Allen Mark

Putting Words to Paper. Or Your Screen.

On the Relationship Among Sports, Fandom, and Morality

(Originally written September 8th, 2014, edited from amarkicano.tumblr.com)

It’s days like this that remind me that it can be tough being a sports fan. (Not necessarily tough in the sense of a societal or systemic struggle, but tough like first world problems.) 

After the Donald Sterling saga earlier this year, Adam Silver and NBA has made it clear that there is a zero tolerance policy for racism in the league. (Then you think: where was this during David Stern’s 30-year tenure when Sterling was accused of housing discrimination and employment discrimination? But I digress…). This leads me to this past weekend when news broke that Atlanta Hawks owner (note: part owner. The Hawks are owned by a collected Atlanta Spirit LLC) Bruce Levenson will sell his part of the team due to a two year old email (via USA Today) discussing how to get back fans because the black fans have scared away the white fans. Furthermore, even more recently was the revelation of a scouting report from early this summer on then free agent Luol Deng stating “He’s a good guy overall. He’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. I don’t say that in a bad way” (viaYahoo Sports). GM Danny Ferry is under the hot seat for having read that report verbatim when discussing pursuing Deng as a free agent to his executives, leading to the investigation. 

So that scouting report is terrible, and Ferry shouldn’t have used it, but let’s talk about Levenson’s email. Read it. Besides obvious stereotypes and “there are few fathers and sons at the games,” what’s offensive? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar goes in (yes, Kareem) in this TIME op-ed piece (via TIME) that it really expresses business issues where you have to discuss race. There honestly are issues on race that reflect the low attendance at Atlanta Hawks games and though talking about it isn’t inherently racist, it speaks to deeper systemic and societal racial problems we face in this country. (Also I can’t help but feel like Levenson is just trying to cash in on some $$$ as his team continues to flounder with attendance while the Clippers just sold for $2 billion.)

It’s exhausting thinking about the racial issues that may or may not plague the NBA (don’t even get me started on the predominantly white ownership and front offices’ relationship with the predominantly black players), especially when watching my favorite sport: the beautiful game of basketball. But you’re going to see these racial issues and I’m happy they’re taking a stand (but trying to up the age limit for draftees even further Silver, taking away the opportunities for mostly black players to make money earlier… but again I digress).

Then there’s the Ray Rice news. Rice dragging his then fiancé out of an elevator was horrible. Rice then getting suspended for only two games by the NFL is also bad (leading to Goodell implementing a much stricter policy for domestic violence… after the fact of course). Rice getting support from the Ravens is confusingly bad. And then today TMZ released the actual elevator footage which was much worse than reported leading to an avalanche of events: the Ravens cut Rice, then the NFL suspends him indefinitely, then twitter questions if Goodell saw this video or not in the initial investigation, and if he did then his tenure as NFL commissioner has a very short expiration date. As if I didn’t already have a masochistic relationship with the NFL with its already shoddy reputation with priorities–steep fines for celebrations, putting players’ health (especially with concussions) on the wayside during and after their careers, etc, in spite of being such an enjoyable sport to watch and I ride with the 49ers forever (side note: the 49ers really should do something with McDonald)–this may take the cake in its incompetence. Would the Ravens and the NFL have even done anything if the tape never leaked? 

And the issue of domestic violence goes into even deeper social problems in dealing with men and masculinity. Believe it or not, people will make arguments blaming the victim or that there is equal blame. They completely miss the point that abuse is not okay, and it is disgustingly so prevalent with men. Early, boys are taught how to be “strong men”: stoic and tough with their emotions suppressed because they aren’t supposed to cry. This way of thinking can lead to men like Rice taking it too far with fits of violent rage. We’re constantly told to “toughen up and act like a man” or “don’t be such a ‘insert misogynist, pejorative term here’” when it honestly takes real strength to allow yourself vulnerability, act out of love, and show emotion.

(I’m also aware that the NCAA has reinstated Penn State for postseason and scholarships long after the sexual abuse suits. Well, the NCAA is already perceived as incredibly flawed organization and I’ve been tired of hearing about them. Also hiding the news by releasing it during the hurricane of NBA racism and NFL incompetence is low y'all.)

Okay so basically the “too long; didn’t read” version: what I’m trying to say is that the tough part about being a sports fan is having to deal with the morally egregious issues that occur within the leagues, front offices, and players while still enjoying the sports you love so dearly. Basketball is such a visually beautiful sport with incredible otherworldly athletes. Football is very cerebral with its offensive and defensive sets and gives some of the most spectacular moments in sports. If you’re a fan, it’s hard not to love them, but when issues like racism and abuse are involved, that love can wane. But also you have to remember that these issues aren’t exclusive to these major sports leagues. Racism and abuse happen everyday in every setting. Segregating housing situations and white flight are real systemic issues. How many more men have abused partners in elevators yet have the luxury of not being in the public eye of ESPN? 

Now here’s what I love about twitter: it gives a public forum in a raw feed setting where people–complete strangers–can discuss and learn about these issues. Yes, idiotic opinions and ignorance will happen too, but getting the right dialogue out there gets magnified tenfold (just look at what twitter has done with Ferguson). Maybe I’m naive, but with this dialogue, I believe sports can become that pedestal where we can chip away at the many societal and systemic issues we face daily, not just in sports, whether it be about race, abuse, gender, anything. Keep loving the sport, that’s up to you whether you watch or not, but also remember that if you really love them, help fight against the issues that plague them.