Stick to Basketball, Dennis; Leave Diplomacy to the Diplomats: Thoughts on the Rodman-Bae Affair, on Rodman’s Motivations, and on His Intelligence
By Ken K. Gourdin
One need not read very much of what I have written to know that I’m pretty opinionated. (“Noooo! Really?!”) Yep. Shocking, isn’t it? I realize, though, that opinions are like rear-ends: everyone has one . . . and some are better than others! ;-D Because of the prevalence of opinions in this opinionated world of ours, I realize that, however unlikely the prospect (since I’m right the overwhelming majority of the time), some people (shockingly!) may disagree with me.
I try to be measured and reasonable in expressing my opinions, careful to not “overstate my case,” and mindful of the fact that people who hold opinions different from mine aren’t merely unprincipled dolts: most of them are reasonable, intelligent people who simply see the world, and weigh the evidence relevant to whatever matter we’re considering, differently than I do. That’s fine. If two people are of exactly the same opinion on absolutely everything, one of them is unnecessary. I certainly don’t think you’re unnecessary. All of that having been said, I’m about to forsake my usual reasonable, measured tone to make an uncharacteristically blunt statement: former NBA player Dennis Rodman is an idiot.
When CNN’s Chris Cuomo questioned Rodman about his relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Kim’s treatment of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, who is of Korean extraction and whom the North Korean government is currently holding and has sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for apparently-unspecified offenses, Rodman exploded: “Do you understand what Kenneth Bae did?!”1 (Rodman, no doubt on the advice of some PR hack, since has apologized).2
Few people in the free world, if any, likely understand what Kenneth Bae did (if, indeed he “did” anything), and Rodman probably understands it least of all. The nature of dictatorial, autocratic regimes in general is a lack of concern with such things as notice before the fact that prohibited conduct is unlawful, an opportunity to defend oneself, and due process. I suspect that the only way Rodman would be compelled to come to a greater understanding of these things is if he were accused of some wrongdoing himself: then, and only then, would he be concerned about the rights that Kim is denying Bae.)
Rodman is not just an idiot because he doesn’t happen to be a Rhodes Scholar, a Fulbright Scholar, a member of Mensa, an MIT grad, or in possession of a degree received summa cum laude in, say, theoretical nuclear physics. By that standard, most all of us are idiots—which, I’ll hasten to add, probably makes them pretty unreasonable standards to use in assessing the intelligence of most of the world’s inhabitants.
There are at least two kinds of people in the world: those who think they know something simply because people listen to what they say or read what they write, and those to whom people listen and whose writing people read because they actually do know something. I’m willing to admit that even many people who listen to me or read what I write may put me in the former category. It’s their perfect right to do so; as I said, all opinions aren’t created equal, and we all weigh the evidence (and see the world) differently. But by any reasonable standard, Dennis Rodman belongs in the former category when it comes to such things as diplomacy. The less one’s readers or listeners know, the more likely they are to give credence to the opinion of someone famous. Thus, the more famous one is, the more weight his opinions (about anything—whether he knows anything about the particular subject or not) carry. This is true of Rodman.
I suspect that most government officials—even those on the far left end of the political spectrum in the United States—would disagree with Dennis Rodman’s assessment of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and of the situation involving Kenneth Bae. The irony is that if Rodman were to attempt to do in North Korea what he’s doing here (expressing opinions with which most all leaders disagree) they quickly would brand him a subversive to the state and would attempt to “re-educate” him (a word which is, of course, a euphemism that is meant to obscure the far worse things they actually would do).
But, unlike in North Korea, there is a United States Constitution, the First Amendment of which protects one’s right to say nearly anything one wishes to say about the government without the government being able to do anything about it—even if he is an idiot, like Dennis Rodman. Even though they wouldn’t defend Kim Jong Un, people have called what Rodman is doing an attempt at diplomacy. “Sure,” they might say, “maybe it is a really clumsy attempt at diplomacy, but that’s all it is.” No. Since diplomacy by definition involves intergovernmental relations, for what Rodman is doing to be considered diplomacy, it would—whether tacitly or implicitly, overtly or not—have to be sanctioned in some way by the United States government.
Whatever else Rodman is about—even when he played basketball, it could barely be said of him that he was about basketball—Rodman is, first and foremost, about Rodman. Rather than engaging in diplomacy (even really clumsy, really inartful diplomacy), what Rodman is doing is what Rodman has always done: it’s a publicity stunt. Had Rodman been interested in engaging in actual diplomacy, he would have reached out to someone who knows about diplomacy—or at least, to someone who knows someone who knows about diplomacy.
Whatever else anyone can say about Rodman’s intelligence, he has to know that President Obama—who’s a Chicago guy, a basketball fan, and, therefore a Bulls fan—would have returned his phone call in all of about five minutes. Once Obama did so, all Rodman had to say, in essence, was, “Hey, I’m interested in building bridges [metaphorically speaking] with North Korea. I’ve got a group of former players who are interested in helping me. Since Kim is such a basketball fan, maybe we could use basketball to do that. Do you have any ideas?”
But he didn’t do that, because nothing Rodman does is about such lofty concerns as diplomacy. Everything Rodman does is, in one way or another, about . . . Rodman. And Rodman long since has ceased being famous for basketball. And even when he was famous for basketball, he was more famous for the outrageous things he did and said off the court. And once one becomes (or is relegated to) being famous simply for being famous, fame becomes like oxygen: go without it too long, and you think you’re going to die.
I’ll give Rodman credit, to this extent. Before his outburst, few people had heard of Kenneth Bae. Perhaps renewed attention in the matter will spur President Obama to act.
|1.||Tommy Christopher (January 7, 2014) “Rodman Screams at CNN’s Cuomo, Implies Kenneth Bae Is Guilty in Bizarre Interview,” Mediaite.com, http://www.mediaite.com/tv/dennis-rodman-screams-at-cnns-chris-cuomo-implies-kenneth-bae-is-guilty-in-bizarre-interview/, last accessed January 9, 2014.|
|2.||Jethro Mullen (January 9, 2014), CNN, “Dennis Rodman apologizes for North Korea outburst, says he’d been drinking,” http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/09/world/asia/north-korea-dennis-rodman-apology/, last accessed January 9, 2014|