Perception usually is not reality with sports images
The perception of the black athlete has become one of a thug and a criminal. But the statistics do not support that notion at all. So why do we constantly hear about athletes getting in trouble?
A study recently published in the Sentinel stated that stated that at newspapers around the nation, 94 percent of sports editors and 88 percent of sports columnists are white. Judging by those numbers it is not hard to see why black athletes are looked at in such a bad light.
The two leagues with the worst image problems are the NBA and the NFL. It is not hard to figure out why many people view the players in those two leagues as thugs. The NBA is about 80 percent black, while the NFL is about 65 percent black.
In 2007 USA Today plastered 41 NFL player’s photos on their front cover. All of them had been arrested that year, and all but two of them were black. That led readers to believe that there was some sort of criminal epidemic in the NFL. But statistically speaking that is far from the truth. Going by the numbers there is more of a criminal epidemic in the general population of the United States than in the NFL.
According to a 2007 article titled “Arresting Image,” published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the arrest rate among NFL players is less than that of the general population, and many of the arrests are similar to that of the general population.
The NFL has roughly 1,950 players, and the NFL’s arrest rate is about 43 players per year. That is about one arrest per every 45 players, or about two percent. In the general population the arrest rate is twice as frequent. About one out of 21 people, or about four percent of the general population, are arrested according to the FBI.
Going by those numbers 14.285 million people are arrested per year. If 43 NFL players arrested per year make it a league of thugs, is this a country full of thugs? It appears that because they are a group of black men they are called thugs. 1,900 players abide by the law, but 43 acts out of hand and the league has a criminal epidemic?
About half of those arrests were for moving violations. The most common violation was driving while under the influence. Driving under the influence is a serious crime, but it is not violent crime. Most people who are arrested for a DUI are not thugs.
Half of the violations are for non-violent crimes, but they are all thugs? That does not make sense.
Writers Don Yaeger and Jeff Benedict, who are both white, wrote in a 1998 book titled “Pros and Cons” that 21 percent of the NFL had criminal records. The NFL criticized those numbers on several grounds. The NFL said that the study unfairly included criminal incidents in college and that there arrest rate is no different from any other group. According to the actually numbers, the arrest rate in the NFL is smaller than most other groups.
It was not the first time Benedict unfairly labeled a number of black athletes as a bunch of thugs. In a book titled “Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence and Crime,” Benedict claims that 40 percent of NBA players have criminal records. He had to back off of those claims after NBA commissioner David Stern protested the book. Benedict later admitted that he used incomplete data to come up with his figure. Out of the 450 NBA players, he was only able to get information on 177 of them.
After pressure from the NFL and NBA, both Yaeger and Benedict had to admit that their claims were incorrect, but the damage had already been done. Most readers read their initial points, and not their retractions. The damage had already been done, and it has not been fixed.
On the field violence has also been blown out of proportion when it comes to black athletes. When the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons had an all out brawl that included fans, the entire league took a ton of heat and the thug label was used again. Since that 2004 incident, there has been only one major brawl on the court. In 2006, the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks had an altercation. Again, the thug label was used to portray the entire league.
It is rare to see a fight in football. The NFL has not had a major fight in years and in college football there has only been one bench-clearing brawl in recent memory, when Miami and Florida International had a riot on the field in 2006. Most of the players on those two teams are black, and they were called thugs for their violent acts.
When looking at baseball and ice hockey, where the majority of the players are white, there are a lot more fights than in football and basketball. A number of times per year players from both dugouts in baseball will rush to the pitchers mound after a batter attacked the pitcher for intentionally hitting him with the ball. Baseball players are not labeled as thugs after an on the field fight, but football and basketball players, who fight a lot less, are labeled as thugs.
Ice hockey is even worse. Many fans show up to NHL games hoping that a fight breaks out on the ice. Many members of the press and fans will defend the fights by saying that it is a part of the game. How is that fair? Blacks rarely fight and they are thugs. Whites fight quite frequently and it is just part of the game. It does not make sense.
Some media and fans have defended baseball and hockey by pointing out that the Pacers against the Pistons incident happened in the stands, where fans were being attacked. But they have seemed to forget that in 2000 a number of Los Angeles Dodger players and coaches went into the stands at Wrigley Field in Chicago to fight with fans.
Hockey has also had players go into the stands to fight. One of the more famous fights was in 1979, when the bulk of the Boston Bruins team climbed over the glass and into the stands to fight with the fans in New York. But to many they are not thugs, it is just part of the game.
Black athletes can be portrayed in this fashion because 94 percent of sports editors and 88 percent of sports columnists are White. They have a voice and can portray us the way that they see fit.
That was evident in the LA Times coverage of Venus and Serena’s Wimbledon championship match. They could have focused on the return to greatness for these two sisters and Venus’ fifth Wimbledon title. But instead a good portion of their article focused Serena being moody after the loss. The article made her out to be a sore loser. She has every right to be a little upset. She played her heart out and came up short.
Blacks do not have much of a voice when it comes to sports media. But one black writer, columnist Jason Whitlock, has a very strong voice. The problem is that he uses it to bash black people, which may be one reason why he is so well liked by white editors and readers.
Whitlock takes a white person’s point of view. He champions their cause by writing points that white people wish they could say. He labels many black athletes as thugs and is ready to condemn them on most issues.
Whitlock has said that blacks cannot converge in large numbers without a major incident, blamed blacks for the Dom Imus situation, and called Scoop Jackson, who is one of the few black sports writers, a clown and a bojangle writer.
Whitlock grew up in Warren Township, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis that is 73 percent white. He was educated in a mostly white school district. It is a real shame that the black sports writer with the strongest voice did not grow up around many blacks and has such a low opinion of his own race. But his viewpoints, which white people love because it is what they would really like to say, have led to Whitlock becoming an award-winning writer. He has risen to the top by tearing down his own people.
There is no question that there are bad seeds among black athletes, but the entire group should not be defined by the few bad seeds. In the newspaper business the saying is that if it bleeds it leads. Controversy sells. It seems that trashing black athletes is one way to sell some papers. Since we do not have much of a voice at newspapers around the nation we will always have a hard time telling the real story.