FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

White Blindness: Racism on ESPN?

by DAVE ZIRIN

The right-wing media hordes, in a mad dash to deflect attention from Dick Cheney’s shooting spree, may have found their target of mass distraction: Bryant Gumbel. At the end of his HBO show “Real Sports,” Gumbel unleashed a prolonged rant about the utter unwatchability of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. The Winter Games certainly are a worthy target. On ten-hour tape delay, NBC has been force-feeding us highlights of sports that seem concocted on Madison Avenue to sell Mountain Dew. As Gumbel took the Xtreme winter games to task, he said, “So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of Blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.” Immediately, and predictably, the bloviating bigots of the blogosphere started splattering Gumbel’s statement all over the web.

This was to be expected. But more striking was the reaction to Gumbel on ESPN Radio’s “The Dan Patrick Show.” Normally, in the red meat world of sports radio, Dan Patrick seems happy to be veal: no gristle or fat, morally offensive to some, but generally just plain and easily digestible. But Dan blew a gasket on the air, going after Gumbel like he was president of the Willard Scott fan club. He called for Gumbel’s job, saying that if Rush Limbaugh was fired from ESPN for making racially insensitive comments, a firing Dan says he opposed – then Gumbel should suffer the same fate. Comparing Gumbel to Limbaugh is like comparing apples to an obese drug addict. Gumbel is an award-winning journalist who has had a foot in the world of hard sports commentary for three decades.

Limbaugh is a gaseous hop-head who once asked, “Why do all composite criminal photos look like Jesse Jackson?” and telling an African-American caller to his show who somehow got through the screeners — to “Take the bone out of your nose.” Gumbel hosts a critically lauded show. Limbaugh was a hired by ESPN as a gimmick by their ownership group, Disney, as part of their mission to make America stupider.

But when you actually compare their respective comments, the Dan Patrick argument not only collapses, but becomes intellectually dishonest. Limbaugh, of course, said on ESPN’s NFL show that Pro-Bowl Philadelphia Eagle Donavan McNabb was “overrated” because of the “media’s social concern” to see a successful Black quarterback. This was exactly the kind of ignorant garbage Disney hired him spew. What the rat shack didn’t count on was thousands of phone calls and emails demanding the fat man’s Sosa-sized head.

Let’s look at Gumbel’s comments again. “So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the winter games look like a GOP convention.” Patrick told his listening audience that Gumbel was “playing the race card” by claiming whites couldn’t be good athletes — when in fact Gumbel was hardly saying anything so shocking, or even that new. The fact is — and Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly confirmed this — that the athletes and the audience in Torino are almost entirely white. This isn’t because Black people aren’t comfortable in the cold, but because of access to the types of sports on display at the Winter Games. In fact, the Winter Olympics are such a Snow White affair, it became international news Saturday when Shani Davis became the first Black Olympian to win an individual gold, not only in the 2006 Olympics but the entire history of the Winter Games. Davis knew it himself, saying, “I’m one of a kind.” For Davis, his special status was heightened by messages he received on his personal web site, revealing, “they hoped I would fall, break my leg, using the n-word.” [Maybe Davis is “playing the race card,” too?] In the history of athletics, anytime African-American athletes have had access and opportunity they have excelled. Sports that require thousands of dollars of equipment, country club memberships and trips to Vail will continue to be as segregated as New Orleans.

Gumbel’s comments on winter sports are not different from what John McEnroe and Andre Agassi have argued about tennis. They have both said, with no backlash, that there are potentially incredible tennis players in the inner cities of the US that we will never see because of an absence of public tennis courts and basic infrastructure. It’s not different from the lament of Negro League baseball players of the 1930s like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neal who didn’t understand how Joe Dimaggio and Dizzy Dean could be called “the best” baseball players when they didn’t even have a chance to compete. Yet Gumbel is a target for stating the obvious. Dan Patrick wanted Rush to stay. Now he wants Gumbel to go.

The problem is not that Dan Patrick is a raving right-winger who likes to spend his weekends shooting 78 year old lawyers in the face. It’s that he and ESPN are the anti-political guardians of sport. They are instinctually hostile to anyone who tries to challenge the athletic-industrial complex. ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike In the Morning” even have a “Just Shut Up Award” for any athlete who dares step outside the box. One player said to me, “The fastest way to win the Just Shut Up Award’ is to actually have something to say, particularly about race or [the war in] Iraq.”

If we are going to have honest discussions about sport and society, we should look at the content of what Gumbel is saying. And if we are going to look racism in the face, then we can’t let someone get canned for having the temerity to talk truth. Maybe if Gumbel had just shot someone in the face instead, Patrick and company would be more forgiving.

DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States” is published by Haymarket Books. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at whatsmynamefool2005@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

More articles by:

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail