A for Athlete
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In this exhilarating tour of the good, the bad, and the ugly of American sports culture, iconoclastic cultural historian and Nation magazine writer Dave Zirin argues that American sports are about a lot more than just fun and games. Exploding the myth that the world of sports somehow stands outside the world of politics and ideology, Zirin shows how American sports culture has long been a haven for the most reactionary attitudes and ideas, promoting everything from nationalism and militarism to sexism, racism, and homophobia. At the same time, he identifies an equally strong countercurrent, a history of rebel athletes whose high-profile resistance to jingoistic patriotism, heterosexist masculine authority, white male privilege, and other forms of bullying have reverberated beyond the field of play. Inspired as much by Zirin's passion for politics as by his passion for sports, this is cultural studies and media education at their best -- a powerful classroom resource that shows how even the most benign pop cultural forms have the power to shape young people's attitudes and ideas.

Sections: Introduction | In the Arena | Like a Girl | Breaking the Color Barrier | The Courage of Athletes

Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin is the bestselling author of five books, the sports editor of The Nation magazine, and the host of Sirius XM Satellite's popular weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio. His blog The Edge of Sports is read each week by thousands of people across the country. He is also a columnist for SLAM Magazine, The Progressive, and Sports Illustrated online, and his writing has appeared in numerous other publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Zirin has also brought his blend of sports and politics to multiple television programs, including ESPN's Outside the Lines, MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's Morning Joe, MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, and Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. His latest book, Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love - which Naomi Klein described as an "original and scathing look at how America works" - has just been released from Scribner.

Filmmaker Info

  • Directed by Jeremy Earp
  • Written by Dave Zirin, Jeremy Earp & Chris Boulton
  • Produced by Chris Boulton, Jeremy Earp, Scott Morris & Jason Young
  • Editor: Jason Young
  • Story Editor: Scott Morris
  • Executive Producer: Sut Jhally
  • Director of Photography: Tom Robertson
  • Associate Producers: Loretta Alper, Andrew Killoy & Diane Williams


  • The Nation cruise | December 11-18, 2011
  • 2640 Space | Baltimore, MD | March 29, 2011
  • Maysles Cinema | New York, NY | January 25, 2011
  • Busboys & Poets | Teaching for Change's 20th Anniversary Fundraiser | Washington DC | December 13, 2010
  • Amherst Cinema | Amherst, MA | December 12, 2011

Conference Screenings

  • A Mirror of Our Culture: Sport and Society in America | De Pere, WI | May 22-24, 2012

North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference | Minneapolis, MN | November 2-5, 2011

  • American Sociological Association meeting | Las Vegas | August 20-23, 2011
  • International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport Conference | Frankfurt, Germany | August 8-12, 2011
  • International Socioloy of Sport Association conference | Havana, Cuba | July 14, 2011
  • North American Society for Sport History conference | Austin, TX | May 28, 2011
  • History of Education in Society postgraduate conference | London, UK | March 19, 2011

Film Festivals

  • All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival | Los Angeles | November 12, 2011
  • ReelWorld Film Festival | Toronto | April 8, 2011,

Related Links

Read Dave Zirin's work at "Edge of Sports" Sports Fan Coalition Interview with Jeremy Earp, director & producer of Not Just a Game Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows, 
1989‐2009 A 1953 New York Times article by Arthur Daley on how sports should be "For Men Only" Reactions to Kathy Switzer's run in the 1967 Boston Marathon 

Praise for Not Just a Game and Dave Zirin

From Journalists & Authors: "An incredible, powerful film. If you have a kid of any age who's interested in athletics or is an athlete herself or himself, this is the film for them. It opens up this huge lens on an otherwise masked field: the intersection of sports and politics." - Matthew Rothschild | Senior Editor, The Progressive magazine

"If there were an award for 'Most Valuable Sportswriter,' I would vote for Dave Zirin." - Howard Zinn | Author of A People's History of the United States

"Not since Hunter S. Thompson has a sports writer shown the right snarl for the job." - Naomi Klein | The Nation and The Guardian reporter | Author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

"Be sure to watch this thrillingly provocative film before you see your next game if you finally want to know what sports is all about. Not Just a Game is a powerful teaching tool." - Robert Lipsyte | Former New York Times sports writer | Author of An Accidental Sportswriter

"Dave Zirin's film is both brilliant and, even better than that, honest. The sports world is a far more interesting place when viewed through the lens of Not Just a Game." - Tom Farrey | ESPN reporter | Author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children

From Scholars: "By turns moving, maddening, touching, enlightening, hilarious, and sad. I can not think of a better way to teach my students about such a wide array of issues than having them watch this film." - Ellen R. Hansen, Ph.D. | Chair, Department of Social Sciences | Emporia State University

"It's got everything: gender, race, class, and sex. An anti-bullying message that's as effective as it is inspiring. Priceless footage, action, and a high-energy history of courageous progressive activism that will keep young people watching. It's SportsCenter on social-justice steroids. I can't recommend it highly enough." - Jackson Katz, Ph.D. | Creator of Tough Guise

"Not Just A Game doesn't argue whether sports should or should not be political as much as establishes a strong claim that sports and politics are -- and will continue to be -- inextricably linked." - Andrew Billings | Clemson University | Author of Communicating about Sports Media: Cultures Collide

"Not Just a Game is sure to enlighten and enliven any classroom discussion of nationalism, gender, race, and class as they intersect with sport." - Michael L. Butterworth | Bowling Green State University | Author of Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity During the War on Terror

"Zirin, who has emerged as the most important progressive voice in American sport, challenges teachers, students, athletes and sports fans not to deny the existence of politics in sport, but instead, in the tradition of Tommie Smith and Billie Jean King, to take personal risks to ensure that sport becomes a realm for the promotion of egalitarian and peaceful human values and relations." - Michael A. Messner | University of Southern California | Author of It's All for the Kids: Gender, Families and Youth Sports

"With a profound commitment to social justice and human rights, Dave Zirin provocatively challenges us to rethink the cultural politics of sport and its impact on everyday life." - Michael D. Giardina | Florida State University | Author of Youth Cultures & Sport: Identity, Power, and Politics

"Dave Zirin is one of our best critics of sport culture and his excellent documentary provides illuminating images of sports and politics, including both how sports is complicit with U.S. nationalism and militarism, and how sports is a terrain of struggle over issues such as race, gender, and sexuality." - Douglas Kellner | University of California - Los Angeles | Author of Media Spectacle

"Not Just a Game exhibits the rare ability to reduce complex issues to their social and political cores, thereby providing audiences -- more readily attuned to the banal superficialities of the sport media -- with an informed critical lens with which to more progressively engage and experience American sport culture." - David Andrews | University of Maryland School of Public Health | Author of Sport, Culture and Advertising

"Four Stars! Not Just a Game is a movie that matters. It will prove to be a boon for classroom discussions about the links between homophobia, hypernationalism, racism, sexism, and class exploitation." - Clay Steinman | Macalester College | Co-Author of Consuming Environments: Television and Commercial Culture

From Athletes & Activists: "It's a long time coming for a documentary like this to be made. Watching it was an absolutely fantastic experience." - Dr. John Carlos | 1968 Olympic medalist

"Not Just a Game connected big-time with my students -- especially with those who don't always sit up their straightest in history class. If you're looking for new ways to talk about sexism, racism, homophobia or bullying in your classroom without turning your students off, this is the film for you." - Jesse Hagopian | History teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle | Founding member of the Social Equality Educators (SEE)

"Dave Zirin makes visible what has been erased from the history books and contemporary imagination. This is one film that can and should be used to raise awareness and discussion in every junior and senior high school classroom in the country." - Deborah Menkart | Executive Director of Teaching for Change

From the Press: "This thought-provoking documentary is sure to jog memories and spark debate." Booklist

"Recommended for libraries for its unusual viewpoint and use of historic film clips." Library Journal

Read the complete reviews

Press Reviews

Review of Not Just a Game Anthropology Review Database | Thomas Stevenson | April 22, 2011

David Zirin Has a Large Head, and Other Matters He Shouldn' t Apologize For The Score | The Austin Chronicle | Timothy Braun | June 2, 2011

Review: Not Just a Game *Reelworld Screening* Next Projection | Vakeesh Velummylum | April 17, 2011

Not Just a Game Educational Media Reviews Online | Patricia McGee | April 4, 2011

Dave Zirin Presents 'Not Just a Game' at 2640 Space March 29 Balitmore City Paper | Bret McCabe | March 24, 2011

Not Just a Game Review The Ultimate Sports Blog | Dan Lajoie | March 20, 2011

Dave Zirin on Progressive Radio with Matthew Rothschild | March 14, 2011

Putting the Politics Back into Sport Dissident Voice | Sean Dinces | February 23, 2011

Dave Zirin on Alan Colmes' Liberaland | February 7, 2011

The Super Bowl and Two Souls in Sports GRITtv | February 5, 2011

All Sports Is Political: The Dave Zirin interview Huffington Post | Christian Avard | February 5, 2011

Not Just a Game: Power, Politics & American Sports PopMatters | Cynthia Fuchs | January 27, 2011

Dave Zirin's New Film on the Intersection of Sports & Politics OpEdNews.com | Kevin Gosztola | January 6, 2011

Q&A: Politics and sports with Dave Zirin ESPN | Scoop Jackson | January 4, 2011

Time For A Little Festive Season Education Buckets | Duane Watson | December 9, 2010

Playing Games: A Parallel History in Sports The Valley Advocate | Jack Brown | December 9, 2010

Documentary at Amherst Cinema will Explore Cultural Relevance of Sports The Sophian | Kelsey Cummings | December 9, 2010

Interview with Dave Zirin | The David Pakman Show | December 6, 2010