Thoughts on Greg McDermott, Meyers Leonard and the Rush to Contextualize Racial “Slip Ups”

     

    As much as we might like an individual, there is always a possibility that their norms may inevitably clash with our own. There is very much a possibility of this occurrence in multicultural settings.  

    Back in 2018, former NBA great Kevin McHale was spotted supporting his wife at a Trump campaign stop in Duluth, Montana.

    Not so shocking, but surprising, yeah. McHale has never done or said anything racist in public, and him being at a rally with his old lady isn’t a non-starterHe was supporting his wife, according to a statement released at the time. 

    Indeed, simply being in a public space with a bunch of other people who are clearly racist does not reveal what is in the heart or mind of an individual. 

    However, what comes out of one’s mouth? Well, that is a different story. 

    Last week, Creighton Bluejays head coach Greg McDermott, father to NBA player Doug McDermott, was suspended indefinitely for a “racially insensitive” comment made following his team’s loss to Xavier. 

    “Guys, we got to stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.,” McDermott reportedly told his team in a fumbling effort to get them to focus. 

    His indefinite suspension turned out to only be one game, a game in which the Bluejays trounced Butler.  

    No one can measure contrition or sincerity, but to announce a suspension is indefinite, rather than map out a clear punishment, was insincere. McDermott returned to his post after only four days off the job. 

    Individuals who make racially insensitive faux pas should NOT ever be fodder for constant admonishment either.

    We are more than the sum of our parts, indeed. And we can’t skewer him against the backdrop of a great deal of obvious good he has done for Black athletes from between the lines. It would be silly.

    Has his vocabulary been cleansed of antebellum analogies? Likely not. So, what’s the purpose of pretending that you’re leveraging punishment on someone when you are not?

    Why, optics, of course. 

    No, it wasn’t a clever idea to use a word like “plantation” to describe a paradigm in which he is trying to motivate a team of uncompensated, mostly African American male athletes in a paradigm that casts him as the “overseer.”  

    According to the study published in Sports Illustrated last year, 79 percent of university athletic directors are white, 82 percent of football head coaches, as well as 69 percent of men’s basketball coaches, are white.

    When we juxtapose those numbers alongside the demographics of the players, the real picture begins to come into view; 49% of football players are Black and 56% of men’s basketball athletes.  

     The players are uncompensated, but the coaches of Power 5 conferences rarely make less than $1 million per year. McDermott, for example, made $1,369,949 last year. So, here we have a millionaire telling young men who are “working” in a billion-dollar industry for free that they should “stay on the plantation”. 

    And the saddest part is NOT that it was part of his vocabulary, but that he believed this obviously offensive turn of a phrase was even appropriate enough to think, let alone say… You may not be able to un-teach racial insensitivity, but can we try cultural intelligence, at least? 

    Epilogue 

    A few days ago, Miami Heat player Meyers Leonard was suspended “indefinitely” due to his usage of a racial slur used to denigrate Jewish people. Leonard has said that he did not realize the slur was offensive to Jews. But I find that quite hard to believe.

    Indeed, this is the same dude that decided he was not going to take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter. If you smell a rat in the barn, then you are not the only one. Both McDermott and Leonard will ultimately be forgiven and allowed back into the greater basketball industrial complex that spans high school, college, and professional basketball.  

    Is there really such a thing as a cool white guy as far as racism in America is concerned? I’d readily say yes, but it all depends on perspective, of course. 

    People will forget their transgression out of good faith that the respective comments of McDermott and Leonard were not indicative of the type of people they really are. And while the latter may be true, the comments do show us how difficult it is to be a white male, raised in a white supremacist country, and be completely free of any racist or anti-Semitic thoughts, words, or beliefs.