Black Protectionism, LeBron And The Media
I’ve been listening to different journalists, television personalities and bloggers offer opinions about the perception of black professional athletes in mainstream America. A recent poll showed that the six most hated athletes in professional sports were black. Of the six athletes that were named (Vick, Tiger, Kobe, T.O., Ochocinco and LeBron), three have never committed a crime.
I wouldn’t have a problem with the poll if black athletes like Leonard Little, Donte Stallworth (convicted drunk-drivers) were at the top of the list, but to place the transgressions of Michael Vick above those of two people that killed real HUMANS, is flat-out absurd.
Though the NBA and NFL are both doing record numbers in fans, sponsorships, exposure and revenue, several of it’s top black athletes remain among sports most hated and almost universally maligned……
LeBron James went from the golden child to Hannibal Lecter in a matter of an hour (“The Decision”) and America still hasn’t forgiven Vick — though he lost his career, money and spent nearly 2 years in prison, repaying his debt to society.
Even after cleaning up his image and winning two NBA championships with the Lakers, Kobe is still more unlikeable than Ben Roethlisberger.
Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, two of the hardest working professionals in the NFL, are loathed because they have reality shows, while Chris Cooley and Jared Allen are celebrated for their televised buffoonish exploits.
When news of Tiger Woods infidelity broke, his face was plastered on every television channel, news outlet and blog in the world, painted as a philandering man-whore, while today David Beckham’s alleged sex-scandal virtually flies under the radar.
Vincent Thomas’s recent column about “black protectionism” has stirred a debate amongst sports heads with varying opinions about the subject. If you haven’t read Thomas’ piece, read it here.
The concept behind black protectionism is multi-faceted, but is rooted in the most basic of human instincts. To Protect your own.
Excerpt from Thomas’ article:
Katheryn Russell-Brown coined the term in the immediate aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial. She remembers watching the split-screen reactions of Simpson’s not guilty verdict, seeing what she recalls as white-hot rage from white people and unbridled jubilation from black people. In her book, “Protecting Our Own: Race, Crime, and African Americans,” she defines black protectionism as, “the response by large numbers of the black community to allegations that a famous black person has engaged in a criminal act or ethical violation. The response is protective in that it denies, excuses or minimizes the charges.”
During the O.J. Simpson case, a large number of blacks thought he was innocent, and the polarizing reaction to the verdict was a testament to how racially divided American society was, and apparently still is. Large numbers of the white people and media had already tried, convicted and hung Simpson by the time the white bronco pulled up to Rockingham.
Black people by and large didn’t pass judgement until actual evidence was produced. Some have argued that if Simpson were accused of killing a black woman and man, that there wouldn’t had been nearly the outrage that we saw with Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.
I won’t revisit the O.J. case in great detail, and we all know how that ended up. With the unprecedented civil judgement finding Simpson responsible for deaths that he was acquitted of in criminal court.
I will say that her characterization of black protectionism does hold some merit, and as a black male that has spent his formidable years growing up in “post-racial” America, my experience does validates certain parts of Russell’s assertion. Growing up I used to root for black coaches and NFL quarterbacks, and in my youth there weren’t very many of them.
My allegiance to them wasn’t solely based on the fact that they were black, but because it was rare for a person that looked like me to be placed in those positions. Don’t blame me, blame the game. There is also validity to a “white protectionism” dynamic, which throughout the history of sports, has shaped popular opinion about famous white professional athletes.
But for some odd and obvious reason, no one really has a problem with that.
I have been in and around professional sports for over thirty years, and it seems like whenever a black athlete is accused of criminal behavior, large numbers of white people, fans and the media corp convict them in the court of public opinion, passing judgement before allowing due process to take it’s course.
I do it as well from time to time as a blogger, falling into the cesspool of skepticism and negativity perpetuated by the mainstream media, and that is my bad. More times than not, news is not news unless it’s being reported.
The media uses terms to describe troublesome black athletes as “thugs or gangsters” likening them to American’s most hardened criminals. Or in Tiger Woods case, “morally unfit”. But when describing white athletes that get into trouble, the media is incredibly forgiving and understanding.
Around the same time boxer Ricky Hatton was caught on camera snorting cocaine, most media outlets chose to focus on Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem getting busted for marijuana possession (which all charges were dropped).
The white protectionism dynamic which I spoke of earlier, has helped shape popular perception about about some of sports most revered white athletes including Ruth, Cobb, Mantle, Ripken, McGwire, Favre, Roethlisberger, Manning, Brady, Bird and the scores of white legends whose personal transgressions go virtually ignored by the media and dismissed by their adoring public.
In an interview with an online publication, Dr.Richard Lapchick, Director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida offers some perspective:
“It’s not that there’s a higher percentage of African American athletes who are crossing the lines than white players, said Dr. Richard Lapchick. But the media have created two perceptions—that athletes in general are more inclined to be violent against women and use drugs, and that Black athletes are more inclined to do both. And neither is true.
I get called regularly when somebody is arrested.i f a sexual assault involves a hockey or baseball player, the questions generally revolve around the player. When it involves a basketball or football player, they ask, ‘what is it about African Americans?”
A glaring example of this focus on Black athletes as the face of criminal violations is a 2006 article in USA Today. The front page article might have been mistaken for a “Most Wanted” poster in the post office. Head shots of prominent athletes were aligned with the title “Athletes lightly punished after their day in court.”
The article argued that a double standard exists in the punishment athletes receive for illegal acts compared to regular citizens— celebrity appearances and autograph signing instead of gritty details like collecting trash on the roadside. But it also exposed the blatant double standard implemented by the media in highlighting the violations of Black athletes.
Seventy-five percent of those highlighted were Blacks and other athletes of color.
“They could have easily found (more whites) and made it a more integrated cover. They didn’t think about it until after the mistake,” Dr. Lapchick said.
Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards was recently arrested on a DWI charge and was front-page news. Ravens assistant coach Andy Moeller was arrested for the same thing last Saturday. Both are Michigan alums, both work for the NFL. Edwards is black, Moeller is white. Guess which one you won’t be hearing about on ESPN?
These chasms evoke a natural reaction within black society to protect their own. To act as if blacks are the only segment of society that “protect” their own is rather silly. I see it happen all the time in all walks of life. Journalists do it with other journalists, women do it with other women, and surprise– black people do it with their own too.
Yet it’s only has a negative connotation for blacks. They call it “playing the race card” or ” protectionism”, which takes focus off the true issue at hand.
Racism rears it’s ugly head constantly in today’s sports culture. It’s an epidemic in Soccer leagues around the world, and recently the Australian Basketball League ran a commercial deemed incredibly offensive by several of it’s black players.
Latrell Sprewell will be eternally vilified for his “feed my family” comments, while Andrew Bogut can come out talk about the welfare system, other athlete’s “bling” and essentially support a television ad that not only offended blacks in America, but several of his countrymen without much flak.
Just this week the University of Miami banned it’s athletes from Tweeting because of racial slurs and comments directed at QB Jacory Harris on Twitter. Yet it’s hard for black journalists and fans to be taken seriously when speaking out on these issues.
The so-called race-card has diminished in value over the past decade, since small progress has been made by blacks as a whole, especially in America. For some reason, large numbers of white people and the media think that because Barack Obama is President of the United States, racism has been purged from our society overnight.
This is not the case.
Hate to be the party pooper, but race-relations have gotten worse and very little has changed in this society as a whole. So now when a black blogger, writer or talking head expresses an opinion in favor of or supporting a black athlete, the average fan thinks that the “Black Protectionism” card is being played.
Minuscule in numbers compared to their white counterparts, the black media has a hard enough time being heard and/or taken seriously. By focusing on the messenger, the message is missed — and it’s insulting and offensive to hear white writers, bloggers and fans insinuate their black colleagues only support black athletes because of their skin color, yet it is increasingly becoming common practice to do so.
Since when does the sports world care so much about Cleveland and it’s fans? I’m confused here. Since when does an hour long special that generates several millions of dollars for the Boys and Girls Club, get twisted into some narcissistic exercise in egoism?
Whatever your opinion of The Decision, I hope you were more disgusted by Glen Beck’s rally mocking Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, televised by CNN. That was far more egregious and though in a different context, an incredibly offensive waste of time that has quickly been forgotten.
So please stop acting like LeBron’s televised decision show is a legitimate reason to spew hate and venom at the man. That is pure, uncut haterade LeBraterade at it’s finest, something the mainstream media seems to do when certain athletes yield too much power (see Jordan).
The fact is LeBron has no arrests. No problems with drug or substance abuse. He’s never been accused of rape…multiple times. Doesn’t have a gambling problem. Not a drunk driver. Never killed dogs or people. Doesn’t hit women. Not selfish on the basketball floor. Took less money to join the Heat. Loves his mama and his kids. And gives back to his community.
If there was any professional athlete that ever deserved to be “protected” by black people, it is LeBron James.
For seven years he gave his heart, body and soul to a franchise that hadn’t been relevant on the basketball landscape since Jordan’s game-winner over Ehlo sent them home crying. James single-handedly doubled the worth of that organization, and infused tens of millions of dollars into that city’s economy over the past 7 years.
LeBron doesn’t owe Cleveland or it’s fans a damn thing, and more than repaid his debt to that city. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert revealed his true feelings about James in an incredibly offensive, mean-spirited letter that was well-received by the media, who inexplicably thought it was cute and appropriate.
Instead of focusing on the sheer evil the letter conveyed, the media chose to focus on the font it was composed in — Comic Sans. These media types have a lot of influence and shape popular sports opinion, and the ones that defended or validated the Gilbert letter acted as a catalyst for the sports world to publicly defame, demean and vilify a young man that made an unpopular choice.
And please stop the “breaking a girlfriend’s heart on national tv” comparison, Cleveland’s so-called love for Lebron wasn’t genuine. Sure there are certain segments of the city that love and appreciate Lebron for all he’s done, but to see people on television burning his jersey, threatening him and his family with bodily harm, acting like a riot mob was extremely uncomfortable to watch.
Cleveland fans and entire organization seemed less like rabid supporters of their team and more like Robert De Niro’s character in “The Fan.”
An owner, organization, city or fan only loves it’s athletes when he is healthy, producing on the field, making gamblers money or doing something special in the community. Once an athlete isn’t doing that any longer, they move on to the next one that will, and could careless. So why should an athlete have genuine feelings about a city or it’s fans?
Loyalty is not apart of this business, because true love and loyalty as I know it, is to love and support someone — even if they leave you for another. When the ish hit the fan, guess what? They burned, spit and defecated on Lebron jerseys.
Dan Gilbert did several classless, publicly tasteless moves, including placing a photo of Delonte West (click link if you don’t know) on the Cleveland Cavalier homepage, and changing the price of Lebron Fatheads to $17.41(the year Benedict Arnold was born).
By and large, black protectionism maybe a real thing that exists in segments of African-American culture, but shouldn’t be viewed as a negative or racially biased thing. I can’t blame blacks for continuing to support their own, because if they don’t, please tell me who will?