Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans
By David Leonard Writer
The New York Giants secured their spot in Super Bowl XLVI by defeating the San Francisco 49ers in an overtime thriller. Unfortunately, the game is not being remembered for its amazing defense, offensive struggles, and punting genius, but for the miscues of Kyle Williams, the 49ers 2nd year wide receiver. In two separate occasions, Williams was unable to secure the ball while receiving a punt, resulting in two Giant scores, the last one ending the game. In describing the reaction to Williams, Sean Jensen notes how he is “a goat, not a hero. And he’s vilified, not celebrated.” Football fans took to social media sites like Twitter to blame, vilify, demonize, and call for violence against Williams and his family: “@KyleWilliams_10. I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die, you deserve it” “Jim Harbaugh, please give @KyleWilliams_10 the game ball. And make sure it explodes when he gets in his car” (see here for more examples)
While Kyle Williams is not the first player to receive ample criticism for an on-the-field mistake (although the criticism of Billy Cundiff has not taken a similar tone), the racial subtext, evident ion the language and the calls for violence, has been particularly disturbing. The criticisms from many sports writers and fans alike have not simply been that he made a mistake or that he erred on the field, but rather that the game reflects his failures as a player and a person
“My take on this is that KW is not the ideal ‘team’ player. KW was so intent on making the ‘big’ play for himself than adhering to rules that all return men hold as gospel.
“Both fumbles on Williams, both for not thinking smart.”
“This Bonehead was carrying the football like he just stole a loaf of bread from the corner store. The Bonehead had no business being on the field in the first place.”
“I want this LOSER cut from the team immediately. Him and his hideous tattoos ruined a great season. He single handedly prevented the 49ers from winning this game twice! Fire this LOSER.”
Evident in these comments and others is the ways that race infuses meaning into the discussion, whereupon the conversation goes from the play to his character, his intelligence, his personality, his demeanor, and his body. While some have renounced the assaults on Williams, and sought to “blame” other circumstances for the loss, it is important to reflect on the hatred and violence directed at the wide receiver.
The efforts to explain use racialized language, to play on stereotypes, and otherwise demonize Williams has a larger context that reflects the varied ways that the sports world, from commentators to fans, talk about athletes through racially distinct language. Citing a 1996 study that “examined NFL telecasts,” Andrew Billings notes that, “sportscasters had entirely different focal points for commentary about athletes of different ethnicities.” He further argues “If the player was White, sportscasters placed an increased focus on the cerebral aspects of the player (e.g., cognitive qualities) but, if the player was Black, sportscasters placed their focus on describing the body size, type, and strength of the athletes (e.g., physical qualities).” With Williams, we see similarities, with emphasis on his “intelligence,” “decision-making” and “understanding of the game.”