11.22.2004

terrell owens vs. ron artest

this one is going to be a long one kids, so buckle up.

as you might imagine, the past week's events in the NFL and the NBA have my little sports sociology brain kicked into overdrive. between all of this and the vibe awards, i think that it's safe to say that the black male image has taken quite a hit this past week. also safe to say, every single sports columnists is weighing in on what happened last weekend in detroit. i'm just going to free write here so i'm not sure what i'm about to say.

you can probably guess that i have been pondering what role race has to play in all of this stuff. i've already made known how i think race might be involved with the T.O. thing. it's interesting to see peter king's reaction to tony dungy's comments in this week's monday morning quarterback column. he writes:
Good job, Tony Dungy. I'm not sure this is very much a racial story, but I applaud that while the vast majority of NFL people sit on their hands about this one, you have the conscience and guts to tell ABC to fry ice.
it's a curious quote. on the one hand, he's praising dungy for standing up to the league, but on the other hand, king, in a very oblique back-handed way is accusing dungy of playing the race card. what makes this transparent ploy even worse is that earlier in the column, he praises eli manning's first start of his NFL career
Third quarter. Manning had just thrown his first NFL touchdown pass, a six-yarder to Jeremy Shockey. But the rookie didn't run into the end zone and leap into Shockey's arms, or act overly excited. Manning simply jogged back to the bench and accepted congratulations from his teammates. Meanwhile Shockey spiked the ball in the end zone, and it bounded toward the end line. Ike Hilliard went and got the ball. Near the sideline, Hilliard gave it to Shockey, who presented it to Manning. With that odd, sort of sour look on his face -- first impressions are that he's just so flatline that nothing fazes him -- Manning took the pigskin like it was a practice ball in a May mini-camp drill.

"I saw that," said Mora, "and I just thought how impressive it was. It was like, 'There's more to do.'"
what's interesting here is how manning performs on the field makes up for his sorriness off the field. it's as if he's somehow forgotten about the whole draft fiasco (manning basically refused to play for the team that was going to draft him and forced the chargers to trade him to the giants), which if you think about it, is sort of a textbook me-first-spoiled-athlete archetype that sports writers are so quick to criticize. but when a black athlete does something, no one remembers that T.O. has been playing like a real man this year (13TDs, 908 yds though 10 games). so while T.O. has been doing nothing but helping his team win, which is the uber-goal of sports, they get on him for dancing in the end zone, and then filming a promo which his white management let him do. don't get me wrong here, king criticizes eagles management for letting T.O. even get involved with this, and i actually think that king is usually ok at spotting when race is a factor. however, it should be noted that he's quick to hand out praise to this white player who has done squat in the league and from my point of view, comes from a long lineage of sorriness (peyton and archie), and whose most notable press thus far is his crybabying his way out of san diego. i guess my point is that how race figures into the discourse is somewhat complicated. sometimes it's more obvious than others, but just because it's not there in every instance doesn't mean it's an important part of structuing the discourse around sports and the black athlete, which leads us to...

ron artest getting fired for the season. tons of great print out there for this. marc stein of espn.com says that the suspensions are a result of nba commish david stern asserting his authority. bill conlin of the philadelphia daily news writes that the brawl was a reflection on the moral degradation of society, and jason whitlock of the kansas city star writes that black players need to watch themselves (don't forget, for logins to the registration required sites go to bugmenot.com). it's all so crazy to see unfold. anyways, on to the good quotes.

bill conlin ends his column with this:
And us? What about us?

America in general and American sports in particular is in the same state of pampered, luxury-sated decadence as the Roman Empire in its final days of "Look At Us" grandeur. The barbarians at Rome's gates were the Visigoths, the Huns and the other lean and hungry subjects of the Empire.

We have 9/11, bin Laden and the al Qaeda. Our Visigoths and Huns are millions of Islamic fundamentalists and millions more around the rest of the world who hate our wealth and arrogance just a little less than the mullahs of Iraq.

The NBA brawl is just the latest boil to erupt, a big, festering flashpoint that will distract our attention from a much bigger and uglier picture of ourselves.
what makes this good is what he wrote earlier in the column
So, yeah, the media blingmeisters offered, NBA players really have to put up with intolerable circumstances to make a living, the incredible heaviness of being. It's so bad, a man can't even pull into a handicapped parking spot in his stretch Hummer and treat his posse to Cristal shooters and Beluga Caviar without some fool getting in his face.
again, the method of message communication is oblique, but the message basically is, the decline of society is somehow linked to the NBA culture going hip-hop, which i hope that we all know by know is code for black culture = bad. seriously, he's comparing the NBA to the roman empire and black culture to the huns and the visigoths! god bless old white sports writers.

whitlock is much more direct with his take on how race plays into all of this:
American sports fans, particularly those who consistently shell out the hundreds of dollars it takes to attend a professional game, are fed up with black professional basketball players in particular and black professional athletes to a lesser degree.

What the players must come to grips with is that just because race is an element in the backlash, that doesn't mean the backlash is fueled by racism.

We're witnessing a clash of cultures. A predominately white fan base is rejecting a predominately black style of play and sportsmanship.

Who is on the right side of this argument? The group that is always right in a capitalistic society. The customer. That's why Stern, endorsed by his owners, came down hard on the players. He stated that the NBA would take steps to ensure that its fans improved their behavior. But Stern knows the real solutions are in the hands of his players. A good businessman caters to his audience. They don't play country music at my dad's inner-city bar for a reason.
which again, is made all the more interesting by what he writes elsewhere in the same column
We, black people, begged for integration. We demanded the right to play in the major leagues, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL. These leagues accommodate a white audience. As long as the customer base is white, the standard for appropriate sportsmanship, style of play and appearance should be set by white people.

This is fair, particularly when the athletes/employees earn millions of dollars and have the freedom to do whatever — and I mean whatever — they want when they're not playing or practicing.

If African-American players are unwilling to accept this reality, NBA owners will speed up the internationalization of their team's rosters. Many African-American players with NBA-quality skill will soon find themselves circling the country playing basketball with Hot Sauce and the And 1 Tour while Yao Nowitzki collects a $10 million NBA check.

The black players will have no one to blame but themselves.
dammit, isn't sports great? it's so filled with contradiction and complex power dynamics. which is why i have chosen it to be my field of study within sociology. anyways, so what whitlock is saying is that sports is inherently racist, so to survive, black players need to dance for whitey! all this coming from a black writer!

good lord this is a lot of rambling. anyways, here's the point. the actual events of sports may or may not have anything to do with race. sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. with these two incidents, it's hard to say. it's very conceivable that the abc producers very much wanted to use a big black guy to add extra sexuality to the desperate housewives promo, but it's also entirely possible that they wanted to pick the player with the most personality to do the promo, and T.O. is overwhelmingly the obvious choice. maybe those white fans threw the cup at artest because in their heads they feel that sports is a place where they can do whatever they want if black people don't fulfill their expectations. but it's also possible that ron artest was a timebomb waiting to click and some super drunk fans picked the wrong time to be jackasses.

what is clear is that the interpretation by fans and the media always have something to do with race. it's one of the fundamental axes on which sports is built (masculinity is the other big one). both owens and artest are at the center of events which break one sports code or the other, but all of the criticism has been framed in a "step n fetch" way. why can't these black athletes which we pay so much money just do exactly as they're told and not remind us that we're racists? and as my synonomic brother, the angry asian man says, that's racist sucka!

lastly, i'm still formulating my full opinion on whether or not the sanctions that the league dished out to artest and company are "fair" (as if such a thing could ever really be determined), but right now i'm landing on the side of too harsh. the actions are clearly very bad and unprecedented and fines and suspensions should be handed out, but artest is clearly being used to set an example and as a scapegoat. detroit security is just as responsible. should they all be fired? i mean we can always go back to "artest shouldn't have, but the fan shouldn't have", and all that stuff, but my roommate's reaction of "he should be suspended for the rest of his life" is ludicrous. should we ban the detroit pistons for making basketball so unwatchable then? that's done more to hurt the game then what artest did. international spectacle? f the rest of the world. we don't care what they do with soccer hooligans, so they can go f themselves. he also entertains some logic of "he has a history". well people in the middle east have a history of cutting people's heads off when they're provoked, should we ban them for the rest of their lives?

6 comments:

molly said...

just want to say Right On to everything you said bob and weigh in with two things: i do think the actual incident definitely had to do with race and yes, I think the punishments were way too harsh. To quote my hero, Goffman would say the real sociological question isn't how this could have happened, but WHY this sort of thing doens't happen more often. While the players were out of line, the fans were antagonistic and hostile (typical of detoriot fans, erik) and if they were going for an interactive partipation style, they got it.

Erik said...

All right. I agree completely that race has a lot to do with everything that's going on here. But why should that make Artest and the other players who went into the stands and assaulted not one, not two, but about SIX fans get off easy?

Here's my argument.

If an NBA player leaves the court, goes into the stands, and punches a fan, that player should be immediately kicked out of the league for life. Booyashacka.

The question becomes: Where do you draw the line? At what point does a player do something that will get him in serious trouble?

Bob, you seem to think that even if a player went into the stands and blasted someone with a 12-gage they should still be allowed to play in the NBA because these poor NBA players are victims of being made to play for the public's amusement. They can do no wrong, basically, because the pressures of fame and fortune are just-- just too much to bear. I get choked up just thinking about it, Bob.

F that. That's the same reasoning that says Bill O'Reilly can never be sued for sexual harassment because he's so famous and rich that he's just a victim of money-grubbing hoes. F that.

I say the line has definitely been crossed when you're off the court and attacking fans. Period. As for Artest's personal story (his history of getting himself in trouble), that doesn't really matter. I wouldn't care if Artest had never even gotten a parking ticket before -- he crossed the line and the NBA is well within its rights to punish him severely.

Bob and Molly -- the fans who get this thing going are a-holes and also deserve to be booted from ever attending an NBA event ever again. But for you to criticize the entire Detroit metropolitan area is absurd and you know it. Talk about race being a factor -- where do you think Detroit got its rough and tumble reputation?

I'm not defending the fans who threw shit and were sucker-punching players. They deserve to be punished harshly as well. (Note that most of the fans accused are from the preppy O.C. suburbs of Detroit, by the way, and so is the Palace.) But it's ridiculous for you to argue that Artest should get off with a measly 15 or 20 game suspension. The league's only mistake was not punishing these guys even more harshly.

And Bob, the specious analogies you're posting are hilarious but obnoxious. I'm just saying that the NBA (or any employer) is entitled to fire someone who assaults people. I'm not saying that any bad behavior at any time = the death penalty. I'm saying that if you assault people, you should expect to get fired from your job. And Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal aren't even fired. They're just suspended. That's the problem.

Bob said...

seriously erik, why don't you have ron artest put on blackface for you? here's the deal, losing a year of your career and around 8 million dollars is a big deal, and you're telling me that's not enough to make up for running into the stands and beating someone up? we've forgiven far worse than that.

and before you get sanctimonious with artest breaking some sacrosanct bond between player and fan. that's all socially constructed bullshit and you know it. and if you don't know it, then read my thesis.

what's the difference between artest going into the stands and someone getting in a fight at work? so the guy gets fired, but eventually, he gets hired by someone else. and that's what is probably going to happen. i can't imagine that the pacers hang on to ron artest, because if they do, he will be bigger than anything that they do. and when they unload his contract, he'll just pick up and try to make a living again. and you can't tell me that the money makes a difference. just because he gets paid more doesn't mean that we should have different expectations for him. ron artest doesn't set the NBA salary structure. it's not his fault that he gets paid lots of money for what he does. it doesn't make him more culpable for his actions. and what the NBA is dishing out is actually harsher than real life. a lawyer does some shady shit and he gets put on probation. doctors hire scummy lawyers to get out of having to actually taking care of patients. university admission officers allow some kids in because of nepotism and then denies another kid, who possibly will be a loser because of his lack of college education. all of these people have committed a violation of some sort of unspoken rules, should they all be barred from their vocation for the REST OF THEIR LIFE? no. and should ron artest never ever be allowed to play basketball again just because he offends your more refined sensibilities? no.

and honestly, molly is right. those a-holes had it coming. people are going to be scared to say it, but only someone with the moral fortitude of a molly g has the guts (not balls of course) to say it. was it right that artest went into the stands? again, no. but was it wrong that the jerk who comes on to the court to try and confront artest gets jacked in the face by o'neal? i say no. you reap what you sow. a good (and smart) friend of mine emailed me recently saying, "I would
say that this should teach you not to fuck with 7ft tall black men and to cut daddy off in the stands when he has too many beers." there is a sort of poetic justice that everyone seems to be ignoring here. the whole thing would have been avoided if some jackass didn't throw the beer on artest in the first place. i know that you agree that the fan should be banned for life from attending basketball game, but that sanction does not correspond to artest's sanction. not by a longshot. if you are advocating artest be banned from getting the NBA, then the you need to be just as adamant as some authority banning all of the fans that were there either confronting players or throwing beer from not attending a basketball game, and not watching basketball on tv, not doing anything that allows him to derive pleasure from basketball. obviously, it is just simply impossible to do so. likewise, you can't prevent artest from pursuing a livelihood if another team is willing to take a chance on him.

erik, i don't like long discussion threads on my blog like you do, so i'm not going to post anymore. molly and everyone else, please add more to the discussion if you want. erik, you can get in the last word if you want, but just remember, i still kicked your ass this week in fantasy football.

molly said...

Okay, guys, I think we're all more or less on the same page and very fun thread. Just a couple of things I want to add.

First, crowd violence at sporting events is not new and is currently relatively tame compared to what went on in the past (of course at roman and midevil events), but check out how a baseball game in 1900 was described, "Thousands of gunslinging Chicago Cubs fans turned a Fourth of July doubleheader into a shoot out at the OK corral, endangering the lives of players and fellow spectators. Bullets sang, darted, and whizzed over players' heads as the rambunctious fans fired round after round after round whenever the Cubs scored against the gun-shy Philadelphia Phillies" (cited in Coakley 2001).

I think the decrease in spectator violence has a lot to do with increased regulation of behavior and emotional expression in society and that is precisely why athletic events remain exciting. They allow us an outlet to express our agression and frustration (largely by vicariously enjoying the violence we pay athletes to engage in). Now, things get out of hand when there is overconformity to the sports ethic, which consists of two main themes as I see it: respect and masculinity.

Obviously, the commercialization of sports may lead to fans feeling disrespected. People in the US see themselves as patrons (and stadium norms also become more about customer service than crowd control) and may become enraged when they feel like they're getting ripped off by these arrogant (black) million dollar players. Those MEN in the stands may have wanted to reassert their own status by posturing and reacting against what could be considered an assualt on their masculinity.

In turn, the players respond as they've been trained and paid to all of their lives; aggressively. We can't have it all. Do you expect them to politely respond to that type of hostility?

So of course racism, class inequality, and distorted images of masculinty are the underlying causes of this sort of thing, but no restrictive sanctions or EXCESSIVE player suspensions are going to solve this matter. I say make both teams play in empty stadiums for a few games. Both the fans and players will learn a little respect.

But to tell you the truth, this sort of stuff is why I love (and love to hate) professional sports!

Anonymous said...

This is Ian, infamous half-black Detroiter from the Erik Love board, and I'd just like to make a few comments.

First of all, I don't see why race is a necessary component of either of these controversies. When the XFL (remember that?) started up a few years ago, one of the first things that they did was try to sexualize the league and the players by having cheerleaders perform player promos steeped in sexual innuendo, saying "[insert quarterback's name] really knows how to score." The league lost its crediblity, primarily because the players sucked, but also because it presented the players as being focused on something unrelated to football.

If I saw Steve Young involved in the same promo that Owens was in, I would have laughed my ass off because it was Steve Young - not known for being the most flamboyant individual on the gridiron - and then I would have asked "What the hell does that have to do with football?".

I know what you're thinking, but I would have had the same reaction if McNabb were in the promo instead of Owens. T.O. got picked because he's known for being charismatic, and blackness should really have nothing to do with either his selection or the backlash.

As far as Artest is concerned, my first reaction is that throughout the league's history, plenty of players have had run-ins with the fans. If a specific fan causes a problem that is created by something other than routine heckling, the players can notify the authorities and have such fans removed. Fans who throw things on the court or behave with similar civil disregard are caught and processed to the full extent of the law.

What Artest did was not self-defense - responding to a threat with force until the threat is removed. Instead, it was retaliation... against the wrong guy. Seriously, he got hit by a cup of beer. Something should have told him that the guy with the full cup in his hand did not throw the beer at him.

Lest we forget, in the pre-Dennis Rodman era, the most hated bastard in basketball was Bill Laimbeer, and he got stuff thrown at him all the time. I don't just mean hated by the fans, I mean hated by the media. Of course, he was a Boston white boy, but they hated him just the same... except in Detroit and Japan where they made "Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball" for the Super Nintendo. Who knows? Maybe Artest will get a video game deal out of this.

The Palace usually provides not only a peaceful crowd, but it's usually one of the more boring arenas in the league. From my experience, Palace fans are generally pretty disinterested in what's going on. Of course, the Palace should have had more security because brawls like this happen all the time. Oh wait, they don't. They don't happen because players know better than to respond to the antics of drunken fans. What happened was Ron Artest refusing to respond like he has any concept of sense.

What happened had nothing to do with Palace security. If a national guard unit were there, Artest still gets hit with the cup, and he's still on the guy faster than Erik on a Japanese schoolgirl.

I hate the fact that people are quick to point out race as a contributing factor in either case. I should have the right to be castigated for acting like a jackass without someone coming to my aid with a defense based on my cloudy racial orientation. If someone performs well in any endeavor, it should not be noted that they performed well in spite of their race. If they F up royally at something, they do not deserve a pass because of their race.

In short, a jackass is a jackass whether he's black or not, and the person who recognizes it should be able to say so whether he's black or not.

Ian

Anonymous said...

why is t.o.'s embracing a naked white woman racist? why isn't the portrayal of the woman's supplication to the almighty jock sexist?

also, why is anyone surprised when ron artest goes into the stands to beat some ass? there are certain guys that you just wouldn't fuck with under any circumstance. ron artest is not someone you would normally fuck with. jim rice was not someone you would fuck with, either. he once went into the stands in boston because someone was fucking with him. so what kind of moron fucks with these guys? trifling small men who don't know where they stand. there is nothing special about detroit that makes something like this more likely to happen there. it's just a combination of badasses like artest and wallace and presumably drunk fools like the one in detroit. bottom line: some guys don't take shit, no matter who's dishing it. hell, look at ben wallace. he could have taken the foul and gone to the line, but he was having none of artest's shit. it happens. the brawl had nothing to do with race or the good people of detroit and more to do with surging testosterone.

now the suspensions are a different story. every player in this fiasco was over-penalized because of david stern's fear of white america's reaction to violence involving black men. in other words he was afraid that the white customers would be irrationally turned off by the incident and stop pumping money into the league. so he did what a lot of cowards would have done and went suspension-crazy.