The White Coach’s Burden | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

The White Coach’s Burden

By Guest Contributor Dr. David J. Leonard

During my “glory days” playing high school football–among other positions I played linebacker–there was a game where, after several tackles (pretty amazing tackles if I remember them correctly), I found myself rolling on the ground in pain. Their running back decided to thrust his helmet into my gut leaving me gasping for air. I would later find out that the opposing coach encouraged his players to “take me out”: a helmet to the gut would do that for at least one play.

The fact that a nobody player in a nothing high-school football game between two tiny private schools in Los Angeles was “taken out” illustrates how encouraged violence is part and parcel to football culture, even if there were no “‘knockouts’…worth $1,500 and ‘cart-offs’ $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs,” rewards uncovered as part of the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty program” last week.

Yet, the NFL, much of the media, and others have acted as if the Saints’ actions are an aberration that can be easily corrected. As such, the league’s response was predictably clichéd:

The [anti-] bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.

The NFL wasn’t alone with its shock and outrage (and hypocrisy). The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke referred to the bounty system as “sanctioned evil” that in one game constituted a “blatant mugging by the New Orleans Saints.” Eamon Quinn described bounties as antithetical to the values of sports: “Such malicious intent—regardless of whether the particular hit was legal by the letter of the law—totally undermines the camaraderie and goodwill inherent in participation in sports. It is diametrically opposed to the inherently benevolent nature of sporting competition.” Similarly, ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook identified the bounty issue as “Sinnersgate” which “is about being paid to cause injury, which takes a beautiful sport and makes it a low, filthy thing.”

Dave Zirin rightfully highlights the hypocrisy in the league’s resisting calls for reform while marketing itself on the “Orwellian staple” of comparing NFL players to warriors:

There is no morality in war — but that doesn’t stop our political and military leaders from insisting otherwise. Invariably, the enemy consists of immoral, medieval cave dwellers who respect neither human life nor the sacred rules of combat. Our side, on the other hand, engages in “surgical strikes” to limit “collateral damage” in a noble effort to liberate the shackled from tyranny. They tell us to ignore the innocent killed in drone attacks, the piling body counts, and just remember that our enemies are savages because they don’t play by civilized rules.

The moral indignity of the media is striking given its own promotion of on-the-field violence. The proliferation of a highlight culture dominated by jarring hits is as much a bounty as any direct or indirect payment system.


An ESPN culture that leads with bone-crushing, de-cleating tackles, turning relatively obscure defensive players into household names, illustrates the role of the media in offering incentive for viciousness on the field. The hypocrisy and faux-outrage from the media as well as fans, given the widespread acceptance of a culture of violence, seems more about disappointment the behavior of any coaches involved; bounty gate isn’t a challenge to perception of football and the NFL, but the league’s patriarchs – the coaches.

Continue reading @ The White Coach’s Burden | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.

The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

The God Squad:

Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports

By Dr. David J. Leonard

Among the virtual saturation of Jeremy Lin online has been a poster of him with the words “We are all witnesses.” At Monday’s New York Knicks game, fans donned “black T-shirts that read “The Jeremy Lin Show” on the front” and “We Believe” painted on the back.

Encapsulating the hoopla and hype, while referencing the similar promise that LeBron James brought to Cleveland and the NBA (how’d that work out?), not to mention the spectacle of his meteoric rise, “the witness” iteration illustrates the religious overtones playing through the media coverage.

Since Lin emerged on the national scene while at Harvard, he has made his faith and religious identity quite clear. While refusing to abandon the “underdog” story, Cork Gaines focuses readers attention on his religious beliefs: “But there is more to Jeremy Lin than just being an undrafted Asian-American point guard out of Harvard. He is also a devout Christian that has previously declared that he plays for the glory of God and someday hopes to be a pastor.” Noting how post-game interviews often begin with Lin announcing his faith – “just very thankful to Jesus Christ, [his] Lord and savior” – Gaines uses this opportunity to deploy the often noted comparison that Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s Tim Tebow.

While making the comparison through the Cinderella/overlooked narrative, the media celebration of their faith and evangelical beliefs serves as the anchor for the Lin as Tebow trope. “Tebowmania? That was so 2011. It’s time for a new cult-hero phenomenon: Linsanity,” writes Ben Cohen in “Meet Jeremy Lin, the new Tim Tebow.”

Then there’s their shared religious values. ‘I’m just thankful to God for this opportunity,’ Lin said in an on-court interview Saturday before tweeting, “God is good during our ups and our downs!” His Twitter avatar is a Jesus cartoon. Tebow’s, for the record, is his autobiography’s cover.

Described as Taiwanese Tim Tebow, as resembling “Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow,” as filling the mold that Tebow “patented,” Lin’s identity (meaning/significance) is ascribed by his connection to Tebow. Tebow defines him.

In “From Unknown To Phenom In 3 Games: Harvard Grad Jeremy Lin Saves The New York Knicks,” Les Carpenter makes the comparison clear: “He is a Christian, vocal in his belief. And because of this and because he is a flawed player proving the experts wrong, people are comparing him to Tim Tebow.” According to Gaines, “Lin and Tebow are not the first athletes to make their faith a key component of their athletic persona. But if Lin, another unconventional player fighting an uphill battle against haters and doubters, continues his spectacular play in The World’s Most Famous Arena, the NBA may soon experience their own Tebowmania. And the fans are already calling it “Linsanity.”

While dismissing the links beyond the uber-hype afforded to Tebow (and now Lin), Bethlehem Shoals furthers the comparison: “Tim Tebow, whose religious views are no secret, probably considers luck the pay-off for faith; Lin is also an enthusiastic Christian. Whether you feel like pushing things in that direction is your business. The bottom line is that, thus far, Lin has been a welcome surprise, a Cinderella story that no one wants to see end.”

The comparison is instructive on multiple levels (see here to understand problems with comparison in a sporting context). Each exists in juxtaposition to blackness. The “underdog” narrative, the focus on hard work and intelligence, and the claims of being overlooked and discriminated against all elucidates the ways in which their bodies are rendered as different from the hegemonic black athletic body.

Religion, thus, becomes another marker of difference, as a means to celebrate and differentiate Lin and Tebow. Whereas black athletes are seen within the national imagination to be guided by hip-hop values rather than religious values, Lin and Tebow practice an evangelical ethic on and off the field/court. Tebow and Lin operate as “breath of fresh air.” Writing about Tiger Woods in Sports Stars: The Cultural Politics Of Sporting Celebrity, C.L. Cole and David L. Andrews argue that Woods’ emergence as a global icon reflected his power as a counter narrative. As “a breath of fresh of air,” his cultural power emanated from his juxtaposition to “African American professional basketball players who are routinely depicted in the popular media as selfish, insufferable, and morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading at The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.

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.

Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

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.”

Continue reading @ Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

NewBlackMan: Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?

Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

One of the common arguments offered during the NBA lockout was that David Stern and the owners had to initiate the lockout in an effort to make the league better. Citing the success of the NFL, these advocates predicted that the NBA would be more successful economically, more important culturally, and just a better game if it adopted the rules and policies of the NFL. Such arguments have not died down with the end of the lockout or with the start of the NBA season.

Embodying this logic is Jason Whitlock’s recent column, “NFL is model for American success.” Whitlock argues that NFL is a model of success not just for the NBA, but the nation. With a salary cap, revenue sharing, a requirement that players attend at least three years of colleges, its amateur draft design, its “emphasis on teams over individuals while making room for superstars” and “a free-agent system that allows franchises to retain their marquee players”, the NFL offers “the perfect blend of capitalism and socialism.” He remarks further:

One hundred years from now, when scholars analyze the rise and fall of our dynasty, the NFL might be considered America’s greatest invention, the cultural and economic force that should’ve been our guide to 200 more years of global domination.

If only Pete Rozelle had been our president rather than the architect of the modern-day national pastime, Americans would understand the value of restraints on capitalism, revenue sharing and a system that strengthens the poor.

There is so much wrong with the argument and the analysis that it is hard to know where to start. The idea that the NFL’s age restriction leads to a better or more successful system, even in absence of any sort of evidence, is reflective of Whitlock’s propensity to sell myths as fact. The ample success of NBA players, whether those who skipped college or those who were “one-and-done” ballers, runs counter to the rhetoric offered by Whitlock.

Likewise, the premise that NFL is superior because it emphasizes teams over individuals, which has led to increased fan interest, erases the overall popularity of NBA stars throughout the world. Whereas LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan are transnational icons, whose talents generated profits for the NBA and its corporate partners, the same cannot be said for the NFL. Think about it, can you name an NFL player that captures the global imagination?

When Michael Jordan was playing, he was one of the most recognizable people in the world; Kobe Bryant’s visits to Asia lead to mass hysteria. Would any NFL player – past or present – elicit such reactions? Despite the fact that the NBA erases these global realities from its economic picture, the NBA global success is very much a result of its emphasis on individual stars over teams.

Likewise, the ascendance of dynasties within the NBA – Bulls, Lakers, Spurs, Celtics –, which has certainly enhanced the NBA’s brand, is reflective of the structure of the NBA. In many regards, the NBA system is superior even though David Stern and the owners seem intent on slowly undermining what has been successful for the league in so many ways.

What is most striking, however, is Whitlock’s celebration of the NFL as an ideal model for the entire nation. Should the NBA and the nation at large emulate the model provided by the NFL given that: 21 former NFL players recently sued the NFL for not protecting players against the harms of concussions. In the lawsuit, they “accuse the NFL of deliberately omitting or concealing years of evidence linking concussions to long-term neurological problems.”

Is the NFL the ideal business and social model, given that: according to a 2006 Study in the St. Petersburg Times, for every year an NFL player spends it the league, it takes 3 years off his life expectancy. In other words, given that the average career of an NFL player is 4 years, his life expectancy will be 55 (as opposed to 75, the national average for American males). Put succinctly by Greg Doyle, “The NFL is killing its players, literally leading them to an early grave — and now the NFL is trying to kill them even faster. That’s a fact, people.” While some may call this rhetoric incendiary and hyperbolic, consider that in 2010, almost 280 players spent time on injured reserve, with 14 suffering head injuries, 13 experiencing neck injuries, and one dealing with spine injury.

continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?.