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Adam Eidinger isn’t a sportsman. His only athletic claim to fame, until recently, was being Curtis Martin’s study partner in an SAT preparatory course when both attended Pittsburgh’s Taylor Allderdice High School.
Martin, the school’s superstar running back, grew up to be a professional football player. Eidinger, student-body president of its class of 1992, grew up to be, well, a professional pain in the ass.
But for all his adolescent bookishness, Eidinger has been all over Sports Illustrated’s pages and ESPN screens lately. He’s the guy who was wrestled away from the podium at Union Station shouting anti-stadium slogans and waving a big sign (“Stop the $614 Million Giveaway!”) during the new baseball team’s naming-announcement press conference a few weeks ago.
He promises he didn’t show up at the event intending to make much of a fuss, let alone grapple with baseball publicist Charlie Brotman, D.C. Councilmember Harold Brazil, and the cops on his way out the door. But then organizers hung a pitch over the middle of the plate, so Eidinger swung for the fences.
“I was just going to bring a sign,” Eidinger says. “But everybody was just standing around, and then I saw the microphone, and nobody was using it. I figured I might as well use it.”
Brotman, as a former publicist for ring giants Sugar Ray Leonard, Don King, and Bob Arum, has seen his share of press conferences turn into melees. But he’d never found himself in the middle of such a scrum before his bout with Eidinger. And though the flack in him appreciates the publicity garnered by the event, Brotman says he’s not going to invite Eidinger to RFK to throw out the first punch when the Washington Nationals’ season commences.
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“I think I got away with a draw, and now I’m retiring,” says Brotman, the septuagenarian who already has a poster of the Union Station brouhaha in his office. “There’s not going to be a rematch.”
Eidinger’s antics made essentially every newspaper and news channel in this country. But he didn’t stick around to enjoy the notoriety that came with so publicly peeing on baseball’s parade. Hours after being interrogated by police and let go—“They have two years to press charges, but there’s been nothing yet,” he says—Eidinger got on a plane with his wife and infant daughter and flew to Paris.
The European trip was a long-planned outing built around his great-uncle’s being honored, along with other U.S. servicemen, by the French government for helping to liberate France from Nazi occupiers during World War II.
But as soon as he returned to our shores a week later, Eidinger learned about the fuss. And loved it.
“Oh my god, the response has been unbelievable,” he says. “I’m hearing from all over the world about this, really. Friends from the West Coast who don’t even care about the East Coast are telling me they saw me on their local news. Some old friends are telling me I looked fat, but everybody loved it.”
Eidinger knows he wouldn’t fare well against, say, his old classmate Martin or any other athlete of that ilk in a physical confrontation. But in today’s America, being a thorn in the establishment’s side, as Eidinger so clearly is, requires as least as much intestinal fortitude as it does to strap on a football helmet for a living. His tirades, showboaty as they are—he’s nicknamed “Red Light Eidinger” by some D.C. journalists for knowing when TV cameras are rolling—allow less courageous folks to stay off the Man’s radar.
An active Green Party promoter and occasional candidate for public office, Eidinger had his home visited by the Metropolitan Police Department while planning protests against the World Trade Organization in the spring of 2000. Yet he still flaunts his role in organizing those demonstrations, as well as the gathering against George W. Bush that made a charade of the Inauguration Day parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in 2001. And he promises to strike an even bigger blow against the empire come Jan. 20, 2005.
“Nobody except the people who were there knew how successful that inauguration protest was until Michael Moore put it in his movie,” says Eidinger, who always makes a point of advocating nonviolence. “And we’re going to turn it into a drag race down Pennsylvania Avenue again next time.”
He’s flown D.C. flags made entirely of hemp to call attention to the District’s lack of statehood. And he was jailed last year for showing up at Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert’s office and refusing to leave, to promote the same issue.
But his turn at bat at Union Station got him more attention than any of his more righteous efforts.
“Of all the events I’ve ever been a part of, no single act has ever gotten this much attention,” he says. “My wife told me it’s the best protest of my life.”
He sees the grandstand he took at Union Station as being very consistent with his previous protests, particularly the anti-WTO efforts.
“I look forward to going to Opening Day at RFK,” he says. “So this isn’t about baseball. It’s all about protesting corporate greed. I really see this fight as an extension of the globalization fight. It’s about private interests abusing the public. This stadium is a corporate subsidy. As a citizen who cares, I don’t want to see this shoved down our throats on the backs of a lame-duck city council. Protest was never supposed to be something sedentary, something that had to be cleared by the government. I’ve learned that one person being disruptive will be more effective than 100,000 people showing up in some orderly sort of march. People need confrontation, they need drama, or the issue will be ignored. I expressed through physical direct action the feelings of millions of Americans: that we’re being railroaded by these sports millionaires.”
Eidinger put together a tape of TV clips of the Union Station throwdown and brought it to Pittsburgh last weekend for a large family gathering celebrating Hanukkah. While wearing his brand-new licensed Nationals baseball cap—complete with “No Taxes for Baseball” Magic-Markered on the brim—he previewed his greatest-hits compilation for his kin.
All his relatives, even the sports nuts and the right-wingers who have long tagged him as the family’s “Commie,” laughed at his antics, and came away fully in support of the efforts to stop the stadium deal.
Better yet, they gave him gifts that could be used in future forays into civil disobedience.
“I got a nice video camera,” he says. “I think my family wants me to use it to film the baby. But it’ll be handy at protests.” —Dave McKenna