Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dollars & Sense - Dennis Rodman: American Diplomat

The bizarre-o scale has officially peaked.  I mean, come on, what is more bizarre on a scale of one to Dennis Rodman watching a basketball game with Kim Jong-un in North Korea?  

Nothing.  Nothing even comes close.

You all know Rodman's story.  One of the all-time greatest rebounders in NBA history.  One of the crazy human beings in the history of planet Earth.  One of the most public and obvious battles with addiction for a professional athlete.  But now, add foreign diplomat to that diverse resume.

Travelling to North Korea to meet with the controversial leader Kim Jong-un along with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, Rodman took in a basketball game with Jong-un.  The sight was about as odd as you could imagine it to be, and the incident created just about as much parody coverage as it did real news coverage.  

(Sports on Earth's Leigh Montville gave us a look at what he imagined the conversation between the two to be like.)

The phenomena even trickled down to Seth Meyers' deck on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update": 

Amazingly, Jay Pharoah's interpretation in the parody skit may have been less ridiculous than Rodman's actual interview conducted by ABC's George Stephanopoulos upon his return to the United States.  The one thing that was bothersome was Rodman's lack of desire to talk about the inhumane practices of Jong-un and North Korea's elite.  Of course, the news coverage naturally covered the topic, but Rodman's comments made it seem like he was looking to make a friend rather than aid any social crises.  The trip put the practices in the spotlight, but it could have been more.  Realistically though, maybe we should just be happy with the outcome.  

See Rodman's comments for yourself:

(Think Progress pulled the top quotes for your convenience.)

As crazy as Rodman is, let's be serious, you have to be pretty crazy to go to North Korea especially as an American.  Sure, the operation was insanely risky with Rodman being such a volatile character, but by the sounds of it everything went well.  

I tend to agree with The Nation's Dave Zirin on this issue.  Zirin was on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Monday afternoon and said that regardless of Rodman's motives (there was a documentary film crew following the events), this is a good thing.  Rodman's presence - for whatever reason - created not only a significant bit of buzz around North Korea's inhumane practices, but it seems to have yielded positive results in terms of country to country relations.

Believe it or not, Rodman now joins the likes of Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe among others who have visited foreign countries in the midst of political turmoil.  As much as this entire situation may or may not resemble one big long headline on the front page of The Onion, it was so crazy that it just actually worked.

Could this be a blueprint for the future?  Using high profile athletes for foreign diplomacy is a very touchy proposition.  It requires a certain level of desire from the athletes themselves.  An athlete certainly cannot be forced into such a role just as not all athletes are cut out for such a role.

(Not sure if Rick Reilly is advocating for Rodman to do more of this or is mocking Rodman.)

Whether you agree with it or not, Rodman's trip to North Korea and meeting with Kim Jong-un was a success.  Yes, he had some delusional comments about Jong-un being a great guy, but Rodman is an inherently delusional kind of guy.  What we can take from this is the light that it has shined on social and human welfare issues in the country of North Korea.  Rodman's trip has certainly done that whether he is willing to talk about it or not.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Update: Early Thursday, news came out that North Korea vowed to preemptively bomb the United States.  Though it's probably unrelated to Rodman's visit, who knows.  If North Korea were to bomb us (and I don't think they will) and Rodman was safely housed in North Korea at the time, then please completely ignore all of the nice things that I said in above blogumn.

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