by David J. Leonard
I hate Marshall Henderson. There I said it. I realize that my disdain for all things Marshall ran deep recently, where I couldn’t help but sit in front of the television to watch Ole Miss-Florida in the SEC tournament finale. I am more likely to watch the Real Housewives of Iowa than an SEC basketball game, yet it was must see-TV because of my disdain for Marshall Henderson.
But let me clear, I am not a hater. In fact, my feelings have nothing to do with Marshall Henderson. I don’t know the man. Nor do I have an investment in his daily performance.
My thoughts about Henderson have as much to do with the myopic celebration of his accomplishments, “colorful” personality, and “swagger” given the sordid history of integration at Ole Miss. Given the “ghosts of Mississippi,” and given the historic mistreatment directed at African American students at this “rebel campus,” it is telling that Henderson has elicited praise. It is telling that he has been elevated at the expense of his teammates, erasing their contributions to the team.
My emotional reaction is not about Henderson himself but the narrative, the media coverage, and the double standards that he is embodies. “Marshall Henderson is the Charlie Sheen of college basketball – an unapologetic poster-child of white privilege,” notes Charles Moriano. “Despite a litany of on and off-court behavior that normally send sports media pundits into “what about the kids” columns with African-American athletes, Henderson has been most often been described as ‘passionate’, ‘colorful’, and ‘entertaining’.” Greg Howard describes the double standards that anchor the media response:
He messes with any racially essentialist expectations of what a white basketball player is supposed to be. He’s an incessant shit-talker who tosses up 30-footers, rarely passes, and has a conspicuous lack of “hustle” stats. He tokes an invisible joint after made three-pointers…Marshall Henderson by all rights shouldn’t exist. And if he were a black athlete, he wouldn’t—not as far as big-time basketball is concerned.
My contempt is about the public persona that he has created along with a media that seems not only OK but rejoicing in behavior that has become the basis of the sports-punditry-hater-industry when it comes to today’s black athletes.
Matt Rybaltowski is illustrative of everything I loathe about the Marshall Henderson story: “In an age of political correctness and the contrived sound bite, Marshall Henderson is an anomaly, a free-spirit college basketball hasn’t seen since Jason Williams brought his killer crossover to Gainesville in the late 1990s. Dating back even further, it’s not a stretch to consider Henderson a Bill Walton in a shooter’s body.”
Sports pundits are incapable of offering comparisons that are not racially segregated. Whereas Bill Walton loved the Grateful Dead, protested the Vietnam War (he was even arrested during his junior year), and joined Kareem Abdul Jabbar and others in support of the civil rights movement, Henderson loves playing quarters and his “hoes.” I guess we can say Henderson protested injustice, calling those coaches who didn’t vote him first team all-conference as losers. Comparing Henderson to Walton is like comparing Justin Bieber to Eric Clapton; white and involved in same vocation.
Whereas black ballers are continuously criticized for selfishness – “there is no I in TEAM” – Henderson’s aspiration to “get his money” or his propensity to taunt fans is a sign of his being free spirit. He is celebrated for saying what is on his mind even if his mind seems to begin and end with himself. It is a striking moment of hypocrisy where not only does Henderson get a pass for his trash-talking, self-promotion, and his shot selection, but when he is imagined as exceptional. In an age of media scrutiny, where (black) athletes are routinely criticized for deviating from the prescribed scripts, it is striking that he is celebrated by the same media that makes millions off telling today’s (black) student-athlete to shut up and play.
Continue reading at Hating Marshall Henderson | NewBlackMan (in Exile).