All of a Piece: Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and the Supreme Court of the United States

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
B eginning with the April 22 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States allowing affirmative action’s fate to be decided at state ballot boxes, followed 24 hours later by rancher Cliven Bundy’s comments on slavery’s positive attributes, followed 48 hours later by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s plantation master attitude on display in a recorded telephone conversation attributed to him, this past week has been hell for African Americans. So much for post-racialism. During the conversation in which a man said to be Sterling demands that his girlfriend not be seen in the company of African Americans--nor even attend Clippers games in the company of black friends-- saying : “We live in a culture.” He goes on to argue for adherence to the rules of prejudice that exist within the culture. Yet another aspect of that culture, the one Sterling says we all live in, is a news cycle that enables each of these stories to supersede the other solely on the basis of...

Daily Meme: Post-Racial America From Hell

It’s been quite a week in post-racial America, beginning with a Supreme Court decision on Tuesday that upheld the results of a ballot measure that barred the use of race-based affirmative action in the admissions process used by the University of Michigan, and exploded this weekend with the utterances, attributed to NBA team-owner Donald Sterling (who like all but one NBA team-owner, is white), of the alleged reputational harm of being seen in the company of black people. In between, a rancher celebrated by Fox News host Sean Hannity , and Republicans across the country, denied that his comments suggesting that “the Negro” may have been better off as a slave were in any way racist. Hannity has since stepped back from his support of Cliven Bundy’s quest to resist the federal government’s insistence that he not graze his cattle on federal land. Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, is alleged to be the male voice on a recorded telephone conversation with friend V...

Michael Sam, "Distraction"

AP Images/Brandon Wade
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam was the co-winner of the Defensive Player of the Year for the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. While a little undersized for an NFL player at his position, Sam was certainly a decent pro prospect certain to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. But Sam is no longer just of interest to SEC fans and NFL draft obsessives. On Sunday, Sam came out as gay . If he makes an NFL roster, he would certainly not be the first gay man to play in the NFL, but he would be the first to be out to the public during his playing career. Whether he will get a fair shot to make it as an NFL player, however, is not entirely clear, as multiple NFL decisionmakers have announced their intent to discriminate. Of course, these anonymous executives and coaches who spoke to Sports Illustrated cloaked their bias in various passive-aggressive evasions. A gay player would "chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room" said one. "[D]o you really want to be the top...

Daily Meme: Countdown to Sochi

The winter Olympics start a week from today, and the projected temperature for first day of competition is a not-particularly-wintry 45 degrees . Nobody could have predicted this would happen when you hold the games in a beach resort town , huh? Russia was awarded the games in part due to the efforts of Gafur Rakhimov to line up support among Asian countries for Russia's bid. Rakhimov is described by the U.S. government as a key member of an international crime syndicate called the Brother's Circle and one of the world's leading heroin kingpins. Rakhimov responded to allegations that he secured the support of some nations with bribes by saying, "It was not necessary." Speaking of bribes, one Russian businessman who alleged that the government demanded kickbacks in exchange for construction contracts in Sochi says he was told that for his whistleblowing, "You will be drowned in blood!" This may or may not be a quaint Russian expression meaning, "All the ladies of the village will bring...

A Farce in Cooperstown

Tearing to shreds the argument against putting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the Baseball Hall of Fame—or letting Deadspin have their say in the matter.

AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File
Late last year, Tim Marchman of the muckraking sports site Deadspin announced a plan to "buy" the baseball Hall of Fame vote of a sportswriter. The logic of Deadspin's stunt was clear enough. For the first 15 years of a player's eligibility, the Hall of Fame vote is controlled by the increasingly small spectrum of the media represented by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The BBWAA's votes, wrote Marchman, had become "a way for an electorate dominated by neo-Puritan scolds, milquetoast handwringers, and straight-out dimwits to show how high its standards are" by rejecting recently retired players who vastly exceed historical standards for induction. A writer agreed to turn his ballot over to a fan poll of Deadspin readers. On Wednesday, as this year's Hall of Fame vote was announced, Deadspin revealed the identity of the writer: Dan Le Batard of EPSN and the Miami Herald . Not surprisingly, the BBWAA reacted by stripping Le Batard of his privilege to vote for the Hall of...

Game, Set, Match—Feminism

AP Images
We often talk about athletes "transcending" their particular sport and having a wider cultural impact, but the truth is that becoming rich and famous for your physical feats doesn't have an effect on people that goes beyond entertainment. LeBron James may bring in $60 million a year and have 10 million followers on Twitter, but I doubt that a few decades from now people are going to talk about how much he changed America. Tom Brady may have won three Super Bowls and married a supermodel, but no one looks to him for leadership on critical social issues confronting our nation. This is a good time to consider one of the few exceptions, an athlete whose cultural impact was probably second only to that of Jackie Robinson. Forty years ago this month, Billie Jean King participated in a sporting event like nothing before or since. It was an absurd spectacle, and it could have been disastrous for the cause she championed. When King left the Houston Astrodome after roundly defeating Bobby Riggs...

Stop Defending the NCAA

Flickr/Daily Collegian
The possibility that last year's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel might be suspended for selling his autograph to willing buyers has left more people aware of the grossly exploitative nature of the NCAA Cartel. There's good reason for that. Preventing players from even making deals with third parties to be paid is a particularly indefensible manifestation of the NCAA's rules. And citing "amateurism" in defense of this exploitation is no answer at all. There's certainly no prohibition on reaping commercial rewards from Johnny Manziel's sweat. Television networks, various administrators, and coaches (Manziel's pulls in a cool $2.5 million a year, and he is free to sign as many endorsement deals as he pleases) are able to shovel the money generated by Manziel's plays into their pockets with both hands. The only people who aren't permitted to make as much money as they can are the players literally risking life and limb to generate the revenues. How can this be defended? This brings...

Red Wings Give You Bull

Why is a bankrupt city building a new $650 million “hockey arena district” to house the Detroit Red Wings?

*/ AP Photo W hile the state of Michigan appears to have no interest in “bailing out” Detroit, it is giving a substantial boost to the Red Wings, the city’s professional hockey team. Less than a week after Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in history, a press conference revealed a deal that will transform 45 blocks of the city with a new hockey arena (or “events center,” as the jargon goes) and a mixed-use entertainment district meant to link two of the city’s healthiest neighborhoods—downtown and midtown. “This is a catalyst project,” Governor Rick Snyder said, according to Crain’s Detroit Business . “This is going to be where the Red Wings are. Who doesn't get fired up in Detroit about the Red Wings? Come on now, the people that are criticizing are people from outside of Michigan. This is something that is important to all of us.” The Red Wings are one of the city’s calling cards most worthy of celebration right now: one of the “original six” teams in the National...

Take Me Out with the Crowd

AP Images/Ron Frehm
N ative Texans living elsewhere raise their children to be expats, fluent in the motherland’s culture. So, growing up in Virginia, I was well versed in the six flags of Texas and the Battle of the Alamo. I learned from my grandfather to shape my chubby toddler hands into the “Hook ’Em” shape every University of Texas fan knows. I understood that our family cheered for the Dallas Cowboys, and never the Washington Redskins. In baseball, in good, bad, and heart-wrenchingly disappointing times, we pulled for the Houston Astros, the team my father had rooted for since 1962, when (as the Colt .45s) they became the first major league team in Texas. My earliest baseball love was the Astros’ first baseman Glenn Davis, a power hitter called up to the major leagues a month before I was born in 1984. According to family lore, as a baby I would point to Davis as my favorite player, and when I was old enough to write, I sent him a letter asking him to be my best friend. Then disaster struck. In...

Gay on the Gridiron

Jason Collins’ coming out was a step in the right direction, but only an openly gay NFL player will make the kind of impact needed to truly challenge prejudice in American sports.

AP Images/David Drapkin
Jason Collins would never have been mistaken for an NBA player of much consequence. He has played for six different teams, four in the last five years. He has averaged as many personal fouls per game as points—often more—in seven of his 12 seasons. This past season could have been his last in the league, as his 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game aren’t likely to be in demand on the free-agent market. In his first person essay in Sports Illustrated , Collins even ridiculed his own unremarkable career, writing, “I take charges and I foul—that’s been my forte. … I enter the court knowing I have six hard fouls to give.” Deadspin’s Drew Magary highlighted a tweet that was subsequently retweeted thousands of times: “Jason Collins has a career average of 3 pts and 3 rebounds per game. Gay or straight he should never be mentioned on Sportscenter.” Indeed, there seemed to be a broad effort in some corners to make Collins’s announcement seem underwhelming because he has been an underwhelming...

Are Gay Guys Checking You Out in the Locker Room?

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Eric Gay NBA player Jason Collins, left, in 2009. Collins recently came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed, the first active player in a major-league sport to do so. A s the first active member of one of the major sports leagues to come out as gay, NBA player Jason Collins’s announcement yesterday has generated praise from gay-rights supporters. Predictably, it has also prompted dire warnings about gays in the locker room from homophobes like the Family Research Council’s Brian Fischer: I will guarantee you ... if the ownership of whatever team is thinking about bringing him back, or thinking about trading for him, and they go to the players on that team and they say 'How do you feel about an out active homosexual being in the same locker room, sharing the same shower facilities with you?' they'll say no way. I don't want that. I do not want some guy, a teammate, eyeballing me in the shower. This seems to be a concern primarily among men—women, for whatever reason, aren...

Coming Out of the Locker Room

There are hints we might soon see the first openly gay major league sports player. But are the fans ready?

AP Photo/Matt York
AP Photo/Matt York Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner, the number one overall pick of the WNBA draft, laughs during a news conference in Phoenix earlier this week. I t was in the locker room and on the field where Wade Davis felt most at peace with himself, which doesn’t sound unusual until he tells you that he was then a closeted gay man. “Sports was, for me, the safest place,” says Davis, an NFL and NFL Europe player from 2000 to 2004. Davis used football as a sanctuary from the rigid social hierarchy of middle and high school. Away from the game, away from his teammates, he struggled to focus on anything other than his inner turmoil and whether it was evident to his fellow classmates. To conceal his sexuality, he wore baggy pants and talked “with a twang.” “Anything to make people feel as if I was like everyone else,” says Davis, who finally revealed he was gay in January 2012. Little of Davis's experience squares with the prevailing narrative of the sports world—especially the NFL—...

Football, Body and Mind

A sportswriter looks back on his history with America's favorite pastime.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker RayLewis, top, will end his career after Sunday's Super Bowl. (AP Photo/G. Newman Lowrance)
AP Photo L ike many sons of the South, my father introduced me to The Game at a young age. Some of my earliest memories are of running around our living room with a Nerf football tucked under my arm, him playfully chasing after me. I spent plenty of time playing tackle football in the backyards around our suburban Houston neighborhood when some parents convinced my father to sign me up, at the age of ten, for the local Little League team. In Texas, ten years old is a little late for a boy wanting to play organized football. But I took to the game quickly, starting out as a quarterback (where I had the distinct skill of being able to remember all the plays), moonlighting as a defensive back for a couple of seasons, and then settling in as a running back in high school. Just like my father had. By my senior year, I had performed well enough to draw interest from a few small colleges. My parents nudged me to Texas Christian University, which was only four hours away. Two years later,...

Homophobia in Sports and Changing Hearts

49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, celebrating his newfound respect for gay people. (AP photo by Paul Spinelli)
Almost all of us, at some time in our youth, had the experience of saying something that turned out to be way more inappropriate than we thought it was, whereupon people turned to us and said, "Dude. Not cool." In most cases, it concerned something we just hadn't thought that much about, and it often occurs when you move from one milieu to another with different mores and ideas, like going from high school to college. Or existing in a world of football players and suddenly finding yourself quoted in the media on a sociopolitical topic because your team is in the Super Bowl, which is what happened to San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. When it happens in your dorm room, someone will explain to you why the joke you made or the term you used was out of line, and you'll probably say, "Huh—I hadn't thought about it that way, but OK." And armed with that knowledge, you'll adapt to your new surroundings and the changing times. But Culliver found himself in hot water when he was on...

Superbowlistan, Louisiana

A dispatch from New Orleans, home to the Super Bowl for the first time since Hurricane Katrina

Perry Knotts/NFL
Perry Knotts/NFL A giant football on display in New Orleans on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. M y friend Shyman keeps complaining that we're living in Superbowlistan. Understand, like many here, his business depends on tourists. He's a co-owner of a bike-tour company that TripAdvisor will tell you is the cat's pajamas, recently augmented by bicycle rentals and a knickknack shop. The ex-English major in me thinks the latter could brag a bit more about being located at the self-same street address Tennessee Williams assigned to Stanley and Stella DuBois Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. But Shyman's pride is that his customers will see post-Katrina NOLA as it really is. Not the theme park on temporary steroids that CBS, the NFL—and our own city fathers, in a position to kowtow to both corporate entities and make it stick—have been driving locals nuts with. That includes an NFL-prescribed "Clean Zone" prohibiting unsanctioned signage in the Quarter and environs, an edict that had to be...