Color me impressed.
In a year when it seemed virtually impossible for a weirder sports story to appear than the Manti Te’o catfish girlfriend, ‘90s relic Dennis Rodman gets on a plane to visit North Korea.
Just a month into 2013, the Te’o scandal seemed virtually unbeatable. The guy had a mortal lock on the most bizarre ESPN-MSM-TMZ crossover superstory of the year, and then only a month later The Worm nabs a state dinner and media tour with dictator and apparent basketball fan Kim Jong Un, whose brother was once photographed wearing a Rodman Bulls jersey. Apparently like everyone else on the planet, the Kim children were fans of the ‘90s era Bulls (bandwagon, meet repressive dictator spawn).
It seems almost silly to point out here that Kim’s regime remains the nightmare of famine, suppression, indoctrination, torture, nuclear ambition, and state-sanctioned murder that his batshit crazy father perfected. I would feel totally ridiculous saying, “Shame on you, Dennis Rodman, for bestowing even your basement-level vouch of legitimacy on such a regime.” It’s all such a post-modern horror show, one almost can’t respond to it with standard disapprobation. Like when one of Rodman’s traveling companions, a member of the film crew for the HBO series “Vice” tweeted about getting wasted with Kim Jong Un or another who described the opulence of a ten-course meal served during their visit… in a country full of starving people.
To point out the irony to the perpetrators of this stunt would feel preposterous—like trying to show a D.A.R.E. video to Jim Morrison.
I’m more concerned/ fascinated by where we go from here. In the last couple of years we have had what I consider the three strangest sports scandals of my lifetime (note that I said “weirdest” and not “worst” or “most tragic,” which are different categories requiring different arguments). Jerry Sandusky molests kids for two decades and Penn State covers it up; star Notre Dame linebacker’s tragic story of dead girlfriend turns out to be a hoax; Dennis Rodman hangs out with Kim Jong Un, goes on media blitz with sympathetic view of a totalitarian regime that keeps hundreds of thousands of innocent people (a third of them children) in gulags with survivor reports that echo or outright copycat those of the Nazi Holocaust.
The 2011 Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities documents in these North Korean prison camps “government-enforced mass starvation, child slavery, brutal torture and rape, arbitrary executions and killings, forced abortions and infanticide.” For decades it’s had a policy of killing the half-Chinese babies of North Korean women who get sent back by China. One might think it couldn’t be possible for policies of enforcing racial purity to be even more idiotic except for when the population you’re attempting to keep pure is generation by generation turning into pygmies due to a lack of calories.
So when Rodman gets his cry-for-help face full of winches and industrial rivets or whatever the hell he has sticking out of his nostrils on TV and says Kim is his “friend for life” and "You know, he's a good guy to me. Guess what? He's my friend. I don't condone what he does … [but] as a person to person – he's my friend," how can you not just laugh?
This episode now has my nomination for strangest sports story of 2013, and it looks unbeatable from where I’m sitting. Unless of course it turns out that the Chicago Blackhawks owe their remarkable starting record to bulk purchases of steroids and methamphetamines from Bashar al-Assad.
That would be weird.