Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Some People Just Don't Understand

When I came across Buster Olney's article on the Gary Sheffield/Joe Torre situation, I was struck by how reasonable he was. I was also struck by how ignorant he was.

This statement caught my eye.

But in this case, Sheffield's words about Torre are sharp and vicious, whether he meant them to be or not. It feels like he is slinging around words recklessly -- hurtful words which, when coming from a star player like Sheffield, can label someone for life. You cannot on one hand indicate that Torre treats black players differently than white players, and on the other hand say that he is not a racist. That makes no sense, and it is irresponsible.
Gary flat out said that he didn't think Torre was a racist IN GENERAL. Olney doesn't comprehend. He and others can not comprehend the difference between being an all out racist and treating someone differently. In fact, you can indicate that Torre treats Black players differently than White players without saying he's a racist. It makes perfect sense to me. It's only irresponsible if you don't want to hear the truth.

People treat people differently all the time. It doesn't have to be "black" and "white". Race has nuances of gray. It can be none, some and all of the issue or various combinations thereof. Just because most White men wouldn't date me doesn't mean most White men are hood wearing racists. Just because my White coworker wouldn't invite me to the death metal concert after a work doesn't mean he's a racist. In fact, I don't like death metal and, in part, that's culturally informed. Just because a White friend doesn't invite me to a family function doesn't mean they're racist. Maybe some members of the family are "old fashioned" and it would be more comfortable for everyone if diversity wasn't an issue at the dinner table. Sure, race informs it. But it's not tantamount to being racist. Maybe having females around sometimes spoils the testosterone fun and vice versa. That doesn't mean the person seeking space is sexist either. Fill in the blank with the characteristic of your choice. Sometimes it's just information, but not necessarily the determinative conclusion.

People relate to each other on the basis of race, sex and other singular characteristics, but they also relate to each other on the basis of shared commonality and experiences.

Olney examined some of that in his article. For example, he made an excellent point that Torre puts the most pressure on his best players. Sheffield certainly fits in that category. Perhaps Sheffield is being hypersensitive.

Still, Olney could not comprehend the issue of race being in play. He basically dismissed Sheffield's statement with a "he's entitled to his perspective" analysis. Olney otherwise defended Torre, predictably implementing the ever popular "look at all his Black friends" approach. Further illustrating Olney's discomfort with the subject, Olney simultaneously referred to Derek Jeter as Black and African American. Oley used "Black" to refer to Sheffield's quote, but used "African American" to refer to Jeter himself. That's hilarious, but sad. No wonder Olney isn't comfortable with the subject. He isn't even listening. If someone says they're Black, they're not African-American.

Olney wasn't the only one at ESPN to play duck and cover from the race issue. In Dan Patrick's radio slot, Michael Kay decided to discuss the Sheffield issue. Putting his unfamiliarity and discomfort with the issue of race on blast, he referred to a dictionary definition of "racism." Seriously. Instead of pulling from any of his common sense or, God forbid, personal experience, he used the American Heritage definition. And fully informed with that basis of knowledge, preceded to debate callers and e-mailers who had experience with racism and were, at a minimum, trying to explain Sheffield's position. To add insult to injury, he brought on Darryl Strawberry as the voice of experience. Not that Darryl doesn't have experience, but Kay was smug in having his "one Black friend" come on and speak for him - which he didn't. Strawberry merely said that he loves and respects both Sheffield and Torre and that HIS experience with Torre was positive. He did not disagree with Sheffield. Yet, Michael Kay insisted that Strawberry said Sheffield was wrong. Which Darryl absolutely did not say. Furthermore, Michael Kay dismissed Kenny Lofton's agreement with Sheffield. Suddenly, Lofton is a malcontent when he says something unpopular. And, suddenly, the mainstream media demands more "credible"people to support Sheffield. Like Dwight Gooden? Dwight is Gary's uncle and I don't doubt for a second that Sheffields's statements were informed by Gooden's experience on the Yankees.

The way to challenge Sheffield is not to take a myopic view on racism. I understand what Sheffield is trying to say, but I wish he was more articulate about his feelings. Still, it is tiresome to translate Sheffield's meaning to an audience that isn't even listening.

Pic courtesy of Kristina S.


CoCo said...

I don't understand why all of the ESPN personalities insist that Sheff can't claim Torre treated black players differently and in the same breath say Torre isn't a racist. Those two comments are not exclusive. Sheff was merely stating that Torre has his prejudices or preferences. I'm sure Torre treats Jeter differently because he's one of HIS players. That is to be expected. Jeter is everyone's golden boy and I'd be shocked if I found out that Torre handled Jeter like he does everyone else. In a perfect world all players on a team would be treated equally, but in the Superstar driven reality that is pro sports, certain players get recliners and other privileges that lesser knowns do not. Bottom line, Sheff says inflammatory things and the mainstream media doesn't like it. They claim they want athletes to speak up, but depending on who it is they tend to disregard it. While Sheff is not as eloquent as some with his words, you cannot discount his experiences considering he's been in the league for damn near 20 years.

MCBias said...

Ah, a black-and-white photo of a Yankee...love the symbolism. Took me a minute to get it.

The HCIC said...

Yeah, MC, it fits here for sure. The girl who created them has some bad ass photos on her Flickr.

Angela S. said...

The entire "you can't say someone performed actions informed by a racist society, and also say they're not a racist" attitude of ESPN's personalities has bugged me, too. This is mainly because the one thing I've experienced trying to explain to people (note: mostly amateur writers) that their words invoke racist attitudes, stereotypes, or tropes, is that these are usually ignorant mistakes rather than acts of maliciousness, and while some people will be defensive when these things are pointed out, one of the things you do to make people not freak out when making these criticisms is to state very specifically that the words/actions were informed by racism or prejudice, but that, no, prototypical fragile author, I'm not calling you a racist.