Honorary Stupidity

November 9, 2013

MLK's "Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity saying, November 8, 2013. (http://bitterrealities.wordpress.com )

MLK’s “Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity” saying, November 8, 2013. (http://bitterrealities.wordpress.com ).

There are so many things I could say about Richie Incognito and the vocal group of Miami Dolphins and ex-NFL players who’ve been supporting him versus Jonathan Martin over the past six days. That NFL players are Neanderthals. Or that Black players and ex-players like Cris Carter, Warren Sapp and Ricky Williams need their own education on what is and isn’t racism or harassment. Or that ESPN and the NFL Network have pushed this story without bringing a more critical lens to it.

There are two points that emerged this week, though, that bother me more than anything else. The idea that Incognito is more “Black” than Martin. Because Martin doesn’t sound “Black,” doesn’t act out of willful stupidity like “Black” NFL players, because he’s biracial, because he attended Stanford University, because his parents are Ivy League-educated. Last I checked, on and off the field, Martin’s treated as Black, regardless of his “unique” background. And Incognito’s still a White guy, one that threatened his teammate and his family, calling him the N-word on and off the field. Aside from the fact that the idea of a White guy being an “honorary Black” guy is offensive in general (see Maya Angelou’s idiotic praise of neo-conservative President Bill Clinton as “our first Black President” for Exhibit A) there’s this reality. No matter how “Black” Incognito can allegedly act, it’s an act, one which comes out of his Whiteness, and with it, an ultimate sense of cultural superiority.

Richie Incognito, Miami vs Oakland, Oakland, CA, September 16, 2012. (June Rivera via Flickr.com/Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

Richie Incognito, Miami vs Oakland, Oakland, CA, September 16, 2012. (June Rivera via Flickr.com/Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

The other equally disturbing point is that because the NFL locker room is a unique place of hyper-masculinity, that what goes on there isn’t subject to public scrutiny. If that’s the case, why not go back to the days of alcohol in the locker room, where players could shoot up steroids and amphetamines? Or have strippers and groupies in the locker room as well? The NFL locker room, like other work sites, is not a static place, but an evolving one. If it wasn’t, then seventy to eighty percent of the players in it these days wouldn’t be Black, Latino or Samoan. It’s a stupid argument, one exactly like those made by NYPD and LAPD officers, construction workers and White supremacists.

Luckily, there are players and ex-players like Brandon Marshall and Mark Schlereth whose understanding of and sensitivity toward this issue has been exemplary. They are in the minority among the professional athlete and sports world set so far, unfortunately. Martin’s former teammates have unified in their portrayal of him as a villain and traitor and Incognito as the “real nigga” on the football field and in the locker room.

The reason for this should be obvious, at least for those of us with either uncommon sense or with a social justice core. Humanity apparently has no place in the world of sports, especially in football and even more specifically where Black football players are concerned. For owners, front office managers and fans alike, they are merely commodities. Ones that all often criticized for or envied over their salaries and torn down publicly for their sins and crimes. The players and ex-players see themselves as warriors and gladiators, or, in the case of the media savvy, as cut-throat businessmen. None of this allows for any sympathy or empathy for football players who have been genuinely harassed or abused.

Beef cattle on Eefie Hill. North Atlantic in the background, United Kingdom, August 18, 2005. (John Comloquoy via http://geograph.org.uk). Released to public domain via Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.

Beef cattle on Eefie Hill. North Atlantic in the background, United Kingdom, August 18, 2005. (John Comloquoy via http://geograph.org.uk). Released to public domain via Creative Commons Share-Alike 2.0.

It has meant that players like Incognito — or in previous generations, Michael Westbrook and Bill Romanowski — have fellow players willing to stand up for their criminal behavior, for in fact creating a hostile work environment. Players who suddenly respond like human beings to a dehumanizing workplace have found and do find themselves shunned by the fraternity. And to quit and air out the dirty laundry? It may well be easier to quit La Cosa Nostra and continue to live than it has been for Martin to quit the Miami Dolphins.

I, for one, don’t expect NFL locker rooms to change as a result of the ongoing investigation of Martin’s harassment allegations, no matter how true they may actually be. But I do suspect that even in the Dolphins’ locker room, there are players who haven’t forgotten their humanity, whose understanding of race and masculinity goes beyond a rap video or the N-word. At the very least, there will be much more to come in the form of dirty laundry, and not just from the Dolphins, either.


Virtual Linsanity

February 25, 2012

Jeremy Lin (Knicks) beating Matt Barnes (Lakers) in the paint for a layup, Madison Square Garden, February 10, 2012. (AP).

As a New York Knicks fan since my mother’s third trimester with me (the fall of ’69, the season the Knicks won their first of two NBA titles) here hasn’t been much to be excited about since Patrick Ewing popped his Achilles’ tendon in between Games 2 and 3 of the ’99 Eastern Conference Finals.

Enter Jeremy Lin, the sensation that’s sweeping the NBA Nation. When he scored 28 points in his first game as a starter nearly three weeks ago, my only thoughts were, “Finally, we have a real point guard who can get the ball to Stoudamire and Carmelo.” Beyond that, I thought of one of my high school students from the JSA-Princeton University Summer Program in which I taught in ’09, because they have the same first and last name. My former student, though, is still in college, and not at Harvard, either.

Patrick Ewing raising the roof after a dunk in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, June 5, 1994. (AP).

Leave it to ESPN, the New York media and the motley crew of naysayers, though, to raise Lin to celebrity status faster than the USS Enterprise-D could reach maximum warp. The fact that Lin plays for the Knicks, a franchise in a decade-long search for respectability, and decades-long search for its lost glory, is reason enough for me to see their perspectives on the point guard as more than slightly skewed. I mean, New York’s the reason why sports fan still think the sun shines out of every Yankees’ behind, even Don Mattingly’s.

Not that Lin’s good and often very good play didn’t warrant attention. But if you could dig deeper into all the attention, it was as if the sports and entertainment worlds were shocked — actually shocked — that Lin could start and play with all the precision and poise of an above-average NBA player. What would bring this kind of outpouring of skepticism wrapped in somewhat exaggerated hype? The fact that Lin went to Harvard? The fact that he’s just under six-foot-three? What, pray tell, has been the key to this burst of attention?

Could it be, could it possibly be, about race? Really? After two decades of international competitions between Chinese and American basketball players? Really. By the time some of the shock jocks and uncouth commentators began to spread their versions of Lin-adjectives, Lin-verbs and Lin-phrases, it was obvious that the shock went something like this: “Oh my God! An Asian guy from Harvard can play professional basketball? Bring on the MSG!”

It all crystallized in one stupid, and yes, racist tweet on the part of a “journalist” I used to respect, Jason Whitlock. “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight,” Whitlock tweeted while Lin scored 38 points against the Lakers on February 10. At the very least, this is a sign of some deep-seated insecurity being pushed upon Lin as a proxy for two stereotypes rolled into one. At worst, Whitlock was merely expressing what many White and Black folks feel about some Asian American guy excelling in an allegedly “Black” sport. Either way, it’s almost as disgusting as ESPN’s “Chink In The Armor” headlines from

Jay Kay in Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" (1997) music video screen shot, January 6, 2006. (via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of picture's low resolution and relevance to blog post.

the Knicks’ February 17 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.

I don’t understand the exaggerated hype and the subsequent race-baiting, playa hatin’ comments in mass and social media around Lin since the middle of Black History Month. I played tons of pickup games at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon when I was in graduate school, and a good portion of the folks I played with were Asian or Asian American. Like the Whites, Blacks and Latinos I played with, some of them could really play basketball, and some couldn’t dribble three steps without bouncing the ball off their foot. Some could shoot from seventeen feet blindfolded, and others had the accuracy of a Scud missile.

Lin, as good as he is now, can and should get better. How good is anyone’s guess, but we shouldn’t be comparing him to Steve Nash or Magic Johnson quite yet. Nor should we write him off when he faces a team like the Miami Heat and turns the ball over five times in a three-minute span. We shouldn’t celebrate a media that apparently has bipolar disorder when it comes to anyone whose body of work cuts against stereotypes.

Lin’s success shouldn’t threaten anyone’s Blackness, sense of manhood or intelligence or the world view of American sports journalists. At least no more than my having a PhD or being a writer on race, education reform and diversity should threaten higher education or anyone’s Whiteness. But, then again…


Interceptions Cause Excitement and Emotion

December 28, 2010

Ed Reed of Baltimore Ravens Pick, 2004, December 28, 2010. Source: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/jeffri_chadiha/08/30/chadiha.safeties/index.html; AP Photo. Though this image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because the photo is only being used for informational purposes.

Eli Manning’s masterful four-interception performance against the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday for my New York Giants the day after Christmas (as he was still in the spirit of giving, with his league-high 24 picks so far this season) inspired this latest post of mine. Not to mention ESPN columnist Jemele Hill’s tweeted R&B musical musings about the aerial mistakes of strong armed QBs and the lyrics of Lynn Ahrens and Schoolhouse Rock. I give you my adaptation of “Interjections,” “Interceptions:”

 

With Eli Manning at quarterback, uh-huh-huh,
The defense knew how to at-tack.
They baited the man
With Cov-2 again
While #10 threw some interceptions…

F***! Oh no!
S***! Oh God!
D***! That really, really sucks!

Interceptions (F***!) cause excitement (S***!) and emotion (D***!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

Though Jay Cutler has a strong arm, uh-huh-huh
Jay didn’t know he could do, ha-arm
He was put under pressure
And despite his great treasure
Cutler lofted some interceptions…

What! Who are you throwing at, pal?
Oh my God! You think the ball comes with a radar system!
Hey! You’re kinda dumb, aren’t you?

Interceptions (Well!) cause excitement (OMG!) and emotion (Hey!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

So if you’re happy (Hurray!) or sad (Man!)
Or pissed off (Grrrrr!) or mad (Rats!)
Or excited (Yes!) or glad (Yay!)
An interception makes or breaks a game.

The game was tied at seven all, uh-huh-huh,
When Brett Favre tried to throw the ba-hall
He made a connection
In the other direction,
And the crowd saw a game-ending interception…

Aw! You threw it right to him – again!
Damn! You just lost the game – again!
Yes! Favre, you choked – again!

Interceptions (Aw!) cause excitement (Damn!) and emotion (Yes!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

So if you’re happy (Hurray!) or sad (Man!)
Or pissed off (Grrrrr!) or mad (Rats!)
Or excited (Yes!) or glad (Yay!)
An interception makes or breaks a game.

Interceptions (Hey!) cause excitement (Hey!) and emotion (Hey!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

Interceptions cause excitement and emotion,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah… YEA!

Turn out the lights! The party’s over! (Even if the Giants somehow make the playoffs this year).


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