A Portrait of IWW Athletes

A Portrait of IWW Athletes

In the third installment of our series “Politics on the Field” we bring the story of three IWW athletes. This piece of history is written by IWW Neil Parthun, a sports show host, who offers a glimpse into the lives and trajectories of the IWW members who played sports as a career, and ends with his reflections on labor in professional sports.

n the third installment of our series “Politics on the Field” we bring the story of three IWW athletes. This piece of history is written by IWW Neil Parthun, a sports show host, who offers a glimpse into the lives and trajectories of the IWW members who played sports as a career, and ends with his reflections on labor in professional sports.

Far too often, there is very little overlap between sports fans and radical leftists. However, there’s not just tactical movement building and organizing/solidarity opportunities lost through this lack of cultivation. It also means that we can alienate ourselves from our own past because there have been and continue to be athletes who were a part of radical unions like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW.)


Soccer player Nicolaas Steelink

One of the most famous Wobbly athletes was the Dutch-American Nicolaas Steelink. As a youth, Steelink was an avid soccer (football) player. Even prior to immigrating to the US, he played for his company team. Sport was instrumental in developing the relationships that molded Steelink into a radical political activist. The friends and camaraderie grown through play on the pitch in Los Angeles provided supports to analyze major political issues of the time period like World War I, horrendous labor conditions for most of the nation’s workers and extrajudicial lynchings of people of color.

Steelink joined the IWW and was a regular contributor to the Industrial Worker, the IWW newspaper, under the pseudonym Ennaes Ellae. This work and activism with the Wobblies was also a factor in his facing criminal charges. In 1919, he was among 151 people who were charged with violations of the Criminal Syndicalism Act. The goal of that law was to prevent union organizing drives from being successful in manufacturing plants. Steelink was convicted and sentenced to five years in San Quentin but only served two before being released on parole.

After being released, Steelink continued working in politics and sport. He was frequently involved in struggles for workers’ rights as well as coaching young soccer players. Steelink was an important factor in the creation of the California Soccer League in 1958 and was elected to the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 1971 for his tremendous efforts and impacts on the ‘beautiful game.’

Another famous Wobbly athlete is the mixed martial artist (MMA) Jeff ‘Snowman’ Monson. Prior to his involvement as a pro fighter, Monson earned his Master’s in psychology. He was a mental health professional in crisis evaluation as well as a child/family counselor. When asked about his time in this career, he said, “I greatly enjoyed my time as a mental health professional. I worked with kids, families and the severely mentally ill during a seven year span. I think it is an overlooked need in society in helping those with mental illness.”


MMA Fighter Jeff Monson

During his time in the social service, he noted that “…money allocated to our agencies kept getting cut year after year.” He elaborated “The problem is the financial system – capitalism. It is a viral system where greed and exploitation are seen as positive traits. The first systems to fail are those that do not contribute wealth, i.e. education, health care, social service programs, etc.”

Monson had a steady involvement with his collegiate wrestling teams during his time at University and continued indulging his combat sport interest while working. He attended the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling Championship in 1991 where he performed very well. He was not a prominent name in mixed martial arts and gained the nickname ‘Snowman’ due to his performance. Opponents bestowed the moniker on him because he was white, compact, rolling and getting stronger as the event went. His success there went on to launch him into the world of being a full time pro fighter.

It was, in part, the traveling for the fights that contributed to Monson’s political development. He noted that “traveling to different parts of the world and seeing the destructive forces of capitalistic globalization really got me involved in learning more about anarchism.”

Even though many people see him as a celebrity, he reflected in an interview with MMAFighting.com, “I’m like everybody else. I live in a capitalist system, so that’s what I have to do…I may not like it or agree with it, but that’s our society. I’m trying to change it but I’m not a hypocrite either. I know that I have to earn money and pay bills. I just happen to have a job that I enjoy, and I do feel blessed…At the same time, these people paying me to fight, they’re making a hell of a lot more off the fighters than they’re paying them. They’re doing it to make a profit. In essence, they’re stealing from me. It’s like someone working in a shoe factory making shoes. That person doesn’t get paid what those shoes are worth. They get paid a fraction of it…They’re wage slaves, just like I’m a wage slave.”

Rounding out this look at some IWW athletes is another relatively recent addition to the One Big Union. Colin Jenkins was a powerlifter from 2000 to 2009. During that time, Jenkins had earned three amateur world records and two state records — in New York and Vermont – for bench press through the International Powerlifting Association and the American Powerlifting Association.

Jenkins was also recognized as one of the top 50 powerlifters by Powerlifting USA magazine. He was 26th in 2003, 50th in 2004 and 15th in 2006. 2006 was also the year that marked the beginning of Jenkins’ involvement with the Industrial Workers of the World.

Currently, he is the Social Economics Department chair at the Hampton Institute. His work focuses on Marxist and anarchist analyses of community, government and political economy. His work has been published on Truthout, Common Dreams, Dissident Voice, Black Agenda Report, Popular Resistance and Z Magazine.

Sports and politics frequently intertwine. When radicals talk about the challenges to Jim Crow segregation in America, Jackie Robinson’s breaking of Major League Baseball’s color line by starting for the Dodgers in Apr. 1947 is an oft told tale. One of the most well known and widely celebrated war resisters that took a stand against the US draft was also the then-heavyweight boxing champion of the world – Muhammad Ali. As protests continue to highlight the police oppression and violence against communities of color, we’ve also seen these reflected in the sports world. The players of the Miami Heat took a team photo in hoodies and used media to advocate for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Athletes in the NFL and the NBA took to their field/court supporting the protesters by wearing t-shirts and even doing the “Hands up! Don’t shoot” gesture that became a nationally known part of the Ferguson protests. The intersection of sport and politics can even be seen by the solidarity shown by the University of Missouri (Mizzou) football team who pledged not to practice or play games until the #ConcernedStudent1950 hunger striker was eating again. By showing the nexus between these two disparate worlds, it created avenues of opportunity to discuss these political matters with people who might not otherwise be aware. Sport has been a cultural touchstone and reflection of the major social issues of specific eras and it continues to be.

Professional and collegiate sports are also places where we see labor battles being fought. Many of the players are now well paid and have certain benefits because they developed strong union movements to push back against management. Players like Curt Flood lost their careers in challenging unjust policies for future generations of players. In the most recent professional sport collective bargaining agreements, we’ve seen the players get locked out. The major leagues are incredibly profitable but still demanding cuts and concessions from the players because they think that they could get them by weakening the union and its power. This tactic by management can be seen in its analog across the country as many businesses are choosing to lock out employees and demand cutbacks even when the company is generating profits. Meanwhile, college players are in the midst of challenging a long standing legal fiction of amateurism that prevents the athletes on the field from seeing any of the billions that the NCAA, the conferences and the schools generate from their athletic labor. Mixed martial artists are also trying to form a labor union as many fighters see similar criticisms of their promotion companies as Monson mentioned.

The lives of these three examples as well as myriad other intersectionary issues of the past, present and future, show this central claim to be true. While sport can have its corporate excesses and inexcusable behavior go unaccounted for, the athletics on the court, field, pitch and area of play are a testament to the potential and action of human labor. Workers are workers whether they sack quarterbacks or groceries. Sports are political and for far too long we’ve ceded the space to the reactionaries and the far-right. It is to our peril if we write off the robust history of social and political activism in the realm of sport and don’t help to curate a space for its continuation.

Neil Parthun is a sports fan, writer and radio show host. To learn more about the intersections of sports and politics, check out his “Not Another Sports Show”.

Originally posted: February 4, 2016 at Recomposition

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Oct 21 2016 01:04

Wasn't there a famous baseball player back in the day who was rumored to be a Wobbly?

Juan Conatz
Oct 21 2016 02:48

Honus Wagner. I don't think there's much proof though.

nization
Oct 21 2016 12:17

Not trying to take anything away from these three men, especially from Monson, whose honest approach speaks volumes and is simply telling it like it is.

Howver, if the "central claim" of this piece is that "sports and politics frequently intertwine", I would contend that this should be largely self-evident by now. But what I myself would consider "central" and essential is the claim (made by quite a few folks besides me) that modern sports (from the 19th century to our times) and capitalism not only "intertwine", but that they are inseparable...

Which of course, goes a long way toward explaining why: "Far too often, there is very little overlap between sports fans and radical leftists."

Indeed. What a nasty, totally unwarranted coincidence! But is it?

"Even prior to immigrating to the US, he played for his company team. Sport was instrumental in developing the relationships that molded Steelink into a radical political activist."

Now there's an interesting statement. Steelink didn't play for some Socialist or Anarchist team back in Holland (not that it would have made any fundamental difference if he had), but for his company team. In those days, many capitalist enterprises promoted sporting activities amongst employees for plenty of reasons, such as promoting loyalty to the firm, occupying the employees' leisure time in "productive" ways and, last -in my list, though not in reality- but not least, as an integral part of well documented anti-socialist/anti-anarchist policies. Employees who joined the companies' sports activities could often expect to enjoy free time to devote to their sporting pursuits and also noticeably tended to not be the first to get fired in times of hardship...

As for the second sentence in the quote, it would be highly interesting to know just how that happened.. it's easy enough to understand in the case of black athletes, although it has very little to do with "sport" itself. It's like saying "capital was instrumental in developing the relationships that molded so-and-so into a radical political activist". Well, well, well... really? That is sooo amazing...

And now, at last, we get down to the nitty-gritty:

"While sport can have its corporate excesses [sic: oh, is that what they are?] and inexcusable behavior go unaccounted for, the athletics on the court, field, pitch and area of play are a testament to the potential and action of human labor. Workers are workers whether they sack quarterbacks or groceries. Sports are political and for far too long we’ve ceded the space to the reactionaries and the far-right."

Allow me to summarize this in terms that seem a bit clearer to me:

Long live "human labor"! Three cheers for the working class! May "revolutionary" sport and "human labor" (the most precious form of capital, according to comrade Stalin) live forever!...

Just my two cents... gotta run off to the gym now. Y'all take care...

Ed
Oct 23 2016 19:10

Odd he doesn't mention Jeff Monson's current support for the super-dodgy Russian Communist Party.. but apart from that a really interesting article..

boozemonarchy
Oct 24 2016 13:20
Quote:
But what I myself would consider "central" and essential is the claim (made by quite a few folks besides me) that modern sports (from the 19th century to our times) and capitalism not only "intertwine", but that they are inseparable...

Yea, obviously the bizarre show put on for major sporting events is a particular feature of capitalism but honestly now - sport, and the enjoyment of watching sport is positively ancient (as in pre-capitalist) and global in character. Your claim is huge and is simply not supported by historical evidence - there seems to be a thing for observing demonstrations of human athletic prowess (from ancient Greek track and field shit to a huge diversity of competitions in native North America). There is simply no reason to believe that sport and sport-watching would vanish with capitalism and you really don't offer anything but a statement of such.

Your bit about the 'lack of overlap between rad leftys and sportos' is another line of crap. You're mistaking the fact that in any given group of rad leftys there is always some loud asshole proclaiming the anti-socialist nature of sport competition (or otherwise sticking their nose in the air) for widespread far lefty anti-sport feeling. While they're blabbering, all the sports fans are nodding along while checking scores on their phones. Seriously, have met so many sports fans in my wanderings around the syndicalist side of far leftism.

I'm one myself and seriously almost like them all - I love technical analysis of strategy - I love 'amazing feats' that people pull off at just the right moment - I love the stories (Go Cavs!), drama and emotion. It's fun stuff, you goddamned stick in the mud.

Fleur
Oct 23 2016 22:10

nization:

Do you hate books, music, movies, games, art or gardening too, given that these things are tied up with capitalism too? Given that just about everything in life is subject to capitalism in a capitalist society. Or is it just sport that you are a particular sour-puss about?

Serge Forward
Oct 23 2016 23:27
Quote:
You're mistaking the fact that in any given group of rad leftys there is always some loud asshole proclaiming the anti-socialist nature of sport competition (or otherwise sticking their nose in the air), but while they're blabbering, all the sports fans are nodding along while checking scores on their phones.

grin

Juan Conatz
Oct 24 2016 00:41
Ed wrote:
Odd he doesn't mention Jeff Monson's current support for the super-dodgy Russian Communist Party.. but apart from that a really interesting article..

I think this was written before that was well known. This was published in February, so was probably written in October 2015-December 2015 according to the posting schedule and backlog I'm familiar with when it comes to Recomp.

nization
Oct 24 2016 10:23

No, boozemonarchy, no offense, but I'm afraid it's you who's (sadly, that is so dejà vu by now) spouting loudmouthed pro-sporty and orthodox lefty lines of crap here (incidentally, the mere extent of how much people on the Lefty/Anarchist spectrum vehemently protest what I'm saying about sports while they would heartily applaud, say, Gramsci's musings on Americanism and Fordism, -deeply entwined, by the way, with the birth of mass sports- speaks volumes about real subsumption). Just because the left converted quite some time ago and en masse to the love of sport (and the uncritical support for any form in which the capital relation reproduces the working class's condition as wage-slaves) doesn't support your straw man argument about rad lefty assholes who deride sports for keeping proles away from the exciting task of emancipating the working class and humanity in general, as opposed to those cool sports fans who "nod along while checking scores on their phones". Fuck the former and fuck the latter (in general, I'm not a trendy intellectual-baiter like Serge here smile ): they are two sides of the same coin. Other than that, I think you misread (or, rather, I set myself up for that cheap shot) what I meant by the lack of overlap... not that I care much either way, but I still think the overall numbers would fall squarely on the side of right-thinking folks everywhere (including, of course, a substantial number of Lefties whose way of thinking differs very little from the former).

My claim is not so huge (if you'd bother to do a little research, that is) and is certainly supported by tons of historical evidence. It's not even "my" claim, as quite a few people have done work on it long before me. First of all, I'm not equating sport (a word that, significantly, wasn't even remotely around in those ancient times ye speak o') to a timeless "thing for observing demonstrations of human athletic prowess". I'm well aware of that, thank you. Just to mention a few important differences, in Greek athletics there were no age limits, weight categories in combat events or second and third prizes (oh, by the way, foreigners, women and slaves were banned from even attending these "fun" events - a description no ancient Greek would have used to describe them-, let alone participating in them). Incidentally, it's no coincidence that in our society (just like "value" is "male") women's sport takes second place (in terms of viewers and gross revenues generated) and will continue to do so until the bitter end (bitter for you poor sports fans bent on checking scores forever, as that seems to be your idea of "fun"). So much for your stick-in-the-mud crap, cruisin'-for-a-boozin...

Last but not least, let me say -just for the benefit of the mentally challenged- that I've been involved in the practice of martial arts since age 14 (I'm nicely middle-aged now) and that I currently dabble in Muay Thai, BJJ, MMA and Filipino Martial Arts. I have fought in full-contact (non-sporting, as there were no medals, winners or losers, just people having fun, testing themselves and learning) stickfighting events many a time and will, in all likelihood, continue to do so as long as I can.

nization
Oct 24 2016 09:49

Oh, and by the way, one of the more interesting contemporary sports critics, Ljubodrag "Duci" Simonovic, was a professional basketball player who played in the 1972 Olympics. Funny how he's never made it onto these pages: guess he's too much of a stinking Commie for you guys (he is for me, but that's another story.., which takes very little away from his research). Here, get yourselves up to date... if you can do anything else besides keep score (I wouldn't put my money on you guys if I was drunk as a lord, but hey...)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ljubodrag_Simonovi%C4%87

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ujkk1OuZ5M

https://books.google.es/books?id=ugDwBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA221&lpg=PA221&dq=ljubodrag+simonovic+sport+and&source=bl&ots=cNYu47SsVe&sig=NAPEXuitb_19eOFGd08fAFN8A1w&hl=es&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwichrzOgfPPAhVHvRQKHZNkAh4Q6AEIRzAF#v=onepage&q=ljubodrag%20simonovic%20sport%20and&f=false

http://www.cubalibre.org.rs/OLYMPISM%20%20AND%20%20FASCISM.html

Ed
Oct 24 2016 10:21

Firstly, nization, I've removed a section of your comment before last. Let's keep this comradely, please. Any more aggro or sexism will see the post removed and/or you'll receive a temporary ban. If you want to discuss decision this please start a thread in the feedback forum; do not derail discussion by arguing about it here.

Apart from that, thanks for flagging up that Simonovic guy. I'd never heard of him but will def look into his work now.. cheers!

nization
Oct 24 2016 10:58

Fine. But if that's the case, then I can't see why you don't delete the aggro from other posters' comments (besides the fact that democracy is bullshit, not that I'm complaining about the inevitable, mind you). Otherwise, no worries. Cheers!

If it's of any interest, I have plenty of Simonovic's stuff in English I could put up... you won't find it elsewhere, I'm afraid...

Be forewarned, though, not everything he says is so spot on... but it's easy to reach your own conclusions...

Fleur
Oct 24 2016 11:09

I was going to comment on your sexism but it's been removed now, but for the benefit of this mentally-challenged person, I was genuinely interested whether or not you reserved your ire just for sport, given that since you signed up to this site "I hate sport" is the only thing you've bothered posting about. It seems a bit obsessive.

I haven't actually considered the counter-revolutionary aspect of playing for a company team before now though. I just thought it was a good way for me to score some extra time off work and have someone else pick up the tab for an expensive hobby. Oh well, I live and learn.

boozemonarchy
Oct 24 2016 11:38

nization,

TBH I'm having a hard time even understanding what you're saying about sports (I bet you're not surprised!)- You're an easily distracted rambler.

Why is modern sport and capitalism inseparable? I see you tried to educate me on how features of capitalist society are reflected in sport (hint - everyone agrees this is the case) and that ancient Greece was a shitty thing when no one really asked instead of engaging honestly. Going back and rereading I also don't understand if you're saying that there are too many sports fans in the left because sometime ago we 'converted en masse' into mindless sport zombies or that you agree there is 'little overlap' between the rad left and sport fans? Which is it? Why does it matter?

You also write like a real pedantic asshole - just an honest criticism for you to chew on.

nization
Oct 24 2016 11:39

Just to put the matter at rest:

I'd say you are rather poorly placed to make comments about my -alleged- sexism, as we've never met, but you can call me all the names in the book (and make up your own psychological portrait in the process) to make up for lack of actual argumentation, which is what I would have welcomed (nothing as bad as the defence of a bad cause, though). Calling you a "cheerleader" was not intended to be a sexist comment, just a description of your somewhat from-the-sidelines + namecalling intervention in this debate. It's interesting that you latched onto the more superficial of the two possibilities though, and does make for a certain affinity with the stereotype in question (my apologies to any real cheerleaders who happen to read this)

Other than that, I can't see much of a point in your re-engaging with me again in the same manner as last time. If you were genuinely interested in anything I think or feel, I reckon you would have phrased your questions differently. Nope, I haven't bothered posting about anything else, because it just so happens that I haven't come across anything I felt like posting about (my apologies again to whom it may concern). I could just as easily say your engaging with me seems a little obsessive too.

For the record, I'm too busy critiqueing sport (and capital) to invest all that much "hatred" in it (if only hatred could do the trick), though I expect what I say is better than the mere voicing of hatred. Perhaps others admittedly like all too many things for me to like them out of hand (or to fully trust their alleged hatred of the existing world)? Who knows? I keep largely to myself unless the atmosphere seems just right...

Vell, vell, vell. So you play for a company team, ach? Any other counterrevolutionaries out there vanting to come out of ze closet? Nein? Ve have veys of rooting you out, you know...

Fleur
Oct 24 2016 12:20

Well, given your extreme unpleasantness in engaging with other posters on other threads about sport, as well as your ableism in describing people who don't agree with you as mentally challenged, I could give you the benefit of the doubt that your calling me a cheerleader was not sexist, especially as I was addressing you and nothing that booze said, but I did find it interesting that you called me a cheerleader, not any of the other posters who have engaged you on your over-intellectualizing of your petty prejudice.

I did genuinely wonder if it's just sport that you have a bee in your bonnet about because what you say about sport and capitalism can be applied to a multitude of other things, just about all of the arts for example. But with hindsight, I don't think you're interesting enough to discuss anything with.

fwiw, although I don't find cheerleading interesting and cheerleaders themselves are some of the most exploited and most likely to suffer serious injuries of any sports, their athleticism and abilities are off the wall amazing, so I'm going to take it as a compliment. Cheerleaders have mad skills and as most of them are also putting themselves through college too, not short on the smarts either.

petey
Oct 24 2016 12:34

fuck we've had enough of this lately

nization
Oct 24 2016 13:03

Most certainly.

Cruisin'-for-a-boozin, you sound like a nice bright non-pedantic young asshole, so find out the answers to your questions by yourself. Or just check the issues out on your phone once you've finished keeping score...

Serge Forward
Oct 24 2016 13:06

What it is, is a massive derail from an article about sportspeople and the IWW. Are we always going to get Nization banging on about their pet peeve every time there's a comment, thread or blog post that mentions the 's' word?

Quote:
I'm not a trendy intellectual-baiter like Serge here

Trendy??? grin I still refer to people smoking "pot", invite people round to my "drum" and occasionally drop into polari!

Intellectual-baiter? Please provide evidence with critical analysis and provide references (Harvard system preferred).

Aaaaaanyway... back on topic. My old IWW branch used to have several boxers/ex-boxers in it, both male and female. Also, a spin off from that IWW branch was an anti-fascist football (soccer) team that continues to this day.

Oh yeah, also on the subject of boxing, I understand that in the 1930s, the then world champ, Benny Lynch, used to do the door for Glasgow Anarchists public meetings.

nization
Oct 24 2016 13:26

Please don't get on my case about my "pet peeve", Mr Forward... It hurts my feelings!

Must be my rambling again, but you mentioned the infamous 's' word. I think you (and your buddies left behind in Nam) need to see this and chill, dude:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBkbj_S3etY

"A massive derail?" Oh, yes. Before I posted, this thread was so alive with debate about sporting Wobblies (or wobbling sporties):

Wasn't there a famous baseball player back in the day who was rumored to be a Wobbly?

Honus Wagner. I don't think there's much proof though.

Yup. Sho nuff.

nization
Oct 24 2016 13:52

Off the record now: I have a distinct sensation of having pissed on some people's opium, uh... desecrated their hidden synthetic God supplies or sumthin'... ("Till when, O Lord, shall we have to endure this plague!")

Maybe this site isn't the proper forum to raise the subject of the opium of the people after all...

Incidentally, Fleur, now that I'm on the subject of mind-altering drugs copiously consumed by the industrial working peoples of the world (no, not an oblique reference to cheerleading), I recently took a stand -on this very site- in defense of Ernst Jünger's right to be posted and discussed here. Another of my evil obsessions? Maybe...

boozemonarchy
Oct 24 2016 14:01
nization wrote:
Off the record now: I have a distinct sensation of having pissed on some people's opium, uh... desecrated their hidden synthetic God supplies or sumthin'... ("Till when, O Lord, shall we have to endure this plague!")

You're flattering yourself now mate - you are just sort of abrasive. I imagine I'd feel like you pissed on my something no matter what you have to say.

nization
Oct 24 2016 14:26

Oh, well. Best I say nothing more about it, then. But I'll take that as a possible compliment anyway (at the risk of flattering myself again). I can't be pissing off all the right people all the time, can I?

It's kind of like the anarchism/broken clock analogy: it's right at least twice a day...

Chilli Sauce
Oct 25 2016 15:56
Quote:
fwiw, although I don't find cheerleading interesting and cheerleaders themselves are some of the most exploited and most likely to suffer serious injuries of any sports, their athleticism and abilities are off the wall amazing, so I'm going to take it as a compliment. Cheerleaders have mad skills and as most of them are also putting themselves through college too, not short on the smarts either.

And also have led union drives:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-10/nfl-cheerleaders-battle-teams-for-minimum-wage

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/labor-unrest-haunts-the-nfl-draft-day#51225