For a brief period yesterday, football and the Patriots got pushed off the front pages and down the list of topics covered by Boston’s talk radio
morons hosts. The reason was that Rajon Rondo, the point guard that fans love to hate, pushed Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband into the crowd after he committed a flagrant foul on the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett.
Rondo is 6’1” and Kim’s ex-husband is 6’9” and weighs 235 compared to Rondo’s slight 176. KKEH is white and Rondo is African-American. Some in the NBA also consider the former a “punk,” who is known for his cheap shots and extra activities on the court.
You would have thought Rondo pulled a 9mm pistol and shot KKEH given all the indignant posturing by the pasty white hosts on WEEI.
It’s rich to hear a bunch of white guys, all of them at least 50+ pounds over their optimum weight and years from competitive sports glory (if any of them ever experienced any) rain judgment on Rondo, who is just as talented and valuable to his team as is Tom Brady, the white sports God in New England. Brady gets treated differently by the ‘EEI team. Some might even characterize the Brady gushing as akin to several hosts as having a “
boy man crush” on New England’s sports matinee idol.
Granted, ‘EEI has a token former athlete on its roster in former Red Sox utility player Lou Merloni. Oh and the afternoon hosts on the “The Big Show” brought in former Celtic and current radio color man, Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, plying him with soul food for his take on the Rondo incident. Max, who I appreciate, was more than happy to play along with Glenn Ordway in their own version of Amos ‘n’ Andy. Obviously, savvy athletes like Maxwell learn how their cornbread is buttered if they want to stay on the white side of sports fans and the NBA brass, especially given his own former peccadilloes.
Basketball is an emotional game. Anyone who has ever laced up hightops and engaged on the hardwood knows that tempers can boil over quickly. I spent four years trying to keep my short fuse dampened and I was merely playing the high school variety, rather poorly at that. I can’t imagine the size and “physicality” (a term that Garnett used several times during an interview with Mutt and Merloni, yesterday afternoon) of today’s professional game and how easy it is for things to overheat and for passions to take over.
The callers are always a trip. Similarly indignant, like the hosts, these “experts” take down the intellectual sophistication to the level of barely coherent. Once again, it was a drumbeat of “Rondo needs to keep his cool, “and “Rondo hurt his team, “ and all manner of moral judgments against a player who is the best point guard to wear a Celtics uniform since the legendary Bob Cousy. Interestingly, Rondo got two games for his push and
New Jersey Brooklyn Nets player, Humphries (KKEH), the instigator in all of this, got off without being punished. Even Garnett, the player flagrantly fouled is paying a $25,000 fine.
Basketball’s racial composition continues to cause problems for the mostly white, male listeners that populate sports talk radio’s demographic. A perceptive listener, particularly with an awareness of the media-driven narratives that mold the presentation of sports, recognizes certain things and even some of the code that is revealed when a black athlete, like Rondo, is held to a different standard than the white hosts and even the white callers require of themselves. Shoot, this group probably has a hard time refraining from flipping the bird when they’re cut off in rush hour traffic, but they expect Rondo to behave like a choir boy when he sees a teammate subjected to possible injury by a dirty play, by a rival team that’s obviously trying to ramp up their own brand of physicality.
Sociologist David Leonard insists that ideas of race are always present with the NBA, a league of predominantly black players watched by predominantly white fans. When fans or commentators talk about “the NBA player” in the abstract, the picture that typically comes to mind is a black man.
In his book, After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness (State University of New York Press, 2012), Leonard examined how white American fans and commentators, as well as NBA officials, have struggled with this image of the black player. Back when the embodiment of the NBA player was the universally liked Michael Jordan, blackness was not a problem. But after Jordan left the game to make Hanes commercials, the model of the black player became someone like Allen Iverson, with his tattoos, braided hair, and sideways cap, ridiculing the idea of attending practice.
The perception of the NBA player as overpaid and undisciplined thug burst open with the 2004 “Brawl at the Palace.” In response to scenes of Ron Artest and other players fighting with fans at the close of a game, commentators and fans stated openly that the problem with the NBA player was that he was a product of black, hip-hop culture.
The Artest incident resulted in the NBA harshly cracking down on fighting in the NBA, and the PR efforts by the league to turn players into respectable professionals who would be more acceptable to white fans in the seats, to the wealthy buyers of luxury boxes, and to the league’s corporate sponsors.
Rondo’s very minor push and the attendant scrum afterwards will not be tolerated any longer in a league that continues to police its players in a manner that’s all about image and the bottom line.
Talk radio puppets help the league do its job when they play right into those racial stereotypes and images that they want to banish and whitewash from public view.
Sports are a mirror of society at large and knowing how to look into that mirror reveals abundant information. Too bad the average sports fan isn’t sophisticated enough to see it.