Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sports and politics

I've probably only obliquely mentioned that I'm a longtime season-ticket holder of the Seattle SuperSonics. I'm a basketball nut, and I've loved the Sonics since I was a kid, when they were the only professional sports franchise of any kind in the Northwest.

But I never write about them because this is a political blog, and I don't think sports and politics mix very well at all. (Besides, having at one time been a sportswriter, I learned along ago that the best way to take the fun out of sports is to start writing about them.)

But today I read in the P-I that the Sonics are ending their longtime ties to KJR-AM and switching their broadcasts to KTTH-AM:
"We're looking forward to 770 AM KTTH as our new home of Sonics basketball," Sonics CEO Wally Walker said in a statement. "KTTH and its six sister stations align the Sonics with our ticket buyers and listening-audience demographics."

What is KTTH-AM? Only the biggest megaphone for right-wing propaganda in the Seattle area, with a lineup that includes Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Medved.

That's right. It's the station where Seattle audiences awhile back were treated to the following thoughts, regarding the tsunami in Southeast Asia:
It's not a tragedy. I wouldn't call it a tragedy. ... Many of the countries and the areas in these countries that were hit by these tidal waves were hotbeds of radical Islam. Why should we be helping them destroy us? ... I think what we're doing is feeding our own demise. ... I truthfully don't believe in foreign aid. ... We shouldn't be spending a nickel on this, as far as I'm concerned. ... I don't want one nickel of my money going over there. ... I am sick of being bled to death by every damn incident on the earth.

I even wrote to KTTH management at the time and asked whether they thought this kind of discourse was acceptable. I never heard back. Obviously, to them, it must be.

So we're getting the worst of all possible worlds: Sonics fans are going to have to wade into the right-wing swamps to listen to their team's games. Worse yet, their support of the team is going to translate into support for one of the biggest outlets of right-wing propaganda in their town.

Notice that it was none other than Wally Walker, the Sonics CEO, who made the announcement -- fitting, because it's just about certain that it was Walker who engineered the change.

Now, I'm going to put aside the politesse that dominates most of the local press coverage of all this and talk a little about what's going on here just beneath the surface.

Y'see, it's well known in press circles that Wally Walker is a diehard Republican and conservative-movement ideologue. There was a lot of speculation -- privately, of course, since no one would say so in the press -- when Walker chased George Karl out of Seattle that a lot of it had to do with Karl's somewhat liberal politics. (The press referenced this obliquely by talking about how Karl was "outspoken" -- which he was; but his conflicts with Walker apparently had to do with the views he eespoused, too.)

It didn't help, of course, that Walker replaced him with the blowdried right-winger Paul Westphal, whose tenure as Sonics coach was an unmitigated disaster. He was replaced with Nate McMillan, an extremely effective coach but not exactly a button-down conservative either. Likewise, there was quiet speculation that Walker's right-wing sensibilities -- and sensitivities, or lack thereof -- played a significant role in McMillan's eagerness to depart over the last offseason for Portland.

Now, Sonics fans like myself (that is, politically liberal sports fans) are being forced into a decision: Do we continue to support a team that is now in partnership with a right-wing political entity like KTTH? When supporting the Sonics translates into helping drive listeners to a station whose politics are anathema to us? When listening to Sonics games meaning driving up the ratings for an openly right-wing station?

KJR-AM is many things, but it is not a political station. You could tune in with some assurance that you weren't participating in politics right or left. As an all-sports station, that's as it should be.

As I say, politics and sports don't mix. You know, it never bothered me before that Walker and the Sonics ownership tended to be right-wing, because the game transcends politics. I was still glad to spend my money on them.

But by linking my support for the team to an openly right-wing political entity like KTTH-AM, they have probably brought an end to all that. I'm seriously, and quite negatively, reevaluating my ticket season ownership. And I sure as hell won't be tuning in the games on the radio anymore.

P.S. Go Seahawks!

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