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Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel is also one of the best news sources

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 30, 2010.

Unremarkably, I didn't want to worry about Hurricane Alex and wanted to do today's commentary on Elena Kagan, because she's funny and because she makes the Senate laugh, and me as well. After she wiped the floor with the first day's questioning, she has been the amiable gorilla in the room, and her acceptance is utterly a given, and the gallery seats are empty and no doubt the ratings are down as well. But live coverage Wednesday has probably bumped me from my home station, so in a snit I've decided to do something else. That'll show them……….

The best show on television is on HBO, and it isn't Treme or True Blood or any of the scripted shows. It's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Although everyone talks about sports as a barometer of society, most coverage of it is mere puffery and nonsense; most sports desks aren't journalism based, despite their claims. They do nothing but encourage participation in the financial security of local teams and local athletes. As a side business, they probably play a closer role in illegal gambling than their employers will admit.

But Real Sports is actually a show that commits journalism. They start with sports, and soon enough it's about society and its horrors, or mental illness, or corruption, or actual heroism as opposed to posturing. A lot of the stories deal, sometimes directly, with racism around the world. Take a recent show ostensibly about soccer, which the rest of the world calls football, oddly, as if you could only control the ball with the feet, or something. Unlike American, real, he-man football, where the only person who touches the ball with his foot is the, eh, kicker, and sometimes a separate punter. The only thing worse is the metric system. As upsetting as that is, soccer and the World Cup are the center of everyone's attention across the world, except here.

There's a lot that is shocking about World Cup soccer. The officials are incredibly incompetent, the players cheat blatantly, and the manner of settling not uncommon ties is ridiculous. But what's really awful is in the stands. What soccer has shown of late is that Europe hosts large numbers of neo-Nazi racists and dunderheads, violent thugs and militias. And easy targets for them are the black players on their own or rival teams. I experienced, insofar as a privileged white man could experience, the dying embers of the Olde South in the 1960's, before the Civil Rights Bill passed. There was always the crackling threat of violence around, and once you saw and felt it in a crowd, it stayed with you. It was scary. And so is this.

But I never saw anything like what happens to some black players in Europe today. I don't recall anyone at an American football game throwing baskets full of bananas at Ernie Davis, or thousands mimicking ape calls, or mass spitting on black players, some of whom these days are American. I heard all sorts of obscene and disgusting racist twaddle, and there was the occasional incident and race riot, and - well - lynching and burnings and murders, but nothing like the public show of personal disdain with no fear of reproach or punishment that Europe broadcasts.

Far right and fascist political groups control entire sections of the European stadium, and display revolting banners which, like here, find protection under gossamer issues like immigration and lack of jobs and all blaming foreigners and especially black foreigners. These, of course, were the same nations that lectured us during Vietnam and the 60's about us being hypocrites regarding race, which was their right to do and having done so, finding pleasure in knowing they were actually right and we were wrong.

But America was always diverse in race and background, and Europe never was. In the half century since our Selma, Europe has had to deal with immigration from former colonies and the decline of century old traditions and new people and new thought in the West's ancestral home. Huge Muslim enclaves - combined with declining need for standard-ability labor - has led to serious social upheaval, mostly not subject to organized violence. Till now. But you can see the ugly stupidity on the rise, the fear of the Third Rate that nature and nation will not provide other people they can instinctively look down upon when those people are often employed, being educated, and the aboriginal whites often are not. They can find courage in assemblage in groups and assaulting the unarmed and, till recently, unprotected.

It's something rarely given coverage here, but it demonstrates what European governments are facing. Odd you have to watch an in depth episode of Real Sports to enter the Real World.