Give me a minute to let loose for a bit…
Now for those who know me, I’m a relatively happy go-lucky type of guy. I may have a dirty sense of humor but along with that I have a love of beer, sports, women, cars, and pretty much anything else that the average man out there likes. Especially humor and sports. Each have surrounded me for the majority of my life and I see parallels in each. Both act as a release, both can be appreciated on some level by just about anyone, and if you’re good at them, both will keep you from getting your butt kicked on a regular basis as you’re growing up. For me, sports and jokes about them go hand in hand. There is nothing more awesome than looking into the crowd and seeing a funny sign or two during the broadcast, where a fan among the multitudes of screaming crazies gets their ten seconds of fame while at the same time being spot on and sticking it to the star or even the fans of the other team. In a small way it’s not only showing pride in your squad but on some level that guy is thinking “Hah, he missed that free throw! He must have saw me waving my sign!”.
When done correctly, it’s done all in fun. When not, well, that’s when security is kind enough to come over and ask that sign to be put away. No harm, no foul right? Wrong.
You see, shortly after the end to end lambasting the Miami Heat took from the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Miami Herald writer Greg Cote took to his computer to write up his story about the game. In the midst of an article which all but trumpeted the fact that the Heat have a proven championship pedigree, pretty much breezed through their first two opponents during these Playoffs, and are facing a Pacers team that seems to be getting it’s “Blue Collar Gold Swagger” back after a massive slump, Cote decided to get his word count up. Rather than padding his article by mentioning more details about how the Heat can correct the fact that while as a team they scored 96 points in the loss they also were outrebounded, outshot from the three point and free throw lines, and pretty much ran away from at times by an uptempo Pacer offense, he chose to cast his eyes into the crowd and wade out into the waters of hyperbole:
Really. Those eyes that were in the press box which is much more than a stone’s throw away from the section the “offending” sign was located. Those eyes that were supposed to be more focused on the action on the court instead of a goofy cutout Fathead style poster that happened to be in the stands where none of the action you are being paid to write about was occurring. Yes, Mr. Cote, things happen on the sidelines or in the crowd all the time at a sporting event that will catch an observer’s eye. However to dedicate 39 words of your piece on badmouthing a random thing you saw in the crowd at an away game while doing a write up about your home team’s loss is such a hamfisted attempt at a cheap shot. I wish I could write a joke about how badly that seems like sour grapes on your part, however I’m not that funny. If those eyes of yours would have had a little bit of a better perspective, you would have seen that the cutouts may have had bras on, but they also featured D-Wade with a pacifier and Lebron with a pink polka dotted baby bow slapped on top of his head. So the signs were alluding to the opinion those fans had that both Wade and James are big babies as well as in possession of possible lady parts.
That is a picture of Atlanta Braves fans doing their famous Tomahawk Chop with bright red foam tomahawks. Native American groups have for quite some time been trying to get that symbol along with the Indian war chant they do discontinued because they consider it disrespectful to their people. Has anyone done anything about it? Nope. In fact, the team gives those away at certain games! And let’s not even get started on the debacle that was Chief Knockahoma, their old mascot that they at least had the good sense to retire. Now, I know I’m pushing boundaries as it is with this article, but I’m not posting pictures of that character because I’d like to keep my job. You wanna see him so bad? Google it.
Or how about this?
This is at the University of Mississippi, aka Ole Miss, circa 1920. See that big flag being brought onto the field? Yep, that’s the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of racism and prejudice to this day throughout the South being presented as part of the halftime show. And I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s Mississippi, of course that type of thing was happening at sporting events! It was a part of day to day life! But times have changed and things have moved on. People are more understanding now, even down in the Deep South.”
Huhn. I guess you got me there. There is NO WAY this kept going on for long.
The following picture dates back to around 2002.
You see, even after the NCAA banned them from doing it on the field, Ole Miss fans still bring flags into the stadium and not one person stops them. Now say what you will about the LeBron and Wade signs or the foam tomahawks, but there is no denying that something like this is what the word “racist” should be thrown at in relation to fans if you’re going to use it the way you did.
The point of all of this is that when it comes down to it, there is no excusing what is happening in those images. The attitudes that even made those things become symbols in sports come from a bygone era where there was way less acceptance of people from other races and cultures. You could get away with creating a thing that was blatantly and completely racist or sexist and no one batted an eye. Or if they did, what the hell were they going to do about it? They were (insert downtrodden and abused group of people here) during a time when it sort of sucked to be that. As the years have passed, some things may not have as much of a sting behind them as they did when they first came about, but it doesn’t take away the fact that THOSE things are racist. Not a sign reflecting possible connections between certain NBA All-Star basketball players, cross dressing, and infants.
In the year 2014 folks are quick to call something racist to show that they are enlightened people, not monsters with archaic ways of thinking. They wish to prove that they are tolerant. Problem is, if you just whip out that term any old time you see something that you don’t understand or agree with, then you’re devaluing the entire term for when it’s actually needed. Calling something someone else may be making light of “racist” because it happens to resemble another thing that a group of people look like or do when it actually isn’t that at all isn’t racism, it’s being unobservant. And to not observe something as for what it truly is and then lump it in with anything you think resembles it isn’t racist either. It has another word to describe it: Stereotyping. That throwaway comment about how “racist” something looks to you could possibly open a door that you might want to keep shut because if you’re called out on it you may not like what’s on the other side. At no point do you want to be seen as being on equal footing as those Ole Miss fans in that picture who without being aware of (or caring about) the irony are waving the Confederate flag, a symbol of oppression and pain for a whole group of people while simultaneously cheering at a game played by descendants of those very same people.
Mr. Cote, you went in the direction of not understanding a joke that the team you’re following as a sportswriter was the butt of and instantly assumed that what your definition of racism looks like applied in that case. You took something that was fun for those two guys you saw in the crowd, who are die hard Pacer fans that LIVE FOR razzing the star players of the other team with costumes and signs, and tainted it by throwing around a word with real weight behind it all willy nilly without it truly applying. You killed a little bit of the joy they will feel from now on every single time they go to games and cheer on their team because now they have to worry about someone thinking their antics may have gone too far. And to think, it was taken away from them because of some flippant offhanded remark you made to fill space in your column based off your opinion of what you perceived to be racist. Recently, we’ve all found out what a skewed personal perception of race and tolerance actually looks like.
Don’t be that guy.
(And because I’m fair, here is the link to the original story that caused me to write all this. Special shout out to “Drunk” Matt Worton and Elliott Beaver for taking one for the team and still holding strong. Go Pacers!)