Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are solely those of Ned Bitters and do not necessarily reflect the views of HoboTrashcan.
This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … white America’s racial tolerance.
With Barack Obama on the verge of winning the Democratic nomination for president, every pundit and his mother are writing articles and giving interviews describing Obama’s impending win as a sign of how far white America has come in terms of conquering our racist views. This is true, but only to a point.
Should Obama win the nomination, that’s not going to mean that we’ve finally shucked our centuries-old racist mindset. While any sane American can point out scores of ways in which many whites still see blacks as inferior, nowhere is this latent racism more discernible than in the world of sports.
No, I’m not talking about the actual world of the athletes. (Although Gary Sheffield can, and quite bluntly. And intelligently.) If you are a black man and you can hit monster home runs, defend Kobe with some well-placed elbows or knock the shit out of Tom Brady on a blitz, you will be paid as well as or better than your slower, gawkier, less muscularly-defined white teammates. If you can manage not to hang with Pacman Jones or Chris Henry, you’ll get your big fat endorsement deals. Hell, even the very black Ray Lewis, despite alleged ties to a murder, gets paid to sell Under Armor. So we have come a long way from the days of black baseball superstuds Willie Mays and Hank Aaron having to shut up and just play ball so that white America, already reeling from the tumult of the civil rights movement, would keep coming through the baseball turnstiles during the turbulent 60s.
Of course, the coaching ranks of the major sports are still disproportionately white. It’s still news when a black man is hired to coach a team in one of the Big Three pro sports. (Should a black man ever get hired to coach an NHL team, well, they can play his first game anywhere on earth, because hell will have officially frozen over.) But that’s not where I’m going.
I’m talking about fans, the white fans who make up the bulk of the sports watching public. We like to think we’re pretty evolved on the racial front when we watch our teams and feel love and loyalty toward the blackest of our black stars. But we’re full of shit it we think we don’t see color and don’t let our entrenched racism, however mild, affect how we view certain sports issues.
Let’s start with drugs. When an athlete gets busted for using any kind of drug, the public reaction differs depending on the race of the athlete. Take Ricky Williams. He’s been nailed countless times for having weed in his system, and many white people express nothing but contempt for the man. You hear phrases such as “let down his teammates,” “wasting his talent” and “blowing a golden opportunity.” But let a white athlete get caught with some herb floating through his blood, and the apologists come out of the woodwork to defend him. Bill Lee, an iconoclastic free-thinking pitcher in the 70s, flaunted his marijuana use in interview after interview, and he was seen as just a lovable scamp who thumbed his nose at the old school sports power structure. On a lark, his highness threw a terribly ill-advised blooper pitch in the 1975 World Series, which Tony Perez promptly dispatched over Fenway’s Green Monster, and this unforgivable gaffe is viewed as no more than a heartwarming part of baseball lore. That’s because he’s white. If Lee were black, he’d still be vilified as the dopehead who screwed around in the biggest game of his life.
It’s the same way with alcoholics. Met party boys Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had well-publicized problems with alcohol and drugs. Despite their on-the-field brilliance and epic World Series win, they are still seen as undisciplined dolts. Some people can barely contain their glee when talking about how far Doc and Darryl fell. But admitted alcoholic Dennis Eckersley is seen as Mr. Inspirational for the way he overcame the bottle to become one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time … save for one hanging slider that a gimpy Kirk Gibson sent deep into the Los Angeles night. Good thing The Eck was white. If Doc Gooden had given up that dinger, it would be a different story, something involving the phrase “dumbass recovering alcoholic.”
When pro players become pro playboys, partying long into the night and finding their way into the tabloids on an almost weekly basis, our reaction differs depending on the race of the good-time Charlie. Mickey Mantle might have broken every home run record in the books if he didn’t show up for so many day games reeking of alcohol and bar smoke (and probably pussy … but you can’t blame a guy for that). White folks love the stories about Babe Ruth spending his nights whoring and binging on shitty foods. Joe Namath never won another Super Bowl, maybe because he spent more time studying under the covers (and under the surgeon’s knife) than he did studying the Cover Two. Jeremy Shockey is the hero of every lunkhead crewcutted white boy at every bar on an NFL Sunday afternoon, and all he’s done is hamper what could have been a Hall of Fame career with his late night shenanigans. Because they’re white, their self-destructive antics are looked at with a knowing smile and a bit of wistful admiration. But let a black athlete get a reputation for partying, and he’s just another out-of-control animal who can’t control himself. (Ain’t that right, L.T.?)
The same double standard holds true for weight issues. Cecil Fielder disgusted people when he let himself turn into the black version of John Goodman. He could barely run or swing a bat, and his girth led to an early retirement. No one showed big fat Cecil any white love once he stopped hitting those mammoth dingers. But fat fuck John Daly is beloved by almost all of white America despite his unquenchable thirst for gambling, McDonald’s, Budweiser and unfulfilled potential. He recently slept in and missed a tee time. (Oh, the venom he’d have gotten for that one if he were black!) Yet he’s the lovable galoot with the big belly and the big drive whom we just can’t help pull for. Some might cite the roly-poly Tony Gwynn as an exception to this, but Gwynn sounded white when he talked, which gave him a pass. Cellulitic nightmare – and whiter than white – John Kruk has parlayed being a fat bastard into an ESPN career and a Nutrisystem endorsement deal.
Announcers are not exempt from applying a double standard based on race. Blacks are often referred to as gifted, natural athletes. This implies that the black athlete has reached the top of his sport due mainly to lucky genetics. However, white guys are often described as hardworking, hardnosed, gritty and grinding, which implies that the white guys work harder, practice harder and have more internal drive. As a devoted fan of the hapless, mostly white Pittsburgh Pirates, I can assure you that this is not the case.
Announcers also imply that black athletes play dirtier than whites. The black guy who wipes out the diminutive white second baseman with a hard slide is maybe playing a bit dirty, but the piece of shit southern redneck (excuse the redundancy) who goes into second base with his spikes aimed at the shortstop’s knee? He’s just a hardnosed player who will do whatever it takes to win.
Announcers also like to laud black players as “good family men,” but you never hear a white athlete described this way. The implication is that most blacks are indiscriminate fuck machines, so the supposed compliment is really a slur. How many white athletes have you heard described as “a good family man”? They must all be, if it doesn’t get pointed out.
I could go on and on. (Yeah, I know, I already have. Eat me.) Brett Favre goes to rehab for pain pills, and he’s just a game guy, a real tough nut who had the balls to admit his problem and seek help. Let a black athlete try that, and the whispers will start. “Hell, that’s just a coverup for something worse. Probably crack.” Roger Clemens has congressmen writing support letters for him after his pathetic congressional hearing, but had Barry Bonds been the one stammering through his testimony, not even J.C. Watts would have come to his defense.
I’m sure that white people can come up with exceptions to every point I make. For example, fat bastard Jerome Bettis was involved in a seedy parking lot blowjob controversy, yet he continued to get affectionately fingerfucked by the NFL and white America for years. But we still are more racist than we’d like to think.
Me, I think I’ve evolved to the point where I’m past all that backward-assed thinking. So let me end this column and go browse YouTube. I feel like watching some great hockey fights. Maybe I’ll catch that classic between Georges Laraque and Mike Grier. Man, those black hockey players can really bring it in a fight.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.