Where to Invade Next

Ethan Hopper


America sucks. That’s pretty much the feeling you get when Michael Moore schleps across Europe, telling you about phenomenal paid leave in Italy, four-star school lunches in France, Finland’s education system (no homework!), drug policy in Portugal, the prisons in Norway, and women’s empowerment in Iceland. If you’re like Moore, you want to ‘invade’ these countries and claim these cool things for the U.S.

You might call me a natural pessimist. But I think it’s pretty easy to get caught up in this feeling — when you watch those French fourth-graders sitting in their school cafeteria, snacking on scallops in a curry sauce with crème fraîche, and that’s just the appetizer, you sort of have to wonder:

Who the hell thinks we’re the greatest country in the world?

But then, I remember I’m watching a Michael Moore film. For the countless cool things that other countries do, the United States does some things right, too. Overall, we are a generally wealthy, healthy, and secure nation. American citizens enjoy many rights and freedoms (whether we exercise them or not). Absolutely, we could do a lot better. We must do better. We must improve social mobility for marginalized groups in our society and ensure that everyone really does get a fair shot. We must be wary of the diminishing freedom and fairness of the democratic process and fight political apathy tooth-and-nail. We must foster a collective understanding that we are, in fact, one nation, and structure the institutions and culture of our nation around the idea that every person (truly, every person) deserves dignity, respect, and justice.


Refugees walking to Sweden.

It’s also just not the case that these Western European and Scandinavian countries are utopias, either. While many of them have incredible social safety nets and progressive policies, the changing global economic landscape will put strain on these smaller economies as they try to diversify. In a lot of ways, Europe is just now starting to encounter problems with racism and discrimination that have been in the United States for several centuries. Particularly in light of the Syrian refugee crisis and general instability in the Middle East, these countries are seeing their homogenous demographics altered. Time will tell if Europe can learn from the mistakes of the United States when it comes to treating minority groups fairly.

The important thing to remember is that these situations are rarely black-and-white. The world is gray, and all nations will lack in some areas and succeed in others. No one is perfect, nor will any ever be. But when Moore goes globetrotting and holds a mirror (albeit a carefully positioned one) up to the rest of us back home, it can be extremely hard not to become passionately disillusioned with this revolutionary, beautiful, screwed-up place we call home.

But we must resist the temptation.

When Will Amateurism Die at the College Level?

Recently, while reading the article, “Dispatches From the NCAA’s Deathbed” I got to thinking, how much longer will amateurism last in college athletics? While thinking this I couldn’t help but link the course material reading for our PolySci class to a very similar topic which was discussed in a Sports Sociology class I took this semester.

In the article, “Dispatches From the NCAA’s Deathbed” they talked about Ed O’Bannon and his ongoing trial with the NCAA over the right to his name and likeness used in NCAA basketball video game. Ironically, in the video, “Schooled” they talked about the same trial. We watched this video for the sociology class I was taking and they talked about many interesting points, which relate to the, “Dispatches From the NCAA’s Deathbed” article.

ed obannon

Ed O’Bannon on the cover of SI

Throughout the video the topic of athlete’s rights were discussed and whether or not these were being violated. Many people believed they were, and that athletes are performing for their universities, and bringing in huge profits, especially with football and basketball. In the video they also talk about how the NCAA cannot stay together forever operating under this “amateurism” code. Walter Byers, the man who invented the term “amateurism” and the athletic scholarship for the NCAA even was quoted towards the end of his life saying, “…the system cannot be upheld forever, today’s college athletic’s have become far too commercialized.” So this is the main problem here. The athletes are being cheated out of money for their performance, as well as their likeness, image, and name, as is the case with Ed O’Bannon.


How much longer can the NCAA operate under the amateurism code?

The NCAA is crumbling and the Ed O’Bannon case may be the start of the downfall. In the article, “Dispatches From the NCAA’s Deathbed” they go on to talk about how things are not looking good for the NCAA due to the fact of that the judge, Claudia Wilken, will most likely not side with NCAA. She is not caught up in the politics of the NCAA and the connections that the commercial world has to the NCAA. She also just not very caught up in the sports world as well, being described in the article as “…not knowing all that much generally about sports.” So the sympathy for the NCAA is not there.

judge wilken

Judge Wilken

Overall, the takeaway which I get from both this article and movie is that amateurism in the NCAA is a dying concept. It was created at a time where NCAA sports were not heavily entrenched with commercialistic undertones, taking advantage of student-athletes while making huge profits for themselves. In the end it is just a matter of time until student-athletes will be paid, in my opinion and according to the article and movie which I have described, it may be sooner than later.

Finals Week: Who Will You Be?

It’s the official start of finals week.Your schedule seems like it couldn’t be busier, your classes seem to have assignments popping out of nowhere, and your bed seems like it’s always empty. With this chaotic week beginning, there are many different ways that students handle their stress and time. Some classes offer study sessions (one GSI even held a 12-hour review session this past weekend) where students can work with their peers to help understand the material, while other students prefer the quiet individual studying in their room or a library. Either way, this week is all about time management. When and how you study contributes to your success. So, when my friend texted me the other day asking for my help on one of her assignments, I told her “no” because it didn’t benefit me and my studying. Which got me thinking, “Who would help her in this situation?”

There are two separate options in this example: The friend that helps and the friend that says no, like me. These two different types of people represent the views of two very different philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. One would help the friend in a heartbeat, arguing that everyone’s best interest is the most beneficial way to life in this society, where the other would undoubtedly protect their own self interest, with the belief that every man should live for himself. So, during this upcoming week, who will you be?

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes believed that human beings were sophisticated machines and, as a result, all functions and activities could be explained in purely mechanistic terms. However, he also acknowledged the animal nature within human nature, and believed that everyone acted in their own self-interest. They are content with their success, no matter the state of others around them. He emphasizes in his piece, the Leviathan, that people are focused on “competition of riches, honor command, or other power, inclineth to contention, enmity, and war.” A student who follows the Hobbesean ideals would thrive on other’s failures, therefore not looking out for the friend who asks for help when studying.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau, on the other hand, believed in human kindness and pity. He argued the importance of not having a sovereign within society, and that looking out for everyone’s self-interest is the most beneficial to a successful community. He states in his work, On the Social Contract“At once, in place of the individual person of each contracting party, this act of association produces a moral and collective body composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, which receives from this same act its unity, its common self, its life and its will.” If a student supports this idea, then they would’ve responded immediately and offered their help to the friend, rationalizing that if everyone looks out for each other, then the entirety of the class would benefit.

The viewpoints are on different sides of the spectrum, but seem to fit the general uncertainty of how to study for finals. Personally, I think that both strategies can form success, it just depends on the person. Either way, here’s to wishing students the best of luck on their finals, and hoping that, as according to Hobbes, their exams don’t result in a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life afterwards.

The Jocks for Justice are Back!

In lecture this week we were talking about athletes that stood up and supported causes throughout the years. Now not many athletes participate in many political or social movements because of the backlash that people before them received. For example, The Nation Post, Where Are the Jocks for Justice? It states “Dallas Mavericks guard Steve Nash wore a T-shirt to media day during the NBA’s All-Star weekend that said No WAR. SHOOT FOR PEACE. Numerous sports columnists criticized Nash for speaking his mind. (One wrote that he should “just shut up and play.”)”. Another example is when Tiger Woods did a commercial for Nike referring to the racism within golfing clubs he was severely criticized for it.  Today that has all changed with the increase of very controversial issues more athletes are voicing or showing their opinions.

st louis rams

“Hand Up, Don’t Shoot” pose

I was reading a post on the how some members of the St. Louis Rams walked onto the field doing the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose. The pose is in response to the increasing numbers of force used by police against unarmed citizen. It started with the death of Mike Brown, an unarmed eighteen year old who was gunned down by a police officer. Some people supported those members of the St. Louis Rams who participated in the very popular pose but some were very critical of their action.

Just recently Fox News host Bill O’ Reiley on air said something along these lines that the rams were too stupid to know what they were participating in. A couple of things popped into my head. One being Is he saying this because most people think that athletes aren’t the smartest people in the world? That wasn’t the case though because he continued to say, all I’m say is be careful who you sympathize with. He was calling them stupid because he believedben watson they shouldn’t be sympathizing with people who support the Ferguson movement.
On the other hand people like Benjamin Watson a football player for the New Orleans Saints has been praised for his Facebook post that responded to the Ferguson court decision.  His post has been called moving, motivation, inspiration, and other great things. In this post he voices his anger, concerns, fears, and hopefulness.  The most interesting part of the post was when he writes,

“I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”

He not only just bluntly states his opinion he brings religion into his response, something many people are not willing to voice publicly.

Different situations bring out the most unexpected response. And I have to say I was not expecting those responses to come from athletes.

Exploitation in College Athletics

Ed O'Bannon (via Grantland)

Ed O’Bannon (via Grantland)

In their 2004 article for The Nation, Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier describe athletes speaking out against injustice. Some of the influential professions mentioned include Adonal Foyle and Steve Nash of the NBA, as well as Tiger Woods and Billie Jean King. Candaele and Dreier argue that there is a lack of athlete activism today, and I would agree that this is true. While recent events have inspired protests from athletes, like members of the St. Louis Rams, there are few athletes willing to speak out. College athletes are usually even less apt to speak out, because their futures often rely on scholarships that can be taken away.

(via USA Today)

(via USA Today)

Earlier this year, in April, members of the University of Northwestern football team broke that trend. They made an effort to unionize their team, and take their treatment into their own hands. The effort is still very much ongoing, and is being fought by the NCAA. There has been plenty of controversy in recent years over the NCAA treatment of players. Schools and the Association profit heavily off of the use of player names and likenesses, but the players themselves never see any of this money. We read earlier in the semester about Ed O’Bannon, the former UCLA

A Northwestern player before the union vote (via the Associated Press)

A Northwestern player before the union vote (via the Associated Press)

basketball player suing the NCAA over the continued use of his name and likeness. The Northwestern players represent a different situation, and a change in tone. They are current student-athletes taking aggressive action against what they see to be an injustice. Previously, most athletes to speak out on any institutional issue have been former players like Ed O’Bannon, or the NFL players suing the league over head injuries.

According to the Grantland article we read about Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit, athletes are more or less required to help their institutions profit from the use of their images. It is hard to argue that this is not exploitation. In fact, exploitation is defined as “the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.” By this definition, the NCAA is surely exploiting its student-athletes. They make sure that athletes create revenue for them, and they do this by playing their sports. While some have stood against it, there are too many who have not. Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier’s call for more athletes to stand up is as relevant as ever. The more athletes to call for justice, at any level of sport, the better off everyone will be.

A Spark of Resistance Under the Fascist Rule of Adolf Hitler

A group of Jews from Hungary arrive in Auschwitz during the summer of 1944.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. details his definition of civil disobedience in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Dr. King clarifies that in order to participate in civil disobedience, breaking laws is necessary. This may only occur if the law is unjust. An unjust law is one that does not apply to everyone and is not applied consistently to all, like the segregation laws that Dr. King and others like Rosa Parks fought during the American Civil Rights Movement. Although Dr. King’s non-violent forms of protest greatly influenced the Civil Rights Movement, he was not the first American to resist unjust laws on American soil. The Boston Tea Party is a well-known form of civil disobedience that helped spark the fire that led to the start of the American Revolutionary War. Also, women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in the 1872 U.S. House of Representatives election, considering the 19th Amendment enabling women to vote wasn’t passed until 1920. During the Vietnam War, activists took action against the draft and all the young Americans who were fighting/being killed overseas.

As Americans, we are able to enjoy our constitutional rights that protect our ability to protest and criticize our government. In many countries, however, this is simply not the case. More oppressive regimes in countries like Communist China and the former Soviet Union, freedom of speech and the right to organize was not something those in power allowed to happen. Although those regimes both used violent means to suppress acts they considered treasonous, by far the most extreme when it comes to the consequences of speaking out against those in power, would have to be Fascist Germany.

Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

Facing periods of unemployment and hyperinflation, many people suffered tremendously after World War I. With Germany’s Weimar Republic beginning to waver, those power made no effort to hide that it was holding on by a string, unable to cope. In a time when liberalism seemed to have failed in Europe, hope for a brighter future had all but been lost in the eyes of many Germans. It wasn’t until Italy’s Benito Mussolini crafted the definition of fascism, in which the admiring Adolf Hitler used in crafting his vision of a new Germany. Hitler was able to convince the Germans that fascism was the long awaited cure to the period of economic and cultural decline they were experiencing, as it was different from other political traditions.  Continue reading

Is There Still A Dream To Be Dreamed?

Throughout history people have always fought for rights, liberties, equity, and many other things throughout the world. The United States regardless of its background is considered to be a country that prides itself on liberty and just for all. Even though that may be we still have our flaws. Within the last couple years it seems as though we are moving back in time. Increase of injustices against blacks in America are causing concern about whether or not Blacks are being treated fairly and if their lives matter. Situations like Troy Davis, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and most recently Mike Brown which many believe are race based are causing outrage in the black communities.

Continue reading

What Kind of World Do Sports Fall Under?

Crisler Center on a basketball game day

The University of Michigan provides many opportunities for its students and for people around the area to come and watch their varsity athletic teams compete at the highest level.  When choosing schools, I saw this as a huge positive for the University of Michigan and I have taken advantage of these opportunities throughout the semester.  In the past few weeks, I have gone to various football, basketball, and women’s volleyball games.  For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on basketball and women’s volleyball.

One thing that we have been focusing on in Pol Sci 101 is the theory of the philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  For the purpose of this blog, we will be focusing on their “ideal worlds”.  To save some time for those of you who are unfamiliar with the topic, Hobbes believes that commonwealths should be run by powerful sovereign who makes the decisions.  Locke believes that the power should be left to the people and that decisions should be made through majority rules.  Rousseau believes that people should live together in unity through contracts made between parties.

Players warm up before the Michigan-Oregon volleyball match in 2013

As I was watching these various sporting events, I began thinking about how these theories could apply to the respective sports.  I decided that in order to have a successful sports team, you must combine the three worlds.

Hobbes says that commonwealths should be run by a powerful sovereign.  In the world of sports, that’s called a coach.  The men’s basketball coach is John Beilein and the women’s volleyball coach is Mark Rosen.  Throughout the game, these coaches make decisions such as which players to player and when and what strategy to use in the game.  They are necessary for the team to thrive and succeed.

Locke says that the power should be left to the people, or in this case, the players and in many ways it is.  While coaches can make decisions that can impact the game, the ultimate result of the game is up to the players.  They have the power to try their best and leave it all out on the court, or they can choose that they aren’t interested and not try.  Often they decide which plays to run in the game, and the decisions they make directly impact the outcome of the game.  Some players that stood out to me were Caris LeVert from men’s basketball and Abby Cole from women’s volleyball.

Rousseau says that there should be contracts between parties.  There are plenty of contracts in sports, even though they might not be in the legal sense.  There must be a contract between players and coaches that says that the players will give 100% even time they are in the game and the coaches will show them respect.  There must be contracts between players so there is trust and mutual respect between players.  Without these contracts, there can’t be team chemistry or trust on the team, which is necessary to be successful.  Some examples of what might be in an “unwritten contract” for a sports team can be found in the actual youth soccer contract.

It was very interesting to me to go to a sporting event, a place where I thought I would forget about all my schoolwork, and be able to apply what I have learned to the event.  It made it both an educational and enjoyable event.  This first semester of college has really changed how I experience things outside of the classroom.

Are Youth Sports Becoming Too Competitive? (Edit)

Pol Sci 101 In-Class Activity

Pol Sci 101 In-Class Activity

Last week in my PolSci 101 lecture, we talked about sport and competitiveness.   We talked about why we compete and discussed Eric Dunnings “The Dynamics of Modern Sport”.  In a class activity, we concluded that Dunning believed that modern sports are serious and competitive, as opposed to non-serious and fun (see the chart on the left).  This got me thinking about modern sports, specifically youth sports and the growing competitiveness of it. Continue reading

On The Dangers Being “Lesser”

I was maybe 5 when I realized I was different than the majority of my friends. I had long hair, they had short. When our mommies made the kids look nice for church, I wore a dress, and they got to wear pants. Never mind the fact that I preferred to have my hair short and out of my face or that I would rather have gone naked than wear a skirt. I was different than my friends–who happened to be boys. I was different because I was a girl.  But why was I different? At the time I only realized that I wasn’t the same as them because I got to wear bows; it never crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe I might be “lesser” than them because of my perceived differences.

Continue reading