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CityWatchLa; The Politics of March Madness by Randy Shaw

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CityWatchLa; The Politics of March Madness by Randy Shaw

The Politics of March Madness GUEST WORDS
Randy Shaw (BeyondChron.org)

As many focus on Japanís nuclear meltdowns, Middle East violence, and economic problems, millions of predominately male Americans are riveted on the NCAA basketball tournament known as March Madness. Expanded to 68 teams this year, March Madness is a wonderful reflection on the current state of the American Dream. It creates the illusion that some little-known team from a small school can rise up and defeat an historic basketball power, and has enough minor upsets in early rounds to fuel this rags to riches myth.

But, like an American society where upward movement between classes is harder than ever, March Madness invariably ends in the triumph of the elite.

This year, the eventual winner will be either Duke (coached by Nike sweatshop backer Mike Krzyzweski), Kansas (a state controlled by right-wing Republicans), UConn (ďconĒ fits Jim Calhoun well), Ohio State (Tressel and Kasich in one city?), and after Butler upset favored Pittsburgh, San Diego State is now the populist choice.

No top seed has ever lost to a 16 seed (itís 104-0), but that wonít stop millions from believing in the possibility as March Madness begins. The tournament that turns workers who fail to fill out brackets into office outcasts turns skeptics into romantics, as crowded bars cheer for the George Masonís and Xavierís (team name: the Musketeers) of the world to at least reach the Final Four.

The Elite Prevail

Just as banks, insurance companies and global financial service companies almost always come out ahead in the United States, the elite basketball schools will be playing after the romantic favorites have gone home. Those hoping for unheralded San Diego State to reach the Final Four will be disappointed, as will those who continually expect Gonzaga to exceed expectations (who can forget its 2006 meltdown against UCLA).

Just as the American Dream once really meant that lower income people had a greater chance than in other nations to rise to the middle and even upper classes, there was a time when an 8th seed Ė Villanova in 1985 Ė won the title. This followed one of the most extraordinary games in basketball history, as that team defeated heavily favored Georgetown because its players simply could not miss.

Elite teams winning the NCAA tourney is the sports equivalent of Goldman Sachs execs getting another round of bonuses Ė the entire industry is stacked in their favor and yet we are supposed to act like the contest starts with a level playing field. Elite schools pay their coaches millions of dollars, have extraordinary facilities, and when they get caught cheating Ė as UConnís Jim Calhoun recently was Ė their sanctions are less than a slap on the wrist.

I recently saw the most expensive and state of the art basketball facility in the world Ė at the public University of Oregon. Think that arena might help with recruiting?

Just as the two major United States political parties increasing serve competing elites, March Madness offers entrance to many but a real chance for victory for the few. Butler did almost pull out a remarkable victory over Duke last year, but typically fans must choose among the original favorites, not underdogs.

San Diego State the Progressive Choice

I always root against Duke. Not because Jalen Rose believes they only recruit African-Americans who are Uncle Tomís [link] (a ridiculous claim Grant Hill soundly refutes) [link] or because I am jealous of their success. No, my reason is that Duke Coach Mike Krzyzweski is a world-class hypocrite and longtime pimp for Nike sweatshops.

Donít tell me about Krzyzweskiís values. I wrote a book about Nike sweatshops, [link] and know how he marketed their brand Ė and reaped millions of dollars personally Ė without regard to the human cost.

Kansas is a popular choice, but progressives shouldnít back a team from a right-wing, anti-union state. And while I once rooted for UConnís Jim Calhoun to finally win a title, the guy flaunts NCAA rules and does not deserve a third title.

Ohio Stateís defense of football coachís Jim Tresselís non-disclosure of recruiting violations, and its penalizing the millionaire much less severely than young African-American players, is deplorable. Add this to Governor John Kasichís attack on unions in Columbus and this team may win, but should not get progressive support.

I don't see San Diego State winning, or even reaching the final four, but as a public school without a basketball tradition, they are the populist choice.

(Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the
Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century"><b><font color=Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century" /> Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century">Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century

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The Activistís Handbook"><b><font color=The Activistís Handbook" /> The Activistís Handbook">The Activistís Handbook


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