Monday, December 15, 2008

The American Sports Media and race. . ..

*** Quote source names removed due to publishing agreements***
Written December 2008

While our memories of Michael Jordan collapsing over gold trophies, or
him silencing a crowd and ruining dreams with final moments of greatness
25 times in his career; or a young, charismatic Tiger Woods strolling
victory laps Sundays at Augusta National or his descend into emotion
crying in his father's arms may stand as great moments in sporting
history; a black glove solute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the
1968 Olympics, a conscious objection by Muhammad Ali in Houston in the
spring of 1967, or Jackie Robinson stepping to home plate in 1947 exist
as critical moments in our lives today.

With the recent election of President-Elect Barack Obama, the United
States stands on the eve of, perhaps, its greatest stride towards ethnic
and racial equality since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, since 1863's
Gettysburg Address. As Americans begin to grasp the possible precedent
Jan. 20 may set, the importance of reflecting on our society's history
of change no longer rests in the shadows, but, rather, is shining in
multiple arenas.

Although the racial atmosphere in sports has changed dramatically in
recent history, today the media stands as the most scrutinized
perpetrator of racial generalizations, stereotypes, and ill-commentary
in the sporting world. In the age of ESPN, ESPN 2,, and the
BlackBerry, sports fans are increasingly able to develop relationships
with their favorite stars and are, unfortunately, subjected to mounting
doses of cattiness and vernacular cruelty from sports writers and

In a recent HBO documentary, "Black List: Volume One," tennis star
Serena Williams alluded to her inappropriate portrayal throughout the
media. "Every article that I do read is like she overpowers her
opponent," Williams stated. "It's a lot more than just hitting the ball
as hard as you can. I never get credit for the mental side."

(-----), the Sports Director at (----)-TV, remarked on the portrayal
of African Americans throughout the sports media and specifically
Williams' comments. "I believe [her] statement to be historically
accurate." (---) used the legacy of the rivalry between Larry Bird and
Earvin "Magic" Johnson to further the argument. "Despite their obvious
similarities, Larry Bird was often described as having a high basketball
IQ who was an overachiever, while Magic was given the label showman and
a naturally gifted athlete."

Although a public backlash arose after radio host Don Imus referred to
the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy headed hos," or
after The Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman said that Tiger Woods'
competitors should "lynch him in a back alley," as well as the
subsequent firing of Golfweek's editor Dave Seanor for putting a noose
on the cover of its magazine, other media outlets have aroused muted
discontent for their portrayal of African American athletes.

The April 2008 Cover of Vogue Magazine featured a stunning portrait of
NBA Superstar LeBron James and fashion model Gisele Bundchen. With only
a simple Google image search of "King Kong" one can see the drastic
similarities between the dramatic depiction of "King" James and the
seemingly weak Gisele Bundchen with the fierceness of King Cong and his
female captive. The cover led ESPN the Magazine reporter Jemele Hill to
comment, "Vogue's quest to highlight the difference between superstar
athletes and supermodels only successfully reinforces the animalistic
stereotypes frequently associated with black athletes."

A 2006 study conducted by Dr. Richard Lapchick, professor at the
University of Central Florida, found that white men and women comprised
88 percent of the total staffs of all Associated Press (AP) member
newspapers, while 94.7 percent of all AP sports editors were white and
89.9 percent of America's sports columnists were white.

Although several leading newspapers feature prominent African American
sports columnists: such as The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon, Los
Angeles Times's J.A. Adande, and The New York Times' William C. Rhoden,
the noticeably small presence of African Americans in the sports media
fraternity has dramatic effects on the quality and fairness of

(-----) also commented on the state of the sports media and its lack of
minority representation. "I believe a lot of the sports commentary of
this nature comes from members of the media seeing the game through a
limited prism," (---) stated. It's "a view based on limited
experiences or limited contact with different cultures or races."

Expert on the cultural analysis of sports and race and University of
(----) Professor (-----) added, "There's a culture of conflict
between sports writers and athletes." "I see a generation of sports
writers who don't know their sports histories. They view black sports
history as Jackie Robinson."

For writers, it often becomes a question of perception and framing. As
experiences shape viewpoint, the common cultural differences between
writers and athletes leads to subjective observations and reporting.
(----) added, "Anytime there is common ground, it promotes affinity and
definitely understanding and empathy." He continued, "When there is no
common ground, a journalist has to work harder to understand the athlete
as a person."

Currently, the strides and acceptance of African American athletes may
be symbolically represented in their achievements throughout corporate
society. Forbes currently reports that four of the top five grossing
athletes in the United States are African American: Tiger Woods, Michael
Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Today's lavish rewards for
popular athletes stems from their degree of marketability and
acceptability by society, and in many instances white culture. As Coca
Cola may have shined a smile on "Mean" Joe Green or as Nike enlightened
the world that "Bo Knows Bo" millions have been influenced through the
advertising of prominent African American athletes.

While Gatorade may have told children everywhere to "Be Like Mike" and
Nike announced to the fans that they too could have Michael Jordan
"Jumpman 23" sneakers for $115, Michael Jordan's contributions to
society are felt elsewhere. The precedent that Jordan may have set when
he transcended his sport and became a global icon has seemingly been
carried on by current golfing superstar Tiger Woods. The immeasurable
successes of these two men has, in some circles, been considered a
catalyst in white America's acceptance of Barack Obama, an interracial
man, as president.

Professor Lapchick commented, "In sports, we've gotten used to cheering
for the athletes who play for our teams. I don't think there's any
question that there are white Americans who cheer [black athletes]
because of sports and have let that transcend and move into other parts
of their lives."

University of (---) Professor and expert on racial and ethnical policy
(----) stated, "Increased exposure to elites, even most
non-political figures affects race attitudes." He commented, "people
form race attitudes on several factors, including from those of a
different race that they're exposed to." He added for some groups this
may be, "Political and social elites, sometimes African American

Although Michael Jordan may have summed up his political and social
intentions when he unequivocally declared "Republicans buy sneakers
too," the immediate effects of African American athletes is felt at
multiple levels. Yet, the time of the African American athlete
championing causes on behalf of their race may have passed.

(----) added, "Unlike the days of Jackie Robinson or Joe Louis,
because of major changes in our society as a whole, the social burden of
the modern African-American athlete should never include lifting up an
entire race."

No comments:

Post a Comment