Leave Josh Alone

DZ is at it again doing what he does so well…

Dallas Mavericks All-Star Josh Howard has been raked over the coals of public opinion this week for daring to say what more than a few athletes think. He was caught on someone’s cell phone camera saying that he doesn’t stand for the national anthem because “I don’t celebrate this [expletive]. I’m black.” Judging by fan and media reaction, you would have thought he was barbecuing some bald eagle over a flaming pit of American flags. You would, given the peals of outrage, never know that there’s been perhaps some more pressing news in the papers this week.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to his eternal credit, has posted (since been removed) some of the anti-Howard emails he has received and they are the most vile, racist trash you could read outside a Klan chat room.

Many of these courageous e-bigots actually attempt to link Howard’s mini-rant to the ascension of Presidential candidate Barack Obama. Their crude threats reflect a white fear as old as the United States itself: that no matter how much blood black Americans spill for this country, their loyalties are dual and divided. It’s a fear that — in a backhanded way — acknowledges that racism is still so prevalent in our society that loyalties of the descendents of slaves must be suspect. But instead of confronting the reality of racism, the e-bigots among us instead lash out in both frightening and filthy fashion.

Well, count me out. Count me out as someone who will pile on Josh Howard. Howard is someone who said, during his 2004 senior year at Wake Forest University, that the war in Iraq “was all about oil.” He then saw his draft stock plummet to the point where he was picked after no-talents like Reece Gaines and Ndudi Ebe. I saw one scout even call Howard a risky pick saying that “Anti-war views may reflect rumored erratic behavior.” Count me out as someone who thinks anti war views are erratic.

Count me out of the fraternity of sports writers who under a kabuki pantomime of liberalism will “defend Howard’s right to say what he wants” and then crush him for opening his mouth. Take J.A. Adande of ESPN.com. He starts his anti-Howard piece by writing, “What makes America the best country on the planet is that you are free to stand or sit for the national anthem, to sing along or to yell in anger at the government as much as you want without getting tossed in jail for your political beliefs.” What claptrap. Someone needs to send Adande a copy of the Patriot Act. Or maybe he could ask the people who attempted to exercise their Constitutional rights to “yell in anger” at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN, only to be subject to “pre-emptive” raids and prison. Maybe he could ask the journalists who were beaten and arrested by police for attempting to report on it.

But then Adande continues:

“Howard, the Dallas Mavericks forward coming off a year in which he publicly admitted his penchant for smoking marijuana and defiantly partied away during the NBA playoffs, has a termite-ridden soapbox.”

Yes, Howard admitted that he is an NBA player who smokes weed. Stop the presses. He also celebrated his own birthday after a playoff game. Adande must think it’s a slippery slope: weed, birthday parties, treason. If Howard’s soapbox is “termite-ridden” then Adande’s argument is a house of cards.

This garbage is exactly why it’s so hard to get athletes to open up about what they think. Reporters are seen as there to mock any ideas they have beyond “Drink Gatorade… and play one game at a time.” Count me out of this smirking and all-too-racist game of journalistic gotcha.

Count me out also as someone who thinks any critiques of the anthem are somehow off limits.

Count me instead as someone who has no clue why this is the only country in the world that feels to need to play the national anthem before sporting events. Count me as someone who believes that sports are beautiful but enforced nationalism before a captive audience is not. Count me as someone who resent the fact that we are raised to see sports and nationalism as inherently conjoined.

Count me as someone who will never criticize an athlete for pointing out their discomfort with this ritual.

I’m always sympathetic when a jock questions the permanence of the anthem. A photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists adorns my wall. I have written in defense of people like Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, drummed out of the NBA for not standing during the anthem, and Toni Smith, the former Manhattanville College basketball player who turned her back on the flag in 2003 to protest “not just the war abroad but the injustices here at home.” They were right to question the assumed permanence of this exceptionally American ritual.

Fusing the anthem with sports is a practice that was started in order to build patriotic fervor during World War II. When “the good war” ended and the permanent Cold War begun, it simply never left. It is supposed to represent freedom, but, as we see with Josh Howard, it’s the freedom to do little more than smile in silence.

Well, count me out.

[Dave Zirin is the author of “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

Here’s a video of Scoop Jackson and Kevin Blackistone speaking on this issue on Outside the Lines.

Hat tip to All Hip Hop Sports for posting the video.

27 Responses to “Leave Josh Alone”

  1. thebrotherreport says:

    Once again Dave you’ve hit one out of the park.

    Just like the Declaration of Independence this song was not for anyone other than descendants of the “Founding Fathers”. It’s a poem about the Defense of Fort McHenry that was bombed during the War of 1812 sung to the tune of a popular British drinking song.

    Josh Howard, Mahmoud Abdul- Rauf and Toni Smith were all within their rights to protest in anyway that pleases them.

    So I will say to those what is told to us (Blacks) when someone makes a racially insensitive remark: Get over it, stop being so sensitive, it’s freedom of speech.

  2. Very powerful piece. I read J.A. Adande and Steven A. Smith last week on ESPN.com and I felt that because they are the black NBA journalist that they were asked to attack this so-called issue, and for that…you can count me out too! I was disappointed last week, but thank Dave Zirin for showing the people the side of the moon we don’t see.

  3. Co Co says:

    Good work Dave. You an count me out too.

  4. GrandNubian says:

    The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, who was a slave owner (racist).

    So count me out as well…….

  5. GrandNubian says:

    Oh yeah…..excellent piece of writing Dave.

  6. Elliot says:

    Nice piece Dave. Why would anyone…media, fans, owners, kids…have a problem with Josh Howard? Who doesn’t dislike what the National Anthem represents? You know? What black athlete doesn’t smoke weed? Come on Adande, you think we are going to throw our boy J Howard under the bus b/c he likes to smoke weed. Forget it!
    I don’t know about you, but if anyone tries to get ANY of my kids to sing the Anthem or tries to get them to stop smoking weed….there’s gonna be hell to pay!

  7. Matthew Fudge says:

    I don’t have a problem with what he said, I do have a problem with how he said it – thuggish and ignorant. When you come off as ignorant, you lose credibility, then your message gets lost. W.E.B. DuBois spoke about the duality of being black in America. Toni Smith turned her back on the flag. Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith had their own ways of protesting. Michelle Obama said that for the first time, she’s actually proud to be an American. There are reasons why a lot of black people feel ambivalent towards the U.S., Barack Obama’s campaign notwithstanding. Look at the Tuskegee Airmen: they fought for our country overseas and got treated like second-class citizens in our own country. But it just goes to show that we’re very reactionary in this country when it comes to race. We won’t engage in a discussion until something that seems negative pops up, then we want to voice our opinion. Silence doesn’t mean progress. Leave Josh alone.

  8. Temple3 says:

    What an absolute great phukkking idea — barbecueing republicans (and democrats) over a pit of amerikkkan flags! I absolutely LOVE that idea.

  9. Temple3 says:


    Thanks. Always thought Adande was a crackhead. You just found his pipe!

  10. thebrotherreport says:


  11. michelle says:

    I just love Dave Zirin. Great work as usual!

  12. Mizzo says:

    I’ve spoke to Josh on a few occasions and it’s my opinion he was mimicking Charlie Murphy. He just doesn’t talk like that normally.

  13. Arlene Forbes says:

    Hellooooo! since when did Josh become Barack Obama’s spokes person? Good f@#king grief! enough already with the flags and anthems. They always get the black sell-outs to do the bidding. Sorry asses. “As Aricain Americans,we need to be conscious of what we say in this day and age?!!! I’m checking box #1 for First ammendment rights, and adding box #4 for Second ammendment rights. The right to bear arms and pull the trigger on these clowns

  14. Matthew Fudge says:

    Why Bill Maher hasn’t invited Dave to be on his show is beyond me.

  15. HarveyDent says:

    Per usual, good and honest opinion from DZ.

    If Josh is censured by the NBA then I want the same thing for the Spanish players who poked fun at the Chinese during the Beijing Olympics with that mocking slant-eyed poster.

    Punish one, punish all. Step up, Herr Stern

  16. HarveyDent says:

    Not surprised sadly that Scoop and Blackistone came out like they did against Howard especially with saying that what he said will affect Obama’s campaign. If a potential voter is going to vote for McCain because he heard a Black man say something others perceive as un-patriotic then they don’t deserve to have a freakin’ vote.

  17. Eric Daniels says:

    Harvey, I heard that some whites on these blogs said they wouldn’t vote for Obama because of what Howard said that then I wouldn’t want their vote. And David great article and why should Howard be punished he did nothing determental to the game and it was a non- league event, frankly Black Folks should stop walking on eggshells because Obama is running for President and have to be careful of everything we say in this ” Reverse P.C.” enviroment we live in.

  18. Temple3 says:


    Fuck that. In all honesty, if Stern even dares flex on Howard for this, the players need to walk out — right before the tip of the season…Uniforms on and everything…ref throws the ball up, and the players bounce, the ball bounces, checks bounce and Stern gets to eat a dick up.

    If an employer with protected federal status (as most sports leagues are) wants to impose a rule without collective bargaining that flatly rejects all notions of self respect for Black folk, that employer needs his ass kicked.

    Moreover, Josh’s statement (no matter how flippantly made) is not in ANY way akin to what the Spaniards did. I won’t go into detail, but I’d hope that our defense of him is not mitigated by our disdain of others. Fuck Stern, fuck the Spanish team, fuck Blackistone and Scoop.

    We have the RIGHT to tell the world to kiss our ass — especially when they are asking us to lick Slave Master Balls. This right is natural, but not permanent. You can lose it.

  19. Matthew Fudge says:

    Sorry to tell you, Harvey, but nothing’s gonna happen to the Spaniards if nothing’s happened already. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least when and if David Stern takes action against Howard. Look at what happened to Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Raouf for speaking out: they got blackballed. It’ll be very interesting to see how the players respond to the injustice that Howard will most likely have to deal with. Hopefully, they won’t look the other way and keep cashing their checks, but for once stand up for something bigger than themselves.

  20. Dredded One says:

    I’m mad at Josh. Its like M Fudge said earlier. If he felt compelled to make a statement, be intelligent in words and action. If I were to say something like that, no one would care. He is a notable presence. Its a shame and an embarrassment with atheletes use their celebrity to promote ignorance. You would hope that even they would grow tired of being the ones that help grow bullshit like entertainment and sports. (yes, as much as we all love it, in the grand scheme of things sports is bullshit) There’s nothing wrong with his viewpoints at all, the conveyance is the problem.

  21. Temple3 says:


    The players won’t do shit. They should, but they won’t. Why? Because Josh Howard isn’t PERFECT. Negroes have to be PERFECT in order to get the support of other Negroes. Negroes have to be PERFECT even when their rights are in danger of suppression…even when their lives are threatened.

    To be PERFECT, you have to be meek, docile, intelligent, sacrificial, and perceived as undeserving of a cruel fate. You cannot have any record of prior arrests, convictions, back-talking, white women, drunk driving (that’s reserved for white folks like LaRussa, etc.). You cannot belong to any organizations (You know – you have to be disorganized.) No Nation of Islam, heck, no notions of Islam. You could have a preacher – but you can’t be a member of the church. You have to be a lost soul who is being claimed – redeemed – like a piece of plantation property. You can’t have tattoos. You can’t listen to hip hop. Heavy metal is okay though. No weed (it makes white women loose – at least that’s what they said in the 50’s….maybe shit’s changed.)

    You have to be perfect. No ifs, ands or blunts.

    It doesn’t hurt if you’re “not all the way Black” (Sheffield-ism). Though, we can’t honestly say if that helps a whole helluva lot either. Light-skinndeddeddeddeddedness and red hair didn’t save El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz from catching a hail of Mary’s finest bullets. Either way, I don’t think Josh can count on the support of his comrades in charms. Nope…too many strippers to hit off…too many rims to buy…too many owners who need knobs slobbed by brainless 7 footers.

  22. Temple3 says:


    I can understand you frustration…believe me I can.

    But…I don’t think it’s fair to hate on him because of the context. It’s not like he used the camera phone, then called a press conference to talk about his three second blip. It was a totally impromptu moment. When he has been asked about things of that sort, in a more formal context, he spoke up. According to DZ, it cost this former ACC Player of the Year a lofty draft status and several million dollars.

    We ain’t perfect, ain’t been perfect, ain’t gon be perfect, don’t wanna be perfect. We have the inalienable human right to fail. And, he didn’t fail…on the court or off. He’s the coldest dude on his team. Weed, as any dreaded one must know, is a gift of the creator — just like air and water, but wholly unlike Vicodin and Percoset.

    He said what he said…how he said it. Either he has the right to say it OR he doesn’t.

  23. Matthew Fudge says:

    Temple, I don’t know that perfection is the reason why. I do know that in the year 2008, it’ll take a miracle of biblical proportions for black folk to come together as one regarding anything of importance. One thing I appreciate about the ’60s: people of all races in this country made their leaders accountable. We protested, asked questions, didn’t let people spit on us and call it rain. Fast forward to 2008. People can’t spell “protest”, let alone do it. It’s not just black people. Americans of every race and creed have reached a level of clueless and apathy that I didn’t think possible.

  24. Matthew Fudge says:

    It’s like DL Hughley said recently, “Free speech is a zero-sum proposition. Either you believe in it or you don’t.” I’d love to hear someone in a position of power in Washington, D.C. just come out and admit that there really is no such thing as free speech (pipe dream, I know). But the lie must be kept alive.

  25. Eric says:

    The thing I find funny about all of this, is that Josh Howard, a black man, is being criticized for not “respecting” a song written by a slave owner. Only in America!

  26. Matthew Fudge says:

    I really wish Josh would’ve apologized for how he came across instead of what he actually said.


  27. […] so pay very close attention because this can get tricky. Sure, you’ve received many responses from all those e-bigots, but this is much bigger than that! The truth is that you did this to yourself, and now you are […]