How often is sport the shorthand of cultural communication?
After seeing Dennis Rodman in North Korea what else is there to say?
Here’s a perfect pair, except for a deeper question: how did Kim Jong Un ever hear about Rodman?
Turns out the Supreme Leader is a Bulls fan and Dennis a former Bull. Most fans move from Jordan to Pippen. Not Kim.
He and Rodman watched the Harlem Globetrotters play in Pyongyang, the North Korean city, not a new sport for the Olympics.
If the evil dictator sees something in Rodman that makes him back away from the nuclear button, then it’s a successful trip.
If not, they’re planning a future vacation together where Dennis gets another round of diplomacy.
At the heart of it, we’re seeing yet another example of sports talking beyond the games.
As a world threat North Korea isn’t on the same level as Nazi Germany, but they share the stage of sports talking where normal communication fails.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics were supposed to showcase the New Germany, the one that crawled out of the smoke and ruin of WWI, the one that suffered under the Versailles Treaty that ended the war and asked Germany to pay for the destruction.
The New Germany was one of super men and super women. One super film director, Leni Riefenstahl, captured the games in one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time. Olympia broke new ground for all sports films to follow.
More important, it showed Jesse Owens on his way to four Olympic gold medals. The track and field star said with his feats what another World War proved, Germany was not as super as advertised.
Two months before the Berlin Games a German fighter named Max Schmeling came to Yankee Stadium to meet Joe Louis and knock him out in twelve rounds. It gave the super men of Germany the sort of boost missing at the Olympics.
Two years later Joe Louis, as Heavyweight Champion of the World, met Schmelling again in Yankee Stadium. If Hitler’s heavyweight was a super man at the start of the fight, he wasn’t after the first round. Instead, he was victim to a Louis’ knock-out.
History tells a similar story for Schmeling and German long jumper Luz Long who helped Owens during the long jump competition. Adolph Hitler sent his great athletes to war for their soft approach to America and a Nazi embrace.
Sports opened the door to a better understanding between athletes and two nations wracked by increasing tension in the 1930’s. Can they do the same today?
Imagine a game of knock knock with countries at odds with America.
- First, North Korea.
Dennis Rodman who?
Dennis Rodman. Who do you think? C’mon, man.
- Now a visit to Iran.
USA wrestling team.
USA wrestling team who?
USA wrestling team who joins with Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey to save Olympic wrestling.
If the choices are Dennis Rodman or the USA Wrestling team, who do you let in the door?
Send Rodman to any country and he’ll get press. Give him a cause to support and he’ll take it where it’s never been.
What if Dennis Rodman toured all wrestling nations and states? What if he came to Oregon to support Restore College Wrestling in Oregon?
He’d be a hit. Then he’d spread the word. Good idea?
If sports speak a unique language between nations, then athletes can join together for a louder voice.