Other People's Lives

I really need to be working on this chapter about the integration of the NBA, and I did post something on FD today, right? But I am about to explode over accumulated energy and angst over some race/sexuality/basketball stuff, and I'm sick of carrying on 15,000 chats at once about it, while trying to provoke some reaction over Twitter.

Exhibit A: Brendan Haywood: If you don't know this story, I have no idea how you found your way to this site. Newsflash: Pro athlete is not entirely comfortable with the idea of homosexuality, uses language that might offend some. I might even include the fact that Haywood is black, since it's relevant later. My reaction yawned at these comments, instead choosing to focus on what might make Haywood retreat into such a defensive, reflexive position. He brought it up, remember. No one said "what do you think of that effeminite Marbury."

Exhibit B: Tim Povtak, FanHouse columnist, clowns O.J. Mayo for wanting to return a diamond bangle. Now granted, Povtak admits he just might be old school, and does mention Bill Russell and Joe Dumars as dudes who wouldn't wear flamboyant jewelry. And I by no means wish to imply that a desire for excessive ice is a genetic trait inherent in all young African-American men. But I read this as basically questioning the manhood of any present-day athlete who dresses flashy, which by and large applies to black players.

It has as far back as the 1970's, when Earl Monroe rocked high heels and Clyde wore mink on the subway. To regurgitate somethng I remember hearing in grad school, it's a form of racism that also manages to be sexist, since it puts down an ethnic group by feminizing it. EDIT: Yes, that does also make it implicitly homophobic, too.

I know Tim Povtak is no Brendan Haywood, in terms of visibility or just plain mattering to most people. But why is it that Haywood—whose attitudes are par for the course everywhere in sports, including on the web—is being criticized for saying what most athletes think anyway. It's also no secret that, culturally, the question of homosexuality in African-American communities is even more thorny than in your average predominantly white enclave. That's worth considering when Kevin Arnovitz mentions that he's overheard one of the NBA's most "enlightened" players spout homophobic cliches. That doesn't excuse it, just makes it unexceptional. At the same time, Povtak writes something that, at least to me, was not only uglier and more layered but also less expected. And yet no one's freaking out about his column, as far as I can tell. It's just some grouchy white guy complaining about the younger generation.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for peers like Kelly, Kevin and Ziller who have written about Haywood as part of a bigger problem. I don't for a second disagree with that assessment. I do wonder, though, why the blogosophere—which I'd argue is usually on the surface more homophobic than racist—is so quick to condemn Haywood (and itself?), while Povtak's column, which turns over a new leaf as far as yuckiness is concerned, drew little criticism. Is homophobia an easier target? Are we that scared to talk about race? And should it matter that much more when an athlete says it, than when a writer—supposedly the "smarter" side of the equation—puts his foot in his mouth?

I assume all things are wrong at all times. If we've moved on to prioritizing, picking our spots, or working with the demon we know best (as in, would like to admit we know best), please tell me.

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At 8/18/2009 5:28 PM, Blogger kellydwyer said...

Because I watched a Cardinal game last night instead of reading the Povtak column.

Actually, I've done quite a few things over the years since I last read a Povtak column.

At 8/18/2009 5:36 PM, Blogger sam said...

Don't forget the element of classism! Flamboyance in dress is a fairly money-neutral way of describing something that is very expensive (which is his "angle" for writing the piece in the first place). I'm sure that, for people who might otherwise agree that this needs agitating, there's not a lot of desire to argue about the cultural significance of what seems like an extravagant expense regardless of social symbolism. Bling has a tackiness to it, for those of us who could never afford it even if we saved our salary for a decade, so it's difficult to be outraged about something beyond our understanding.

At 8/18/2009 5:49 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...


At 8/18/2009 6:27 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

For the record, it's worth noting that Bill Russell was known for, among other things, wearing a satin-lined opera cape as he walked the streets of Boston in the 60s.

At 8/18/2009 7:43 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

The third point to this triangle remains classism, even if it's not cool to talk about anymore. I'm reminded of how, when Jack Johnson wore gold and diamonds, his vanity was cursed by whites with the twin slurs of both racism and heterosexism. Not to call the man an outright racist or anything, but I'd wager Mr. Povtak had a more comfortable upbringing than do most modern black athletes.

At 8/18/2009 7:44 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

And also, I watch "True Blood" and Lafayette is totally my favorite character, so you know I'm really open-minded and that I'm cool with black people AND gay people.

At 8/18/2009 7:57 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/18/2009 7:59 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Because my (rebuttable) presumption is that a Yahoo! Sports columnist is irredeemable, whereas Brendan Haywood might actually be able of experiencing a teachable moment in good faith.

At 8/18/2009 8:01 PM, Blogger ben said...

I think in some ways, the seemingly inconsistent popular (media?) response to one person charged with homophobia and another person charged with racism is because homophobia is still a more open issue. A lot of people still see homosexuality as fair game (that is, they don't think there is anything wrong with using someone's perceived homosexuality against them or treating them differently because of it.) While of course racism still persists in various forms, I think all but the most backward, culturally disconnected people recognize that using someone's (perceived) race against them is wrong, whether they still choose to do so or not. I don't mean this in a post-racism way--some people are still racist, I just contend that most of them know they shouldn't be.

The point being, that once general society has reached a moral consensus on an issue (you should not treat people differently because of their race and it is immoral to do otherwise), any public castigation merely has an element of flogging and does not serve the more constructive purpose of reminding both the racist and the rest of the tuned-in public that society has caucased on racism and decided that it is immoral to further that attitude. I think everyone that is going to hear or read such as response has already conceded to the immorality of racism. There is no longer a preventative element in addition to the punitive one. Of course, this only holds when you are speaking of someone's speech and not their actions--those are on a different moral ground entirely.

I think people focus on the Haywood comments more than the Povtak column because there is more of an opportunity for constructive action on behalf of an important cultural issue, as opposed to public shaming on behalf of an important cultural issue.

None of this is to suggest that you are engaging in public shaming. I don't think that was the point or the result of your post.

Of course, it's very possible that the difference in response is primarily due to the difference in visibility or opinion-worthiness of Haywood and Povtak. Or what Mr. Six said.

At 8/18/2009 8:41 PM, Blogger Q McCall said...

I'm not entirely sure where this discussion is going...

But I think I would maybe reframe it as follows:

1) Male professional sports are unmistakably a hyper-masculine endeavor. In a domain partially dependent on physical dominance imagined ideals of masculinity are obviously highlighted.

2) Homosexuality and femininity are both threats to hyper-masculinity, thus making them things to fear and ways to break others down in an effort to build up oneself.

3) Hyper-masculinity is enhanced when it interacts with race for a number of reasons, thus heightening the aforementioned anxiety.

4) So the issue here is not a matter of which is worse between homosexuality and race, but I would say a matter of which attacks on one's masculinity are "accepted" in the mainstream.

Challenging an athlete's manhood by calling him feminine -- the antithesis of the alpha male athlete -- doesn't phase people.

Challenging an athlete's manhood by calling him "gay" enters territory that so many people are anxious about that is like hitting a sensitive spot that provokes a response from all sides -- those that would choose to defend Haywood and those that find it repulsive.

Thus, I would say the problem is a sports culture of hyper-masculinity and when different things interact with that -- race, sexuality, class -- you get different sorts of responses.

But you're right Shoals -- this issue is about as illuminating as Katrina was about race: you'd have to be stuck in a cave or consciously unreflective to not know this phenomenon exists...

It's "accepted" to challenge a (black) man's masculinity by taking shots at traits deemed "feminine" in a domain

At 8/18/2009 8:50 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Just to interject: What's wrong with the notion of writers calling out other writers? Isn't that presumably more productive than talking at an athlete who may not even notice?

Haywood may be more important, but Povtak (FanHouse, not Yahoo!) is one of us.

At 8/19/2009 2:44 PM, Blogger Ritchie said...

Nothing is wrong with writers calling out other writers, but writers calling out other writers could actually effect the careers and relationships of the writers involved. Scolding an athlete is an easy call to make because it can be done without ruffling any feathers. It takes considerably more courage to call out one of your peers than someone who you know is not going to read your response or listen to you anyway.

At 8/19/2009 3:29 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

Haywood is just mad that Wizznutzz calls him Brenda.

At 8/19/2009 3:31 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

Also, I agree with Dwyer--Fanhouse has been irrelevant since you, he, and Skeets left. That's probably why no one cares what Fanhouse writers say. Now it is links to news, and some blah blah jump jump.

At 8/20/2009 12:04 PM, Blogger Harish said...

You're right- people pay an unhealthy level of attention to what athletes say, ignoring the same indiscretions committed by normal, more educated individuals who should ostensibly have a better handle on these issues (especially when, like Povtak, they're charged with educating or informing the masses).

I think a David Foster Wallace excerpt sums it up: "We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one pursuit."

At 8/24/2009 5:18 AM, Blogger Berlinleila said...

nice blog

At 8/24/2009 10:02 AM, Blogger Pardeep said...

I enjoy Matt Watson at Fanhouse.

Everyone (writers, athletes etc) deserve to be held accountable. Calling out another writer should be viewed as an attempt to make him/her better at his craft and improve his/her ability to reason. People in all walks of life should rely on criticism.


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