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March 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM
It is an odd juxtaposition, the stream of starving North Koreans trying to defect from the militaristic country and former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman piping up to say he had such a good time in North Korea he plans to return this summer and vacation with his new BFF, Kim Jung Un.
This is Rodman trying to be au courant with an international version of the time he went on tour for “Bad As I Wanna Be,” in full makeup, blonde wig and a fabulous wedding gown. I suspect Rodman could have just as soon chosen Antartica or Mars.
But the problem with this geopolitical/celebrity conundrum is that there is nothing funny about North Korea. Not in the slightest. The White House chided Rodman for spending more time on North Korea’s despotic leader than on its citizens. Those who think Rodman’s visit could improve diplomatic relations with North Korea are fooling themselves. Yes, Kim Jung Un loves basketball, as did his father. But basketball is not on the North Korean leader’s mind when he’s threatening to rain down missiles on neighboring South Korea or Japan. Even China is growing worried about its bellicose protege.
It is easier to talk about North Korea in a trendy sense of being a place attracting the likes of Rodman than to talk about its human rights violations, work camps and other horrific realities, says Adrian Hong, a strategic consultant who co-founded a U.S.-based non-govermental organization that helps North Koreans escapees. Hong says:
”Everybody involved with North Korea knows what’s happening. There’s no illusion as to how bad the regime is. The illusion is in the sense that we can’t solve it, that we think that this is an inevitable crisis that cannot be fixed or that we have no right or ability to do anything about it. I think that North Korea is not just an issue for human rights. This place is almost this black hole for modern civilization.”
March 6, 2013 at 9:30 AM
One of my favorite sports commentators is Frank DeFord, who zigs when other commentators zag — even when it comes to the the No. 1-ranked Zags.
Every Wednesday morning, the Sports Illustrated senior contributing writer and novelist, shares his thoughts on NPR just before the 8 a.m. hour. Today, he was talking about what everyone seems to be talking about, Gonzaga University men’s basketball team, the Bulldogs, being naming as No. 1 in both major college polls college. And of course, the clever DeFord got in a reference to the imminent Vatican papal conclave in Rome:
There is white smoke rising over the polls, for little Jesuit Gonzaga University, with less than 5,000 undergraduates, is the new No. 1 in all of college basketball.
DeFord also offered some history of Catholic universities and their sports involvement — the Spokane-based Gonzaga is a Jesuit college. In a commentary titled, “Catholic Universities See True Path To Salvation: Basketball,” he noted that basketball programs are a more common sport for these institutions because they cost less to run.
Interestingly enough, Seattle University, a Jesuit institution that was once a basketball powerhouse in its own right before ending the program, revived its Division I basketball program after 29 years. In a 2008 oped, Father Stephen Sundborg, Seattle University’s president, discusses the reasons why:
It also makes sense that we raise our profile. We are the largest independent university in the Northwest, the most comprehensive, the most metropolitan and the most diverse large university. We have an outstanding commitment to academic quality in line with our strong Catholic-Jesuit mission.
A high-profile sports program will help spread the word about our other programs, providing a window into our university. It will be a tide that raises all boats, bringing our mission, academic programs and commitment to service to the attention of more students and supporters.