As a ghost of antifascism I sometimes take the liberty to be somewhat controversial. I will now take that liberty.
I despise professional sports. The more popular the sport, the more I hate it. The larger the audience, the louder the crowd, the brighter the fireworks, the faster the jets–the more I want to throw up.
Even the term ‘professional sports’ is offensive, seemingly calculated to help us forget that these ‘professionals’ are skilled workers engaged in labor within a capitalist enterprise. That enterprise rakes in considerable profits from the surplus value created by those workers. These corporations are for profit, and share the same means of enforcing exploitation and domination as an oil company, weapons manufacturer or, for that matter, a charitable foundation.
Furthermore, the non-millionaire workers who park cars, cook hotdogs, clean bathrooms and stitch hats are invisible. As with all corporations, it is from the least powerful that the lions share of value is created and then stolen by others; then that process is hidden from us. In coliseums and arenas it seems our otherwise sharp ‘critical criticism’ is set aside to allow for unbridled support for a team or competitor. There is also a certain fidelity to white settler state militarism often aptly represented by mascots, e.g., cowboys and Indians.
Professional sports are also prime vectors for the reproduction of the pathological male gaze: men, beer and hot dog in hand and mouth watching men, balls in hand in combat with one another; meanwhile women busy themselves watching those men watching men and imagine how they look to those men. Ugh. This is the male supremacy algorithm that dominates professional sports, and why there is still no out gay (American) football player who hasn’t faced organized and violent opposition of one form or another. Give it time, you might say, by the turn of the next century I’m sure there will be an out gay quarterback, or perhaps even a transgender one. But that’s precisely my point–there is no point to this short of transforming the very nature of competition by obliterating that which upholds it all–private property. Capitalism has proven itself to be the most efficient means by which to organize a form of ‘free time’ that is misogyny masquerading as sport. Big fucking deal. What an accomplishment. Oh, and don’t get me started about the grotesque enslavement that is ‘college sports’ and its cannibalism practiced on higher education, two things that should never be spoken of in the same breath. Finally, it seems that within the American tradition of professional sports ‘politics’ is verboten. If you ask me, not much to recommend here. Since when did a radical cheer on a corporation?
Remember, corporations are legalized dictatorships–they practice a form of economic totalitarianism fundamentally at odds with democracy and equality. This is what Milton Friedman meant by making the economic realm supreme, where the profit motive can replace democracy altogether. That’s the neoliberal agenda and it is not necessarily at odds with a white nationalist and male supremacist one. They can function hand and glove. Get it?
Not all sports are subject to my scorn; just those that are capitalist enterprises. Amateur sports, especially kids sports, are another matter entirely. Here, as with all facets of social life that have managed to remain at least partially outside ‘the economic’ one can find healthy and wholesome competition. Some of my most precious memories are of amateur sports. Sporting competition outside private markets and organized capitalist insanity used to be enshrined in the Olympics. Remember when it was for amateurs only? Friendly competition between nations? Remember when those scrubs from the beer league bested the Soviet hockey team? Now it is a loathsome spectacle of corporate corruption, preening celebrities and vicious gentrification programs that vacuum up the wealth of entire cities.
So it is with such disdain in mind that I turn to the Portland Timbers, a professional sports corporation no different from those discussed above, but with a fan club, the Timbers Army, unlike any other, except perhaps one: FC St. Pauli Hamburg (Germany).
First some bona fides. I have been an antifascist for more than 30 years and spent a good part of the 1980s and 1990s making that a full time occupation. During 1996 I visited 15 cities throughout Germany on a speaking tour in a concerted effort to meet and better coordinate with comrades fighting the far right there. In the United States the Oklahoma City bombing had recently taken place while Germany was in the throes of an insurgent mass-based racist anti immigrant movement. My speaking tour was hosted by radical antifascists, autonomists, ‘refoundation’ communists, squatters, anarchists and trade unionists. In Hamburg (my favorite venue of the tour) I was given the t-shirt pictured above by antifascist supporters of FC St. Pauli.
The far left, antifascist credentials of the FC St. Pauli club go back to the 1980s, which is when the Antifa began to be revived in Europe and North America. There are other European football clubs with one foot in socialism, but few that are as militant as FC St. Pauli. There are many more fan clubs with both feet in fascism.
The Timbers Army antifascism owes much to this left wing political tradition, and it is a welcome development. The Timbers Army are to antifascism in the United States what FC St. Pauli are to German and European antifascism. But the Timbers Army is also a creature of its social milieu and therefore a football fan club. I don’t live in Portland or follow any sort of football. But so long as a sports club is antifascist, I’m interested in what they mean by that and what they do about it.
Now, I am partial to the original antifascist symbol, that of the red and black flag, but I can accept others.
Also, I might chafe at Timbers Army supporters using one of three iconic arrows to target ‘communism’, or other ‘Iron Front’ antifascists distancing themselves from groups self identified as ‘antifa’, or the distinction without a difference made between ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’, but I will uphold their rightful place within the larger antifascist movement. I would expect the same in return.
If the Timbers Army were to reach its full potential, what might that look like? Here the limits of a fan club become a bind. But there is a way forward: don’t just bite the hand that feeds you, take the whole arm and use it to beat the living shit out of your master. And you do have a master.
The Timbers football team is owned by Hank Paulson—the guy who helped orchestrate the bailout of America’s plutocrats and ensure the continued immiseration of the rest of us after the global shitting of the bed that was the ‘financial crisis’ of 2007-2009. During a recent match where Timbers Army supporters observed 33 minutes of silence to protest a ban on their antifascist symbols, Paulson, together with his son, also an owner, is said to have blamed the loss of that match on this vocal antifascism. It seems to me that what should be done here is pretty clear.
Radicals within the Timbers Army should agitate for the obvious next step in political development, a step that should exacerbate contradictions and divisions within the enemy camp and reinforce solidarity and unity within ours: It’s time for a community-owned Portland Timbers. The decommodification of our leisure time is an antifascist action and goal, or should be.
At issue here is not whether the owners are antifascist enough, but why anyone should own our leisure time? Here is a political movement on a platter: a loathsome dictator (every CEO is that) who is also shoving nepotism down the throats of supporters all the while undermining popular antifascism. This is also an issue all antifascists–antifa and social Democrat’s alike–could agree on. Some, however will undoubtedly cry in their beer: the defense of private property, rather than its abolition, is antifascist. Such nonsense presents itself as an opportunity to separate the antifascist wheat from chafe and reclaim that which belongs to the commons.
In any case I will always hate professional sports, perhaps not as much as corporations that manufacture cluster bombs, but not much less, either. What’s important is that there is an alternative that is possible and that we are willing to fight for it.