Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

No place for race in sports

<st week, I wrote a column about loyalty to one’s team, and referenced LeBron James as a counterpoint to players like Joe Mauer or Kirby Puckett. Also last week, by a twist of fate, James and his manager, Maverick Carter, sat down for a CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien pertaining to “The Decision.” When asked if race played any role in the backlash surrounding his choice to leave Cleveland for Miami, James replied, “I think so, at times. It’s always a race factor.” By asserting that race was a factor in all the controversy, James opened up a whole new can of worms that catapulted him from hometown hero and potential legend to number six in a recent survey of least likeable athletes. My question is simple: why?

It is a common conception that leagues like the NBA and the NFL have a “race issue,” the issue being that these two leagues put out on the court or on the field athletes that are predominantly black, playing for owners and in front of fans that are predominantly white. Despite this, many white fans identify with white athletes, and black fans identify with black athletes. It is an observation often overlooked, yet one that is always magnified when players speak up about it. However, as J.A. Adande points out in his recent article “LeBron James, race, and the NBA” for ESPN, “It’s OK for people to root for people who bear the most resemblance to themselves…We all do it to some degree, be it with athletes or even ‘Price Is Right’ contestants. We tend to support those representing our racial group.” I am not challenging the validity of this statement, nor do I propose a way to remedy this issue in this article. What I do know, however, is that conflicts surrounding race have no place in sports.

James said that race can be a factor in public opinion, and this, unfortunately, I believe to be true. According to many, the fact that Ben Roethlisberger, who broke the NFL’s public conduct policy for alleged sexual misconduct, is statistically a more likeable athlete than LeBron James attests to the fact that race still plays a big part in informing public opinion. Especially in a league where black players like Michael Vick and Pacman Jones are heavily penalized for their personal misconduct (and are more vilified in the court of public opinion), a six-game suspension (later reduced to four) for Roethlisberger seems to set a double standard. Why do the leagues seem to create such a clear divide between their white and black athletes? And why does the public go along with it? Again, I have no answers, only more questions.

In the same ESPN column, Adande attempts to label the plight of the fan identifying with an athlete of his own racial group as “tribalism,” defined as “familiarity within the known entity. It’s not about hatred of others, it’s about comfort within your own, with a natural reluctance to expend the energy and time to break across the barriers and understand another group.” This last part is the most shocking, that there is a “natural reluctance to expend the energy and time to…understand another group.” Society has proven time and again to take this as truth. Not only that, they see this comfort within their own group as an excuse to never break across that barrier of race or culture. Just as race has no place in sports, nor does complacency have a place in issues of race.

How does this translate to us as Carleton students and as compatriots? How does our situation even compare to those making millions of dollars as professional athletes? Living in the “Carleton Bubble” is generally perceived of as a bad thing, yet we can finally use this distinction to distinguish ourselves from that part of society that so quickly uses race as an excuse to avoid engaging in meaningful discussions. As active students and learners at Carleton, we can consciously choose to look deeper than skin color on our own campus, and we can shed our complacency and awkwardness and engage every student, not as someone of a different race but as a human being in this world we all inhabit.

-Jon Isaac is a Carletonian columnist

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *