Thursday, February 9, 2012

Race and Athletes

Forbes just came out with their newest list of the ten most dislikes athletes, and once again what is most glaring to me is the issue of race (although gender could certainly come in as well). Here is the list:

1. Michael Vick, 60% dislike
2. Tiger Woods, 60% dislike
3. Plaxico Burress, 56% dislike
4. Ndamukong Suh, 51% dislike
5. Kris Humphries, 50% dislike
6. LeBron James, 48% dislike
7. Kobe Bryant, 45% dislike
8. Terrell Owens, 45% dislike
9. Alex Rodriguez, 44% dislike
10. Kurt Busch, 42% dislike

Of the ten, only two are white, and Kris Humphries is of mixed ancestry (aren't we all), as his father is half African-American, half white, which by laws still on the books in many states would make him African-American. So it might be argued that only Kurt Busch is white. Of the others all are African-American except for Alex Rodriguez.

I have written about this in the past, but why is Michael Vick at the top? I know what he did was despicable and cannot be defended, but Ben Roethlisberger has twice been accused of rape (never been indited or gone to trial). Is cruelty to animals worse than violence against women? My guess is that one of the reasons that Kobe Bryant is on this list is because of his own rape charge, so, again, why is Kobe tarnished but Ben is not?

Lots of people dislike LeBron James for the way he left Cleveland and the way he handled it, but was it any worse than Bret Favre's behavior with his own free agency? Why isn't Brett on this list?

I can't help but also think that Tiger is on this list because people expected him to be "more," whatever that means, and were disappointed, but more importantly because he was an African-American male who was married to a white woman and who was committing adultery with other white women. This is still a major taboo in our culture, we only need to look back to a Senate race a few years ago to see that this still carries significant weight.

While African-Americans do dominate in some sports, they clearly do not make up 80% of professional athletes, especially when golf, Nascar and the NHL are added in, and yet they consistently dominate the list of most dislike athletes. I suspect that old racial stereotypes all come into play and they get wrapped up in our feelings about these men, and they are all men which also says something. They are seen as getting too "uppity" or, even worse, trying to explore their own power and privilege, something that was always trouble in the past.

While many would have us believe that we live in a post-racial America, these polls, along with other incidents continue to show us that we are not. Just a few days ago at a high school basketball game, it is reported that fans of one school, predominantly white, yelled racial slurs and danced around in banana costumes to taunt the players of another school, predominantly African-American.

As a white, and for all whites, we have a position of privilege and advantage that minorities simply do not have. Many will overlook what Favre and Roethlisberger do because we see them as individuals behaving badly, whereas Vick and Woods and others are categorized by their race and then judged accordingly.

As whites we don't assume that color is an issue because for us it is not. Our society has a preference for whiteness (and maleness), but race definitely plays a role for others. I can't help but believe that for most of these athletes, had they been white their issues would have been overlooked or forgiven a long time ago.

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