ESPN’s Week in Whiteness:
Why White Fans Dislike Athletes of Color
Forbes came out with its poll this week on sports most-disliked players, and the names ring familiar. In order, they are Mr. Vick, Tiger, Plaxico, NDamukong, Kris Humphries, Lebron, Kobe, Terrell, ARod, before Kurt Busch comes in at #10. Quite notably, Joe Paterno or Jerry Sandusky , Ben Roethlisberger (accused twice of rape), and the allegedly “polarizing” Tim Tebow didn’t crack the top 10.
These types of polls are almost always dominated by white voters, and the “most disliked” people are almost always dominated by athletes of color. While there is disturbing bigotry inherent in these lists, media plays a critical role in perpetuating and maintaining views of white fans .
This past week offers an excellent illustration of white privilege in action. Here is a quick recap on some of what you might have missed amidst Super Bowl week.
Feb. 1: Kevin Love Hacks Danny Granger and Talks Big-time Trash to Pacers
Feb. 2: Josh Hamilton Relapses
Feb. 3: Lance Armstrong Walks as his Federal Case is Dismissed
Feb. 3: Cardinals Announcer Joe McLaughlin – Repeat DUI Arrestee — Keeps Job
Feb. 4: Kevin Love Stomps on Face of Luis Scola after throwing him to floor
Feb. 5: Super Bowl Sunday – Congrats Giants! Manning-to-Manningham!
Feb. 6: Rob Gronkowski Dances Night Away After Super Bowl Loss
Feb. 7: George Brett Has Lawsuit filed against him for false advertising
Feb. 7: Kevin Again: Suspended Two Games (and finally receives own ESPN article)
Feb. 7: Lance Again: WADA Urges Feds to Hand Over Evidence
Some of the stories were purposely delayed to coincide with Super Bowl week, and in the previous 10 days in January Ben Roethlisberger very quietly settled on his rape case, Ryan Braun made an MVP award speech, and Dirk Nowitzki sat out games due to poor conditioning while all came with little national media hype.
With the exception of announcer McLaughlin – whose DUI continues a long Cardinals narrative – all are stand-out all-stars. With the possible exception of Josh Hamilton’s relapse (note: POPSspot wishes Josh the very best with his continued recovery), just about every story  mentioned was either ignored, buried on website, or downplayed by ESPN judging by black athlete standards.
What are “black athlete standards”? On Tuesday, ESPN “sauced” up a front-page DUI story on a 3rd string running back. On Thursday, a retired average pitcher received front-page treatment for his heavy cocaine use 25 years ago. In between, “Kendrick Perkins rips Lebron” over innocuous tweet, “Lebron Won’t Apologize for Tweet” while both ESPN stories received: prime web-link placement, video commentary, and front-page “staying power” that helped produce 5000+ comments for each article. And that’s just the last three days.
Now back to the white guys. The stories of Armstrong, Roethlisberger, and Love deserve a closer look:
1) Lance Armstrong Federal Case is Dismissed and Legacy Endures:
Outside of owners, Lance may be the most powerful man in sports today. There is more evidence of Lance’s doping than Bonds, Clemens, and Hulk Hogan combined. Yet his federal case is dismissed. Says Betsy Andreu one of many, many accusers:
“Our legal system failed us. This is what happens when you have a lot of money and you can buy attorneys who have people in high places in the Department of Justice.”
Our sports media has also failed us with over 12 years of allegations against Armstrong being ignored. Now Armstrong “luckily” got the news announced on the Friday afternoon before Super Bowl Sunday. ESPN.com opens up with the news: “Los Angeles — The case against Lance Armstrong is closed. His legacy as a seven-time Tour de France champion endures.”
Really? Is Lance’s legacy is tied to his federal case? Was ESPN, AP, Sports Illustrated or anyone else patiently awaiting court verdicts before deciding if Bonds legacy and his 762 home runs “endured”? Lance’s multi-layered power over (American, not European) sports media deserves its own article if not book (in America, not Europe). On Tuesday, ESPN’s story read: “WADA: Turn Over Lance Armstrong Info”. Another important story, but AP reprint was buried on website (note only 9 comments). USA Today has a better take.
While ideally, no doping athlete should be subject to a federal investigation, Bonds 7-year federal pursuit changed those rules. While hundreds of millions might protect any athlete from media, the media pursuit of Tiger Woods changed those rules. While Lance’s work on behalf of cancer patients is important and laudable, off-the-field contributions has never protected an athlete of color) from media (see Tiger again, Stephon Marbury, and NDamukong Suh. Lance is not protected solely by green or white – he is protected by the intertwined and exponential power of both.
2) ESPN is STILL Protecting Ben Roethlisberger:
In 2008, ESPN famously did not report the civil suit alleging rape against Ben Roethlisberger for 2.5 days. The omission was so egregious that the rest of sports media, both mainstream and blogs, took notice and charged both corporate influence and racial bias. Well 2.5 years later, ESPN’s protection of Ben remains. In virtually every website on January 20th, the story’s title read: “Ben Roethlisberger Settles Lawsuit Alleging 2008 Rape”
Do you see that last word “rape”? ESPN changed the title to: “Ben Roethlisberger Lawsuit Settled”. A closer and longer look at both separate rape allegations against Roethlisberger will show that removing “the R word” is a common practice for ESPN and Ben, but most definitely not Lawrence Taylor! ESPN has repeatedly removed “the R word” from title for over two years.
3) ESPN Loves Kevin:
Love did more than just tweet this week. Love hacked Danny Granger and talked made-for-ESPN trash afterwards. Days later, Love threw Luis Scola to the ground, and stomped on his face (not arm like NDamukong Suh). Neither incidents garnered articles beyond game recaps. Thanks to Commissioner David Stern’s 2-game suspension, ESPN was finally forced to cover Love with a standard AP article on the suspension. ESPN’s only additional article was “Short Fuses in Shortened NBA Season” where the picture caption reads:
“Kevin Love doesn’t lack for passion. In a compressed season, that can result in some unwise explosions”.
Author Mark Kreidler goes on:
“[Love] won’t be the last to lose it on the court in this weird NBA experiment: Take the most competitive players in the world, deny them adequate training time, put them into ridiculous travel schedules, cram 66 games into 123 days, and see what happens.”
Beyond two disclaimer sentences, it was the tough intense schedule that led Love to his “series of tantrums”. Did you get that Mr. Suh and Ms. Serena Williams? ESPN offered no companion articles on the usual cadre of “personal responsibility”, “what about the kids” or “what kind of message does this send” memes. For more in-depth media analysis, or doubt about the intentionality of Love’s stomp, please read David Leonard’s: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love.
The protection of Armstrong, Roethlisberger, and Love only scratch the surface of white privilege in sports media. When day after day, a massive sports media says that the courts of law should decide Lance’s legacy, that black tweets trump white stomps, and that Lebron’s “decisions” are worse than Big Ben’s – too many white fans will actually believe it.
Ideally, the solution is not for media to treat white players like athletes of color – it is to treat all athletes as if they were white. But until that day comes, let there be one standard.
 On Paterno/Sandusky: Forbes article mentions that owners were eligible for list, so we also assume coaches as has been the case in the past.
 Views of “white” fans are singled out for two reasons. White always make up the vast majority of fans polled. Also, a 2011 ESPN poll shows that only 28% of white sports fans believe that “the media put more of a spotlight on problems involving black athletes”. That same poll showed that 65% of African-American fan believed that problems of black athletes received a greater media spotlight.
 Unlike USA Today, original Gronkowski dancing story received no ESPN article (it did only after Rodney Harrison responded). McLaughlin story was never printed by ESPN or AP. George Brett AP story was buried in ESPN webspace.
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