Race guarded: Does race card in sports journalism have a place?

09/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

If you're a sports fan like I am, you more than likely have a subscription to some sports related magazine or publication. For about the last 20 years I've had a subscription at some point to either Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, or ESPN The Magazine. My current mag of choice has been ESPN, not so much because I like it better, but because the renewal price was too good to pass up. I may be a little old school, but I'd rather hold and read a magazine than read articles online because that's the way I've always read about sports. But recently, it hasn't been the way I read about sports, it's what I'm reading about that seems out of sorts.
As ESPN has been becoming more E (entertainment) and less S (sports) on television, that trend is carrying over to the magazine now too. A few months ago I noticed something new on the back pages. A column called The Truth by Howard Bryant. I'm not going to lie, I don't know who Howard Bryant is or what is background in the world of journalism is. I might Google it later, but this is less about the other and more about the subject. Mr. Bryant is black, and his columns are mostly about racism and sports.
In one column he discusses the uprisings in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police. In the article he makes sure to mention Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is white, and that he said he'd rather not comment on the issue. As if Hardy's not wanting to talk about something that isn't related to sports is wrong, and seems to hint that's because Hardy is white.

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In another column, he writes what for the most part was a very good article about the difference in power between the players unions in the NFL and Major League Baseball. Except for the sentence where he notes that Josh Hamilton of the Anaheim Angels issues with substance abuse, and those same issues of the Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon are somehow related to a racial double standard. Those are two different guys that play two different sports represented by two different unions. The fact that Hamilton is still being paid is because his union is protecting him, while the fact the Gordon isn't is because his union isn't protecting him. Nothing racial involved there.
If that's not stretching it enough, Bryant states that Nick Krygios was the center of attention and his style and ways not accepted at Wimbledon because he embraces the black culture. Wait, what? Krygios stood out because of who he is. His look and what he did on the court is why he stood out. Sure, his look isn't traditional and he definitely ruffled some feathers. But he wasn't being singled out because he wore diamonds in his ears and Beats headphones, thus embracing the hip hop culture, which is why he was criticized.
The most ridiculous article is saying that Michael Jordan should look up to LeBron James because in Bryant's words, James is the athlete activist of his time. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. LeBron James deserves lots of credit for his work with at risk black youths around his home town. But because he wore an I CAN'T BREATHE shirt in warm ups doesn't mean that he cares more about police killing an unarmed man than Jordan does. Michael Jordan was a professional basketball player. His job was to score and win. He did both better than anybody else ever in that sport. If he doesn't want to speak out now or didn't speak out against racism when he was a player, it doesn't matter. He has every right to sit at home and count the millions of dollars he earned as a player and do nothing else the rest of his life. Michael Jordan was a professional athlete. He wasn't and isn't an activist, and shouldn't have to be just because he's black.
Racism has been a touchy subject here in America lately, especially with the conflict between law enforcement and the black community. It's an uncomfortable issue for some. But it's real and something that all of us have to acknowledge. That whether we like it or not, there is a racial divide in this country right now. But it's not a subject that needs to be addressed through sports. Sports is the chance to escape from the sometimes harshness of the real world. It allows fans to cheer and enjoy themselves and just let go of what's negative in the world and what may be wrong in their worlds and just have a good time. For most it doesn't matter if the guy or girl sitting next to you is black or white, as long as they're wearing the home teams jersey, they're "one of us". It doesn't matter in the locker room either. In each of the four major sports, players of different races and national origins put on the same jerseys and are teammates. That's all that matters is the guy next to them is a teammate. Not black. Not white. But just a teammate. How about we leave the racism out and just let people just be fans and teammates? Racism has no place in today's society, but it also has no place in using the world of professional sports to exploit it. And that's the truth.

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