Archive | February, 2011

It’s all about Forgiveness: For sports icons in the Age of ESPN, ‘I’m sorry’ often isn’t enough.

15 Feb

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

In yet another episode in the annals of misplaced moral outrage, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle, a man who describes himself as animal lover, wished an injury on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

And then there’s the case of Dallas strip club owner Richard Hunter, who apparently adopted one of Vick’s old fighting dogs, and then proceeded to stalk the quarterback and his entourage for four days. Hunter so enraged Vick’s bodyguards that one of them reportedly blurted out in frustration, “We don’t care about no damn dogs.”

Of course, sports talk hosts around the nation bitched and moaned about that, too. While no one wanted to talk about the fact that stalking is, in fact, illegal, they were more than willing to talk about the bodyguard’s ill-chosen words.

But to be honest, I’m not mad at that bodyguard because the constant Vick bashing has reached overkill status. How many times does this man have to pay his debt to society before it’s actually paid off?

I felt compelled to talk about this because what’s missing in all of this handwringing is the concept of forgiveness. We live in a world where the holier-than thou like to pick on people who make a mistake and deem them unforgivable. It’s a new brand of bullying where the maniacally self-righteous get off on bashing people they deem as evildoers whom they deem as beyond redemption or mercy.

Vick is certainly not the only subject of such vitriol. Oddly enough, Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, has been kept out of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame because of the gambling addiction he had while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He was banned from baseball in 1989 by then Major League Baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti for “staining the game.” Players who are banned from baseball are ineligible for Hall of Fame consideration.

Years later, in an apparent effort to sell a book, Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball, but it wasn’t considered contrite enough by his critics and those who cast the Hall of Fame vote. And so, Rose permanently stands on the outside looking in because he still bears a scarlet letter from which there is no escape.

Vick lost millions of dollars, his freedom, his livelihood and his self-respect. Even leaving the confines of prison, he has spent his time educating young people in urban areas about dog fighting and how it ruined his life.

As for Rose, his ban from baseball took away any hopes he had of ever managing another baseball team. The problem in Rose’s case was that his greatness as a player and that it had nothing to do with his gambling on baseball.

But you wouldn’t know that they lost anything from how they’ve been treated by the media. How much more penance do Rose and Vick have to do before it’s considered enough?

Here’s something else for all the judgmental grand inquisitors out there: It has been well established in public health circles that gambling is a mental health problem and not a moral failing. Rose’s addiction was just as severe as that of anyone who has been hooked on cocaine or heroin.

(By the way, the baseball Hall of Fame does have its share of drug users and alcoholics and even a Klansman if you count former hit king Ty Cobb. I’m just sayin’.)

Vick has served his time and Rose has been banned from baseball for over 20 years. Both men have paid the price legally and in the so-called court of public opinion for their transgressions. What else do we want? Do we want their firstborn child as penance? A left arm maybe? Will that be enough?

I think that having the capacity to forgive requires a lot more  moral courage than it does to sit back and continue to yell, “Dog killer!” or “Degenerate gambler!”

For those who think that people like Vick and Rose are beyond redemption, I’d like for you to consider the case of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela spent 25 long years of his life in a South African prison during the days of apartheid when millions of Black African “human beings” lost their lives during the course of an unjust, racist regime. When he became president of South Africa, he could have easily called for the execution of those in the Apartheid government who authorized this unjust treatment and jailed him for protesting it.

But instead, Mandela, along with Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, formed the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in effort to help bring some healing to a country ravaged by hatred. It was about forgiveness rather than acts of vengeance. To be sure, it wasn’t perfect and it certainly had its critics, but the idea was not constant retribution, but a way for both sides to recognize their common humanity.

If a human being can have it in his heart to forgive his former enemies for doing something far more severe against human beings than anything that even the most brutal dogfighter could come up with, why does it seem to be such a big problem for the sports aristocracy along with fans as well to begin the process of forgiveness when it comes to people like Michael Vick and Pete Rose?

Besides what if it were you? What if you did something egregious in your youth and people constantly reminded you of it even though you took responsibility for it? Wouldn’t you want forgiveness for your actions rather than carrying the stain of that sin for the rest of your life?

Unfortunately, we live in a world of people who would rather point out the dust in their neighbor’s eye than look at the splinter in their own.

A New Book Claims that Sports are Not the Utopia of Racial Harmony

7 Feb

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

It is widely believed that sports is the common denominator that unites Americans of all races. It’s supposedly the one venue in which individuals are not judged by skin color or national origin, but by their ability perform on the field.

Or is it?

Even in an age where recognizable and revered African American sports icons like Jerry Rice and Michael Jordan have managed to transcend race and become heroes to millions of sports fans, a new book says that the world of American sport isn’t quite the colorblind utopia of racial harmony that some might think it is.

In his book, “Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America,” Thabiti Lewis, an English and Black Studies professor at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., makes the argument that racism is alive and well in sports, no matter what your heroes or sports talk radio might tell you.

“I write this book at a time where I talked about how we’re lulled into this feeling of racial parity because images that predominate your television are of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, etc,” Lewis said.

“We live in a world that’s still myopic. We are still in separate worlds and yet if people aren’t living in the same spaces and interacting, but you’re viewing this, these guys are everywhere. We’ve reached it and throw in (President Barack) Obama. We’re post-racial. Sports has the capacity to move us into that racial progressive state, but it hasn’t done that and so the push back is this constant negative reporting.”

Lewis said the depiction of African American athletes in sports is colored by racial stereotypes and a reflection of what he feels is stalled progress in race relations.

“If we look at subtle or covert narratives that are taking place, it’s saying those that are gaining that acceptance because they put forth an acceptable or palatable race neutral persona and all others who do not put forth what the majority of white male sports writers and what they deem as normative and that normative being ‘whiteness and those who don’t put that forth are villainized.”

Lewis’ book discusses how Black athletes of the hip-hop generation or the so-called Ballers of the New School (BNS) are not humbly or subserviently seeking acceptance from white fans or the mainstream media. Because Black athletes of this current generation are insistent on being accepted on their own terms and are willing to display the contemporary Black culture in which they grew up, they are at odds with the sports establishment, Lewis said.

“Cornrowed hair, earrings, jewelry—it’s a persona that seems to be openly embracing Black popular or hip-hop culture,” Lewis said. “When I say Ballers of the New School, let’s understand this particular generation of athletes and young people who are influenced by this culture.”

One of the highlights of the book is that Lewis claims that there is a “social contract” for African American athletes of the Hip-Hop era. In his book, Lewis said Black athletes who become heroes, but don’t play the role of the model minority that legitimizes white racism “often find themselves facing media campaigns that spin them as bad people.” He said that it is a reflection of the state of race relations in American society.

Lewis contends Barry Bonds’ difficult relationship with the media over the years including the controversy over steroids is as a classic example of what he calls a “Baller of the New School” as an athlete who grew up in the post Civil Rights era who wanted to be accepted on his terms.

“(Bonds’) engagement with the media makes him the quintessential baller of the new school,” Lewis said. “Barry Bonds lived in integrated communities, his friends are Black and white. He grew up in major league baseball dugout. He also saw the contradictions of that in the response to his father (Bobby Bonds), and Willie Mays and so he’s not your typical kid that comes from extreme poverty and make it to the pros and will eat the stuff of I’m happy to be here.

“He’s like ‘look I belong here, I feel privileged and I know this better than you guys and I will do what I want to do when I feel like it.'”

Lewis said the issue that Black athletes face today is that they are being covered by a cadre of white reporters who feel that they are superior to them.

“Today’s Black athletes are saying ‘I’m not trying to make them feel happy or comfortable anymore than someone else’ and therein lies the conflict with contemporary and this generation of white sportswriters because they’re still adhering to ‘I’m white, I’m superior even though may not be willing or able to articulate that,” said Lewis. “So as a result, we have this vitriol that comes out in the reporting and the resistance and response to those athletes that don’t seem accommodating enough or race neutral enough.”

Lewis said that while today’s “ballers” aren’t trying to make themselves race neutral, he said they aren’t as a political as athletes like Curt Flood, Muhammad Ali and they are not aware of the political ramifications of their actions.

“There’s a tradition of a certain political consciousness and activism that the generation before them were willing to stand upon to make clear that we’re not going to be kowtowing and we’ll only deal with so much,” Lewis said. “It was also a generation of readers who would put together organizations that will push economic development within communities. That kind of intellectualism is not rewarded.”