It’s Gotta Be the Ink: Crime, Athletes and Tattoos

It’s Gotta Be the Ink:  Crime, Athletes and Tattoos
Sports media is often a place ripe with racial, class, and gendered meanings; it often is a site where stereotypes and profiling are articulated; where bodies, particularly bodies of color, are subject to scrutiny and examination, ridicule and demonization.  Sports media, especially when the coverage moves beyond the game, is often dominated by generalizations and grandiose arguments that spill over outside of the arena and playing field.  This has been evident with two recent columns about John Wall and Aaron Hernandez, both of which extrapolate meaning and pathology from tattoos – or better said the meaning in an inked body of color.
In a recent column, Jason Reid cautioned the Wizards (he provides clarification here) against signing a contract extension with Wall because of his decision to get and unveil his tattoos:
Posing shirtless recently for an Instagram photo, Wall revealed several tattoos. Wall’s interest in body art is surprising, considering he previously said he did not have tattoos because of concerns over his image for marketing reasons. Many NBA players do have tattoos, and Wall isn’t breaking new ground in sharing his ink with fans through social media.
But not every player flip-flops on a topic in such a public way. Factor in that Wall is expected to receive a huge payday from the Wizards next month, and the timing of his tattoo revelation raises questions about his decision making. For a franchise with a history of backing the wrong players, that’s food for thought. . .
Reid makes clear that Wall’s decision to get tattoos leads him to question his mindset, his character, and his priorities since he previously stated that he wasn’t getting any tattoos because of a potential reaction from fans and the organization.  Yet, now he has them, causing Reid to wonder about Wall’s focus on the game and the fans.  It’s gotta be the ink.
Reid’s effort to read meaning into Wall’s tattooed body is nothing compared to Jason Whitlock’s recent column, which is disturbing even by Whitlock’s standards.  Amid the many troubling points of “analysis” that nostalgically pine for popular culture and a sports world of yesteryear, Whitlock uses the arrest of Aaron Hernandez as an instance to pathologize and demonize today’s athletes, and accordingly goes in on tattoos:
Athlete covered in tattoos is linked to several violent acts, including “accidentally” shooting a man in the face. Modern athletes carry guns. They do drugs. They mimic rappers and gangster pop-culture icons.
Athletes want street cred, and they costume themselves in whatever is necessary to get it. Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc., were the first to recognize the importance of authentic street cred when it came selling product to American youth.
Sadly Whitlock was not done:
When he stood in chains before a judge at his arraignment, in a white T-shirt and his arms decorated in ink, Hernandez did not look out of place. Guilty or innocent, he looked like someone who had prepared for this moment. He didn’t look like an athlete. He looked like an ex-con…
We can no longer distinguish bad from good. We no longer even aspire to be good; it has considerably less value. That’s what Aaron Hernandez represents, to me. Popular culture has so eroded the symbolic core principles at the root of America’s love affair with sports that many modern athletes believe their allegiance to gangster culture takes precedence over their allegiance to the sports culture that made them rich and famous.
There is so much wrong here that I am not sure where to start but let me unpack a few arguments.  (1) He seems to argue that America’s crime problem (despite declining crime rates) is the result of its faulty values. Popular culture is the teacher to blame. The celebration of Jay-Z and Tony Soprano (and I am not fooled by the inclusion of Tony Soprano to obfuscate from the racial arguments) has created a culture of criminality, as evidenced by Aaron Hernandez.
Whitlock writes that Hernandez, “stayed true to his boyz from the ‘hood. He mimicked the mindset of the pop-culture icons we celebrate today.” While acknowledging the costs and consequences of “a 40-year drug war, mass incarceration,” Hernandez is a product of “a steady stream of Mafia movies, three decades of gangster rap and two decades of reality TV have wrought: athletes who covet the rebellious and marketable gangster persona”—a  little nostalgia to go with Whitlock’s simplicity and reductionist linear narrative.
In amazing level of erasure of history, of violence, Whitlock, who clearly plays a sociologist, psychologist and media studies scholar on both TV and the Internet, pontificates how to thwart crime and violence: revamp the television guide and top-40.   Yes, it’s got to be the television.  Rather than address structural realities, it is time for politicians, activists, and communities to address the real menace: popular culture.  If only he was kidding.
(2) I wonder if he or others who like to blame rap and popular culture for everything invoke these arguments in other cases or just those involving people of color.  I must have missed an examination of the listening habits of Adam Lanza or James Holmes?  I wonder what sort of influence hip-hop and Allen Iverson had on the Boston bombers, Catholic priests, or Wall Street executives.  Clearly, it is time for Whitlock and others to listen to Michael Franti’s “It’s a crime to be broke in America.”
They say they blame it on a song
When someone kills a cop
What music did they listen to
When they bombed Iraq?
Give me one example so I can take a sample
No need to play it backwards
If you wanna hear the devil
Cause music’s not the problem
It didn’t cause the bombin’
But maybe they should listen
To the songs of people starving…
More than reminding me of the scapegoating of music which truly masks the criminalization and demonization of bodies of color (nobody has made issue of George Zimmerman’s tattoos), I recall a response to David Whitley’s piece about Colin Kaepernick because sadly I can just remix this “Dear Mr. Whitlock” because same message different day.

Broke Ballers: The Financial Crises of Allen Iverson and Terell Owens – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Broke Ballers:

The Financial Crises of Allen Iverson and Terell Owens

Two gifted and formerly-paid ball players face devastating money woes

By David Leonard and James Braxton Peterson

Allen Iverson and Terrell Owens are not the kind of athletes that necessarily invite compassion and/or understanding, either from the media or from the sports fan community. Each of them have at various points in their all-too-brief careers, enjoyed the scorn of both fans and sports media alike, and usually simultaneously. It’s no small coincidence that each of them enjoyed their most successful stints in the Philadelphia, where T.O.’s histrionics and A.I.’s nihilism found brilliant exposure in a city that claims “brotherly love” and thrives on working class values with the not-so-subtle suggestion that said values are inherently White. Yet, the media coverage of their current financial woes, seems to take too much of the “I told you so” tones of a media waiting for these kinds of disappointing outcomes to occur – especially to those ungrateful athletes who deserve what ever bad fortune they get.

Bomani Jones recently wrestled with the news that A.I.’s current financial challenges are punctuated by some extraordinarily absurd amount of money owed on jewelry (i.e. bling in snarky parlance totaling some 375K or 860K with court costs attached) – bling that of course, he should never have purchased in the first place. Jones’ take on A.I.’s current challenges is fair and insightful. He notes his own sadness and the complexities that athletes face post-career.

A.I.’s overall financial status is unknown, but one thing we can be certain of is that he has been frozen out of the NBA and basketball more generally. Considering that he has anything left in the tank, and that there are any number of teams that might be able to play him off the bench – it is of course, a point-guard’s game at the moment – we can only conclude that public perceptions dictate his fate. His attitude, his willingness to be a coachable player, and the negative reporting that dogged his career, all work in concert to prevent him from what must be his last few years of professional sports play. But sadly these misperceptions about A.I. will likewise prevent him from entering the coaching/scouting ranks or from even having a crack at the sports commentating game. These possibilities are truly troublesome for a player who by some reports was “pound-for-pound” one of the greatest players ever to pick up a basketball.

Like it or not, attitude matters, and sadly, perceptions of one’s attitude matters even more. Unfortunately we can’t know whether or not A.I. was actually a “team” player. All we are supposed to understand is that A.I.’s current financial challenges suggest that he has cavalierly squandered the American Dream. In retrospect, too much of the coverage on his career centered on his hair, his tattoos, his rap lyrics, his entourage, his . . . almost anything but the fact that he was one the best damn players to ever dribble a basketball.

In a recent GQ profile, Nancy Hass highlights the trials and tribulations of Terrell Owens, offering readers a stereotyped and troubling story of the “fall” of an NFL star. “As you’re planning your Super Bowl party this year, give a thought to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. He’s out of work, out of money, and currently in court with all four of his baby mamas.” These, the first lines of the story, punctuate its peddling of widely circulated stereotypes of Black athletes, recycling the tacitly accepted trope of the once famous and wealthy Black athlete who threw it all a way. Focusing on his loss of 80 million dollars, his personal demons, and his pain, Hass turns Owens into a spectacle for readers to condemn, gawk at, and otherwise ridicule in an effort to hate the player not the game.

Despite the caricatures, stereotypes and the troubling narrative, the GQ article actually provides some insight into Owens’ financial situation. Partially challenging the dominant narrative that he simply wasted the money by highlighting failed investments and depreciating home values (he bought one home for 3.9 million but was forced to sell it for 1.7 in 2010), Hass’s work approaches complexity in its coverage. Yet, the media, which simply took the GQ story to create their own, erases any of the complexity and tragedy, instead using the moment to further demonize Owens and place the blame on his shoulders. For example, Deron Synder who claims that TO “appears to have serious money problems, due largely to the four paternity suits.” The cases are not questioning the paterning of these children, but the amount of child support Owens should pay given the end of his career.

Continue reading at Broke Ballers: The Financial Crises of Allen Iverson and Terell Owens – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.