Monday, April 09, 2007

"Race in sports can't be ignored"

In the last 54 days, thanks to the genius invention of the radio some 100 to 200 years ago, I've learned a couple things.

I've learned that Tim Hardaway hates gay people (even on Valentines Day, which is when those words escaped his mouth).

And now I've learned that Don Imus, a nationally syndicated radio personality, thinks Rutgers' women's basketball players, most of whom are black, are "nappy-headed hoes."


Both men, of course, gave heartfelt apologies. Both are full of crap.

The similarities end there. Hardaway has been rightfully banned from NBA events and will have a difficult time finding decent work to supplant the decent income he earned while crossing over point guards in the NBA. Imus, on the other hand, won't even lose his radio show. And even if he did, he'd have no problems getting a new gig on satellite radio or whatever the new brand of radio is these days.

Heck, Imus might even be celebrated by some for finally speaking out about those "napppy-headed hos." No wonder no one watched the women's Final Four. Who wants to see some NHs running up and down the court?

So here we stand, in 2007, and race is as big an issue as it was 10 years ago. People say that the only way to eliminate racism and prejudice is to ignore it, to ignore the differences in one another. I used to follow this altruistic method, but that truth is, it's as unrealistic as the Lions winning the Super Bowl.

Race is here. And will always be here. And there's no ignoring it.

It's especially on the forefront of the sports world. As I clicked between the Masters and the Lakers-Suns game Sunday afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder about the ethnic breakdown of each viewing audience. I doubted there were many people like me switching between the white golfers (minus a guy named Tiger) and the black basketball players (minus a guy named Nash).

David Stern has made several efforts to separate the NBA from its hip-hop image. He should stop. You can't stop people from being themselves. Yes, of course punish players for going outside the law or running into the stands or getting technical fouls, but how they dress and what's on their iPod is their choice. Period.

And people who watch the NBA don't do so because there's a dress code now, I can guarantee you that.

People have questioned whether Tiger has had a big enough impact on minorities in terms of getting them interested in the game of golf. The answer? He's done what he can. The academies, the clinics, the inner-city programs. That's all Tiger can do, unless he wants to drop millions of dollars to buy every kid in every poor neighborhood in every city a set of golf clubs.

But then the question would be, where would they play?

Kids are going to do what they want to do. Yes, they can be influenced. But if their friends are playing hoops at the park, they're more likely to follow suit than try to find their way to the nearest (which may be far) golf course.

As far as another black golfer making the PGA Tour, I'm sure it'll happen someday. But people need to stop sweating it. You can't push people to be who they're not.

Racism, as much as I hate to say this, is rampant in this country, even if people don't think they're acting racist. Just the other day I was watching Cold Pizza with a fraternity brother of mine when Monta Ellis of the Golden State Warriors was being interviewed. Ellis was far from voluble or outspoken. He talked slow and deliberately. Immediately my brother said Ellis, who is black, wasn't "well-spoken."

Would he have said that about a white athlete? I highly doubt it. At that time, I'm sure, he didn't think he was being racist. But he was.

People need to be corrected on things like this. This afternoon Imus will go on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show, and I'm sure he'll be lit into. People all over the country will listen. Some good will come out of the interview. Maybe people will realize that whether you're on the radio or not, calling a group of accomplished black women "nappy-headed hos" is about as acceptable as blowing up a building.

But millions of people won't be listening, and they'll continue to live their private lives, talking about the NBA as a league of thugs (when, in truth, it's far from that) and celebrating the PGA Tour like it's a league of saints just because players' transgressions off the course (especially DUIs) don't get close to the attention mistakes made by professional basketball players do.

And everything will seem blissful until the next radio racist can't hold his tongue, makes a discriminatory mark, apologizes, goes on a black man's radio show, then continues to run his show (albeit sans racist remarks).

With the support of his quiet followers.

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