations organized by women turned up in at least 500 U.S. cities with 3.7 million participants. That’s one of every 100 Americans (my wife among them).

The marchers, including men and children as well as women, voiced a variety of agendas and fears, but it might be safe to say that all were responding to the new executive’s repeated aversion to “political correctness.” Which is, after all, simply a commitment to showing respect to all individuals and groups.

I come from a mostly male-dominated world, having worked as a sports journalist for roughly a half century. In that environment, especially regarding team sports, there certainly is a history of boys’ club exclusion and assumed dominance. But the difference between that, and our president’s argument that his molestation of women was “just locker room banter,” is that we have arrived at 2017 with a gradual expectation of chivalrous conduct.

A case in point would be the long, long overdue new Major League Baseball prohibition, announced in December, targeting the practice of veteran players forcing rookie teammates to dress as women in annual end-of-the-season hazing rituals.

That, too, took a while. It has been 11 years since Long Island’s Adelphi University invited hundreds of coaches and school administrators to a five-hour conference on hazing. My Newsday editor, in fact, still considered it to be a cute thing the following year when he assigned me to chronicle that “time-honored tradition” as the Yankees required rookies to dress as Wizard of Oz characters, including Dorothy, the Wicked Witch and other females.

Sports psychologist Susan Lipkins, an expert on the dangers of hazing, noted that by compelling men to dress as women, it sent the message that to be a woman is less than to be a man, thereby denigrating both the male dressing as a woman and women in general.

Anyway, in October—about the time that Hollywood Access audio tape surfaced of our future leader’s crass (and, in fact, criminal) claims—the New York Mets’ veterans ordered rookie teammates to don wigs, dresses and fake breasts as characters from the movie “A League of Their Own.” And to publicly fetch coffee in that attire for the old pros.

Maybe it took the outrage expressed by a handful of female sportswriters to finally move baseball officials to assume the role of adults and put an end to such bad behavior, after more than 30 years of rookies being ordered to wear tutus, cheerleader costumes or the outfits of female superheroes during the team’s final road trip.

“Before the ‘lighten up, it’s just a joke’ crowd has the chance to chime in,” Julie DiCaro wrote on the CBS Chicago web site at the time, “think about this: What if the rookies were all dressed in blackface as a joke? What if they were all dressed like Negro League players? Is that OK? “

That prompted SUNY-Oswego professor Brian Moritz, on his Sportsmediaguy.com web site, to question the “The Casual Sexism of the NY Mets.” Although, he admitted, a little late.

Some players continued to rationalize it as a harmless fraternal initiation. As “team-bonding.” As “fun.” (Something like “locker room banter” to them, no doubt, not to be nixed by “political correctness.”)

But any expert on hazing will argue that it is fun at someone else’s expense, that it is a means of reinforcing a pecking order of power and status. One of those experts, Roger Rees, told me years ago that hazing “legitimizes anti-social behavior” when sports, ideally, is supposed to “teach self-respect and respect for others.” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, a former Marine aware of similar practices in the military, was among those who strongly backed the MLB ruling to end what he call something “divisive [that] undercuts morale.”

Divisive and undercutting morale? Hmmm. Forward…march.

King (Clinton?) vs. Riggs (Trump?)

Here’s the sports analogy for what already is a theatrical, historic Presidential campaign: Billie Jean King as Hillary Clinton, Bobby Riggs as Donald Trump. A woman of substance and accomplishment vs. an attention-craving egotist considered by many folks to be a con artist. A female pioneer against what used to be known as a male chauvinist pig. With bad hair.

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In 1973, King and Riggs played a tennis match, won by King, that was more about the so-called glass ceiling than a racket-and-ball contest. Because it paired the 29-year-old King, at the height of her career as a 12-time major-tournament champion, against a 55-year-old geezer whose last of three major titles was 32 years in the past, physiological comparisons of innate female/male strength and speed hardly applied.

More to the point was King’s symbolic intrusion into the Old Boys’ Club. In the circus-like buildup to their match, Riggs had been bluntly dismissive of women’s role in society as well as women’s tennis—at a time when the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution had passed both houses of Congress and was awaiting ratification by state legislatures.

So, beyond the promotional excesses of the King-Riggs “Battle of the Sexes,” which felt at times like a public leg-pulling exercise, the match in fact became a prominent piece in the real national struggle that was playing out over gender rights. And Riggs had no interest in assuming what the current presumptive Republican Presidential candidate repeatedly disdains as political correctness.

Riggs was a showboating hustler and gambler, reportedly with large debts and ties to the mob. Months before the King showdown, he had challenged Margaret Court—whose 24 major-tournament championships remain more than those won by the likes of Steffi Graf and Serena Williams—and easily defeated her in a best-of-three-sets exhibition.

Against King, then, polls—that, is, the betting odds—overwhelmingly favored the blustering Riggs to repeat his proxy proof of apparent male superiority. The King-Riggs match employed the men’s more demanding major-tournament format of best-of-five sets, but King needed only three for her decisive sweep. A triumph of competitive chops over empty braggadocio.

handshake

In the following day’s New York Times front-page account, Neil Amdur wrote that King “attacked with a professional cool” while Riggs “hit marshmallow shots, some of which went in….Most important perhaps for women everywhere, she convinced skeptics that a female athlete can survive pressure-filled situations and that men are as susceptible to nerves as women.”

In Sports Illustrated, Frank Deford wrote that King “has prominently affected the way 50 percent of society thinks and feels about itself….”

There were stories of secretaries marching into offices the next day and demanding raises, or announcing that their coffee-making days were over. King immediately was seen as a unifying leader in the fight for gender equity—far beyond tennis and sports in general—and a fire under the new federal law, Title IX, that prohibited sex discrimination in public schools.

Likely, the pre-match carnival barking (mostly by the hectoring, boastful Riggs) had helped entice more than 30,000 spectators to pay their way into the Houston Astrodome and an estimated 50 million Americans (and 90 million worldwide) to watch on television. Beyond the hyperbole, the happening itself clearly produced a broad significance. (Momentous enough that, 44 years later, there will be a biographical movie based on the match released in 2017.)

“Everybody knew it was a gimmick,” Donna Lopiano, one of the most influential figures in women’s sports, noted years later. “But, up to that moment, the women’s movement had played the fringes, with things like bra-burning. Because that was sports and a woman proved her athleticism, it struck at the heart of male dominance.”

King herself said recently, “I hated the term ‘Battle of the Sexes.’ When I was younger, I’d lose to guys on purpose. But I knew playing Bobby had huge social significance. I knew, athletically, it meant nothing. But to the world it meant everything, because it was on guys’ terms. That’s why it worked.

“The only attention women get is when we get in their arena.”

(Donald Trump)

(Donald Trump)

(Bill and Hillary Clinton)

(Bill and Hillary Clinton)

Four decades later, with his wife in the arena, one William Jefferson Clinton has a front-row seat to the 2016 political analogy that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has called “the most stark X vs. Y battle since Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.”

P.S. When Bill Clinton said, in 2009, that “she has probably done more than anyone in the world to empower women and educate men,” he was talking about Billie Jean King.

Whatever happened to peace and brotherhood?

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I knew Mitt Romney. (Well, a little bit.) And Mitt Romney is no Mitt Romney. At least, he doesn’t seem to be the same guy who, in the wake of a vote-buying bid scandal, deftly marshaled the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics through a minefield of fears about terrorism, potential xenophobia and the usual Olympic headaches.

As organizing chief of those Games, staged just months after 9/11, Romney managed not only to restore global Olympic officials’ faith in American know-how and American humility—after the 1996 Atlanta Olympic poohbahs’ arrogant, slipshod performance—he also struck a blow for international understanding.

Whoever that fellow was who, during a 2012 presidential campaign, belittled 47 percent of the American citizenry and called upon undocumented immigrants to “self-deport,” the Olympic Mitt Romney preached that “we care about what the world thinks of America….It’s important that America no only enforce peace but also demonstrate that.”

At a time when many Olympic visitors worried there would be too much U.S. jingoism in response to the emotional wounds of 9/11, Romney invited Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid South African archbishop, and Polish labor activist Lech Walesa to be among the high-profile characters in Salt Lake’s opening ceremonies.

“Just as you find that you can’t fight terrorism on your own,” Tutu said, “you can’t have the Olympic Games on your own. You need help.”

Walesa admitted “thinking if I should be here, because you remember I was on the other side [in the cold war]. But now we have this new attitude….I hope we will now go to a different world of this good struggle.”

Now we have the disorienting Romney-Donald Trump tete-a-tete, which feels as personal as it does political, and I certainly won’t take sides in that squabble. (Except to say that the really, really little bit that I knew Trump—from a lengthy mid-1980s interview regarding his ownership of a team in the short-lived U.S. Football League—gave a clear glimpse of Trump’s struggle with facts.)

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Anyway, leading up to—and during—the 2002 Olympics, the version of Mitt Romney on display was an open-minded, efficient manager with a manageable ego. After two former Salt Lake City Olympic organizing officers had been indicted for paying $1 million in money and gifts to International Olympic Committee members in exchange for votes to host the 2002 Games, Romney was recruited in 1999 by then-Utah governor Mike Leavitt to come to the rescue.

Wealthy enough to turn down $285,000 in annual pay for the gig, Romney saved the community from embarrassment and financial crisis by engineering a $400 million turnaround, slashing $200 million in expenses and raising $200 million from previously reluctant sponsors.

“There is no greater irony,” he said then, “than my being given this Olympic responsibility. I was not a great athlete and I’ve never been in the business of sports.” During his days as an investment banker in Boston, he said, he had become a New England Patriots football fan, but the Olympics generated “special feelings and emotions. I didn’t get teary-eyed when the Patriots won the Super Bowl. I do get teary-eyed when I watch Chris Klug [the snowboarder who won a bronze medal competing with a liver transplant] and watch Sarah Hughes’ performance [to rise from fourth place to win the figure-skating gold].”

Romney seemed genuine enough in that settling (with the possible exception of his black, perfectly groomed hair, though that may be jealousy on my part), and aware of his obligations as a public figure. He appeared to be all-in on the Olympic ideal of international peace and brotherhood. He said he “knew the power of one badly chosen word,” a reference to when his father, George, suddenly disappeared as a Republican presidential candidate in 1968 after saying he had been “brainwashed” on U.S. policy in Vietnam.

Months after the 2002 Olympics, Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts. And won. No surprise. He had spoken publicly of his political aspirations the day after the Games ended, when his name recognition was sky high. Then, out of mothballs to run for president in 2012, he wasn’t quite recognizable. Except for the hair.

Forty-seven percent and self-deportation just don’t jive with the Olympic spirit. Then again, what must Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa be thinking about Donald Trump?

Politics and wrestling: Define “real.”

trump

Newsday political reporter Dan Janison’s Wednesday column—“Trump: As Real As Pro Wrestling,” with the above Associated Press photograph from 2000—had me riding in the Way Back machine.

The fellow cozying up to The Donald in that photo, of course, is former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, whose campaign for the Minnesota governor’s office 17 years ago appeared to be a put-on until Ventura won. Which moved me to begin a Dec. 7, 1998 post-election report on Ventura for Newsday this way….

Ask not what Jesse Ventura has done for his…uh…sport, but what his sport has done in getting him elected governor of Minnesota. Ask not whether professional wrestling is real. Ask whether politics is real. At least, those were the knee-jerk questions when 37 percent of voting Minnesotans put Venture into office as a third-party candidate with a classic split-vote scenario last month. The Minnesota Star-Tribune quickly editorialized a “what have we done?” lament, dismissing Ventura as no more than a celebrity creation of rasslin’ and sports talk radio, his two most successful jobs in his 47 years. Around the state, “My Governor Can Whip Your Governor” sweatshirts and postcards popped up and sold out immediately.

In the 1985 movie, “Back to the Future,” when young Marty McFly was transported back 30 years in time and casually mentioned that, where he had come from, the President of the United States was one Ronald Reagan, McFly’s 1955 scientist friend guffawed to hear of such an important station for the old B-movie actor. “And who’s the vice-president?” he asked sarcastically. “Jerry Lewis?”

That was comedy. But this Trump thing, and Ventura’s mention this week that he would consider being Trump’s vice-president—a tag-team “leadership” built on boasting, preening and insults—feels closer to farce.

Not even Ventura’s name is authentic. He is James George Janos; he uses his pro wrestling stage handle because that’s what made him Known. Goofier still in considering a Trump-Ventura ticket, Ventura now lives in Mexico, and this week told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, “I love the life down there because it broadens me in the fact that—guess what?—I’m the minority. It’s something that all white people should take part in at some point, being a minority, because it gives you a new perspective on the world around you.”

That sort of open-minded outlook—is it real?—clearly clashes head-on with Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists.” (Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, this week called Trump “a bloviating megalomaniac” on NPR.) Where Trump’s rhetoric does seem to have been foreshadowed by Ventura was in the latter’s public disdain for the very job he sought, regularly denigrating the democratic process and legislative exercise.

Janison, in marveling at Trump’s use of “standard techniques for pro wrestlers,” noted Trump’s credentials as a member of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) Hall of Fame, and for having his Atlantic City Trump Plaza host some of WWE’s “over-the-top events.” Events that typically suspend reality and common sense, not to mention the political correctness Trump loathes.

In my reporting on Ventura’s 1998 election, I was told by Dave Meltzer, who had been operating a popular pro wrestling newsletter for more than 15 years, that “Most people within wrestling would never admit this, but privately, they think Jesse’s election is a joke. Because, in wrestling, everything is a con.”

wrestle

Abe Lincoln gets the last words: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Donald Trump for president? Ask the old USFL folks

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For anyone out there who thinks Donald Trump should not run for president, the good news is that Trump has announced he is forming an exploratory committee to consider running for president. Because, by now, the world surely understands that The Donald regularly deals in bunkum, far quicker to offer a bluff than produce a [small-T] trump.

“Americans,” Trump said in a statement threatening his White House campaign, “deserve better than what they get from their politicians—who are all talk and no action.”

Ho, boy. You could say it takes one to know one, and Trump has been road-testing his bluster for more than 30 years. Let me take you back to his most significant involvement in the sports world, when Trump, then 37, spent $9 million to buy the New York Generals in the short-lived United States Football League.

That was in 1984. The USFL, not quite bold enough to take on the established NFL, was organized as a springtime league. At the time Trump, son of a multimillionaire New York builder, already had the reputation as an attention hog. (His chief competitor in the high-powered real-estate world then, Sam Lefrak, said of him, “Kid only knows how to talk, not to build.”)

Still Trump, as the new owner of the Generals, whom he had purchased from Oklahoma oil tycoon J. Walter Duncan, commenced talking about all the things he would build in the USFL–which, it should be said, at least didn’t mind the free publicity.

Trump said he would hire Don Shula, who had just coached the fifth of his six Super Bowl teams in 1983, away from the Miami Dolphins. He said he was negotiating to bring all-NFL lineman Randy White from the Dallas Cowboys. He said he was close to a deal to spirit away all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor from the Giants.

None of that happened. When Shula announced his decision to withdraw from Generals consideration, Trump quickly claimed that he—Trump—had pulled back his offer rather than include a Shula apartment in the showy Trump Tower. Shula wryly countered, “I had my press conference first.”

Trump also maintained that, at a meeting of USFL owners shortly after joining their club, “the subject of moving our season to the fall didn’t come up until I brought it up. I brought it up and spoke for a half hour, and when I was finished, if a vote had been taken, I believe it would have been 12-6 or 13-5 in favor of switching to the fall.”

Fellow USFL officials strongly denied that. “I would suggest,” said Vince Lombardi Jr., then president and general manager of the Michigan franchise, “that Don is out there on his own on this. More than any other issue.”

Trump, who said his Manhattan tower had 68 stories when there really were only 59, said the Generals’ season-ticket sales in 1984 were at 40,000, when they actually were at 32,000. (The Generals played in the old Giants Stadium, with a capacity of 77,000.)

Trump had been among the original candidates for USFL ownership in 1983, “but it didn’t work out,” Tampa franchise owner John Bassett told me after Trump came aboard. “Why? That depends on who you talk to. If you talk to me, I tell everybody that he didn’t put up the $5,000 assessment, so we kicked him out. Which is true. If you talk to him, he tells everybody that he was busy with his real estate matters and wanted to play in the fall. Which is also true.”

So there are different angles of truth. But here is what actually happened in the USLF-Trump adventure. As the league dwindled to eight teams, there indeed was a decision to move USFL games to the fall, in direct competition with the NFL, for the 1986 season. Instead, the USFL folded.

And, just this past year, after Trump lost a bidding war to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion, Trump insisted via Twitter, “Even though I refused to pay a ridiculous price for the Buffalo Bills, I would have produced a winner. Now that won’t happen.”

For anyone out there who is a Bills fan, what did happen may be good news.