We live in a strange world. As if things weren’t getting weird enough with the East Coast currently hibernating under winter oblivion and the NSA working on new quantum computer to reinforce their global cyber war, Dennis Rodman decided to take yet another trip to North Korea—his forth in the last year—in order to play basketball and, as it turns out, offend a whole lot of people.
Dennis Rodman’s relationship to the nation’s current despot, Kim Jong Un, has been a strange one since he first visited the country with the Harlem Globe Trotters last February. According to CBS news, during his first visit Rodman proclaimed, before a crowd of thousands in Pyongyang, that he was the leader’s “friend for life.” In many ways, both men’s relationship could be perceived as somewhat endearing. They certainly don’t seem like a likely pair, but in various photos from the first visit Rodman looks to be having a wonderful time with the young dictator. Photos show them both—Rodman in his dark sunglasses and fitted suit, King Jon Un with his weird, slicked back haircut—laughing and guffawing at the basketball game unfolding before them.
Like I said: not a terrible image. There’s nothing like friendship between two unlikely individuals to bring two very different countries together, right? Plus, it’s not like utilizing sports for diplomatic reasons is particularly new. Back in the seventies, a game of table tennis between the United States and the People’s Republic of China ushered in a new era of negotiations between the two world powers.
Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un’s political record, as well as his father’s, is rife with terror and an absolute disregard for human life, and Rodman’s relationship with him in this particular visit could hardly be perceived as beneficial. Moreover, Kim recently had his uncle, who was responsible for Kim’s transition to power after his father’s death, executed.
Last Tuesday, after singing an awkward version of “happy birthday” to Kim, Rodman engaged in what might easily be one of 2014’s most awkward and undignified interviews.
With his fellow basketball players looking stone-faced and uncomfortable behind him, Rodman—in a snazzy stud-shouldered blazer and sunglasses, with a cigar in his hand—spoke to Chris Cuomo of CNN news. During the interview, Rodman rambles for a bit about the Olympics and his apolitical stance in the country, and then goes on to imply that Kenneth Bae, an American who was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp in 2013 on ambiguous charges, was perhaps guilty of his charges.
“Do you understand what he did in this country?” Rodman says during the interview. “No, tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why?”
Unfortunately, Rodman never actually explains why Bae is being held captive, and instead goes on to yell that he doesn’t “give a rat’s ass” about what Cuomo thinks, while Charles Smith—one of Rodman’s fellow basketball plays who went on to express regrets about traveling to the country—attempted to serve as a voice of reason in the discussion.
It’s not clear why Rodman has developed such an intimate friendship with Kim—but considering the latter’s political track record, it’s inexcusable from a moral standpoint for Rodman to so blatantly ignore the dictator’s actions for the sake of what is ostensibly a friendship based on Kim’s lavish treatment of his guest. While Rodman has repeated numerous times since he made his first visit that his intentions aren’t “political,” his groundless and offensive statements about Bae show that his understanding of that term isn’t particularly complex.