Sports and society . . .

As Doug noted, I spent the end of last weekend in St. Petersburg attending a sports journalism summit where some of the best in the business gathered to teach the rest of us how to sports write more good. Or something like that.

Anyway, brutal assignment. The weather was 80 degrees and sunny. St. Pete is located right on the water. I can’t go on reliving it. But I survived.

A lot of the talk that you guys would care about centered on a discussion about the broadening intersection of sports and culture. Race was heavy on our minds for many reasons: the Imus situation, the Duke lacrosse case, the anniversary of Jackie Robinson crossing the color line.

I don’t know if we do a good enough job tackling these issues. Dealing with race is always so touchy. But as many of the panelists — guys such as the sports editor of the New York Times, big shots at ESPN, Woody Paige and Bill Plaschke of Around the Horn Fame and many other bright minds — pointed out, sports is one place where so many of us are confronted with, and ultimately deal with, race.

So, for your blog-reading pleasure, a few quick takes on the above stories:

Imus — So, explain this to me: Hasn’t this guy always been an idiot? I mean, that’s his thing, right? I’d like to get ahold of him and ask him “Don, on the list of most hurtful and asinine things you’ve ever said, where do the Rutgers remarks actually rank?” Because I’m not sure he thought anything of it. He said it, like’s he said so many things during his career, flippantly and without care.

Look, I’m glad he’s gone. And it’s interesting that when he made the remark about athletes — even fringe athletes like women’s basketball players — the sports media jumped on him and forced action. That happened when Rush Limbaugh made the comment about Donovan McNabb a few years ago. As I said, sports sometimes allows us to deal with race in ways we rarely do.

Blatant racism – such as that shown by the KKK – is absurd and should be ignored. What the Imus case showed us, I think, is that we need to be more vigilant in looking for casual racism. Stereotypes and generalizations are the enemy. They damage slowly but thoroughly.

Duke lacrosse — A tragic case in so many ways. Three young men had their names smeared through the collective mud of America and will struggle with the accusations, bolstered by an over-zealous prosecutor, for the rest of their lives.

The first concern of the reporters and editors who helped botch this story should be to examine their techniques and develop ways to ensure that knee-jerk reporting never gets in the way of factual reporting ever again.

But there’s a story worth looking into here, for sure. Strippers are called to houses full of young men on a regular basis, by sports teams and frats and others, so the issues of power and sexism are raised over and over again. And how many places in America offer situations where white privilege abuts minority struggle, as with Duke and Durham?

Jackie Robinson — I touched on this in the column I wrote before I left, but let me just restate my opinion. I agree that an effort to draw more young black kids to baseball should continue and be strengthened, but I don’t want that to take away from the fact that Robinson opened the doors to other sports, too.

If young black athletes gravitate toward basketball and football — they do, and for so many different reasons — then let them. So many are making good lives either professionally or by earning a free college education.

If there’s tons of money floating around to develop inner-city baseball programs, I hope a large part of the program becomes an emphasis on education. An education can work for anyone, while a career as a pro athlete goes only to the truly gifted.

OK, that’s all for now. The family and I are rolling through California toward Yosemite. Hope all is well in Bloomington.


  1. nice blog chris. how about an article sometime soon about all the former hoosier soccer players currently playing for MLS clubs? enjoy yosemite.

  2. Chris,

    That’s something I’ll definitely work on the MLS story this summer, especially since Columbus has collected so many former Hoosiers.


  3. I liked your point about putting an emphasis on education. It seems that it so often takes a back seat to a students athletic talent.

    With the chance to make millions before turning 21 and all the fame and attention that accompanies a successfu athlete throughout his career, there’s no wonder kids grow up wanting to be the next Jordan or McNabb. Everybody knows that top athletes make sports a priority in their life, sacrificing elsewhere to imprtove their skills. The problem with so many young minorities growing up hoping to be the next Jordan or McNabb is that virtually none of them make it. It works out great for the kids that make it pro, but for the other 99.9% that don’t and whose education suffers because of it, their life is worse off. I know anyone can cite a thousand cases where X player came from poverty to play at an elite level and succeeded, but the sad fact is that this almost never happens.

    We should raise the academic standards for student athletes at the high school and collegiate level. Athletics should never take a back seat to sports and when it does it’s a almost always detrimental to the kid involved.

  4. I have been in this discussion on other forums about race in sports, and in the media. My views on race in sports, and in the sports media are fairly simple, don’t mention an athletes race, regardless of the circumstances, and it will not be an issue of race, but an issue of the person it involves. This goes back to the Superbowl, having the first two African-American coaches to lead a team to a Superbowl. Great for the African-American community, interesting story to be wrote on the Monday following the AFC and NFC championship games. By Thursday of week one, I was ready to scream over it, every magazine, news paper, sports commentator on TV was repeating over and over about haveing the first two African-American Suberbowl coaches. It was to a point that there skin color was more important than the values they put forth to their players, long hours spent in an office watching film, evaluating players, and adjusting to what their team needed to succeed. It was no longer about the game, no longer about the sacrafices their families have had to endure, it was all about their race.

    I caught some backlash over this next statment, and I am sure I will on here. In order for racism to decrease, and become non-existent in our country during our life times, different ethnic backrounds can no longer praise a man for his color, but for his achievments as a person. If a African-American coach wins a Suberbowl, or a Hispanic athlete breaks a record in track, what they accomplished to reach that level is what we should talk about, and not their ethnic backround. All races will never be equal until we see all races as equal, and the sports reporting community no longer brings up the race or ethnic backround of an athelete.

    Just my thoughts.

  5. Mike P: I absolutely agree. The statement “the first black coach to win the Superbowl” is racist. Just last evening I was asked in a phone survey whether I was “white” or “Caucasian”. My ancestors are from North America. That makes me a North American. Let ’em figure that out! We’re all members of the “human” race.

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