The way Americans regard sports heroes versus intellectuals speaks volumes

Photograph: Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Photograph: Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

On 19 April 1980, more than 50,000 Parisians marched through the streets to mourn the loss of one of their own. Was it for a famous pop star, a beloved politician or a nationally treasured athlete? Nope, it was the funeral of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existential philosopher and winner of the Nobel prize in literature (which he refused, along with the $500,000 prize money, out of concern it would compromise his independent thinking). In America, that mass public display of grief and affection is usually reserved for pop culture icons, not unapologetic intellectuals. Maybe it’s time to rethink that priority.

I can’t imagine the death of an American philosopher or literary writer drawing such a large crowd. But we do turn out for our fallen sports heroes: Babe Ruth had 150,000 at his funeral and Muhammad Ali had 100,000. Both well deserved. On the other hand, how many attended the 1996 funeral of equally deserving American poet laureate Joseph Brodsky, an immigrant who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1987? I don’t know the answer because the information isn’t even available. Can most of us even name a single contemporary American philosopher or influential literary author with the ease we can a Kardashian? If the answer is no, our initial reaction should be a slight sense of shame (and maybe a quick Google search), but more likely it would be to scoff and dismiss the question with a smug “Who cares?” But this instant dismissal really reflects a troubling trend of lazy and arrogant anti-intellectualism that has very real and dangerous consequences to American society . . .

For the full story by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar follow the link below to theguardian.com.