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With Mobilization, Is Putin Heading Toward Brutal Endgame?; Is NFL Racist In Hiring Head Coaches?. Despite Low Unemployment Numbers, Many U.S. Men Out Of Work; World War II Marines' Football "Game Of Life And Death". Aired 9-10a ET
Aired September 24, 2022 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The midterm political football continues to bounce. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
If I had asked you last November, what will be the dominant issue driving midterm voters? You might have said crime. You remember all the images of smash and grabs in Los Angeles and San Francisco and New York City. There was also the related issue of the soft on crime sorrows back district attorneys, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, George Gascon in Los Angeles, San Francisco's Chesa Boudin ended up being recalled in June.
Crime remains a very important issue in the Republican arsenal for a while, I thought it would dominate the cycle. But in January, the football bounced again to baby formula, that month began an ever worsening supply shortage of formula after a recall plant shutdown and supply chain issues. But then in February, Putin surprised the world with the invasion of Ukraine and around the globe ended America many united to help.
So, would that war affect voters in November? Or would it be a domestic cultural war? Because in March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the parental rights and education bill, forbidding instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through the third grade. And when Disney CEO denounced the law, the company became a lightning rod and DeSantis revoked its special tax status. So maybe parental rights would mobilize voters as it had in the 2021 Virginia governor's race.
But then in May another mass shooting this time at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the gun issue suddenly became potent until it faded yet again.
In June came the first primetime January 6 committee hearing which drew nearly 90 million viewers. Would the insurrection be a midterm motivator? But that month also brought a new high in national average gas prices, $5 a gallon, six in California. Surely that was going to shape how people voted. And then inflation hit 9.1 percent in June, a 40-year high. But wait, there was more, on June 24 came the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs and the overturning of Roe versus Wade. It had been anticipated since the Alito draft was leaked, but now we saw it for real. And in its wake, Kansas voters resoundingly decided against removing the right to abortion from the state constitution and a special election in August between two quality candidates. In New York's very purple 19th congressional district was won by the Democrat who made the race about a woman's right to choose.
Democratic pollster, Tom Bonier, wrote that abortion had become the most potent issue he'd seen in his 28 years in the business. Yet in July, President Biden suffered his lowest approval rating ever. So did that mean Democrats were doomed?
In August, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act with climate change and health care provisions, a surprising win. And then he announced his long promised student loan forgiveness which became another hot button issue, that is until September when the border came back to the forefront with the shipping of migrants to sanctuary cities in Martha's Vineyard by governors Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey. Yes, using them as pawns but shining a light on what's happening where 2 million have already been arrested trying to cross the border this year, and who knows how many others got through. But the football is still bouncing.
This week, Russia air Putin's video addressed to the nation calling for a partial mobilization of people with military experience, roughly 300,000 reservists. He accused the U.S. and Europe of using nuclear blackmail and warned, "If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people." He flat out said he's not bluffing.
And of course throughout this entire timeline looms ex-president Donald Trump. He's the focus of the ongoing January 6 hearings, the target of the DOJ raid at Mar-a-Lago, the kingmaker of election denying candidates still making speeches, social media posts, T.V. appearances.
And don't forget the roller coaster stock market which this week plunged to its lowest level since 2020 which impacts retirement plans and the economy generally. We've had so many last minute factors in past elections. Think the 2008 economic crash and Barack Obama, Anthony Weiner's laptop in 2016, Hunter Biden's laptop in the last cycle, or even the timing of the release of the COVID vaccines. We still have no idea what last minute bounce the ball could take in the 45 days between right now and November 8.
So, could the biggest October surprise be the unpredictability of Vladimir Putin's endgame in Ukraine? Presently, the day before Putin's announcement, three time Pulitzer Prize Winner Thomas L. Friedman, wrote of unease in Europe about the Russian leader and listed three paths toward an end game for Putin's war, all of the messy.
"Outcome number one is a total Ukrainian victory, which risks Putin doing something crazy as defeat and humiliation staring him in the face." "Outcome two is a dirty deal with Putin that secures the ceasefire and stops the destruction, but it risks splintering the Western Allies and enraging many Ukrainians." "Outcome three a less dirty deal, we go back to the lines where everyone was before Putin invaded. But would Putin have to be ousted first because he would never abide by the undeniable implication that his war was completely for naught."
Thomas Friedman joins me now. He's "The Times" Foreign Affairs Columnist, as well as the author of seven best-selling books, including "The World is Flat," and most recently, "Thank You for Being Late."
Tom, thanks so much for being here. How do the reports of resistance to this Putin draft influence your scenarios, your possible outcomes?
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you know, the way I look at it, Michael, is that these resistance movements, the report that young men in Russia, now they're fleeing, but some are breaking their own arms are searching how to break their arms to get out of the drought, it tells me two things. The first is just how big the Putin big lie is. Because Putin's big lie is that Ukraine had been taken over by Nazis, the leadership, and that it was serving as a dagger, a NATO dagger aimed at the heart of Russia.
Well, Michael, we know what -- how Russians react when Nazis are on the other side of the border and a dagger is pointed at the heart of the Russian motherland, it was called World War II, it was called Adolf Hitler and 5 million Russians died resisting the Hitler's invasion. In this case, the Russian people are telling Putin, we don't believe a word you're saying. Not only do we not think Nazis are in charge, not only do we not feel a dagger pointed at our heart. I'm looking for the quickest way out of this country. That's one thing it tells me.
The second thing it tells me was something not very complimentary about the Russian people here, I don't mean to generalize, but one has to say that as long as the war wasn't touching them, as long as the rate of Ukraine wasn't touching them, they were fine to sit home and do nothing. But as soon as he called up 300,000 reservists, and it was going to touch their brothers, sisters, fathers, etc., people headed for the exits. And we still haven't seen that full blown resistance movement by Russians showing an ounce of courage against their own terrible leader that Ukrainians have shown to defend their country.
SMERCONISH: To your last point, do you think that's the reason why the reportage suggests that this draft is particularly focused on minority groups and those in rural areas? Is he concerned that if he does it a different way it will foster more unrest in urban portions of Russia?
FRIEDMAN: Exactly. Michael, it's so cynical, it's breathtaking. Basically, you know, he's gone into prisons, Putin, and offered get out of jail free cards for any conflict, no matter what crime, who is ready to go to the front line for six months on, by the way, if you desert there will shoot you. And obviously, he's afraid to mobilize the connected middle classes of St. Petersburg in Moscow. So looking -- and they have since the beginning of the war, to pull in young men, you know, from the -- you know, far reaches of Russia who don't even know where Ukraine is probably half of them in order not to basically provoke the connected middle classes of his urban areas.
SMERCONISH: The Russians have to know this is an admission of failure. There'd be no need for 300,000 reservists to be brought up if things were going well in the fight against Ukraine.
FRIEDMAN: Surely they must know that now, that something has gone off, especially since there have been anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 killed and wounded in the war, a lot of people have gotten the message. But it's a police state. It's a population that's been cowed and it's a population that really had made a devil's bargain with Putin, you let us get economically better off and you can do whatever you want.
SMERCONISH: So, simultaneous with this draft is of course, troops going door to door in the so called referendum. We remember after Crimea, I think the vote was 97 percent approved and probably had a margin of error of 3 percent. Doesn't that set the stage, Tom, for a situation where, OK, now Putin is going to tell us that those eastern most regions, they want to be part of Russia, and therefore, Ukraine is fighting against people whose self-determination they don't respect?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, you know, that Russian referenda reminds me a joke was said about president outside of Syria back in the Middle East, he once won election with 99.8 percent of the vote and his aides came and said, Mr. President, you've won by 99.8 percent of the vote, means only two tenths of the Brazilian people didn't vote for you, what more could you ask for? He said their names. OK.
Having a referendum organized overnight in provinces that have been vastly depopulated, it shows you how absurd it is. But he also is telling you just what you suggested, Michael, I think his game plan is to have these referendums. And next these provinces, and then maybe say they're part of Russia. And -- oh, by the way, many Europeans who acknowledged that are ready to recognize that I will turn the guests on back to, and that's when this is going to get really problematic, because he will basically say to the Russian people, I got you something, I got you two new Russian states as miserable and broken as they might be, and then say to the Europeans, now I'm ready for a ceasefire, watch out for some version of that scenario.
SMERCONISH: Your reporting in "The Times" suggested that the support in Europe among members of the European Union is very broad, but very shallow. Could the same thing be said about the United States Senate here at home, particularly among Republicans?
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. I think that the Republican support, especially MAGA Republicans, you know, a bunch of them voted against the last round of funding for Ukraine.
FRIEDMAN: And as we get into winter energy prices, and food prices continue to rise as a spillover from that war. I think if Republicans take over the House, there's going to be a real problem sustaining this level of financial support.
SMERCONISH: Final question, final minute with Tom Friedman. So put it all together, what therefore should be the posture of the Biden White House relative to Zelenskyy to encourage him to go for it all out victory against Russia? Or is this the opportunity for some type of a negotiated settlement if it's possible?
FRIEDMAN: You know, Mike, I'm very wary about suggesting what it should be, because I think it's a daily fluid situation. I can see at some point, if the pressure rises, and the European Union starts to fracture in support, there's going to have to be a conversation with Zelenskyy.
At the same time, you just have to have such admiration for the Ukrainian people, young willingness and desire to fight for their homeland. And that's what makes it such a delicate situation. And one has to hope that you know, at some point Zelenskyy will take the lay of the land and figure out where is the best place to slice the pie there. But I think we're in the beginning of that conversation.
SMERCONISH: Thomas Friedman, thank you so much. Always appreciate when you're here.
FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Go to my YouTube, Facebook. Hit me up on social media is what I'm trying to say. And I'll share some throughout the course of the program.
What do we have? I seriously don't think he has an end game, meaning Putin doesn't have an end game. Hey, I think that, as I suggested to my question of Tom Friedman, there's no way to read this. There's no amount of misinformation that he can supply to the Russian people that is going to convince them of anything other than it's not going well, and it's failing. Otherwise, why do you need 300,000 more reservists and to saber rattle at the Western world, including the potential use of nukes?
Surely they know. And the resistance is fascinating to watch. And I think that's the reason why and, Tom, who knows far more than I do about the subject, seem to back it up that that's why he's going to minority groups and he's going to rural areas because he worries that if he tries to comprise the 300,000 from urban areas, it could be the political end of Vladimir Putin.
Still to come, despite an historically low unemployment rate, why are so many men not working? And out of 32 head coaches in the NFL, 32, only three are black. Is that due to racism? "The Washington Post" has an in depth investigation and one of the reporters is here, and it inspired this week's poll question @smerconish.com. I framed it this way is racism the reason, only three of 32 NFL coaches are black? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Is the NFL racist when it comes to hiring head coaches? Nearly 60 percent of the NFL players are black. So, why are only three of the 32 head coaching jobs held by black coaches? That's the question examined in a new series launched by "The Washington Post."
Among the findings, although black coaches tend to perform about as well as white coaches, they have had to serve significantly longer as midlevel assistants. They're more likely to be given interim jobs than full time ones. And they're held to a higher standard when it comes to keeping their jobs.
Back in 2003, the NFL under intense pressure introduced the Rooney Rule requiring teams to interview at least one candidate of color for open head coach and front office jobs. It was named for the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney who at that time was chair of the League's Workplace Diversity Committee.
Well, back then, there were only three black head coaches and 19 years later, the tally is still just three. Todd Bowles with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans, Mike Tomlin of those Pittsburgh Steelers.
The issue went public earlier this year when Brian Flores fired by the Miami Dolphins in January filed a lawsuit accusing the league and its teams of racism in their hiring and firing practices, accusing that an interview he did with the New York Giants was a sham. And the position had already been filled by a white coach.
Joining me now, one of the five by lines on "The Washington Post" article, Michael Lee, who is their sports enterprise reporter focusing on gender and diversity issues.
Michael, I would think that these NFL owners would be prepared to hire Satan if they thought the devil was going to win them the Super Bowl and make them money.
MICHAEL LEE, SPORTS ENTERPRISE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think that the one issue that we've discovered, at least in the NFL, probably every walk of life, is that when it comes to black coaches and the opportunities that they haven't been given an NFL, it really comes down to what your vision of what a leader is, and what you imagine, you know, a man who can step on the field and takes 53 men out there to win games. And for a lot of these owners, many of whom have been inherited teams, when they think about a leader, a black man doesn't feel that equation in their mind of what they see and what they what they expect to see. And so I think that's one of the things that has to be changed is the hearts and minds of the people who make these decisions. Because right now, when it comes to selecting black coaches to lead their franchises, they just can't get past the hump mentally. SMERCONISH: I read some interesting comments appended to your work and that of your colleagues in "The Washington Post," one exchange caught my eye. I'm going to put it on the screen and I'll read it aloud to you because I don't know if you have the benefit of seeing it.
So, one of your readers say, "The NFL has done a terrible job of inclusion at the highest levels, which is disgusting, considering the number of incredibly capable people available for promotion." And that draws a response from another reader who says, "Uh, you're saying the NFL would rather hold capable people back than profit from capable people? Really?" What do you think about that exchange?
LEE: I think that for a long time, we looked at the game and thought that everything was fine you, especially when look at the quarterback position. You thought that the guy could just sit back in the pocket for a long time and just, you know, pick his spots and lead the team to win. But then all of a sudden, you see guys like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson stepped onto the stage, and all of a sudden your whole vision of how quarterback can play and succeed has changed because you decided to switch up and try something different. And you see something new, and now the game is more exciting and you see this sort of kind of free flowing, schoolyard game, that really, you know, collects a lot of points. And now your mindset changes, because you think everything was fine, you thought everything was fine, but then you realize, if you try something different, it could be even better.
And so I think that's one of the things that a lot of black coaches are asking owners to say is that, yes, the game is fine. You can win games without hiring us. But maybe the game can change for the better if you try something different and diversify your options, and give Black coaches an opportunity to perhaps change the game for the better.
SMERCONISH: Your reporting, and by the way, people should actually log on and look at it because it's very visual, there's a lot of data, and there's a lot of anecdotal information, you interview a number of coaches who say, I've been subjected to a sham interview, I showed up for an interview, and I know they already had somebody else in mind and they were just complying with the Rooney Rule. But there's also data, can we put up on the screen the winning isn't everything slide? I want you to explain what I'm showing to the audience. To my way of thinking what you're documenting is that a white coach and a black coach with the same record, the black coach has a greater likelihood of being fired? Explain what I'm showing to the audience?
LEE: Well, I think if you just go back just this past year, Brian Flores just completed back to back winning seasons with the Miami Dolphins, the first coach in nearly 20 years to do that for that franchise and he was fired. And so you have to ask yourself, what's the standard and what are you seeking to achieve? If winning isn't the goal, then why would you dismiss a man who's had success?
And I think it's happened over multiple times throughout the course of the NFL where coaches have been fired after say, 10 win seasons. You look at Jim Caldwell in Detroit, they haven't had a winning season since he left. And so, you just got to ask yourself, what standard are black coaches being held to? And if it's that much higher, then you have to ask about the fairness of that.
And so, I just think that if you just look what's happened in the last five years since 2017 have been five black coaches hired or there were five coaches hired over the next 45 years, all of them are gone now. None of them were able to make it through five years. And most of them were gone after fewer than two years. So, how much how of a leash do you have to even succeed if you are hired and given an opportunity?
And I think that's one of the frustration levels for black coaches is that the standards keep moving, the criteria keeps moving and shifting and it's really creating a situation where you have to ask yourself, what more do I need to do with winning isn't enough? If, you know, just get this opportunity to, you know, and only get one or two years, how is that fair?
SMERCONISH: Michael, quick, final question, and it's complicated. What's the fix if there is one?
LEE: Well, I think that the NFL is trying to do its best to try to, you know, put coaches in a room, create a feeder system so that they can actually see black coaches in positions of leadership. But I think that the only thing that's going to happen is for these owners to sort of look inward and for that to be public pressure to sort of demand that they try something different, and try to give opportunities. When you have a league of 60 percent black, it should be representative, not just on the field, but also in the front office and on the sidelines. And I think that's going to require just more from ownership to try to take that leap and try to, you know, get provide more opportunities, because if they don't, we just constantly come around every hiring cycle with frustration and anger.
SMERCONISH: Michael Lee, it's a series, so there's more to come. I'm going to keep reading and encourage others to do likewise. Thank you for being here.
LEE: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
SMERCONISH: Social media, what do we have, Catherine (ph) from the world of Twitter, I believe. No. What percentage of -- no is the answer the question -- what percentage of football players are black? Is that racism? Also no.
Rob, 60 percent of the players, 60 percent of the players, 9 percent of the coaches. What explains it? And by the way, some have said well, why aren't you similarly asking about Asians, why aren't you similarly to asking about Hispanics or even women, how come there aren't more of those represented in coaching? Well, it's because this disparity of a league that has a majority of black players and yet so few in the coaching ranks.
How you fix it? I wonder if the players are going to take a more of a stand in all of this if they are dissatisfied or is the sort of work span of those players so short that they're just concerned with keeping their own job.
I want to remind you, this is the poll question @smerconish.com. I have no way of knowing how this one's going to turn out. Is racism the reason only three of 32 NFL coaches are black? Go to smerconish.com, vote on that, register for the Daily Newsletter. I'm giving you the results at the end of the hour.
Up ahead, you can't just measure American workforce by the low unemployment rate. There is also a nilf factor, N-I-F, and I shall explain.
SMERCONISH: Does America have a NILF problem? That's N-I-L-F. What did you think I said? Not in labor force is what it stands for.
Well, my next guest thinks so. Economist Nicholas Eberstadt says that despite historically low unemployment numbers and 11 million jobs that still need filling the U.S. actually has a huge labor force problem on par with the Great Depression. In a recent "Washington Post" piece titled "What's behind the flight from work in a post-pandemic America" Eberstadt writes that although the formal unemployment rate for prime- age men in August was a mere three percent. There's another 11 percent who are NILFs, dropouts who are neither working nor looking for work. Add those two together and the real out of work number is 14 percent, up where it was in 1940, at the end of the depression and before America entered World War II.
So why did this happen? Nicholas Eberstadt joins me now. He's the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute and he just published this update to his landmark book "Men Without Work: Post-Pandemic Edition." So they're not working why are they not in the unemployment numbers?
NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: This is a system that was devised for unemployment numbers in the Great Depression. It never occurred to our statisticians that there would be men who would be neither working nor looking for work. Today, however, for every guy as you just mentioned in this prime-age group who is unemployed, jobless and looking for work, there are almost four who are out of the labor force. So we're missing a huge portion of the problem.
SMERCONISH: So, I take it, if they're not included in the numbers, they're not collecting unemployment, how are they staying afloat?
EBERSTADT: Very important question. My study shows that at least before the pandemic, the majority of these not in labor force prime- age men were collecting some form of disability payments. There are a lot of different programs that don't talk to each other. It's not a princely lifestyle, it's a kind of a miserable lifestyle, but it's an alternative to work.
SMERCONISH: What are they doing during the day? EBERSTADT: It's a terribly dispiriting picture that they themselves paint through self-reported time use data. Basically, they say that they don't do civil society. That they don't do worship much or volunteering or charity. Even though they've got a lot of time on their hands, they don't do an awful lot of help around the house or with members of the home.
They report that they watch screens. About 2,000 hours a year, almost as if it were a full-time job. And they also report, almost half of these men report, that they're taking pain medication every day.
SMERCONISH: Who are they? I mean, what are the demographics of the 11 million that you're talking about?
EBERSTADT: Well, I mean, there are more than 7 million labor force dropout guys in this prime-age group, Michael.
So 7 million, you've got some of everybody. But they --
EBERSTADT: -- they skew strongly towards less educated. However, about 40 percent have at least some college. They tend to be -- they're much more likely to be never married, much more likely not to have kids at home, much more likely to be native-born rather than foreign-born. With respect to ethnicity, it skews more towards -- African Americans are overrepresented but Latinos and Asian Americans are underrepresented.
SMERCONISH: I mean, on one hand, I read the book as you know, and I'm listening to your presentation and I'm saying this is a situation out of control and, by the way, why does no one talk about it? On the other hand, I'm saying if this is uniquely American, maybe good for us, that we take care of our disabled where others don't. Your thought?
EBERSTADT: It is proved that no other modern affluent country has done such a remarkable job of this race to the bottom for labor force participation for guys. If we thought that these men out of the labor force were volunteering and helping in their community or uplifting themselves, it might be one thing. But this is the seed bed for depths of despair in modern America.
SMERCONISH: Why are we putting it in the context only of men? Is it a uniquely male phenomenon? What about women?
EBERSTADT: It started much earlier for men, Michael. It started in the mid 1960s. It's been almost a straight line upwards in this flight from work for guys. Since about the year 2000 we're starting to see some worries and trends for younger women as well. I wouldn't say it's a red flashing light yet but at least a yellow warning light. Especially for women who are labor force dropouts, without kids at home and not currently married. SMERCONISH: And, finally, Dr. Eberstadt, if you're right about all this, why isn't it discussed more often? Why aren't public officials, members of Congress taking this issue on and trying to help these individuals?
EBERSTADT: I've wondered about that myself and I only have some guesses. One is that our social welfare construct doesn't look at these prime-age men as a protected group so we don't tend to think of them as a vulnerable group. They also are not out in the streets setting cars on fire and being a menace to society. They're much more likely to be at home living desperate and sometimes miserable lives. And it's easy to overlook that, I'm afraid.
SMERCONISH: Well, it's a sad portrait. And the ripple effects to families and extended ones and communities is another important part of your book that I've really not addressed but people need to know that. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.
EBERSTADT: Thanks so much.
SMERCONISH: More social media reaction now. What do we have?
Introspect and you shall find. Falling education and self accountability, confidence and increasing dependence on parents are the roots.
It's a complicated picture. I had no idea that there was such a large segment of our society of men who are -- I was about to say able- bodied but I can't say that, who are prime-age, that's more accurate, who are not reflected in those unemployment numbers. And that when you factor them in, we are at a 1940 level of men not engaged in work. Problematic for them, problematic for their families. I'm sure that many truly are disabled and can't work and can't function. And probably many of them can.
I want to remind you, answer this week's poll question at Smerconish.com. I cannot wait to see the out of this. Is racism the reason only three of 32 NFL coaches are Black?
Still to come, wait until you hear this amazing long lost story about a pair of World War II Marine regiments seeking to prove which had the best college football players among them. They built a homemade field and fought it out just before heading out into one of the war's most deadly battles. Pulitzer Prize winning writer Buzz Bissinger is here to tell the story of the Mosquito Bowl.
SMERCONISH: It's one of the greatest stories you've never heard until now. Two Marine regiments on Guadalcanal Island in the middle of World War II stocked with amazing college football players including several All-Americans, after a lot of trash talking about who was better, they decided to prove it on a playing field. And so they built one out of dirt pebbles and shards of coral. And on Christmas Eve 1944 with more than 1,000 Marines in attendance, they faced off in a game known as the Mosquito Bowl.
Not long after, many of them would fight in one of the most war's biggest battles in Okinawa and several would be among the huge casualties there. This long forgotten story remarkably excavated and told in a brand new book called "The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II" by Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter whose previous books include "Friday Night Lights," which of course became a movie and T.V. series. Buzz joins me now.
Hey, Buzz, thank you for being here. Yes, you're famous for "Friday Night Lights," a book seemingly about high school football but really about so much more. And in the same way Mosquito Bowl is pegged to a football game but it's about a lot more than just a football game. Explain.
BUZZ BISSINGER, AUTHOR, "THE MOSQUITO BOWL: A GAME OF LIFE AND DEATH IN WORLD WAR II": Well, that's right. I mean, what do you look for when you're trying to write a book? You want narrative. You want drama. You want great characters. And, yes, like "Friday Night Lights" -- "Friday Night Lights" was not about football, it's about sports and football as a sociological phenomenon.
I tried to do the same here. These guys were great football players but this is really a book about war. It's a book about taking these men from their early days in the 1920s as children, high school, college, into the Marines and then ultimately into the horror of Okinawa, a battle that I think is forgotten.
I think the readers will connect with these guys. I hope they love these guys. And then the narrative pull is who makes it and who doesn't because of the 65 who played in this game, 65 great young men, really kids, 15 were later killed several months later at Okinawa.
And when I read about that, I said, "That's a story. If I can get to it, that's a great story." And I love what you say, the best story you've never read.
SMERCONISH: Sixty-five who played in that game, 15 didn't make it. Of the 65, three All-American, seven captains, 18 who would-be drafted. What accounts for that concentration of football talent in those two regiments?
BISSINGER: Well, I think it has to do with, you know, football players and the way they think of themselves. They're tough, they're macho, and they wanted the Marines. They wanted the Marines. They wanted combat.
I mean, one of the players I write about, David Schreiner, two-time All-American -- Michael, the All-American. He could have gotten out. I mean, he was told, look, you don't have to go overseas. We'll give you a phys-ed job. You could be a phys-ed instructor. He said, no, I'm an American. I'm a patriot. I want to fight for my country.
And all these guys, you know, were the same way. They knew what they were getting into. So they went to the officer training programs where they could still play football in college campuses and then into the Marine Corps.
SMERCONISH: Despite the bloodbath that was Okinawa there's an uplifting side of this book which is the lack of a red state/blue state divide in that era.
BISSINGER: Well, that's one of the things that has gotten to me. I have thought about this a lot. As horrible as World War II was, as awful as it was, there is an underlying message in this book of what we as a country can do and did do during the war. When we showed how powerful, how beautiful we can be when we are in unison, when we are all in the name of defeating a common foe.
SMERCONISH: Buzz there was a 19-year-old who was at Okinawa and he shares your name. And when you began this project, correct me if I'm wrong, you had no idea.
BISSINGER: I had no idea. I knew my father was a Marine at Okinawa. I didn't know what he did. I knew nothing about him because he never talked about it.
That was his private zone. I didn't want to go there. But in doing research for the book in the beginning I said, I might as well -- got some of his records. I'm looking at the records of so many others. And, Michael, it was -- it was eerie. I mean, it was eerie.
I got his muster rolls. They're easy to get. And it took like 10 seconds. His name is my name, Harry G. Bissinger. And there he is.
He was on the line. He was a rifle man at Okinawa. And what was so freaky is he is one of the regiments -- he was in the 4th regiment, which is one of the regiments that I'm writing about. And that put me over the top. That was a book that I had to do. And I must tell you and I get choked up.
My dad passed 20 years ago. And in doing this book, I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of him. And how I just -- I just want to hug him. I just want to thank him. And maybe this book is kind of a way of doing it.
SMERCONISH: You'd have no way of knowing for sure, but presumably, he was in attendance at the Mosquito Bowl.
BISSINGER: Well, knowing my father -- my father loved sports. He loved football. He liked beer. And all the Marines, 1,500 of them watching the game were pretty tooted up on beer. And he liked to gamble because a lot of them were gambling on who would win, the 4th or the 29th.
So all the stars aligned. I think he probably was there. I have no doubt that he knew of some of the guys that I wrote about because he was in, you know, the same regiment. And I keep thinking about that.
I mean, that's kind of amazing. That's amazing. And so, I like to think he was there, and sort of I'm speaking almost, writing through his eyes. SMERCONISH: And finally, sadly, no footage, no video, no audio remains of the Mosquito Bowl.
BISSINGER: No, and, you know, people -- people -- I will say people have adored the book. It hit the "New York Times" best-seller list right out of the box. It hit at number eight which is -- you know, which is wonderful. But they say, well, there's not much about the game, which is true. First of all, the game was not that exciting but nothing exists. Look, if there was footage, if there was anything, I would have gotten to it but I could not.
But, you know, the Mosquito Bowl, the game itself that's the glue that keeps the book together.
SMERCONISH: I go back to where I began. It's about a game but it's really not about a game. It's about so much more. Congratulations. Another best-seller for Buzz Bissinger. I appreciate you being here.
BISSINGER: Thank you, Michael. Thank you so much.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and YouTube and social media comments, and the result of the survey question from Smerconish.com. You can still go vote at Smerconish.com. Is racism the reason only three of 32 NFL head coaches are Black?
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you voted at the poll question for Smerconish.com. Is racism the reason only three of 32 NFL coaches are Black?
Hit me with it. Two-thirds -- two-thirds say, yes, and not too shabby. More than 18,000 who voted. I mean, if not that, what explains it? What could be the explanation?
Here is some of the social media reaction that has come in during the course of the hour. Why is everything about race? Unbelievable, says Michael.
Well, Michael, how do you not comment on that when you have 32 different teams? By the way, 13 of the NFL franchises have never had a Black head coach. At what point do we have the conversation if not now?
More social media reaction. This too came in.
What about a woman NFL coach? Why is that not discrimination?
Well, RI, I think the answer is -- and the reason that I'm not talking -- it's not me. The reason "The Washington Post" is not talking about women, Asians, Hispanics, et cetera, et cetera, is because you don't have 60 percent of the players comprised of any of those demographics. Sixty percent of the NFL, the players, are Black. Nine percent and change of the coaches are Black. Therein lies the disparity.
Thanks so much for watching. I will see you next week.