Friday, November 17, 2006

Black and white isn’t as simple as Black and white

Race issues and commentary in sports columns seem to be becoming more prevalent. Over at Page 2 on espn.com, Scoop Jackson has been churning out features that often point out perceived racial biases in the sports world for awhile now. The newest Page 2 hire, Jemele Hill, made it clear in her first submission, that she is “the” columnist that will point out the double standards that exist in sports. At the same time, writer Jason Whitlock recently left espn.com for aol.com, and he had some parting shots directed at some of the black talent at the WWL accusing some of overplaying the race card. Why exactly has this become such an issue at a supposed sports syndicate?

If ESPN’s mission is to provide sports entertainment and information, why has Page 2 been such a fertile ground for race issues, both black and white AND black and black.

Years ago, MTV was music. Just music. In fact, if you are old enough to remember, there was a time when they played nothing but videos, with the occasional VJ introducing the new videos or giving some music news. Over time, MTV evolved into a pop culture outlet that now is active in not only music and entertainment, but actively pursues a political and social agenda. This came about as the ability to influence the market was realized by those on high at MTV. MTV is essentially one never ending commercial. They have fully tapped into the fact that Americans are not a market society. We are a marketed TO society. In that way, they are able to influence our musical, entertainment and fashion tastes. Over time, that has led to the ability to influence and promote their political and social views. All this was made possible by carefully elevating the status of music within society and culture (ie, the never ending presence of the stars in our lives) and ensuring that music had the opportunity to intermix with other components of our culture.

There are some similarities over at ESPN. Of course, the same concept of controlling the market exists and this means that to constantly expand, the influence of sports within our culture must expand. And it has. Sport isn’t just on the field or the court. Sport is everywhere. And anything that is so omnipresent is going to overlap in other areas of culture. Culture is fluid and ever changing; therefore, issues that exist in some areas become prevalent and more focused in other areas as culture changes.

Throw one more thing into the cultural mix: money.

The underlying reason for influencing and changing culture for these corporations is to increase the ability to generate revenue. Not hard to figure that out. Obviously, sports has become a billion dollar industry. Its monetary growth and influence can be traced right alongside its cultural growth and influence. Which, in turn, can be traced right along side ESPN’s growth and influence.

Essentially, when we see more and more social issues addressed on ESPN, it is because sports are no longer just sports. We have had Congressional hearings on drugs in sports, during a period when you would think Congress’ attention would fully be focused on the war. Sports have permeated and intermixed with society and culture completely. And when you have that intermixing going on, issues that exist in one or the other will overlap.

Take into account that so many athletes are black. In our society, race is an issue that (particularly for black folks) doesn’t go away. So, it is not surprising that it is a prevalent topic for black columnists.

The only thing is: black and white isn’t always black and white.

Constantly calling racial bias every time a black athlete is “disrespected” or doesn’t get what they want is (in most cases) a thorough oversimplification of what is really happening. Sure, we all know that racial bias exists out there; however, a lot of other factors exist that preclude people from being treated the way they feel they should be or from getting their way. Not only does dropping the race card every time there is a perceived slight against a black athlete oversimplify things, but it also waters down those instances in which it truly would be relevant. This is a concept that Whitlock seems to advocate. Usually, if Whitlock drops the race card in one of his columns, you can bet it is relevant.

Columnists are going to write about things that they know (at least one would hope). They are going to carry over their own life experiences into their columns, because our experiences are what shape our views. So obviously, if a columnist is black, that is going to effect how they see the world. And it is, at times, going to effect the topics about which they write.

When you take into account all these factors, it seems only natural that we are going to be seeing more and more things on ESPN which we might not readily associate with sports entertainment. And, we might not be fans of seeing it on ESPN. However, WE are the ones that have allowed sports to be elevated to such an influential status within our society and culture. All we can hope for is that those lucky enough to be given the opportunity to share their thoughts and views on ESPN do so intelligently and creatively.

Remember: black and white isn’t as simple as black and white.

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