NewBlackMan (in Exile): ESPN Must be High: Drugs & Jim Crow in Sports’ Reporting

ESPN Must be High: Drugs & Jim Crow in Sports’ Reporting

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

My concern and interest in sports often has little to do with sports. While I am clearly a fan, someone who enjoys watching and thinking about sports, I am often drawn into the world sports because of the larger implications and meanings. Sports are more than a game; it is a pedagogy, a technology, and an instrument of larger social, political, and racial processes. During a recent interview with Colorlines, I spoke about the danger in seeing sport as purely game, entertainment, or distraction:

One of the things that often strikes me is the disconnect between progressive and those engaged in anti-racist movement and struggles — and sports. Sports continues to be seen as antithetical or a distraction, or not part and parcel with the movements for justice. I think that when you have a society that is increasingly invested in and has been for the last 30 years, with incarceration, with a suspension culture, with racial profiling, it’s not a coincidence that you have a sports culture that’s equally invested in those practices. And invested in the language of the criminal justice system.

I consume and am consumed by sports not simply because of the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” but because of its potential as a source of social change. Yet, sports continue to be a site for the perpetuation of injustice, violence, and despair. As a critical scholar, as an anti-racist practitioner, and as someone committed to justice, my gaze is never just as fan. In watching games, listening to commentaries, and reading various sports publications, I am unable and unwilling to suspend this gaze. So, it should be no surprise that when I recently opened ESPN: The Magazine, to find an article on drug use and college football, it had my attention.

“Of 400,000 athletes, about 0.6 percent will be tested for marijuana by the NCAA.” The lead-to ESPN’s sensationalized and misleading story on marijuana use and collegiate football, thus, frames the story as one about both rampant illegal drug use and the absence of accountability. While attempting to draw readers into their stereotyped-ridden, sensationalized tabloid journalism masking as investigative reporting/journalistic expose, it reflects the dangerous in this piece. “College football players smoking marijuana is nothing new. Coaches and administrators have been battling the problem and disciplining players who do so for decades,” writes Mark Schlabach. He highlights the purported epidemic plaguing college football by citing the following:

NCAA statistics show a bump in the number of stoned athletes. In the NCAA’s latest drug-use survey, conducted in 2009 and released in January, 22.6 percent of athletes admitted to using marijuana in the previous 12 months, a 1.4 percentage point increase over a similar 2005 study. Some 26.7 percent of football players surveyed fessed up, a higher percentage than in any other major sport. (The use of other drugs, such as steroids and amphetamines, has declined or held steady.) A smaller percentage of athletes actually get caught, but those numbers are also on the rise. In the latest available postseason drug-testing results, positive pot tests increased in all three divisions, from 28 in 2008-09 to 71 the following school year.

It is important to examine the evidence because of the narrative being offered here and the larger context given the racial implications of the war on drugs.

According to Schlabach, 22.6 percent of football players acknowledging using marijuana; in student-athletes playing football were the most likely to acknowledge marijuana amongst those participating in MAJOR sports. While unclear how he is defining major sports, I would gather that those major sports include football, track, basketball, and baseball, coincidentally sports dominated by African Americans in disproportionate numbers. Why limit the discussion here other than to perpetuate a stereotype? Does the revenue or popularity of a sport require greater scrutiny? I think not.

Examination of the actual NCAA study tells a different story. Indeed, baseball (21.5%); basketball (22.2%), and track (16.0%) trail football. Only men’s golf and tennis, with numbers of 22.5% 23.2% trails football amongst non-major sports. If one compares reported marijuana use between collegiate football players to their peers in swimming (27.2%) ice hockey (27.4%), wrestling (27.7%), soccer (29.4%), and lacrosse (48.5%), it becomes clear that football is not the problem. Add women’s field hockey (35.7) and women’s lacrosse into that mix, and yet again it is clear who is getting high. In fact, when High Times or Bill Maher looks for a role model within collegiate sports, they are more likely to call upon soccer or lacrosse players than a football player.

ESPN further mischaracterizes the study by failing to sufficiently acknowledge the differences drug use in Division 1 football and Division III. The NCAA study found that marijuana use is least common amongst Division I student-athletes (16.9%), where Division II student-athletes (21.4%) and those from Division III having the highest level of usage with a number of 28.3%. Since the 2005 study, drug usage actually declined at the Division I level, while increases were seen in other two divisions.

via NewBlackMan (in Exile): ESPN Must be High: Drugs & Jim Crow in Sports’ Reporting.

NewBlackMan: Like Father, Like Son?: An Open Letter to Coach Pat Knight

Like Father, Like Son?: An Open Letter to Coach Pat Knight

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

Dear Coach Pat Knight (Lamar University):

I am writing to you about your post-game comments the other night. As others may not have seen your press conference, I quote it for their sake. Entering the press conference, you first tell a student-athlete: “I am next, because you don’t have a clue what it takes to win.” Your tone of disrespect didn’t end there:

We’ve got the worst group of seniors right now that I’ve ever been associated with. Their mentality is awful. Their attitude is awful. It has been their M.O. for the last three years.

We’ve had problems with them off the court, on the court, classroom, drugs, being late for stuff. All that stuff correlates together if you’re going to win games. You just can’t do all that B.S. and expect to be a good team and win games. These guys got to learn; they have to grow up. They don’t need to be coddled; they don’t need to be babysat. That is the problem with society . . . because people don’t make kids accountable. These kids are stealing money by being on scholarship with their approach . . . . If you act like this in the real world, you are going to be homeless, with a job… And if people have a problem with me being harsh about it, I don’t care. I came here to clean something up.

While others have called your post-game comments an “epic rant,” as “tough love” or as an example your honesty, I don’t share their opinion. It was abusive, disrespectful and an affront to the educational mission of every institution of higher learning. You have defended these comments by noting the support of your fellow coaches, who are “all dealing with the same thing.” You have cited parents as so appreciative of your comments that they would want their kids to play on your team. While I don’t write as a parent (although the thought of my kids learning anything from you is one I cannot bear), I do write you as a teacher and a member the higher education community.

I am not sure if you think of yourself as a teacher or an educator. I don’t know if you subscribe to the belief that coaches, like professors, are advancing the mission of higher education through instilling values, fostering skill development, and otherwise preparing the next generation to succeed in all walks of life. Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist with the Washington Post, highlights the presumed pedagogical power (or mission) of collegiate coaches:

The best college coaches teach sport as a set of problems and how to tease out the solutions. They don’t just teach content and skill, but how to transfer it into real-world performance through study, organization and communication under pressure. They ask, what happens if you follow a strategy to its logical conclusion? What are the consequences of making things up as you go along? Why do things break down? What are effective fallback principles when skill or strategy breaks down? What are the traits of successful organizations across professional boundaries?

I would gather that you do see yourself as an educator, as a teacher molding the future generation. Whether true or not, I have to tell you your approach is both troubling and offensive and has NOTHING to do with teaching or educating. Teaching is not about publicly humiliating; teaching is not about ridiculing, demeaning, and disrespecting. You may think your approach reflects a commitment to disciplinarity and accountability but there have to be other ways to instill a commitment to excellence on and off the court. Anyone can stand before an audience, microphone in hand, without fear of any reprisal, to criticize. Teachers find other ways of inspiring, informing, or helping beyond intimidation and fear. Teachers don’t violate the trust of their students by announcing their grades in front of millions of people. Teachers don’t disrespect their students; calling out behavior is one thing, but condemning their character is another. Your decision to treat student-athletes as children, to publicly condemn and ridicule them, shows that you have a lot to learn as a teacher because anyone has the capacity to do what you did that night.

Beyond the tone, do you think it is proper to share students’ private academic records?  You obviously do because you followed your press conference with additional statements about academic performance:  “I’ve never seen more F’s on report cards than I ever have since I got here. Missing classes, being late for workouts, missing workouts. … What I don’t think they understand is all that correlates together. If you’re not going to be a winner off the court, you’re not going to be a winner on the court.” What good can come from embarrassing these students? At the same time, do you think it is proper to reference drug arrests, even though when I searched online all I could find is one arrest for a minor marijuana possession charge?
I would be remised if I didn’t bring up the racial optics of a white male coach publicly chastising, ridiculing and demonizing 5 African American players (based on search of roster, it appears that all 5 seniors are black)?  Did you think about how publicly castigating 5 black players as academically deficient, drug using, and otherwise lacking the requisite values and attitude to be successful as basketball players or people fits in a larger racial context?  Did you think about the societal stereotypes and how your claims are not only disrespectful to the players but reinforce widely circulated stereotypes about student-athletes and particularly black student-athletes?
Your arrogant comments makes me wonder if you and Newt Gingrich are writing a book together acting as if success and opportunity come as the result of a recipe of values, work ethic, and the right cultural ethos.  Was he busy lecturing members of the NAACP so you decided to use your platform to reduce success and failure to attitude and values?  Do you really think that excoriating 5 (black) players will help them develop a work ethic to avoid being homeless as if homelessness or unemployment is the result of not having the requisite values?  You seem to imply that people succeed or fail because of their actions, which is far from the truth (just ask Mitt Romney).  I wonder how your white manhood fits into your own career and how your own connections allowed you to make it irrespective of your own actions.  You claim to fear for the futures of those players who lack the needed maturation, but maybe they have a Dad who can help them out.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Like Father, Like Son?: An Open Letter to Coach Pat Knight.