Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The case of Lebron

I first came upon this piece written by Ethan Strauss of ESPN on Reds Army. The writer at Reds Army highlighted this part of the article:

A title victory protects an athlete. Don’t have a ring? Likability is the next best defense. If fans identify with a star, they’re less inclined to impugn him. Steve Nash has eluded the cruel “choker” tag, despite many playoff exits. My assumption is that sportswriters and fans are more likely to empathize with someone who looks like them. It helps that Nash plays a beautiful game and exudes charisma. So, it makes sense that much of the media narrative surrounding him revolves around how the Suns have failed him -- not the other way around. 

LeBron James does not look like most media members, or a majority of the fans. He irritated significant numbers with the tone-deaf Decision and what many felt was a power play. The angry masses were further enraged by the local celebration of Miami’s free-agent haul. Should LeBron fail, should his team fail, mockery will write history. 

The implication here is clear: Mr. Strauss believes that much of the criticism Lebron received as a result of the soap opera that was, "The Decision," was because he was black and the majority of NBA fans and members of the media are white. The writer at Reds Army dismissed this argument as tired and disgusting. That writer argued Lebron was criticized because he acted obnoxiously and alienated his fan base by acting so pompously. 

I have to side with Mr. Strauss. He brings up a point that I should be more widely talked about, and that is the racial makeup of the majority of the fans verses the majority of the players. I'm actually not comfortable calling the majority of the fans white- I believe that the fan base is extremely diverse, but the exorbitant price of tickets causes the population in stadiums watching games live to be homogeneous, and unrepresentative of the heterogeneity of the actual fan population. There is no denying that at the game, there is a stark contrast in the makeup of the audience versus the makeup of the teams competing against each other. I'd be lying if I said that at times, the dynamic created by this difference hadn't made me uncomfortable. It most certainly has. The obsession of Brian Scalabrine made me extremely wary, just like the Boston crowds eager readiness to embrace Luke Harangody did. I mean- why Luke? Why were there chants of "Luuuuuke" for him, and why did everyone go crazy when, on the rare occasions he played, he scored? That same enthusiasm simply isn't there for Avery Bradley when he checks in to the game. 

Our country may be transforming in to an increasingly multicultural place, but a lot of us still exist in worlds where our neighbors look the same as us, our children attend schools where the majority of their peers look like them, and our circle of friends are made up of people who look like us. Professional sports do not exist in a vacuum. The prejudices and preconceived notions (conscious or not) that we all carry with us every day are not checked at the door. 

Lebron, in so openly (and yes, obnoxiously) abusing his power as a beloved figure in Ohio, disrupted the unspoken hegemonic code in our country. Would a white sports figure who committed similar transgressions and PR blunders be continually crucified as Lebron has been? It's an argument with no definitive answer, because the white equivalent to Lebron does not exist and because the amount of attention paid to free agency has increased heavily due to social media and a new emphasis on fan participation to increase viewership. In pondering the question in my own mind, I don't think the scrutiny would have been the same for a white player. We're told that we live in a "color blind world," but such a claim is insulting- racism is still very much alive in 2011. It is intricately sewn in to public policy and present in every facet of political discourse and determining who has clout and who does not. It is why so many balked at Lebron and the spectacle he created in exerting all of the power he held. 

My sister helped me with this article, and for that, she deserves this wonderful public recognition and lavish praise.

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