Dave Zirin writes critical sports news and was a tireless activist for Kenneth. Here are his reactions followed by a letter from Kenneth about the role of sports in his life:
Edge of Sports Nation – I sit here stunned: a goofy smile on my face, a
tear on my cheek. This must be what victory feels like. Forgive me if I’m
not familiar with its near-narcotic euphoria.
For folks who haven’t heard, Kenneth Foster’s death sentence was struck
down today by Texas Gov. Rick Perry after a 6-1 recommendation by the
appointed Board of Parolees. This is just a tremendous victory for those
us around the world who fought to make sure today wasnt the day Kenneth
was put to death. We must take the time to remember Michael LaHood who
his life 10 years ago at the hands of Mauricio Brown who was driving in
Kenneths car. But we also remember the words of Sean Paul Kelly, Michaels
closest friend who opposed Kenneths execution. Kelly told the press,
..the execution of a young man who didn’t even kill Mike? That’s not
justice. It’s senseless vengeance, a barbarism cloaked in the black robes
When victories like this occur, every link in the chain matters. Without
question, the strongest links in this chain was Kenneth and his family.
Kenneth said from the outset, “It’s my belief that if this does not become
a political issue then I have no chance.”
That was the plan of action laid out for the DRIVE movement on death row,
the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and other organizations that worked
on his case. We made it political, asking the question over and over why
Kenneth should be put to death for driving a car?
It was also the inspiration for a group of athletes and even a couple of
sports writers, to stand together and demand that this man not be put to
death. I want to take a moment and thank Etan Thomas, Dr. John Carlos,
Evans, Toni Smith, Dave Meggyesy, Jeff “Snowman” Monson, Dennis Brutus,
William Gerena–Rochet, Neil DeMause, Doug Harris, Lester Rodney, Rus
Bradburd and the INIMITABLE Scoop Jackson.
Below is a letter I received from Kenneth a couple weeks back with some of
his thoughts on sports and society. I thought when I would eventually
publish it, it would be a kind of eulogy. Instead it is a celebration of
the struggle so desperately needed to see any kind of progress. It’s also
testament to his spirit. So good people, meet Mr. Kenneth Foster.
In struggle and sports,
Let me say that I grew up like most youths playing sports. I started off
playing pee-wee football and went all the way up to high school giving it
years. I went to high school and hung out with guys that are now NFL
football players (Priest Holmes, ND Kalu and have a cousin that was in the
NFL as well- Tony Brackens). I indulged in basketball and track and field
as well. But for me sports never took hold of me the way it did other
youths. I had a pretty active mind, so from year to year I wanted to
something new. My last year in sports was my Freshman year in high school
(around 1992). By then the streets encompassed my mind.
So, coming into prison I entered with a little bit of love for sports.
But, I had a different personal legend to unfold, so I slowly began to
drift from that interest. As I began to become politically and culturally
conscious the more recidivistic aspects of prison began to heavily reflect
off of me. A strong contrast comes to light when a man steps outside of
the prison molds.
Facing an injustice the only thing that I began to get obsessive about was
how to get heard and be free, and as the saying goes- you cant serve 2
gods. Sports, as you know, becomes a way of life. You monitor it, you
almost come to breathe it. Its not just about watching a game, but
knowing the stats, knowing the colleges they came from, knowing their
proneness to injuries, etc.. All of this becomes relevant due to the fact
that 9 times out of 10 theres money on these games. Sports becomes a way
of life in prison, because it becomes a way of survival. For men that
dont have family or friends to help them financially this becomes an
income, and at the same time it becomes a way to occupy your time. Thats
another sad story in itself, but its the root to many mens obsession with
I also began to observe the way sports is used as a crutch for a sense of
pseudo-pride. In prison, due to being stripped of you humanity, man cling
to anything they can to give them a sense of identity. The spectrum
intensely- it could be keeping a pet snake in your cell, it could be
wearing an earring youre not supposed to, keeping your hair trimmed a
certain way when youre not supposed to, and then theres the more intense
levels of rolling with the gangs or becoming interested in religion,
politics, etc.. More times than not sports becomes a crutch.
Seeing this, sports became something that I avoided. It was just another
weapon in the arsenal of ignorance and mental oppression. It was another
part of the term we call- penitentiary poli-tricks. These are tricky
games, rules and concepts whose function only dilute and separate prisoner
power. Therefore, I began a self-induced process to undergo sports
amnesia. I didnt watch it, I didnt even listen to it, I didnt gamble on
it and didnt entertain conversation about it. I even extended that to the
city I was from. Not wanting to be belligerent in conversation if a
asked me where I was from I would tell them. I didnt mind the casual
conversation. But, I made sure to keep the lines drawn. Theres a comfort
zone that rises and while interacting with each other and joking ones,
while playing the dozens on each other, will way things like- Aww, that
fool must be from Dallas talking like that. You know how them fools from
Dallas is, or that sounds like a Knicks fan over there, you know them
dudes is throwed off anyway. The cities and teams become protracting
devices often-times for subliminal feelings and thoughts. This really
becomes so when someone has lost a gambling bet and what often comes out
as- Man, them damn Spurs aint shit. To hell with them Spurs,- usually
translates to Man, fuck you. And this has been the cause of numerous
prison riots across the kountry.
This is why when Im approached with the city pride think I let an
individual know straight from the outset- I dont represent cities, I
represent ideologies. I dont care about any city or State in this
kountry, because the only thing theyve done is railroaded me and aint
none of these teams donating to my Defense Fund, so they dont exist in my
world- Thats a truth that cant be rebuttled. But for many, whom are
hopeless and still lost in their lower-selves, sports is a mighty ruler in
In 2000 Texas death row was moved to a new unit due to a death row prison
escape in 1998. As a result Texas officials stripped us of everything we
had- work program, group rec, arts and crafts and TVs. That has lasted up
until today and those continued conditions was the spark for the creation
of DRIVE (drivemovement.org) which was a protest coalition I helped
But, having no TVs doesnt stop the sports lovers. They go into their
radios and find ways to wire it up and catch TV stations by radio, so the
love of the game continues.
For a prisoner who has become politicalized I have a very hardline
mentality- so things like sports, gambling, drinking, fooling with guards
(in friendly manners) dont exist for me. Because this goes against the
grain of the norm I become a target not only for guards, but for inmates
well. From years of repression and humiliation (just like slavery) there
is an enjoyed monotony.
I wanted to say that my favorite part of the book was the interview with
Mumia. Mumia just has this way of taking the most complex of issues and
making it seem so simple and understandable. I was even drawing my own
parallels throughout your book- for example I saw the censoring of the 2
Live Crew in what David Stern is doing to his NBA Players. And if we
wanted to stretch it, what Stern is doing is on the edges of old
Apartheid/Jim Crow laws where you cant do this, you cant do that, you
cant go here or there. Everyday in this kountry we see things that we
thought was Rights being rolled back. Even my case is an example of where
theyre trying to execute me, because they say I should anticipate
something and now theyve passed laws to make repeate sex offenders
eligible for the death penalty. Pretty soon well be back to the old
Emmitt Till days where you get murdered for looking at the wrong person
And so, all of this ties into a deeper issue. For those of us in these
movements we have strong allies in the athletic field. You did a great
highlighting Roberto Clemente and Etan Thomas. I have even tried to reach
out to Etan. I think for those of us in the movement we have to start
making demands from athletes (and rappers too). Athletes have the money
and platforms. Im sure that many fear going through what Carlos Delgado
went through, but in this day and age stances must be made. Its never
easy to make them, but we, as a people, must stop feeling uncomfortable to
stand on what we know is right. We must not feel uncomfortable to ask for
things back from persons that benefit from us so much. We have to find
more Etans and create coalitions. They must become serious and passionate
like CEDP members. And when one try to silence them, like they did
Delgado, we will let their bias and racist be reflected on their own.
Athletes, Artist and Activist: from solidarity to power is the next book
you should work on. We have to connect the Glovers, Etans, dead prezs and
Fred Hampton Jrs; also the Delgados, Welfare Poets, and other Latin
movements. And then we have to take that internationally building with
ones like Chavez and other countries open for progressive change. We have
to put challenges up like Dennis Brutus did with SANROC.
Speaking of such, though I dont know where it was initiated from, I have a
great feeling that you probably had your hands in it, and that was the
Jocks for Justice petition done on my behalf. That touched me greatly and
whomever is responsible Id like to thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Ive read Dennis Brutus work and I was always enchanted by the photo of
Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Its time to bring this new generation out.
You wield power, because you have vision and like Baldwin said- Where
there is no vision the people perish. I only wanted to share a piece of
my journey with you and want to continue to be a pebble in the pond.
Though I wanted to save your book as a collectors item since you signed it
Im going to try to circulate it around here and see what I can spark in
these dry prairies.
Brother, I wish you much success in all that you do and will pray that
work opens more eyes and empowers even more minds. Its been a great
blessing for me to have met you, even in this limited fashion.
Revolutionary Love to you!
Haramia Ki Nassar
(Kenneth Foster Jr.)