Last weekend I made a solemn vow to myself. On a stack of empty pizza boxes still wet from my tears about the Patriot's Super Bowl loss, I promised I would not write about the following three things this week: Linsanity, the whole phenomenon about New York Knick point guard Jeremy Lin; the newest chapter in the epic East Coast West Coast style dis battle between Cornel West and Melissa Harris-Perry; and Whitney Houston's death.
But, two events over the course of two NBA games Friday were an annoying reminder of bigots and boors both on and off the basketball court.
First, on Friday during the visiting Miami Heat's blowout of the Washington Wizards, a Wizards fan (they actually have those?) named Bob Moore decided to get a little extra with LeBron James. According to Sarah Kogod, an NBC sports writer who saw the entire event and reported it on Twitter the beef played out a little something like this:
LeBron was waiting alone in the backcourt when fan Bob Moore made a comment to LeBron about Delonte West and LeBron's mom...
...According to Moore, LeBron said "The only reason you talk [expletive] is because you know I can't come off the court right now and beat your ass"...
...Also according to Moore, LeBron continued "But if I had a free pass, I'd kick your ass right now."...
...Moore replied "I'm right here, baby. Let's go" before security stepped in.
In case you didn't know there is a long standing rumor that the reason LeBron played so bad in the 2010 playoffs against Boston and subsequently made "The Decision" to leave Cleveland is because his mother was sleeping with teammate Delonte West. This whole exchange is offensive and disappointing for various reasons, and we will get to them momentarily ...
Because just a few hours later up 95 North to Madison Square Garden Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers lost a tough game to the Knicks who were led by the newest NBA Super-Star, Jeremy Lin. Lin – who is Asian American, went to Harvard and wasn't considered much of a draft pick at point guard – went on a tear last week leading the woeful New York Knicks to 4 straight wins and scoring more points in his first 4 starts than any other player in NBA history. (This includes Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan). After a scintillating 38 point performance against the Lakers on Friday Fox Sports analyst Jason Whitlock (who is African American) Tweeted:
Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.
Needless to say this racist Tweet got him excoriated on-line, and right on cue Whitlock apologized. Sort of. He later wrote:
I then gave in to another part of my personality — my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature. It's been with me since birth, a gift from my mother and honed as a child listening to my godmother's Richard Pryor albums. I still want to be a standup comedian.
The couple-inches-of-pain tweet overshadowed my sincere celebration of Lin's performance and the irony that the stereotype applies to pot-bellied, overweight male sports writers, too. As the Asian American Journalist Association pointed out, I debased a feel-good sports moment. For that, I'm truly sorry.
That's right: because Whitlock making fun of his own penis size makes up for insulting and emasculating Jeremy Lin in front of a worldwide audience.
There are huge problems with the behavior and words of both Wizards fan Bob Moore and Jason Whitlock and both highlight a serious problem. All too often, professional sports become a megaphone for those on the field, watching the game and writing about the game to vent their most vile, racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes all under the guise of being 'passionate' about the game.
While basketball fans tend to lean more Democratic and liberal, the fact remains that American sports provide a unique cover for the venting of racial and cultural animus. Think about it: in what other universe can a chubby 5'5'' White guy scream "I Hate You", "You Suck" and "Get out of Here" at a chiseled 7 foot tall Black man and get away with it? Both Lin and LeBron are being targeted by bigots, but for entirely different if not equally pathetic reasons.
In LeBron's case, the prevailing stereotype about young Black male professional athletes – that they are stupid, arrogant, undeserving and 'unappreciative' of the life they have – bubbled over when LeBron decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and play for the Miami Heat, instead. He was 'ungrateful' to his bosses in Cleveland for leaving.
Mind you, no one in the Green Bay Packers organization encouraged the burning of Brett Favre jerseys when he went to play for a rival squad just out of revenge and old man ego. Thus, men like Bob Moore feel justified in heckling LeBron in the most disgusting and unacceptable ways.
The same applies to Jeremy Lin. Lin has had a meteoric rise in a sport that was once the home of lanky White men, then dominated by super tall African Americans. As an Asian American (let alone Harvard graduate) he's not supposed to be athletic, creative, or take it hard to the paint. So just like Bob Moore, Jason Whitlock resolves his amazement and confusion about this rule breaking minority by reducing him to the most disgusting and outlandish racist stereotypes. If Boston Celtic Paul Pierce had a great game I don't even think Rush Limbaugh would Tweet:
"Paul Pierce is gonna split some White girls in HALF tonight!"
Racism, even masquerading as humor or fan passion should be stamped out whenever possible in professional sports. The ability of men and women to show ofF physical skills honed by hard work, and dedication to entertain the public can be an incredible tool for integration, public pride and local economic growth. But, only an aggressive stance by both the league and well-meaning fans can shame the racism out of sports.
In the case of Whitlock, FoxSports.net should give him a long suspension. If I were any player on the Knicks I'd make it known that if I ever saw him in the front row at MSG an errant rebound would definitely find its way into Whitlock's face. If I were on the Knicks management team he would be banished from the building until Jeremy Lin gets a personal apology. The Washington Wizards security did the right thing by removing the unruly fan from the game and protecting LeBron from harassment both as an employee of the league and as a human being. Wizards fan Bob Moore is just lucky he picked his fight with King James at the end of a blowout game. Everyone knows LeBron can't hit anything in the 4th quarter.