10.12.2004

toe nash, boobie miles and the race/sports machine

the single greatest magazine article that i've ever read was in harper's magazine. it was the original story about the world series of poker by jim mcmanus that i think single handedly propelled poker to the wild popularity that it enjoys now. anyways, i started grad school and found that i never had time to really read the articles. that coupled with the fact that harper's these days only seems to print articles related to the war in the mideast caused me to cancel my subscription. anyways, i still flip through it when i'm in the bookstore to read the index and what not. anyways, i was doing just that today when i saw a great article about toe nash in there.

for those of you who don't know who toe nash is, the short story is in the late nineties, he was supposed to be this baseball phenom that was discovered completely by chance. supposedly, a scout saw him in junior high, but when he came back to check up on him in high school, he had all but disappeared. it turned out that he had dropped out of high school and was working in the sugar cane fields of louisiana. anyways, he was rediscoverd by the same scout years later. and by his accounting, toe nash was supposed to be as close to the natural as there ever was. a paul bunyan type player who could hit the ball a mile and throw 95mph gas. for a full reading of what became his legend, read peter gammons' famous column that did much to elevate his mythical status.

anyways, the story is pretty interesting as it deconstructs the myth and gives what seems to be the real story of a kid who was incredibly gifted, but at the same time incredibly troubled. as soon as the crushing weight of national notoriety found him, ate him up and spit him out into a world of drug use and violence. the story is most interesting in that it doesn't necessarily paint toe nash as a sympathetic character. in fact, it sort of makes him out to be this incredibly violent and selfish thug.

anyways, with all the talk about friday night lights movie being out, i was thinking about the comparison between toe and boobie miles, the texas football prodigy whose exploitation and downfall was chronicles in friday night lights. toe seemed to be fueled by what seemed to me as some kind of psychopathic tendencies, while boobie also made some poor decisions as well. i'm not articulating the differences very well here, so you're just gonna have to go to the bookstore yourself and read the article and then go see or read friday night lights. anyways, while the were both extremeley different stories, both were poor african american kids in rural communities who saw sports as a way out of the abject poverty that they and their families were living through. both were seemingly exploited by those who knew that america's obsession with the black athlete as a commodity (by the way, the article in harper's really indicts larry reynolds, toe's agent as a exploiter par excellence, and indirectly, his brother espn baseball analyst harold reynolds), and both had the education system completely fail them because of the very sports institution that had gave them the idea that they might be superstars one day.

the central assertion of my masters thesis is that it is incredibly obvious to any casual observer that race and sports are intimately linked in the US, especially for african american kids. yet people always get in a tizzy when someone brings up the idea that the sports institution itself might be racist. you can't talk about race in sports, and i think that's f-ed up, and it's hard for most americans to come to grips with because sports is so central to our identies. but it's the truth and we need to be more aware of the boobie mileses and the toe nashes of the world.

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