Peter Nijenhuis | Flickr
Ed. note: the title of this post is taken from the title of Season 1, Episode 5 of The West Wing. I hope Aaron Sorkin is cool with it.
Welcome back to another rousing rendition of Sociology Sunday. Writing these columns is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I get to dig into my academic roots and try to shed some analytical light on events that transpired during the week week. On the other hand, I just wish basketball could be about basketball. But it never is.
Last night, the Indiana Pacers convincingly defeated the Miami Heat to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night. Normally, we’d be bombarded with narratives left and right about “the champs not having it” or “upstart underdogs” or “LeBron carrying too much of a load again.” You know, the narratives we’re used to. Instead, there’s been a lot of focus on Roy Hibbert’s postgame comments where he dropped an F-bomb and a homophobic joke. Jared Wade, of Eight Points Nine Seconds, has a wonderful examination of why Hibbert’s remarks last night were so problematic, yet so seemingly normal and casual.
I don’t know Roy Hibbert, the person….But he seems like a nice enough young man, and I have heard a ton of respected people say a ton of nice things about Roy’s character and values.
I also don’t know know Roy Hibbert’s feelings on homosexuality. If he harbors any negativity towards gay people, he has never made such feelings public, to my knowledge. Roy actually even supported, through a Twitter message, Jason Collins’ recent decision to come out of the closet….To him, it was a playful joke, one that made him giggle probably more for its inappropriateness in that setting than for its actual humor. But to many others, it was an unnecessary reminder that mainstream society in the United States sees being gay as an abnormal, weird, negative characteristic that no man should want to associate himself with.
That is the foundation of “no homo.” It is telling listeners that, “in case you misconstrued what I said there, I just feel the need to point out to you that I am not homosexual, as that would of course be disgusting, and I am a normal, heterosexual man.”
You should definitely head over to 8P9S to read the whole piece because it’s a great analysis of how a seemingly small comment can mean so much. But for myself, I’ve been approaching Hibbert’s comments in three ways:
1) It’s absolutely absurd that he said that. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t necessary. It continues to perpetuate the otherness of LGBT individuals. He apologized for it. He reached out to Jason Collins about it. Athlete Ally issued a statement about it and understands that he’ll move on from here with remorse. But still, there’s no place for it.
2) When you’re a professional male athlete, you undoubtedly move your way up through a system of hyper-masculinity, a system where insulting gays or using one’s sexuality as an insult is commonplace. Society has been moving in a direction where such behavior is becoming less and less acceptable. And even if you know reflexively mumbling something like that is wrong, it’s still reflexive, and old habits are hard to kick. That doesn’t change the fact that the reflexive nature of speaking is almost as hurtful as the phrase itself, but again, there’s something to be said about getting tripped up in your old, stupid habits.
3) Just like Jared Wade, I don’t know the man. I know nothing about him personally except that he sometimes has some funny lines on one of my favorite TV shows and is playing really well against a team that I dislike for personal and narrative-driven reasons. It seems these reasons have turned him into some sort of positive hero in my mind–and I imagine this is similar for some of you–and thus, I keep thinking things like “Wow, Roy. That was dumb, but I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” Or “C’mon Roy, you know that’s messed up. Don’t say crap like that. Apologize and move on.” Why do I give him the benefit of the doubt, though? He’s a nice guy so he must not mean it? I mean, sure, OK. That’s plausible, but should I be treating this situation differently than when Kobe yelled “f****t” during a game and was caught on camera? I was disappointed in Kobe then, and he’s since gone to great lengths to make sure that kind of language isn’t used. But it still affected my view of him. And since both statements were said with post-game-action adrenaline high, and both were said reflexively–they’re part of the vocabulary of hyper-masculinized sports, they’re both not OK, right? Am I treating it differently because Kobe was channeling anger while Hibbert was channeling humor? Both are stupid and shouldn’t be tolerated, but are they the same?
In the end, I think I fall somewhere close to Kevin Arnovitz’s response to Hibbert’s comments, and I think as apologetic as Hibbert may actually be, he’s got a long way to go before he’s fully back in everyone’s good graces:
I’m hard to offend. But I think less of him. MT @Smithers_Rob52s @kevinarnovitz Does “no homo” offend u or do u just chalk up to ignorance?
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) June 2, 2013
Apparently, TMZ covers sports sometimes. Also, they like to say and do provocative things for the sake of… journalism, I guess? Anyway, it seems they decided it would be funny to release a video ranking one of their staff members’ top-5 “hottest” NBA players. This particular person picked 5 players who all happen to be white. And yeah, you’re right: who cares which players one particular person happens to think are the hottest? The rest of the video, after the ranking, includes some “humorous” banter with David Lee about how he’s a “minority” in the NBA and how some other inane conversation among the other TMZ staff that straddles the line between racist and race-baiting.
It seems like TMZ has some sort of obsession with talking about the race of NBA players… like that one time where one of their cameramen decided to tell Blake Griffin that he wasn’t black and their staff then all tried to decide if he was or wasn’t black. You know, because it matters. And you know, because freckles and red hair automatically mean you’re white.
Race, as we so often forget, is a dually-loaded term of both internal and external identification. Blake Griffin might have his particular race–whatever it may be–tied to part of his identity. Others who are not Blake Griffin will attribute his actions and physical characteristics to mold him into a prism of race as they see fit–as those in the TMZ studio did. There’s no consideration of history, his personal feelings, or whether or not his race actually matters at all. It’s a tidy compartmentalization mechanism that people will continue to use without any desire to figure out why they want to use it.
And while the importance of race is a larger topic than this portion of this blog post can handle, I’d like to include this passage for anyone who thinks it’s not possible to have red hair and freckles and be black at the same time:
Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white. She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s. Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it. I remember hearing her say she was glad that she had never seen him. It was, of course, because of him that I got my reddish-brown “mariny” color of skin, and my hair of the same color. I was the lightest child in our family (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned–that one was actually fortunate to be born thus. But, still later, I learned to hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)
–The Autobiography of Malcolm X, pp. 2-3.
It’s become somewhat commonplace for writers (including myself) to complain about the prevalence of lists as part of a normal reading diet. The issue at hand: writers hate writing them because they feel as though their degrees that got them their writing gigs are being wasted, and editors love making writers write them because they brings LOTS of eyeballs to your website. Can you really blame readers for liking them, though? Each part of a list–whether it’s just a count or a rank or whatever–is a short, digestible, forgettable bit of information that entertains you for a split second and allows you to move on with no attachment. You get your endorphine high, and you get to walk away and get back to what you were doing. Basically, reading a list-format post is the same as reading a bunch of tweets in a twitter timeline. They’re short and disconnected, yet they’re connected enough for you, the reader, to make sense of it all for yourself. Then, you can walk away from it happy, and come back for more later. As much as I personally dislike their existence, I read them all the time.
As digital content continues to grow, the reading, writing, and editing parts of the community will have to evolve with them. Unfortunately, one list came out this week that shows that we, as a basketball reading, writing, and editing community, need to do a better job to show that certain types of content are not OK.
Dime Magazine released a list of 20 basketball writers to follow on Twitter. I guess, if it were framed the way I just framed it, this would be a non-issue. However, the actual title of the list is: “20 girls on Twitter who know their basketball (and look great).” In a writing realm as male-dominated as sports, I’m sure there are some people who would welcome having a female perspective or two to read. Why Dime Magazine thought it was necessary to sexualize this list of writers is baffling, though.
Actually, you know what? It’s not baffling. The editorial decisions behind this are simple: mostly males read the site, lots of guys on Twitter would love to follow a good-looking girl who can talk about basketball, and it’s the end of the month, so let’s let anything fly out the door. Kelly Dwyer and Ticktock6 do a great job of explaining why this list was so reprehensible:
Hey [@DimeMag], don’t rank women’s looks or knowledge. Maybe delete that list because that is the worst thing on the internet, now. …Do a list of 22 great basketball follows, then, like we did last year. Don’t objectify women. I support and attend WNBA games as well. That doesn’t allow me to put together tripe like that ridiculous list.
22 Reasons Why I Don’t Want My Daughters Thinking They Have to Make Duck-Faces To Be Taken Seriously as Basketball Tweeters
I actually took my pic off my twitter because sometimes when I said stuff that got retweeted some dicks would come see if I was hot. We-ee-eelllllll you will never know, asswipes! As if it has anything to do with what I say about basketball. OH, MY NERVES. That one time I wrote the thing for @hpbasketball that ended up linked on ESPN, half the comments were wondering if I was hot. Because if I was not hot enough, apparently my opinion didn’t matter? If I WAS hot enough, I was trying to get attention. Some dude found out my real name and SERIOUSLY WENT THROUGH MY FACEBOOK PICS and reported back to everyone else. This is what women deal [with.] This is the kind of shit we don’t need to perpetuate by making lists with pictures of girls who tweet about basketball. Or video games. Or anything women are interested in where dudes are seen as the stereotypical majority in that hobby. (Not always the numerical case). B/c no one cares whether male writers/fans are hot. B/c if we talked about it that would be “gay”. Which brings us full circle this morning! To sum up, it is beyond frustrating that people can’t just be interested in what they’re interested in and simultaneously respected as [people]. If you are a woman, damned if you do (post pics), damned if you don’t. And that is BS.
And Dime, for what it’s worth, has stood by its publication of this list (a quick sidenote: several listees have asked to be taken off the list and Dime has obliged). Though it did, for some reason, decide it needed to clarify one thing about it:
The list we posted earlier today is numbered, not ranked. We realize some are still offended, but please know that wasn’t our intent.
— Dime Magazine (@DimeMag) May 31, 2013
It is disheartening to see Dime not acknowledge its perpetuation of women as sexualized outsiders to the NBA, despite the fact that there are countless female writers, reporters, and fans all over the world who entered this realm to be closer to a sport they love and not to be judged by their appearance. And it’s a shame that there were so many failures in good judgment along the way that allowed this piece to be published.
As far as we’ve come as a community on sexuality, race, and gender, we still see we have a long way to go.