The Racial Identity of Your Favorite Sports Protagonist Does Matter

An original version posted on 2/3/2008 as "Your Leader's Identity"

In the American team sports that I follow both on TV and online be it the NBA, NCAA football, or the NFL, I see black, white, pacific Island, Spanish-speaking players and coaches emerging all the time. It’s nice because I definitely didn’t see much of that growing up, if at all.

Growing up and not seeing my culture, my people represented was the kind of thing that made me question why the hell I had to be Filipino.

Why did I have to be a culture that no one’s heard or talked about? Nowhere to be seen on ESPN. How the heck would I ever become famous or even get on a newspaper (where I wasn’t being described as a murder suspect or an FBI wish list) with a name like I had? Delas Armas anyone? Could they even fit that in the back of a jersey? We used to joke that the last name Delespiritusanto on the back of a jersey would have to come full circle.

However, At least nowadays in sports, I’m seeing little trinklets of multiculturalism. More folks from different races and ethnicities in sports representing.

While that counts as a few steps forward, I ask myself what power do these people of yellow, black, brown-skinned identities hold?

When observing fans of all sports on message boards, forums, comments after articles, I noticed one thing: people really really love the idea of the white guy as the head honcho, top dog, the leader. People will fight hard to have the white guy be the guy on top.

It’s why a white guy like Kirk Hinrich, the Chicago Bulls’ point guard automatically gets compared to players like Steve Nash, the NBA MVP and hall-of-famer John Stockton, despite not having any of their abilities AT ALL.

Those guys were actually known for passing the ball, and making good decisions with the ball.

From my own observation, Hinrich did/does little of the described activities above. Instead, Hinrich dribbles the basketball aimlessly around the court, and panics when time is running out. The man is nowhere near their class and basically has earned his prestige because he shares their pigmentation in a league where the pigmentation is generally much darker.

The guy is not even that good on this team. He’s had his starting spot on the team saved for him ever since he’s been a rookie — he’s the only guy in the Bulls backcourt who hasn’t had to fight for playing time despite his lack of actual impact.

Since he’s not really that talented, people make stupid unquantifiable, highly subjective statements: “he’s a 2-way player, he plays really great defense.” Even more outrageous is that this guy has had one of the worst fall-offs, yet he’s never involved in trade rumors or criticized nearly as much as his more impactful, higher-scoring, clutch counterpart Ben Gordon.

Ben Gordon is currently the team’s leading scorer, despite being relegated to the bench, receiving a lowball contract offer, and being ignored on offense by Hinrich. However, when compared to Hinrich, it’s his negative traits that are emphasized: he’s undersized and one-dimensional.

The naturalness of a white leader also applies to another sport I follow. The societal expectation that the best leaders would be white is probably why people at Bruinsnation couldn’t stomach the idea of a Norm Chow (Asian) and Dewayne Walker (black)-led team.

I think their distaste for those two as coaching candidates was not necessarily rooted in their race, but it seems that the fans at that site had a tendency to assume the worst with anyone outside of their fellow white folks.

Norm Chow, Chinaman, apparently had no "personality" to get the job done. They cited his lack of experience, intensely putting out the question why a 61-year old (Asian) guy (in a white and black league) hadn’t had a head coaching job. This ire drawn despite the years of coaching experience, coaching some of the most elite quarterbacks in college football history, and having won a national championship.

There "must" have been something wrong with Norm. There had to be.

Dewayne Walker was characterized by the Bruinsnation writers as a self-promoting Karl Dorrell-holdover. This despite being respected as the incumbent UCLA Bruin defensive coordinator.

Together, Norm Chow and Dewayne Walker as the leading coach candidates, earned the derisive name “Choker.”

I looked for nicknames attributed to other (white) coaching candidates.

Needless to say, no other coaching candidates (most of whom were even LESS qualified than these two) received such names.

There was “Slick Rick” for Rick Neuihesel, but that disappared once it was clear that Walker and Chow were being considered as coaching candidates.

Nothing personal against the new white guy at UCLA, Rick Neuheisel, I admit I like what Rick’s been able to do so far as far as the working-togetherness of his hired guns and recruiting, but the same people who were pulling strongly for him initially balked at the idea of him becoming coach.

The Bruinsnation people thought we had run a lackluster coaching search campaign.

It seems like they only really rallied around Rick Neuheisel NOT because he was a effusively qualified and overly strong candidate (he definitely brings that baggage of cheating with him) but only because he was NOT Norm Chow or Dewayne Walker. He was decidedly not the "timid, stoic, cold" white guy nor was he the "self-promoting" black dude who since he was black obviously was still attached to everything from the fired black coach.

In a twist of irony, when it was announced that Norm Chow and Dewayne Walker would be retained on staff, these same fans calling Chow and Walker, Choker were going apeshit over their hirings.

They were most happy when it happened because in their own words,”it was Rick Neuheisel’s choice” as if white people’s choices are the only good decisions made. It was Rick Neuheisel’s choice, so naturally, it had to be good and trustworthy.

I wonder what it would be like had it been the inverse in any way, with Neuheisel as a coordinator, and Chow and Walker as the guys running things.

When we jump back to professional basketball, with Kirk Hinrich/Ben Gordon, fans like to do much of the same. They will characterize and put the players of color as successful in one-dimensional, specialized roles, but not broad, leadership ones.

Leadership, colored people, never that. One dimensional scoring guard, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, as opposed to 2-dimensional player, quarterback, and head coach.

For years, people have talked about the issue of the leadership roles being assumed by people of color, but it’s probably been a “minor” issue or something just not talked about.

The paucity of black owners, black coaches, black quarterbacks in sports where the number of players who are black are high is not really a social justice issue, but I think it reflects some lessons about the way our society in the US of A works.

In general in this context, it’s become “natural” for white people to be “our” leaders. They need to be the decisionmakers because they’re usually defaulted and perceived as the ones with the experience, the education, etc, especially when running against a person of color.

What bothers me is that we as a society don’t question what exactly makes their decisions better or how they end up with all the experience and education in the first place.

We've relied on white leaders for so long that its weird and unexpected by the society to not have any. Without a white guy as leader, it’s unnatural and odd, or so my dad implies when discussing how weird it is to have a president by the name of Obama.

No comments:

Post a Comment