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MORE THAN A GAME
A big comeuppance for "Big Sexy"

May 18, 2007 | Page 11

DAVE ZIRIN celebrates sportswriter-turned-hip-hop-critic Jason Whitlock being put on the hot seat at Morehouse College.

YOU FELT it coming like a subway trembling your toes before it appears 'round the bend. C. Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers women's basketball coach with eyes of ice, was only going to suffer sportswriter Jason Whitlock's presence for so long. Stringer and Whitlock were speaking on a panel called "State of the Black Athlete" at Atlanta's Morehouse College.

The event included football great Jim Brown, NBA stars Etan Thomas and Alonzo Mourning, NFL All-Pro Alge Crumpler, New York Times columnist William Rhoden and was moderated by Spike Lee.

Whitlock has recently made the journey from middling sports columnist to "serious thinker" after railing against what he calls the "hip-hop/prison culture" in professional sports. He has written, "[NBA] All-Star Weekend can no longer remain the Woodstock for parolees, wannabe rap artists and babies' mamas on tax-refund vacations."

Whitlock has surfed a wave of racial hysteria against Black professional athletes. But he took it to another level after defending racist shock jock Don Imus and writing that the "real culprit" was inner-city African American youth he describes as "the Black KKK." He earned "amens" from right-wing radio bigots after calling Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton "domestic terrorists" for their anti-Imus efforts.

What else to read

Read Dave Zirin's articles on the Imus affair, including "Don Imus and the End of Silence" and "Memo to Imus." His weekly columns, "Edge of Sports," are collected at www.edgeofsports.com.

Dave is the author of What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States and the soon to be published Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports.

 

He also wrote that Stringer's strong statement against Imus' bigoted rant was a "shameless" grab for headlines. He described her speech where she called on people to "take their country back" as a "pity party/recruiting rally" where Stringer "rambled on for 30 minutes" to "tell her sob story."

At the Morehouse panel, Stringer and Whitlock sat--appropriately--on opposite sides of the dais. During the first hour, Whitlock did his shtick about "hip-hop/prison culture"--and was received by Morehouse students like Derek Jeter at Fenway Park.

Stringer was strikingly silent. Finally she let loose, performing, as ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski put it, "invasive verbal surgery" on the man who calls himself "Big Sexy."

She said, "The truth of the matter is that we have been fooled for such a long time. We have such promise and we all are important. We need to step on each other's heads to get the little piece of the American dream. It became green. It was power. You [Whitlock] understand that. That's the reason why you chose these few minutes to get your one moment of [fame]. Because other than that, who knows Jason Whitlock?"

She then said, "I'll be doggoned if I sit back and let that man speak of them as he did. The truth of the matter is [Jackson and Sharpton] were the only people who spoke up. I didn't care if they fired Imus or not. But I know this--I was going to defend those young ladies."

As Etan Thomas said to me later, "I almost stood up and clapped." Wojciechowski wrote, "you could almost feel the sweat forming at Whitlock's armpits." Whitlock peeped in response, "I stand by everything I wrote. I thought [Imus's firing] was handled inappropriately."

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PREDICTABLY, "BIG Sexy" was far bolder back safely in front of his laptop, writing, "The forum turned into 'The Jason Whitlock Roast,' a discussion of out-of-context snippets of things I'd written about NBA All-Star weekend, Vivian Stringer and Imus."

He then had the unholy gall to write of Stringer, "Wallowing in victimhood might help an individual get a fat book contract and coaching salary that equals the football coach's, but it does not elevate anyone else." This from a man who has used the entire l'affaire Imus to elevate himself. And unlike Stringer--who elevated the debate to the question of sexism in the media--Whitlock grabbed the spotlight by trashing all who dared speak up.

(Full disclosure note: Whitlock has said in published interviews that I, Dave Zirin, need to "Mind [my] own damn business" because--last I checked--I'm white. He declined to tell right-wing lickspittle Tucker Carlson to mind his own damn business when he said he wished he could nominate Whitlock to be "the new leader" of Black America. He also--seriously--wrote that he would "never dare" tell me "what to do about Israel." Yeesh. If you'll excuse me I have some kreplach in the oven.)

While "the Jason Whitlock Roast" was long overdue, there is a greater debate that still needs to be aired. Spike Lee started the evening by holding up a USA Today cover story about NFL athletes arrested in the last year--39 of the 41 mug shots pictures were African American.

The cover was a stark reflection of the racially loaded journalism that sticks to the underbelly of sports: lumping in every player regardless of charges, regardless of the outcome of the trials. But it is also demonstrates the pitfalls that imperil African American pro athletes whose lives can be surreal combinations of money, adulation and police scrutiny.

The heads of the Sports World have taken this situation and made it profoundly worse. The NFL, NBA and MLB commissioners--Roger Goodell, David Stern and Bud Selig aka Snoopy, Loopy and Droopy--have executed a cheap, pandering campaign of law and order, whipping up hysteria about steroids, brawls and players' friends. Every response by them has been to assuage the press and upscale, ticket-buying fans.

Instead of dialogue, they have introduced dress codes. Instead of support, they hand down unilateral suspensions. Instead of providing security for players, they send league security to shadow their every move.

Snoopy, Loopy, and Droopy present themselves as the Commissioner Kiplings, with odious pretensions of being a "civilizing" force in leagues run amok. And Whitlock is their Sean Hannity--a distasteful propagandist providing ideological cover for a sporting law-and-order agenda that fans the flames of racial anxiety.

But for one night at least, at Morehouse College, the school Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called home, Whitlock had to hear it--from a proud coach and a group of students sick and tired of taking his abuse.

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