You may have missed it but for a brief moment, former NBA player Dennis Rodman was back and ready to schmooze concessions out of another authoritarian.
That’s right, the former member of the notorious Bad Boys Pistons squad before joining up with Michael Jordan in Chicago had selflessly volunteered to enter into talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to win the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been sentenced to nine years in prison for having a cannabis vape cartridge in her luggage.
Or as Rodman put it: “I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman said to NBC last weekend. “I’m trying to go this week.”
NO PLEASE DON’T DO THAT.
First of all, the “girls” over at the WNBA and Player’s Association are on this. Essentially the State Department rejected Rodman’s generous offer. Spokesperson Ned Price said that if Rodman did go to Russia to help that girl, “He would not be traveling on behalf of the U.S. government.”
Soon after Rodman, known for his NBA championships and friendship with Korean despot Kim Jong Un, said he wasn’t going. First of all, Rodman can’t actually give Russia what it wants, which is reportedly some kind of policy concession or a prisoner swap. And Putin isn’t so isolated from the rest of the world as Kim was that he would get a kick out of blowing cigar smoke rings with the NBA champ.
So this one is better left to the grownups.
We in the sports community need to face it, we are not sending in our best and brightest. Rodman is a delight to watch in The Last Dance, but that’s about as serious a role as he should play. Not only have we sent a Rodman to do a cautious person’s job, a job that is the diplomatic equivalent of figuring out whether to carefully snip the red or the blue wire in order to disarm the ticking threat, but we have also put forth a rogues gallery of charlatans and dimwits for some Very Important Jobs.
Sports culture talks a big game when it comes to leadership and character, and this is the best we can do?
I’m thinking of course of Herschel Walker, who’s getting a “bless his heart” kind of coverage despite being wildly unqualified for the job of US Senator from Georgia. Abuse allegations and hypocritical hidden children are more than enough to disqualify him, but it’s clear that whatever wits Walker might have had about him at one point have likely been significantly dulled. The very thing that made him appealing to Donald Trump as a puppet candidate, his status as a football hero, may also be what has led to him driving away Republican voters with his inanity.
Asked about how to prevent gun violence, Walker landed on, “What about getting a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women, that’s looking at social media?”
When Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell lamented “candidate quality” as the reason Republicans might not take the Senate, he was likely alluding to Walker.
Lest you think I’m singling out the professional athletes in this piece, I bring you Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville. If you check his campaign website, it doesn’t use his name as much as the honorific of “Coach” from his years as a college football coach, including nine years at Auburn. In his time in office, Coach is best known for getting that call from Trump on Jan. 6 as he was being taken from the floor of the Senate to a place that wasn’t under active siege. I guess a good coach always has to know when he’s lost the game.
He also is pretty confused about World War II. “I tell people, my dad fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe of socialism,” Tuberville once said.
This would be news to many Europeans who enjoy free healthcare and excellent public transport.
But if America has become such a toddler state that we can only vote for quasi-celebrities and sports figures, how about sports sends some of their brightest instead?
We have a literal Rhodes Scholar who is now a neurosurgeon, and I have no idea what Myron Rolle’s politics are, but the former NFL safety has got to be a better option than the current crop. Certainly, WNBA players who spent months strategizing to have Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler defeated in her first race would have a better understanding of politics and issues. Surely Renee Montgomery, Sue Bird, or Elizabeth Williams would do as well or better.
At least in the past, we offered up Jack Kemp, who once parlayed his quarterback career into a political career that featured ideas on supply-side economics, book reading, and speaking in coherent sentences.
Think you handle that, Sen. Brady?