BR Open Mic: Race and Sports

This week’s Bleacher Report Open Mic topic was race and sports. This was my contribution.

There are many important issues surrounding race and sports.

A lack of minority representation can be found in nearly all sports, collegiate or pro, from administration/ownership and all the way down to the coaches. The media coverage of players of different races tends to differ as well. For example, when an African-American player has a child out of wedlock he’s usually vilified for it, while white players like Tom Brady and Matt Leinart generally get a pass.

There’s so much more than that, and all legitimate topics should be discussed in constructive ways until all people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Too many people, myself included at times, would rather just sweep racial issues under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.

However, it is important that when racial issues are broached that there really is a foundation in reality to the issue.

Back in 2006, it became national news when Chris Leak was booed briefly by Florida fans during the game against Kentucky. Much-hyped freshman QB Tim Tebow had injected some energy into the sputtering offense that day, and when he was pulled towards the end of a drive for Leak, a brief chorus of boos could be heard. Here is the AP game recap if you have forgotten the rest.

After the game, many sports pundits around the country saw the occurrence of Gator fans booing the return of the black senior quarterback over the freshman white quarterback as a racial issue. At the time I wrote a piece on it, mainly directed at then-Orlando Sentinel columnist Jemele Hill and CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman who had taken that stance.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to quote from what I wrote at the time:

“She [Hill] echoes the sentiment of a CBS Sportsline writer named Mike Freeman that Leak has been a punching bag at UF because it’s the South and Leak is black. The fans are down on the black starter, and want the white backup to be the savior.

To begin with, that’s crazy. Yes, there were racists in the crowd on Saturday. If you take any random set of 90,000 people on the planet, there will be racists of some type in that group. However, she must be forgetting 2003 when the UF fans were breathlessly pining for Leak to supplant Ingle Martin as starting quarterback. Martin is white. He ended up transferring to I-AA Furman where he played well, and he was a fifth round pick of the Packers in this year’s draft. There also were fans last year who wanted to see Josh Portis take away some of Leak’s snaps because of his running ability. Portis is black. He transferred to Maryland for a variety of reasons this offseason.

The booing only lasted about 2 seconds too, and it was only a small fraction of the people in attendance. It was like the thought process of the fans was:

  1. What? Tebow’s going out?
  2. Urban is an idiot for doing this! Tebow deserves to score after all that running!
  3. Boo!
  4. Oh crap, it looks like we’re booing Leak.
  5. Yay! Go Chris Leak!

Now, I know from people who were there that people were cursing Chris Leak’s name in the student section. In the alumni section where I sit with my folks, there were a few people who were booing the player, not the coaches too. However, the vast majority did their best to make up for the others. After a night of offensive frustration, people were excited to see Tebow run all over the field and they wanted to see him get a chance at the touchdown, not see the first team offense get more reps in the red zone. They were thinking about running up the score on Kentucky, not about what will get the team ready for the next four games.”

Gator fans are notoriously impatient, most especially when it comes to the offense. There were times last season when a vocal minority of fans wanted offensive coordinator Dan Mullen fired on the spot, and Florida was in the middle of turning in one of the best statistical offensive seasons in school history.

Freeman should have known better since he was once a local columnist in Jacksonville. I don’t know how much Hill knew of Gator fans’ nature at the time since she’s originally from Michigan and didn’t spend much time at the Sentinel, but I have no doubt that someone more experienced with the locals could have filled her in about Gator fan impatience.

Hill lost some credibility in my eyes since she was trying to bolt a racial frame on a situation that had 95 percent nothing to do with race. It has caused me to pause when reading anything else she’s written, wondering if she did everything she could do to research her columns.

As with any touchy subject like race, it is important to stand on firm ground when discussing it. When someone makes a race argument that isn’t well-grounded, it takes a little something away from those that do make legitimate arguments.

The people that need to hear the legitimate discussion will be less likely to take it seriously if they hear arguments like the one detailed above that are false alarms.


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