Monday, January 08, 2007

Darrent Williams' Death is More Than Just a Senseless Tragedy

Darrent Williams, former Denver Broncos cornerback, was laid to rest this weekend.

I guess this is my last chance to speak my peace about the circumstances surrounding his death.

I became suspicious early.

Darrent died during the holidays, a slow time for important news stories. And very few news organizations can resist the urge of playing crime blotter. Consequently, his death ended up being top news in many venues. But let me be frank with you. Before last week, I had never heard of Mr. Williams. Please be certain that I'm not trying to diminish the value of his life by disclosing that. But I am more fanatical about the the NFL than most. However, I live in NFC country and I don't otherwise follow the Broncos. As a result, I'm not going to pretend that I can name players on the Broncos except for a few bold face names like Champ Bailey or Jake Plummer. And I doubt that I'm the only one.

I say that to say, except for the timing, Williams' death really shouldn't have gotten that much coverage, especially with the playoffs and coaching changes to obsess about in the NFL. He was far from a household name. However, the coverage continued through the holiday up until now. And there's a reason why.

You may have been fooled into thinking ESPN and the like were just covering a senseless tragedy, but really it was just another thinly disguised opportunity to infer, imply and outright portray Black athletes as cornrow wearing thugs and criminals, living a reckless lifestyle and/or too caught up in the glamorized violence of hip-hop culture. Take your pick.

Examine the headlines.

A neutral headline would read as follows: Darrent Williams, 1982-2007.

A "loaded" headline would read more like: Darrent Williams, Murdered in Drive By.

See the difference? Unfortunately, many headlines were of the latter persuasion. It was like the writers couldn't wait to use the word "drive by" as often as possible. Like they got to dust off one of the great oldies but goodies.

And what about this picture that many media outlets chose to run?

An interesting photo, yes. However, if the angle is senseless tragedy, this is not the type of picture you would put in an obituary. It shows a total lack of respect. If you had any respect for the subject in the first place.

The media has been showing you one thing and telling you another.

It's not so much about the tragedy as it is another convenient opportunity to remind you of the undesirable and dangerous lifestyle that these athletes choose. Senseless tragedy on the surface, but it happened to just another thug athlete... ESPN narrates what a nice guy Darrent was while simultaneously showing you a crime scene complete with yellow tape on Sportscenter and publishing a list of guys who have been shot in the NFL as a sidebar to the article about Williams' death on its website.

See, they're showing you one thing and telling you another.

I'm not fooled because they do this all the time. It's just like when they devote consecutive days of coverage to Stephen Jackson (another non-household name) because he fired a gun at a strip club. Of course, the crime scene and the yellow tape were on blast. ESPN is on the scene, embedding a reporter, buying footage from the local stations... They're going all out to bring you an "important" story. Like when Terrell Owen's teammate, Terence Newman, exonerates him from being a bad teammate. Yeah, ESPN plays the statement, but only along with a montage of all of Owen's drops and unhappy outbursts from the season. Said montage is not directly related to the news story, but serves to undermine Owens. And undermining Jackson, Owens, Williams and people of their ilk is the ultimate agenda.

See, they're showing you one thing and telling you another.

And other interesting off the field stories happened during that slow news week. What about Ross Verba getting arrested for writing bad checks because he's basically a degenerate gambler? Rex Grossman quitting on the field because he was distracted by the prospect of his pending New Year's festivities? And isn't quitting on the field the greatest sin in sports? Instead, Darrent got the honor of being the posterboy for what some people think is the greatest sin in sports - all the so-called "thugs" infiltrating pure and dignified athletic competition.

And, as usual, the media dwells on the "thug" angle while ignoring other interesting stories. And there are so many interesting stories within the Darrent Williams story. Give the fans an opportunity to get to know Williams, even posthumously, with no mixed messages. What about the stress on the organization to have a player die so tragically? What about Javon Walker having his teammate die in his arms? That's unfathomably heart-wrenching. If you're going to do the CSI/crime angle, why not actually investigate what happened? After all, there were hundreds, if not thousands of people in the nightclub where the incident allegedly originated from.

And, in the end, Williams had a lovely funeral. His whole team gathered except for Javon, still too grief-stricken to attend. John Lynch gave touching comments. His coffin was draped with his jersey, an ending that should touch the heart of any sports fan.

But we won't get that information and those images because bias drives the media. I'm just making you aware.


The Rover said...

Not that I don't doubt some of your comments, because I know there's a lot of bias out there, but I was struck by a couple of things:

I was actually surprised by how many people weren't aware of Williams. I'm not a Broncos fan, but if you've seen any of their games over the past two year, this guy was always making plays. He was a star in the making, I think.

And watching the ESPN coverage, do you know what it reminded me of? Their coverage of Cory Lidle. Seeing the same shot over and over again of the apartment building. Why do we have to see the crime scene over and over? I've got a lot of problems with the "wordwide leader".

Finally, I was impressed that at least one of the big networks covered the funeral on the nightly news. And everything in your last paragraph was covered.

Vegan Viking said...

One of the interesting things about not having ESPN (and getting all my sports news from sources like the internet, radio, broadcast TV, and local news) is that I'm seeing sports from such a different filter than most fans and bloggers. I respect your interpretation and am often critical of the stereotyping that goes on in the news (I show excerpts of "Bowling for Columbine" to my comp classes, including the excerpt where Moore so clearly documents the way black men are portrayed in the media). However, since I have not seen a single second of ESPN TV coverage of Williams' death, I have not seen the type of stereotyping you've seen. What I've read about is the trauma Walker must be experiencing, and what I've seen is primarily coverage of the funeral and teammates and friends talking about the man Williams was, not the racial stereotyping. My guess is that if I did see any ESPN TV coverage, I'd be reading your interpretation and saying "That's right, that's exactly what's going on," but instead I'm reading it and learning about what might be going on.

Head Chick In Charge said...

I definitely want to clarify, that as far as TV coverage, I'm mostly talking about ESPN (SportsCenter and ESPN News). Some of the other tv reports I saw about it (ABC news, NFL on CBS) were more neutral. As far as print goes, it varied. Like I said, I took some offense to the prominent use of "drive by" and certain photos that some outlets chose to run. However, many print outlets just use AP stories and those tend to be more neutral.

The Rover said...

Well, we definitely agree on one thing: ESPN sucks.

Lou said...

To the best of my knowledge, ESPN doesn't pay for news video.

bosshog said...

How dare ESPN portray a corn row wearing athlete shot in a drive by as a corn row wearing athlete shot in a drive by?