On Race, Message Boards And Shutting The Hell Up

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Of all the panels on "Costas Now" the other night, the one we thought was most effective at tickling the cerebral cortex was the last one, about race, featuring Cris Carter, Michael Wilbon and Jason Whitlock. (It was so absorbing that "Costas Now" is doing a full 90-minute segment just on race down the line.) The most telling section, however, was from the video piece beforehand, which featured Kellen Winslow Sr. talking about the differences between media coverage of Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident, and his son's. His point was that media coverage called his son "dumb" and "a thug," while the Roethlisberger accident was mostly treated with concern as to Big Ben's well-being. Maybe Winslow's right, and maybe he isn't. But it definitely got us to thinking. How did we cover that?

So, we took a look. From the original Roethlisberger post:

A serious story coming out of Pittsburgh: It appears Super Bowl hero Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident about 45 minutes ago (11:30 a.m. ET) in Pittsburgh. The picture on KDKA's site is rather scary, and there's no word as of yet on his condition. We will keep you updated, and, of course, will be keeping good thoughts.


We, of course, weren't around yet when Winslow's cycle crashed — that was May 2005, and Deadspin wasn't born until September 2005 — but we did, when writing about Winslow's famous "I'm a SOLDIER!' rant, say this: "Interestingly, this was the exact same take Winslow's motorcycle had after his accident, about him." Now, to be fair to ourselves, we wrote about Big Ben when his health was still in question, and Winslow a year later, when it was clear he was fine, but the point is that the fact that the two incidents might have been covered differently because Roethlisberger was white and Winslow was black hadn't even occurred to us. Some might use that as some sort of cover, a "see, we don't even THINK about race!" But this is stupid. The fact that someone did not consciously think about something does not mean that it is not there.

In Jason Whitlock's column last week , he touched on the Bissinger madness but also bought up a criticism of our book that we've never quite addressed. NPR's Scott Simon had it first, but Whitlock has probably brought it to the largest audience. (Though this is Fox Sports.) Namely, the "jokes" in the Media Glossary section about black sportscasters talking "white."


When Scott Simon mentioned this in an interview with us months ago, we stammered and stumbled and generally sounded like a moron. This is because we were taken aback by it; it legitimately didn't occur to us that someone could take the impression from the book that we had some sort of problem with race. That does not mean that someone that who might infer that is somehow deluded, or just trying to cause trouble. It means they're not us, and that they can see something much clearer than we can.

Whitlock's column takes these Simon criticisms to the next level. We are not sure the book spends an "an inordinate amount of time telling prominent, successful, well-spoken African-Americans that they're not really black," but this does not mean this criticism of the book is not valid. Because, well, it is. The references in the book, to (and we don't have the book in front of us, so we may be off) the Gumbels and Ahmad Rashad, are cheap, lazy and not particularly funny. The joke we were trying to make was a mockery of the "Ohio accent," the slightly nasal, straight forward flat accent that every broadcaster has to contort himself/herself into. But it didn't read that way. It was lazy writing, rather than a pointed insult. (And why, you might ask, did we bring Tony Dungy into it? An excellent question that we do not have an answer for.)


But that's not really the point. Who cares what we meant? Nothing is worse than the apology that "we didn't mean to offend anyone." Well, of course not; the fact that you didn't think you were offending anyone is the reason that it's offensive. The point is that just because something was not conscious does not mean it's not there. An easy joke comes from somewhere, and it was one that was even repeated. We did not do it to mock black sportscasters. But there it is, regardless.

We were talking to Bomani Jones, who's very good at this writing business, the other day about the racist comments that inevitably pop up on any open forum, message board or comment thread. The most memorable instance of this, around these parts, was when Stephen A. Smith's site's launched, though, honestly, we think if you put a picture of a puppy as a blog post on a general AOL or Yahoo site, the n-word would come out by comment 20. Bomani was concerned it was indicative of a growing "angry white man" movement in the culture, reflected by the Web. We weren't so sure; we think it's more the nasty fringe element, bigots empowered by anonymity.


But we would think that, wouldn't we? We easily dismiss such comments as idiotic, the unfortunate byproduct of open forums, and move about our day. But that's our perspective. And that perspective, like all perspectives, as wrong as the next person's. It's easy for us to say that.

This is all to say: As we've said repeatedly, blogs are not a movement, or a single-minded entity. All blogs take on the personality of the author. Right now, the vast majority of those sports blogs are written by white guys. Bomani implored us: "You have to say something about this, because they won't listen to it from me." And he's right. If Scoop Jackson writes a column about race, well, there he goes again. This happened with Whitlock's column too. A nationally recognized sports columnist, on a widely read national Web site, calls us out, and we received a total of one email about it. Why? Because we think most people read the first few paragraphs about Bissinger, and then when they got to the part where Whitlock started writing about race, their eyes glazed over, and Whitlock turned into the voice of the teacher in "Peanuts." There he goes again, with the race stuff. There's a wall there that we, and most sports bloggers, don't have, due entirely to the audience. And Whitlock, and Jackson, and Bomani Jones, do. We might not mean this. It might be subconscious. But it's there.


So, friend, here it is: If you think those inevitable racist comments are just the ugly detritus of the Web and dismiss them with a wave of your hand ... you're probably a white guy. And If you hear us ever talking about what black people think, or how they should act, or whatever, completely ignore us, because we don't have the slightest fucking idea what we're talking about.