Sports are supposed to be the one place where race is not supposed to matter anymore. Society is supposed to have grown past these things, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, all who are reading these words have lived long enough to see a mockery be made out of an aspect of professional sports that many believed was a pillar.
Here at The Shadow League, we deal with the issue of race in the American sports and entertainment industry on a daily basis, and 2014 has thus far proven to be hot year for racism. It is the old leviathan who keeps coming back after the dagger of civil rights legislation and broken barriers were thought to have silenced it in a distant decade. But it just keeps getting stronger and stronger with age.
America is not an island that stands alone in housing racism. There are those who may feel like the United States is at the center of all things racist, but that is a misnomer indeed. A cursory scan of an atlas would find multiple locations where people of African descent have a boot of oppression of some sort or another firmly affixed to their derriere. To put it plainly, black folks are getting their asses kicked on a global scale seemingly because that’s just the traditional thing to do to people of the African diaspora.
As much as people in the United States have been inundated by the subject of racism, these past few months have given rise to many more including the Donald Sterling incident, the NHL incident involving the Montreal Canadians' PK Subban, the racist statements made by rancher Cliven Bundy, and the Supreme Court decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action at public institutions. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen- all of that has happened in the last 35 days. How many more examples of these things have to dance across your various screens before you come to grips with the manner in which the world stage seems set so that daggers, both literal and metaphorical, remained pointed at black peoples' throats at all times?
Who would have believed the Riley Cooper video of him using the N-word was real if you hadn’t seen it for yourself? Based upon his background, it would have been easy to look at Riley Cooper and assume we should have all expected this beforehand; a white male born in Oklahoma who spent time in Florida while playing for the University of Florida. Is it fair to assume a white male of the south would use the N-word in anger? Maybe not, but it’s the world we live in. People of African descent are guilty until proven innocent in the eye of public opinion, and that very mindset has infiltrated societies across the globe. Yet, the African laughs and points his finger mockingly “Oh, so you’re surprised about racism?” he says as he is bowed over in laughter. Are people of African descent cynical or callous toward this dangerous specter? It sometimes seems as if speaking about racism is the black man's only modern birth right?
As the horse on the subject of social media racism begins to fall to the ground due to the way it has been ridden unceasingly, The Shadow League will attempt to add the coupe de grace. Social media provides the perfect soil in which cowards can foment the seeds of racial slander and disrespect. Through the digital mist, from behind a dirty keyboard, sits a hateful coward who will use his podium to tarnish a thing that is supposed to be pure. But was it really ever pure? Electronic portable devices, iPhones, tablets and smart phones of all kinds are now the weapons of choice for the everyday racist. As was reported at The Shadow League back in March, fans of all white Howell (Michigan) High School took to Twitter with racist banter after defeating a mix-race rival Grand Blanc.
Similarly, racism reared its ugly head at another high school basketball playoff game. This time it was in New York, and also recorded by the staff of The Shadow League in great detail as well. Top-seeded Mount Vernon defeated predominantly white Mahopac High School. Their proud student body hurled racist remarks at Mount Vernon. The USA Today reported that players and spectators alike gave "money earnin’ Mount Vernon" the racism up close and personal, the New York way. However, not to be outdone by Howell High, Mahopac High fans took to Twitter as well. Minorities make up 95% of the student body at Mount Vernon High and 11% of the enrollment at Mahopac High, according to U.S. News & World Report. Several students were suspended were suspended for that incident. The kicker in the Mahopac incident? Their own head basketball coach is black and a Mahopac graduate. Coach Kevin Downes resigned from his post a week later.
A story on the Michigan high school incident had the word “shocking” in its headline, while another headline describing the Mount Vernon affair used the term “racially-charged”. While the search is still out for headlines from black media outlets that read “Well, DUH!,” there were likely many editors and writers alike who were thinking that as those stories hit the news stream last month. Expanding the investigative scope from the United States onto the world stage and we find more of the same. A week ago, Barcelona’s Dani Alves had a banana thrown at him by fan. The banana is a racist taunt that has been used for decades in soccer. Dani Alves, who is Afro-Brazilian, decided to eat it, thus stomping on the insult and getting a free burst of energy to continue the match. Brilliant. However, most insults to people of African ancestry in professional sports aren’t as beneficial as Alves’ banana. Alves suffered through a similar incident, one in which he endured monkey chants from Real Madrid fans in 2013.
“I know that people are fighting against this but these kinds of things keep happening,” he told Reuters. “I have been in Spain for 10 years and it has been happening since the first day. Drastic measures should be taken, for example, punishing the club more severely not just with a €1,000 or €2,000 fine [about $1,300 to $1,700.] You have to go a bit further. Sometimes you have to make an example. In England it doesn’t happen and when it does the punishments are exemplary.”
Professional soccer player Levante's Papakouli Diop was subject to monkey gestures coming from a secition of Atletico Madrid fans in a recent match. Diop, who hails from Senegal, told reporters: "they called me monkey and I turned and imitated a monkey, " diop was quoted as saying by Marca.com. "I'm tired of racism in football. And there's a lot. I did the monkey dance to highlight the matter. I wanted people to know what happened."
But the banana insults are not restricted to soccer. We’ve had several banana incidents in the United States, one in which Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds had a banana peel thrown at him 2011, another in which a fan threw a banana at Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones during a game in San Francisco. F1 racer Lewis Hamilton, a British man of African descent, has been facing ferocious and virulent racism as Spanish fans in blackface taunted him during pits stops in 2008, and he has even hinted at racism from FIA Stewards in 2011, but later apologized for making the remarks. Stewards, or motor marshals, are charged with making sure a race is efficient and safe. He/she also has the power to call in specific drivers or slow down a race.
People were so up in arms regarding the Donald Sterling issue, and The Shadow League was among the leaders on the issue in the digital world with commentary from four writers, but no one on staff was legitimately surprised. The surprising thing about the whole scenario was the NAACP.
The mere mention of shock or awe exhibited by the media, individuals who should know better, is a bit perplexing as well. How soon we forget. There have been racist comments made in just about every professional team sport. We only need look back to last October for the NFL’s Riley Cooper affair, Major League Baseball has had its fair share of racial incidents from Ty Cobb to Marge Schott, and just when folks thought the National Basketball Association was the model of diversity in corporate America, here comes Donald Sterling and his comments.
But what can one really do to force racist fans out of a particular sport or to refrain from expressing their racist views? Virtually nothing, unfortunately. A racist will always find likeminded individuals with which to bond. Like a mushroom, he’ll find low-life excreta who feels the very same way, and they will encourage one another like one big happy asexual secret affair of hate. A racist will initially hide his belief, but his confidence in the false righteousness of his belief system will grow. He’ll look for examples in the media or elsewhere to fortify his belief in the inferiority of blacks. Then, he’ll chose a racist coming out incident. This is why teachers in the high school basketball incidents were “so appalled” at the realization some in their student body expressed racist beliefs, and this is why there were so many white folks in the United States, and across the globe, who were just “so surprised” at the Donald Sterling tapes.
Racism is mentioned in the modern context as something black people need to “get over” as if racism ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in America in 1863, or the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 in Britain. No, racism has been, and continues to be, a lightning rod in the modern era. In fact, few issues garner such visceral reactions from blacks and white alike; the only issue that incites similar reactions are ones regarding the mistreatment of animals, as evidenced by the loud protests of Jets fans and animal lovers over the signing of Michael Vick. I haven't seen a petition to ban racist comments at NHL games as of yet Commissioner Bettman, but I wonder what would happen if a dog fighting ring was exposed during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
People are only shocked because this is one dirty little gift that just keeps on giving. However, what the recent proliferation of sports-related racism has done is spark the conversation in a world that gets selective amnesia whenever anti-African racism rears its head anywhere in the Western world. There is a portion of the black populous that also suffers from amnesia and are apologists for racists. One thing is for certain, the aforementioned racial incidents in sports are not likely to be the last ones this spring, let alone this year.
We’ve had revelations in such American sports as high school basketball, professional football and basketball, but racial circumstances have permeated such international sports as soccer, hockey and golf. Serena and Venus Williams have had their fair share of race based hater-ism in professional tennis, and even F1 race car driver Lewis Hamilton has to face off against racism, for crying out loud. Are European sports fans more callous and uncaring when dealing with race, or are they simply more hateful? There’s no way to quantify it for sure. What’s the old saying about it being impossible to quantify a negative? Racism is a phantom. You don’t know, it’s just a feeling. It’s not a matter of if another “breathe taking” racist rant or run-on sentence will come to light, just a matter of what medium of communication it will be translated through.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, secret tape recordings, and the transmission, capture, rebroadcast or taping of the very idea of black subjugation being communicated in professional sports. The very idea of the N-word penalty in the NFL is laughable in retrospect. Fining black players for using the term, yet having no protocol to penalize Riley Cooper, a player who used it in anger, aside from a short break from the team. Racism is not inherent to any particular sport, but in the hearts of people. Emerging, international sports like MMA and kickboxing will undoubtedly face a major race-based incident at some point during their growth; it’s inevitable. Perhaps a burgeoning sport would be wise to make overtures toward a more diverse fan base early in its evolution and stem the likelihood of a structural racism dynamic manifesting itself early on. However, while such measures will likely only delay the inevitable, at least they can make a genuine attempt to stay ahead of the current storm of racism plaguing other sports and leagues.
The Shadow League will gladly help in those efforts, and will always be watching.