Dennis Rodman reportedly is the first American that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ever met, and I’m trying to decide which is worse here:
A prominent United States athlete heaping praise on one of the world’s most despicable leaders and regimes … or that same universally condemned despot now being under the impression, perhaps, that Rodman in any way represents Americans.
I cannot get out of my head that saying about how you only get one chance to make a first impression, and so would advise North Korea’s authoritarian dictator to not draw too many conclusions about the United States from meeting Rodman. Please?
Not all Americans, for instance, have a pierced nose and lip to augment their loop earrings, green hair (or whatever the current color is) and skin-canvass of tattoos.
Not all Americans have appeared on celebrity rehab, been ordered to pay more than $500,00 in back child support, dreamed about playing basketball naked, been a professional wrestler or served as commissioner of the Lingerie Football League.
Also, not all Americans — very few, in fact — are such egotistical clowns or so desperate for publicity that they would allow themselves to be used as an international pawn by one of the most admonished regimes on earth.
Call it Lunatic Diplomacy.
So there was Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters in Pyongyang yukking it up with Kim last week. It was a match made in hell. Rodman was filming an upcoming HBO special, his controversial visit sure to be the sad selling point. And Kim had his self-serving propaganda: Seen as the basketball-loving regular guy so maligned and misunderstood by the rest of the world.
The visit, and Rodman’s praise, was a disservice to American diplomacy. Make no mistake: He enjoyed the freedom to make that visit and say what he wished — opposite the freedoms denied North Koreans —– but I will enjoy my own freedom to be offended by the stunningly naïve message Rodman traded for publicity.
The fool in a 51-year-old body praised Kim as well as his father from whom he inherited power in 2011.
“Awesome guy!” Rodman called him.
Sure. Awesome. Although other adjectives might come to mind for a leader reportedly developing nuclear weapons despite condemnation by the U.N. Security Council and warnings from the U.S. government. And for a dictatorship of whom White House spokesman Patrick Ventrell, in response to Rodman’s visit, said:
“The North Korea regime has a horrific human rights record, quite possibly the worst human rights situation in the world.”
Rodman — able in three days to evidently plumb the depth of Kim’s true soul and see what the rest of the civilized world does not — called Kim “a good guy to me” and told him, “You have a friend for life.”
To underline his feelings, Rodman told reporters: “Guess what, I love him.”
Any of this seem familiar at all?
It was just less than one year ago when then-Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen expressed similar admiration for Cuba’s iconic dictator, Fidel Castro.
(What is it about those Chicago guys cozying up to dictators?)
Angry protests bloomed outside the brand-new Marlins Park as Little Havana shook its fist at the outspoken manager and his ballclub. Attempts at damage control were instant. Guillen was suspended for five games and issued a teary public apology, but the damage was done.
Guillen was held accountable for expressed sentiments that so many Cuban-Americans found unforgivable. He was fired after the season ostensibly for the lousy won-loss record, but who doubts his Castro comments weighed in the dismissal?
So where is that same outrage against Rodman right now?
His praise of Kim might almost be seen as a traitor-opposite of U.S. interests.
Where are the protests and demands for his apology?
Perhaps there would be if living among us were thousands of Korean exiles who could speak emotionally from experience about generations of human rights violations under the auspices of Kim, his father and grandfather.
Or, maybe it’s just that if you have your face pierced and orange hair and once appeared in a wedding dress to promote an autobiography you have turned yourself into such a clown that nobody takes anything you do or say seriously.
By now I’m not at all sure if Rodman — rebel without a clue — has any capacity whatsoever for embarrassment or shame.
If he did, this might be a time to feel both.