Sports and Politics Collide in 'Terrordome' In his new book, writer Dave Zirin discusses the intersection of sports and politics. In Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports, Zirin explains why he thinks sports have ceased to be sports.
NPR logo

Sports and Politics Collide in 'Terrordome'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sports and Politics Collide in 'Terrordome'

Sports and Politics Collide in 'Terrordome'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Spectator sports engage fans on many, many levels. Yes, a ballgame is entertainment. But it's also about civic and national pride, about commercialism and art, and cheating and greed. It's about symbols and statistics, escape and politics.

Think back to the 1968 Olympics where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised defiant fists on the medals platform in Mexico City; to 1936 and Jesse Owens; to 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line; to Muhammad Ali's protest against the draft in the war in Vietnam; Jim Bouton and "Ball Four" Billie Jean King in the battle of the sexes.

In his new book, Dave Zirin argues that sports both mirrors and masks the world outside the lines, and that as much as we like to focus on homeruns and touchdowns, we can't ignore exploitation and racism.

Later in the program, Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker, joins us to talk about the politics of the opium war in Afghanistan.

But first, Dave Zirin. His new book is called "Welcome to the Terrordome."

And if you have questions about the politics of the steroid scandal, professional basketball's relationship to hip-hop, or other intersections of politics and sports, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail - Or you can comment on our blog at

Dave Zirin is also a columnist for The Nation and SLAM Magazine. He joins us here in Studio 3A. Dave, nice to talk to you again.

Mr. DAVE ZIRIN (Author, "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports"; Columnist, The Nation and SLAM Magazine): Oh, great to be here on this sultry summer day.

CONAN: And begin by telling us - the Terrordome?

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

CONAN: What's the Terrordome?

Mr. ZIRIN: Well, the title, "Welcome to the Terrordome," it's a direct reference to a 1989 song by the hip-hop group, Public Enemy. And their lead singer, Chuck D., actually wrote the intro to the book. And like a lot of us growing up in the 1980s in those parched political times, I - for me, Public Enemy was like water. I was raised on them. I love them. I played them with like catechism.

Now, for me, when - during Hurricane Katrina, when 30,000 of the poorest residents of New Orleans were huddled into the Superdome in conditions that Reverend Jesse Jackson liken to the hull of a slave ship, the music of Public Enemy really turned to my mind almost like prophecy. And the song that returned to my mind was "Welcome to the Terrordome," partly because the Superdome, which is the largest dome structure in the Western hemisphere, a place of tremendous luxury, became completely uninhabitable within a few short hours.

And partly, because the song "Welcome to the Terrordome" is really about a popular culture that turned on its creator, almost like a Frankenstein's monster that then turns on Frankenstein. And to me, that was very symbolic and evocative of the world of sports. Because whether you're a sports fan or not, I believe that sports affects all of our lives. And too much, these days, it affects our lives in the negative.

CONAN: And how so? Go on…

Mr. ZIRIN: Sure.

CONAN: …one thing you talk about is stadiums.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right. And I'm a sports fan and I love sports, but I have real problems with what sports are becoming. I mean, to me, sports are really like a hammer. And you could use a hammer to build a house or you could use a hammer to bash somebody over the head. And there's too much bashing over the head going on. And you mentioned the issue of publicly funded stadiums, an issue those of us here in Washington, D.C., of course, know nothing about. But too often…

CONAN: That was said, in tongue-in-cheek, as a new ballpark rises along the Anacostia River.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes. Yes. And they're estimating cost at near $1 billion. And people who know that we have potholes in D.C., that if, you know, a family of five could live in them, that it's a little odd that that much public works is going towards a stadium. And this has been the story throughout the United States. Over the last 10 years, we're talking about $16 billion in public funds have gone to build these stadiums.

Yet, reports from every possible think tank - Brookings Institute, Cato Institute, I cite the reports in the book - showed that these stadiums don't actually return their investment to their communities. And I think that there needs to be a call by fans to say, hey, you know what? We may love sports, but that doesn't mean we need to give a multi-millionaire a 300 million dollar present for the privilege of watching sports. And it's really changed the entire economics of the game.

Like - when my father was growing up in Brooklyn and, you know, trading in soda cans for coins, and you could get into, you know, Ebbets Field. Back in those days, you know, ticket sales were all. That's how you determine whether your team was successful or not, whether your team turned a profit. And of course, now, we have television and media deals are part of that too. But the main way a team makes money in the 21st century, it's about public subsidies.

So it's entirely turned the economic structure of the games that we treasure upside down. And for owners, it becomes a race of who can extort the most from municipalities and not who can put the best product on the field.

CONAN: Interesting, though, that one of the reasons the Dodgers left Brooklyn was they couldn't get a stadium built.

Mr. ZIRIN: That is correct. And - but ask anyone from Brooklyn who the three worst people in the 20th century were, they'll say without delay - Hitler, Stalin, Walter O'Malley.

CONAN: And they say, if you got two bullets, hit O'Malley twice. Anyway…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …as we go on, things are beginning to change, at least in the economics. I mean, you're seeing more privately funded…

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

CONAN: …ballparks, at least, in part, privately funded - Yankees…

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

CONAN: …the new Yankees Stadium - the new Shea Stadium or the new Met Stadium, which will be at Citi Field. And then the ballpark in San Francisco, too.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right. Well, the ballpark in San Francisco, AT&T Park, was actually ahead of its time. There was a movement among people in the bay area to say to the owner, Peter Magowan, that we would not publicly fund this park. And Peter Magowan, who's also the CEO of Safeway, he had the funds to be able to build AT&T Park and its beautiful McCovey Cove. And he built that on his own.

And after that, Peter Magowan said something, which - I mean, ranks as one of the less sharp predictions that we've heard in recent years, where he said that this will set the standard for how parks will be funded from now on. It will be done entirely with public money. And it was a nice sentiment, but that's just not how it's been going down.

I mean, just one example is the most expensive park in the United States is being built as we speak in Arlington, Texas, by Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. And there was a big article in Sports Illustrated about it and it talks about how Jerry Jones - it's going to cost a billion dollars, and you think over a billion dollars, just straight cost. And you're just like, wow, this is amazing, 60-foot flat screen plasma, all the stuff.

But then, you read more and more into the story, and you learned that the municipality is actually putting forward about 325 million of that from the get-go. And then, when you actually know something about the state of Texas; about the condition of schools in Texas; about where it ranks in terms of the United States; about the fact that in Houston, they actually put ads on the roofs of schools to gain extra revenue so when planes land in the airport, they can see a nice big picture of a Sprite can, it makes us - I think it should rightly make us wonder whether this money can be better spent.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation.

Our guest is Dave Zirin, columnist for SLAM Magazine and The Nation. His new book is "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports."

If you'd like to join us - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is

And let's start with Charlotte(ph). Charlotte's calling us from San Antonio.

CHARLOTTE (Caller): Hi, Neal.


CHARLOTTE: I was just calling to kind of comment. He's just talking about Texas here - and I live in San Antonio. You know, the Spurs has recently won the championship. All great and fun, but a few years ago, we built the Alamo Dome for the Spurs because they were playing in one of our local domes that now have been torn down. And we built the Alamo Dome - a few years later, the Spurs said, hey, we don't really like the Alamo Dome. And so we had to build the Spurs basketball center, which is now known as the AT&T Center.

And it's just - it's amazing to me that we spent all that money, and of course we got a couple of championships out of it, but where - I don't see where the city is actually benefiting from it. Because now, we have this big sports dome that we have no real use for it. We don't know whether or not to use it for - we've been trying to get a soccer team. We've tried football team. When we had the big thing with Hurricane Katrina, they…

CONAN: You know, the Saints played there a little bit.

CHARLOTTE: Yeah, just for a few - just for a couple of weeks. But, you know, people find, oh, that might be a good way that we can actually get a football team because Red McCombs, who, kind of, been one of the great sports legends in our city, you know, building anything from basketball to baseball; he's bought and sold almost every team known to man. But we're just - we're at a lost with the Alamo Dome now. We don't even have any place to put it. I'll take my comments off the air.

CONAN: All right, Charlotte. Thanks very much for the call.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah.

CONAN: And I guess there's no number of tractor pulls you can possibly schedule, you know?

Mr. ZIRIN: No, and that's the issue with these stadiums is that they may make a certain neighborhood look better. They may provide revenue streams that help an individual team. But as far as what are they - what it is actually doing for the people of San Antonio, I think that's Charlotte's point. And I think Charlotte made her point very well. But what's interesting is that Charlotte from San Antonio could be anybody from anywhere.

This is a story that's happening in small towns and large, Minor League stadiums, Major League stadiums. This is the story of this country right now because I would argue that the building of stadiums has become a substitute for anything resembling an urban policy.

I mean, I used to teach in D.C. public schools. And every time that I would ask for more money for books, more money to do something about the prehistoric supplies that were in my classroom, they would always tell me, well, you just can't throw money at the problem - as if the problem was much more ephemeral than that. It was much more mystic.

You can't throw money at the problem. So what if the book says that Bush is president, but it means the first Bush, not his son. You can't throw money at the problem. Yet, when it comes to stadiums, it seems that all they want to do is throw money at the problem. It's an exercise in who can throw the most money. And when it comes to a lot of leaders of city councils and mayors, I mean, they are like Sandy Koufax throwing this money. They're throwing 98 mile per hour hitters high and hard in there to make sure that they can - it's a race to see who can give the multi-millionaires and billionaires, their own pro sports teams, the most subsidies possible.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and let's go to -this is Clint(ph), Clint's with us from Corvallis in Oregon.

CLINT (Caller): Yes. Hi. I had a comment - thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Sure.

CLINT: On the tendency of the sports phenomenon to, sort of, turn into the monster that then attacks the people who are participating in it. And this could something - something that could be anywhere, any town across the country as well. The hunger for the young student, the young high school or college student to participate in the game, to be on the game, to be in the field, to be in these great cathedrals of sports that we are building is, at the lower levels, I think, really feeling an epidemic as people said about steroid use in high school football, in weight events, in track.

The urge at the lower levels where these things are not monitored, to get in there and as you say, throw money at the problem perhaps not only just through off-season weightlifting, but to participate in something, which is really going around the long way and the wrong way, and becoming a way in which sports are not building character, but perhaps revealing character. There's a great deal of money being made illegally by the people who are pushing these things through weight clubs and so on, on the side.

And going down to high schools where you say, you know, are we really doing this? Are we checking? Or say, we can't monitor that stuff. It costs a $100 or $150 dollars to administer a steroid test and think how many…

CONAN: Well, some high school programs are now instituting mandatory testing. I think in Texas and I Think New Jersey. Isn't that right?

Mr. ZIRIN: That's right. That's right. And most big time high schools now also do educations about steroids and the effect that they can have on growing bodies.

CONAN: So it's a…

CLINT: Well, you know, there's education of - the education with regard to abstinence going on too.

Mr. ZIRIN: That's right.

CLINT: And that's how it changed behavior of a lot of high school students.

Mr. ZIRIN: You know, that's true because there is a bigger problem.

CLINT: Right.

Mr. ZIRIN: I think that makes a great point.

CLINT: Well, Texas is certainly a large football state, but you wouldn't think of sending a kid out onto the field without a hundred or two hundred dollar football helmet. And I would think a 100 dollar test for drug abuse is probably not a bad idea.

CONAN: All right, Chet(ph) - Clint, excuse me, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. We're talking with Dave Zirin about the collision of sports and politics. His book is called "Welcome to the Terrordome." We'll get to more about steroids, maybe even Barry Bonds, who knows, after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking today with Dave Zirin about his new book, "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports." You can hear more of his take on steroids, baseball and Barry Bonds in an excerpt at our Web site, If you have questions about the politics of the steroid scandal, professional basketball's relationship to hip-hop or other intersections of politics and sports, give us a call 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is

And, Dave Zirin, I wanted to ask you - we're talking about exploitation youth sports just before the break. And one of the most affecting chapters of your book, it seemed to me, was about the Dominican Republic…

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

CONAN: …the new fountain of baseball talent, where so many kids, 12, 13 years old line up outside of these baseball academies that some of the teams have set up in that highly impoverished country and find themselves years later. You write about the death of one very promising Dominican baseball player who died in obscurity in Taiwan.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right, a gentleman named Mario Encarnacion. He went by the name Super Mario. And it took his boyhood friend, Miguel Tejada, who was someone who got out of the Dominican Republic, became an American League MVP to be able to pay for Super Mario's body to be able to come home and be buried. And that this is the reality of the Dominican Republic right now.

One baseball executive without, you know, really thinking, he called the country the republic of baseball. Another one said, we're taking a field of dreams and building it in the jungle. Another said it's the largest AAU squad in the world is the country of the Dominican Republic.

And this is the problem right now, is that I think Major League baseball is doing way too much strip mining of the talent of the Dominican Republic with far too little thought about what happens to these young kids when they're dropping out of school 10, 11, 12 years old, and it's not being signed to contracts for $2,000 at age 15 because they feel like as one player said to me in the book, our options are the shoe factory, the army, crime or baseball.

When people feel their options are that limited, they're going to do whatever it takes to make the Major Leagues. And one thing about the Dominican Republic is that it's a place where steroids are legal and available over the counter. It's also somewhere where steroids are amazingly expensive so there's stories I tell in the book about young people taking animal steroids or steroid derivatives - anything to be able to get that edge, anything to get out of a country with a 60 percent poverty rate. And one young man, Lino Ortiz, he passed away. He died from taking these animal steroids.

And so the question, I think - it's a right question to pose to Major League Baseball. It's a right question for fans to start to think about it. It's one thing to sort of sit back and marvel at the play of people like Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols and other great players from the Caribbean, but it's worth asking what happens to the 99 percent who are left behind.

CONAN: I wonder, what do you make of recent comments by Gary Sheffield, now a slugger with the Detroit Tigers, who said that one of the reasons there are fewer blacks in baseball these days is because the owners try to get Latin players, cheaper Latin players into the game, Latin players who he said allow themselves to be led around by the nose?

Mr. ZIRIN: I mean, when it comes to Sheffield's comments, in some ways, there's a lot correct about what he's saying because, I mean, I thought it was bizarre the avalanche of criticism that came down on him. One writer called him a dangerous moron. That was the headline of the piece. Gary Sheffield: Dangerous Moron. And I thought to myself, like - well, actually one of the things he's saying is undeniable, that Major League Baseball is investing millions of dollars in the Dominican Republic because it's like globalization. I mean, they're searching the Earth for the cheapest possible labor, they find it in the Dominican Republic. You can't sign someone 15 years old in South Central L.A. for $2,000 dollars. That's undeniable.

But what Sheffield said that was totally wrong was when he said that Latino players are somehow inherently more docile than African-American players, because as I talk about in the book, you've got some great examples from Felipe and Moises Alou to Carlos Delgado, to Delgado getting other players like Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, and the Alomar brothers involved in the effort to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques in Puerto Rico. There are terrific examples of Latino players fighting and trying to be heard.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers in on the conversation. Let's turn to Chris(ph). Chris is with us from Jacksonville in Florida.

CHRIS (Caller): Hello.


CHRIS: I have a question about sports beyond our borders, specifically the World Cup Soccer and the nationalism involved with that. My wife's from Argentina, she's pretty ardent about the things. And I just wanted to see what the author thought about that for the better or the worse.

CONAN: And sorry about that recent result against Brazil, but anyway, Dave Zirin.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah. I have two chapters in the book about soccer partly because in my last book, people kept asking me where is the soccer? And I kind of responded by saying soccer? What soccer, you know? Because I just have no knowledge of it, so I spent a lot of time trying to learn about the sport.

It is, without a doubt, the beautiful game, came to appreciate that. But also, for someone like me who's interested in the intersection of sports and politics. I mean, soccer puts on the global scale, puts what happens in the U.S. to shame. I mean, you can imagine Peyton Manning ripping off his jersey and having a slogan written on his chest in support of striking dockworkers.

I mean, that's something that happens in soccer. Or, imagine the boobirds that go on Barry Bonds getting even more repugnant and having people actually make monkey noises or throwing bananas at his feet. That happens to players of African descent in Europe.

So imagine a player - I'm not going to give a name for this one - but throwing a facetious salute at fans while they cheer rapturously while others cry in anguish at the sight. I mean, this is something that happens in the European leagues. So that whole idea of political representation on the field, which happens in dribbles in U.S. sport, flows like a gusher overseas.

CONAN: It was an interesting comparison. The most famous incident at the last World Cup was of course the head butt…

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

CONAN: …Zinedine Zidanne, the great French player, the captain of the team, got himself thrown out of the final and France went on to lose the game.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right. And one of the fascinating things about that was that the people of France welcomed Zizou, as he's known, back into their bosom after that game, which I don't think would have happened if France hadn't won the World Cup in '99 with Zidanne being the star. I think that's what - maybe it might said something about their…

CONAN: Give him a bit of a cushion, yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes. But I think at the other reason why that cushion existed is because the two teams - the French team and the Italian team - it became just fraught with this political morality play where the Italian team was largely, almost entirely made up of people born in Italy, while the French team was very multi-cultural.

So for a lot of folks in Europe, it became almost an old Europe versus new Europe kind of match with political parties on the right and the left weighing in every day in the newspapers about whether the French players were really French or whether if the Italian team was keeping players of color off the team, and it became like this incredibly propulsive kind of events that far transcended an issue of a mere World Cup game.

CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call.

CHRIS: No problem.

CONAN: Okay. Bye-bye.

CHRIS: Thanks.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go now to - this is Greg, Greg with us from Portland, Oregon.

GREG (Caller): Hello. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure, Greg. Go ahead.

GREG: I lived in the U.K. for last year as a teacher and I would have to concur that those observations about football are pretty accurate. But the reason I called was - I've been, I'm dating myself here. I've been a Giants fan, a San Francisco Giants fan my whole life since I was 6 years old.

You know, I started playing baseball. And I remember when the Giants moved out here and - I don't want to comment about Barry Bonds. I know that there is a racial component and people bring up, you know, the objection to Bonds getting close and he'll probably - he'll break that record not because he's black.

But I got to tell you that many fans, especially me, detest him because he's just a thoroughly obnoxious individual. And I'm not so idealistic to think that, you know, our sports greats have to be saints or even anything close to it. But I objected to Bonds coming to the Giants when he was with the Pirates, and now I'm doing the I-told-you-so, and my friends know this.

I see the jerk in my opinion, I'm a fan I can say that I guess, and it's all coming home to roost. I don't care that he's beaten the record and the quicker he does it, the better. All I know is the Giants, still, haven't won a World Series since they came to San Francisco in my lifetime.

And as long as he's there, you know - I still remember what happened against Anaheim. That's all I got to say. I just think he's, you know, distasteful and people know it and that says a lot to do why people don't like him.

CONAN: He's got to be the most polarizing figure currently in baseball.

Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, absolutely. But, I mean, I think the caller kind of answered his own question because, I mean, if you took out anybody who had some, shall we say, personality issues out of the Hall of Fame, it would be a very cavernous place.

It's like the old joke of the guy who leads the wonderful life and goes to heaven and he sits down for his first meal with God and all he has is tomato juice and a celery stalk. And he says to God, he says, hey, what gives? I'm starving here. This is heaven. Why just this tomato juice and celery stalk? And God says, well, it just doesn't pay the cook for one.

GREG: Well, if I may, I agree with you. I don't, again, there are a lot of guys that have been distasteful in all sports that have been great. But he is - I don't like the way he carriers himself. And furthermore, I don't think he's a winner.

You know, Ty Cobb was awful, but the guy was a winner. Bonds has no championships. He hits homeruns when the Giants are ahead, you know, 12 to 4 in the eighth inning. But when the money's on the line, and the chips are on the table, that guy rarely, if ever, reaches for them. And, you know, I remember Will the Thrill and I remember Williams, those are the guys that led the Giants to that great 103-win season. When they came up one short in September and came back from seven and a half games behind September - almost caught the Braves -they were not picked to do much in April. And Bonds then came around and added to the charge, but he didn't lead it. And that's the difference. You know, he's not a winner. He's obnoxious.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yikes.

GREG: And as a fan, I think I can say that. Okay.

Mr. ZIRIN: I think he should say how he really feels.

CONAN: I think so. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. I think Bob(ph) is calling from Oakland.

BOB (Caller): Correct. I guess it's a good time for me to talk about my views on Bonds because it's a very - they're very different than the views of the previous caller. The fact of the matter is I think that Bonds is a real scapegoat. I am quite sure that he used steroids, but it misses the point for more of the time that he was alleged to have been engaged in using steroids. There wasn't even a rule in baseball against the use of steroids. There was not an adequate testing procedure and I think the owners were laughing all the way to the bank as batters and pitchers and everyone. We're improving their performance because of steroid use. As long as the owners won't found out, they were happy to reap the benefits of it.

I expect that when the truth finally comes out, we'll find out that there are many players on essentially every team that have used steroids. And it's very curious thing. I mean, when Jason Giambi, who was essentially admitted to steroid use, comes up to the plate, he does not get booed the way Barry Bonds does. And I could go into example after example after example of people who clearly have used steroids and they do not get the treatment that Barry Bonds does. I do think that there's a racial element to it, but even putting that aside, there is no question that he has been made a scapegoat.

The real problem here lies with the owners. If they had wanted to clean up the sport, they could have done it long ago by changing the rules, instituting a proper testing procedure.

CONAN: The union had something to say about that too. But, Dave Zirin?

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah. Absolutely, that's my position as well. I think Barry Bonds is being forced to shoulder an entire statistically dubious era. And instead of asking questions about what did owners know, what did trainers know, it's become much easier to use Barry Bonds as a lightning rod. And that's my problem with the way this entire steroid drama has really played itself out. It's being done with such blinders on, and I think that who benefits from that, I think Major League Baseball's institution benefits from that - and from throwing Barry Bonds under the bus.

We saw this recently with Giambi, when he actually came forward and said this is an institutional problem, this is about what players and owners knew. And you saw the immediate response was Major League Baseball said, yeah, we need to investigate you, Jason Giambi. That's who we need to investigate.

CONAN: Well, if you're going to admit it, you're coming in and talk to us about it…

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah.

CONAN: …you might get suspended.

Mr. ZIRIN: Exactly.

BOB: Exactly.

CONAN: Anyway, Bob, thanks very much for the call.

BOB: You bet.

CONAN: We're talking with Dave Zirin about his new book "Welcome to the Terrordome." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

An e-mail from Joyce(ph) in Nashville. I could have missed something but I think you've spoken exclusively about the world of male sports. Is that because the majority of money is associated with men's and not women's sports?

Mr. ZIRIN: Terrific question. I'm really glad you raised that. (Unintelligible) Charlotte, we've got only male callers as well. And, no, I do talk about women's sports in the book. I think it's a very important thing to talk about not just because it just, you know, to be equal minded about it but because women make up a huge part of the sporting audience. They're the largest growing sector in the National Football League's audience. And yet, women's sports, I mean, sports is a very contradictory place for women because on the one hand, because of Title IX. It's a place where thousand of women, millions of women, have grown up feeling like they should have the right to access to sports. But on the other hand, sports is so deeply drenched in sexism that you could go through a whole year of sports illustrated covers and the only women you'll see on the cover is at the swimsuit issue. And this is something that I know that a lot of women wrestle with.

So in the book, I talk about the example of the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team standing up to Don Imus. And the thing about that that was so exceptional was that they didn't just stand up to the racism of Imus' comments, but they also explicitly stood up to the sexism of those comments and they did it as a collective. I think that's what made it kind of a different experience, a different kind of comeuppance for the typical slip of the tongue of the shock jock, is that they stood up together as a team and said, you know what, as women, black and white, we're standing up here together. We object to the way that this gentleman attempted to picture us and to portray us for the nation. And I think that's important because for women to have a place at the table in the world of sports, that's never been given to women. It's always been something that's had to be fought for and organized for. And I think that's a tradition that needs to be revived and kept alive.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last call in. Dane(ph). Dane is with us from Flint, Michigan.

DANE (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Dane. You're on the air.

DANE: I Appreciate you taking my call. I don't want to speak to Barry Bonds specifically, but I do think that he's somewhat indicative of a tendency in the media, maybe since ESPN came into being of almost every athlete having to fit some mold of being a saint or a sinner, both off the fields as well as on, where it used to be a hero or villain on the field and off the field. It's sort of, you know, a different matter entirely.

Mr. ZIRIN: It's a very, very good point. I mean, sports has changed incredibly in the last three decades. And one of the way it's changed have been things we talked about like tendencies towards privatization of product and globalization in terms of how to find players. But it's also a change in terms of this 24-hour sports media monster, basically, that needs to fill every single second of that 24-hour period. And they can't do that just based on what happens in the field. That's also about trying to fill time with the personalities of players and creating these dramas out of whole cloth.

And I think it's important that when we talk about Barry Bonds, we do have some sense of historical knowledge, that it's not like back in the day baseball sluggers would have a big glass of vitamin D whole milk and stroll up to the plate and, oh, they've make sure to stop by at the hospital and tell the sick child that they're going to hit a homerun just for them, and then they run around the bases and people throw flowers out them and they go home to be with the wife and kids. That's never been the world of sports. It's always been something that's existed at the fringes of, shall we say, conventional morality. Yet, now we have a media structure that allows us to report on those fringes for the collective titillation of the marketplace.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet, I guess, we don't have a lot of time to go in this. But ESPN did give Barry Bonds his own half-hour weekly show for a while, which, I guess, is the modern-day equivalent of a glass of vitamin D milk.

Mr. ZIRIN: I guess that is the equivalent of that. I mean, it was a place for Barry Bonds to be Barry Bonds. But he found out there wasn't a lot of audience for Barry Bonds in the raw.

CONAN: Anyway, Dane, thanks very much for the call.

DANE: Thank you.

CONAN: And we'd like to thank our guest, Dave Zirin, who joined us to talk about his new book "Beyond the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promises of Sports."

Mr. ZIRIN: That's "Welcome to the Terrordome." "Beyond" was the Mel Gibson movie.

CONAN: Well, that was good, too.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah. I love that movie.

CONAN: When we come back, it's the politics of the opium war in Afghanistan with Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker magazine. I'm Neal Conan. TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.