LeBron James had to dispute reports that he and Cleveland Cavalier point guard Kyrie Irving got into an argument after a recent loss, as if them yelling at each other it meant something sinister. This is significant because when Tom Brady yells at a New England Patriot lineman or receiver, it’s lauded as being the act of a “true leader and competitor.”
Why the different depictions?
In a word, race.
James is Black. Brady is white.
And therein lies the issue. The white media considers Black athletes’ movements or actions as aggressive or over the top, but white athletes acting in a similar fashion are almost always classified as “fiery” or “wanting to win.”
Newspapers and television booths have hardly been racially integrated, so we continually hear these racially imbalanced comments that speak to cultural biases.
Dez Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys’ sensational receiver, challenges his teammates on the sidelines, and it’s called a “tirade” and he’s labeled as “out of control” by white analysts. Why can’t he be “fiery” and “a leader?”
Bryant wants to win just as much as Brady or Peyton Manning or any white player who gets in a teammate’s face during the emotion of a game or to vehemently express a point. But his passion is perceived as “selfish” and “wild” or any other connotation that does not represent something positive.
When Tiger Woods (yeah, he’s Black) slams his golf club or curses in frustration at his play, he’s called “unsportsmanlike.” Name a white golfer who does the same thing—and there are many—and there hardly is a mention of the act itself, and never a reprimand.
This double standard is rooted in race, intentional or not.
There is also the commentary about the white athlete having “less talent” but making up for it because he’s “cerebral.” Really? And yet the Black athlete is successful because of “God-given talent?”
Robert Griffin III fights his way back into the game after a knee injury and he’s “silly” for risking his career. Tony Romo comes back into the game moments after suffering an injury to his surgically repaired back, and he’s considered “tough” and “valiant.”
These contrasts can go on for some time, but you get the point.
James denies he and Irving had a confrontation, partly because he says it is not true and partly because he does not want to be looked at in the wrong way, which could be inevitable by someone whose lense is foggy.
Watch and listen to the commentary at college and NFL games this weekend. Notice the difference in how athletes are depicted, classified, described. The differences on the comments will be distinguishable along racial lines. Soon, you’ll be able to close your eyes and tell the race of the athlete just by listening to the words they use.
This, sadly, remains an issue in 2014, something addressed yearly by organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists. That’s one reason NABJ has merit; to provide perspective in newsrooms that shape Black people’s images by championing the cause for fair hiring practices.
And yet, despite some serious gains in the 1990s, Black sportswriters/commentators able to provide balanced commentary—or, more importantly, refute the biased views—hardly exist relative to the purported societal gains of today.
So often, when we watch sporting events hoping to escape the madness of our lives, this kind of racial insensitivity serves as a rude interruption, a harsh shove back into the real world. It’s sad that we’re used to it.