2001-03-03 / Sports

Opoh Says…

By Emanuel Jalonschi

As of recent, I find myself unable to sleep again. I’m once again on the midnight A, headed to Far Rockaway. My mind being too cluttered (with the residue of a previous engagement) for the remnants of my Kerouac and my batteries being to weak for my Incubus, I find myself staring blankly into the artificial night of the underground passageways. As of about a half an hour ago, it’s press day.

A homeless man sits across from me. He is most obviously tired and he reeks with an unforgiving aura of reality. If there’s one thing this poor man understands, it’s reality. I just sit there and happen to notice that he has on a pair of Nike sneakers.

The hilarity is ridiculous. This whole week, I have been plotting this column and, lo and behold, my inspiration comes to me in a worn and battered package. Inspiration is the most pleasant virus. Its carrier is often unexpected and unsuspecting.

Now, I’m not accusing the (literally) poor guy of misspending his money. I just found it to be the apex of a tragic hilarity that a bum was wearing 80 dollar sneakers that were probably made by some Indonesioan or Thai child for a total of (including labor, material and transportation) less than five dollars.

It is troubling me more and more that we are so ignorant of the brutality we cause.

The Sports Editor for the John Jay Times and I were having a conversation not too long ago about Alex Rodriguez. He will be paid over 25 million dollars this year to a hit a ball with a stick. Oh, him and I argued about it, but then we talked about how we were looking forward to this year in baseball. We were saying he was getting paid too much, and that it’s a travesty, but we were going to watch the games, buy the tickets and look at their advertising.

The mouth can talk a lot, because it’s a stupid and inactive tool, and talking is the only thing it can do. It’s up to the rest of the mind and body to follow through with the mouth’s plans. This year, I vow to completely ignore major league baseball in this and all other columns I write.

I also find it to be the same kind of "hilarious" that some of the same protesters I see at the anti-police brutality rallies are wearing Nike sneakers.

Last week, I asked us to unite and become responsible for our own communities. Now we must unite and appreciate the damage we are doing to so many others.

It’s odd to see how we pick out our pariahs. We picked on Kathie Lee Gifford for her use of child labor. How well we did. She changed very little and we let her off the hook.

Then fresh off our high ground, we returned to our regular lives. We probably went home and watched some television. Maybe we turned on Disney owned ABC-TV or popped in a Disney video. Time for some positivity after a long day of fighting evil, right?

Why not watch some history revisionist Pocahantas? Why not watch some diluted news journal?

We picked on that annoying TV woman but we let Disney off the hook? That’s the load of the week! Disney pays it Haitian workers 12 cents an hour! Consider that while a Haitian sweatshop employee/slave will make less then ten dollars for an eighty hour week, the chairman of Disney will make over 14 million dollars for the year. Who buys their products? Who watches their channels? We are the rabid and addicted consumers that Disney is crushing lives to feed.

Then, since this needs to have some semblance of a sports column, there are our professional athletes. We support them and give them our money. We buy the products that they endorse and the companies throw even more bribes their way. They are irresponsible for using their status to encourage oppression and we are irresponsible for being so foolish as to believe that everything is fair and beautiful in the world beyond the immediate reach of our eyes.

Michael Jordan, who is thought of as one of basketball’s greatest heroes, is in reality one of the greatest purveyors of oppression and viciousness in this world. He has been a Nike spokesman for years now. When the heat got really bad a few years ago, Michael said he would personally visit the eleven Indonesian sweatshops. What is he? Stupid? Of course he’s not going to cost himself hundred of millions of dollars in endorsements for merely the live of 112,000 abused sweatshop workers. Three years later, we don’t even ask a question about it. Now, he has taken over operations for the Washington Wizards and continues to destroy lives, just from a different position with only slightly different weapons and ammunition.

Tiger Woods, who apparently the country has anointed as the next Jackie Robinson, is an even bigger oppressor. In a 1997 Washington Post article he comments about the Indonesian and Thai sweatshops, "all I do is play golf. I chase a little white ball around. That’s all I do." Wrong, Tiger! You chase the almighty dollar. You are directly responsible for keeping Nike well in the profit margin. You are directly responsible for them having more business and thus directly responsible for the brutality that goes on in those dark and bloody factories. The Nike stitch in your golf had, Mr. Woods, was probably put in there by an illiterate pre-teen, a tired mother or an abused and dehumanized father. You do far more than chase a little white ball around.

Then there’s us. We are the happy and willing consumers. The money we spend on their blood-stained products fuels these faceless corporate vultures. Malcolm X himself said "Capitalism…is more like a vulture… [It] has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless." We ourselves are helping these corporate vultures find their prey. Whether it be in the poor and destitute countries, like the country I was born in, or working in conspiracy with ruthless dictatorships, like Indonesia, these corporate scum are destroying the poor internationally and we’re helping. "What? The land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy," says one popular lyricist of our fading generation.

I hate to seem so upset, but we should be angry and upset and, more importantly, mobilized. Look at what we’re letting happen to the poor of this country and the poor internationally, just by buying a sneaker.

If you buy a 140-dollar pair of sneakers, it is doubly cannibalistic. You have bought the lies that these corporate puppets sold you through their advertising and you went out and spent the money. First of all, if you are of a lower class, a 140-dollar expenditure on a pair of sneakers is unwise. You helped perpetuate your poverty by allowing yourself to be misled by these dead-president whores and you made yourself even poorer. Buy the product and you buy the ideal.

Secondly, the transaction is cannibalistic of the poor, internationally. You have just provided the fiscal fuel for further oppression of you lower class brothers and sisters across ocean and continents. It’s out there. My mother worked in a sweatshop. My aunt, still in Romania, works in a sweatshop. At the end of the week if she can afford more than the very bare necessities of existence (bread and maybe some fruit or meat), she’s lucky. If I buy the product of the company she produces, who’s name she wouldn’t tell me, I am actively taking a role in putting a needle hole in her fragile malnutritioned hands. I have seen the destruction with my very eyes. I didn’t have to go out of my way see what I saw. I just had to admit to reality.

Alas, for the first time in a long while, I now feel responsible for helping these things happen. By the very fact that I give publicity to these companies, through a sports section, I have helped them.

The question then comes down to: how much of my own comfort am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of someone else’s need? Sadly enough, the answer most of us (including myself) find ourselves giving, is usually "none."


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