Our Long National (League) Nightmare is Over - Plus, More LeBron James Talk.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I was 25 the last time the National League won the All-Star Game; my Lady Type Friend was approaching her senior year of high school.  High school!  She was in third grade when I graduated (Louie CKs sitcom this week had an element with his sleeping with a woman who liked that he was so old, his skin so loose, his smell like something dying - he'd say "I was born in 1967!  I paid 3 dollars to go to the movies!"  And it would really get her going.  I hope that isn't the position in which I find myself).

I turn 40 in a couple of months.  But thanks to Brian McCann, Game 1 of the 2010 World Series will be played in San Francisco.

I can't hear you, I have my fingers in my ears.  I'm sure you're making some sort of relevant point, but the National League finally won the All-Star game and I'm still enjoying that.  Sure, somehow even with 34 man rosters the game turned on the pitching performances of a couple of middle relievers (yes, Kuo has had a good year, he's on my NL fantasy team - but no you should not take middle relievers, in almost every circumstance, to the All-Star Game - they aren't as good or as valuable as starters - how often do failed set up men become solid starters?  Take Roy Oswalt, leave Evan Meek at home) but the NL won and I'm a lifelong NL fan and this pleased me and I remain pleased.

Now - to the other thing - in Tendown 34 I talked about the reaction to LeBron James through a class based labor/management lens, discussing the sports media/fans as tools of the corporate state.  I also referenced a subordinate observation, the racial element of seeing white men set fire to a black man's jersey.  That part of it, less noteworthy to me at the time, drew a response - and since Jesse Jackson then stepped into the same spot this week, but with a significantly bigger hammer than I felt needed to be swung, I thought I'd amplify.  I did so in the comment box -- but it wouldn't let me write to the extent that I wanted to, so I put up some introductory thoughts in comments and now here we are.

Sports provides a forum for fans (disproportionately white males of a working/middle class) to vent emotions they are socially constrained from venting. There are multiple ways in which that manifests - but one of those ways, in my view - is the..cathartic release of white males in screaming at or engaging in mock violent displays about young black men. That doesn't mean white men don't get angry at white athletes, but the quickness to anger, the level of outrage that white fans demonstrate at the behavior of black athletes seems, across the board, disproportionate to the actions of those athletes (like Joe Buck screaming about Randy Moss's fake mooning at Lambeau Field). There are diaries of American servicemen from the Philippines a little over a hundred years ago, talking with a frankness that one does not get to hear anymore, about how it was fun to kill Filipinos, sort of like getting to kill deer but better.  That doesn't mean every serviceman took/takes a little pleasure from getting to inflict violence on someone who isn't quite seen as fully human as is he, but it also doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  I see a subtextual undercurrent to that initial round jersey burning (the specific form of behavior to which I referred) it gives a channeling to a racial anger which can't be given voice in other places. I have been in stadiums, heard sports call in shows - where there was a particular brand of venom that dripped from white voices aimed at black players, and I would argue this type of emotion has a racial element.  I've lived as a white sports fan a long time; I have heard taunts that were facially neutral (about performance, let's say) from white men aimed at black men - that struck me as bathed in something extra.  Doesn't mean it's everyone - but I don't think it's just three guys in Row 365 either. 

That quickness to outrage comes from multiple sources - the one Jackson used is loaded and just hard to have a reasonable conversation about race once you use it - but the idea is the one I wrote about, whites can feel betrayed when blacks who they feel they have chosen to elevate sbove the rest then leave them. Again, back to diaries, slaveholders of escaped slaves would write about their personal betrayal - and with real pain and passion would write, usually the woman of the house "why would Bob leave us, we treated him so well, it is a knife to my heart" when a slave would leave. There is, I'd suggest, an element of white sports fandom who views the black millionaires whose jerseys they wear as the fortunate beneficiaries of their generosity, "hey, I pay your salary, without me you'd be working at McDonalds". And then if there is a felt betrayal of that generosity - that card of white acceptance is pulled and pulled with feelings of hurt "with all we did for you, this is the thanks we get."

Again, it's not the dominant way I see the story. I'm more interested in the same sorts of impulses told through a prism of class, which is why I didn't do this type of amplification in the initial post (that and I'm about a half second from parking Tendown on the side of the road given the demands of my current courseload and the doubling/tripling of class size in the past couple of quarters) I assigned to the racial element the subordinate position I'd argue it deserved. I don't think every Cavalier fan upset that LeBron James is going to Miami is a racist, which is why I didn't say it. I don't think that having racial elements to a Cavs fan's reaction necessarily means that Cavs fan is racist. I'd be upset if I were a Cavalier fan - which is why I specifically referenced my own incidents of sports fan betrayal.

Finally - a thought experiment, as a commenter referenced that Larry Bird would have received a similar reaction had he left Boston.

If Larry Bird leaves the Celtics and a black owner of the Celtics writes a letter calling him a "coward", 'cause that's the word that was used, - and black Celtics fans start burning Larry Bird jerseys, because that's the action that took place - is there a racial element to that story? Do white sports fans see that and say "no racial element there at all - nope, nothing to see there"? Does anyone really believe we don't have a national conversation about race in the aftermath of watching young black men setting fire to an iconic white athlete's jersey, over and over again? 

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