(Corrects second paragraph to reflect that Rodman appeared in matches for World Championship Wrestling, not the World Wrestling Federation.)
Sports and politics have a long tradition of intersecting, often with positive results. Probably the most famous example is the U.S. ping-pong team’s 1971 visit to China. More recently, two NFL players, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, have used their status as professional athletes to advocate for same-sex marriage.
Dennis Rodman’s visit to North Korea and subsequent love-in with “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong Un is most definitely not part of this tradition. It was a freak show, a meeting between two crazy narcissists. One is obsessed with the culture of the country he reviles. The other will do anything -- from joining World Championship Wrestling to co-starring with Jean-Claude Van Damme in the worst action film ever made -- in the name of self-promotion.
“Guess what? I love him,” Rodman reportedly said of Kim Jong Un on his way home. “The guy’s really awesome.” Drawing on his deep knowledge of international affairs, Rodman added that Kim, his father and grandfather have all been “great leaders.” If great leadership can be defined as torturing, executing and starving your citizens, Rodman might be on to something.
So maybe Rodman didn't learn much from his trip to North Korea. Did he do any harm? Not especially. The danger of sitting down with -- let alone professing your love for -- a dictator is that you legitimize him. A visit from Dennis Rodman is not going to legitimize anyone.
In case you’re not a follower, Rodman just tweeted this morning: “Back in the USA today! Mon in NYC I will tell what is true and not true of what you have heard and read."
I, for one, can’t wait.
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)
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