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Is there anything redeeming about Dennis Rodman?

Posted by Joanna Weiss  January 8, 2014 07:17 AM

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So, it happened: The most anticipated exhibition-basketball-game-slash-international-incident in history. In Pyongyang, North Korea, a group of American former NBA players, led by Dennis Rodman, played an exhibition game on the occasion of dictator Kim Jong Un's birthday. Also, Rodman led the arena in a not-exactly-rousing version of "Happy Birthday."

It has been a tough week, mediawise, for Rodman and his team. But the players refused to back down. On CNN's "New Day," former Knicks star Charles Smith tried to make a case that this game is a version of grass-roots diplomacy on -- only to be upstaged by a bizarro rant from Rodman (who was holding a cigar at the time). Does Smith have a point? Has the Rodman trip done any good, by at least calling attention to the regime's human rights atrocities? Or is it a failure on every human level? We've compiled some thoughts below; add yours to the comments or tweet us @BostonComment.


scott kearnan 1.jpgEvidently, CNN's New Day host Chris Cuomo does not understand. Basketball star, Celebrity Apprentice darling and one-time Madonna beau Dennis Rodman is in the middle of repairing global relations with North Korea with the help of ten guys — TEN GUYS! — some of whose names he may recall. He will do this by sharing the international language of basketball at next week's very special birthday game for dictator Kim Jong-un, whom Rodman fondly calls his "friend." (Who will win? Tune in to the state-run news to find out!) And Cuomo? All he wants to do, as he hides like Rapunzel up in his ivory tower of pansy microphones and whatnots, is talk about North Korea's horrifying history of human rights violations, last month's execution of Jong-un's once powerful uncle, and the continued detainment of Kenneth Bae, an American Christian missionary serving 15 years of hard labor over a sketchy conviction that he was plotting to overthrow the North Korean government.
Scott Kearnan, @TheWriteStuffSK
Media Remix blog,

Can he bring about change through friendship?

Mr. Rodman, I cannot presume to tell you to cancel your trip to North Korea. It is your right as an American to travel wherever you wish and to say whatever you want. It is your right to drink fancy wines and enjoy yourself in luxurious parties, as you reportedly did in your previous trips to Pyongyang. But as you have a fun time with the dictator, please try to think about what he and his family have done and continue to do. Just last week, Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of his uncle. Recent satellite pictures show that some of the North’s labor camps, including Camp 14, may be expanding... I am writing to you, Mr. Rodman, because, more than anything else, I want Kim Jong Un to hear the cries of his people. Maybe you could use your friendship and your time together to help him understand that he has the power to close the camps and rebuild the country’s economy so everyone can afford to eat.
Shin Dong-hyuk, human rights activist
Open letter to Dennis Rodman, The Washington Post

'He's an idiot'

Senator John McCain
On CNN's Piers Morgan

Give him a break?

Rodman's celebrity status and sporting prowess has given him access to Kim. At some point, when both the U.S. and North Korean governments are feeling a little brave, perhaps they can try to thaw the ice with more professional diplomats tagging along on cultural or sporting exchanges. There are precedents. For example, the U.S.-China Ping-Pong diplomacy of the 1970s had its genesis in table tennis player by the name of Glen Cowan. Once he broke the ice, the governments began Pyongyang continues to devote resources and energy to sports development, its appetite for athletic exchanges will increase. Let's warily hope, to use Rodman's phrase, that this can "open the doors" to other things.
Andray Abrahamian, @Draylien
CNN editorial

What North Koreans know

sokeel park.jpgRodman shows no awareness of the disparity between his experience as a guest and the everyday lives of North Koreans. He was able to announce his arrival in Pyongyang on Twitter, taking advantage of a 3G Internet service recently opened up to visiting foreigners. Ordinary North Koreans, by contrast, are denied all access to the Internet, because the regime knows that the Web would abolish its monopoly on ideas and threaten its survival. It has also stepped up efforts to crack down on other emergent sources of information—including Chinese mobile phones, which provide a line of communication with the outside world from the border regions, and foreign media, smuggled in on DVDs and USB sticks. At the country’s National Security Agency last year, Kim declared: “We must extend the fight against the enemy’s ideological and cultural infiltration and psychological scheming, and must ruthlessly crush those hostile elements with their childish dreams.”
Sokeel Park, @Sokeel
Director of Research & Strategy, Liberty in North Korea
City Journal, "The Worm and the Rotten Apple," March 2013

We're over him, anyway

Good for no one but Rodman

Susan-Milligan.jpgRodman, who has displayed no knowledge of world affairs, human rights or diplomacy, has decided the best way to deal with a murderous dictator is to put on a little basketball game for Kim. Rodman has brought some of his former NBA buddies to North Korea for a friendly pickup game with local players. It's an insult not just to the people who are trying to rein in the regime, but to the families of everyone who has been killed by Kim and his people. It's childish, deliberately provocative and isn't really meant to enhance the life of anyone but the constantly attention-seeking Rodman.
Susan Milligan, @MilliganSusan
US News and World Report

Not the best diplomacy idea

Rodman's North Korea history

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