Monday, May 21, 2007

Lacrosse - that's French for...the cross

The discussion of the Democrat and Republican teams started by Boston has allowed me to segue into athletics. There has been some discussion recently (most notably in Slate’s exchanges between Neal Pollack, a Slate writer, and Paul Shirley, an American basketball player struggling through the European leagues) regarding the role of race in sports fandom.

Shirley says that "when the average white American male tunes into TNT sometime between October and June, he would very much like to see another average white American male on the basketball court. Most of the time, he doesn't. But in the few situations that he does, he is going to root for that player. That's the way it is. We like to see people who look like us succeed."

Pollack doesn't understand, saying "I guess you could use, as comparison, how Jews felt about Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax in their primes. But you could also argue that when Greenberg and Koufax played baseball, especially Greenberg, Jews weren't considered mainstream "white." Feeling pride for their accomplishments was akin to feeling boricua pride, or Dominican pride."

It is that section that bothers me the most. He seems to suggest that you can be happy for someone of your race (if that race is a minority race) succeeding unless you are “mainstream ‘white.’”

I will admit that I was thrilled to watch Duke Lacrosse advance to the Final Four because Duke is a program that was brought down last year by the prejudicial minds of those who believe that the wealthy, white, prep school elite are all racists and misogynists. While my teacher’s salary has certainly cast a shadow on my qualifications, I remain a member white, prep-school elite type. I coach lacrosse at a prep school, so maybe that makes up for the poverty thing.

When Duke advanced yesterday, I felt a proud, “you can’t hold them down” attitude rising. I realize the inherent awkwardness of suggesting that white, wealthy, well-educated men were being “held down,” but I’m not sure how else to suggest it. Had a black basketball player from Duke been accused of rape by a white stripper, that guy would be railroaded in a similar manner for sure. The only difference is that I think there would have been less media coverage. Oh, and he probably wouldn’t have been acquitted even though he was innocent. That’s a racism tale for another day. The comparison that I want to make is that American culture has evolved, or devolved, depending on your perspective, to the point that being a perceived member of the ruling class makes you a target for prejudicial media treatment and, worse, mistreatment by the legal system. Cough…Nifong…Cough.

When that happens, I feel fine rooting for Duke. Nothing will be able to remove the stain that was irresponsibly put on the three players falsely accused by the police and convicted by the media. But the stain on the program can be lightened by avoiding any disciplinary issues while winning a national title. Duke’s players this year served 570 hours of community service, had no disciplinary infractions on campus, and are (hopefully) on their way to proving themselves to be the best team in the country. That makes me happy - to see my brothers succeed.

But white guys specifically calling other white guys “their brother” smacks of late night meetings and white robes. It’s not just me who hears it that way, right?

1 comment:

BostonDissentator said...

Wow, big day on the blog today. Hope the activity level continues like this!

First off, to Virginia, Your Fine Punditry is only matched by Your Firstrate Propensity to incorporate crosses into your posts and find sweet pictures to go with them.

In any case I have enjoyed the recent content from all of you, in which we have all tried to get at various questions of widespread behavior among large groups of people. These are really interesting questions but also kind of dangerous because we may sometimes be making broad generalizations and can often be wrong about these, but nonetheless very interesting because there is no reason why widespread behavior can't point to some valid insight into human nature or the affects of culture on behavior.

Okay now to say something about your post. What did you think of this guy Shirley? "We want to see people that look like us succeed"? I find this pretty bogus in general and I am sorry that Europeans will meet this guy and take him as an example of a typical American.

But let's look at what Shirley is really getting at, which is white people routing for white basketball players in the NBA. One thing that is interesting here is that a lot of the white NBA stars are not American (Dirk, Nash, Ginobli), but that might be too much of a digression. I personally want to see my team succeed regardless of who the players are, but I can think of one valid reason for white people (or black or whatever) to want to see whites succeed in the NBA, which is routing for the underdog. Shirley implies this when he says that most of the time, we don't see white guys in the NBA, because there are less of them playing. Now maybe I am really out of touch, but I don't think most white guys will care how a white NBA player does (putting aside team allegiances), but if they do want to see them succeed, it is because they want to root for the underdog. Routing for the underdog is extremely interesting becaues it comes up in so many different contexts, but applied to sports, I think that routing for the underdog is something people do when they are watching a game where they don't care who wins (ex: you are watching the Superbowl and your team is long gone from the Playoffs and you are indifferent to the teams playing now), and you want to rout for someone just to make it more interesting (maybe to give MEANING to what you are doing, although I really don't know how to work in Bilgrami and normative agency).

So I think that this is what you, Virginia, were doing when you routed for Duke to win in lacrosse - routing for an underdog (although they are usually the favorite but I guess they had a lot of problems from what happened which indirectly caused big disadvantages for them on the field).

One other reason one might rout for Duke after what happened would be for some kind of "poetic justice," where something unfair or unfortunate happened to the team or one of its players so you want to see them succeed because they "deserve it," or at least you are thinking that if one of these teams is going to walk out victorious and all psyched with themselves, you would rather it be the one who you think could use that kind of a pick me up. Maybe you even will share in that pick me up because you sympathize with that team's prior troubles (we all have troubles) and you like the idea of a world with karma or something where if you suffer unfairly to some extent, your luck will turn and your sorrows will end, and you might even be compensated with some unusually fulfilling happiness, like winning the championship.

So that is my take on why you (the royal you, I guess, which would include Virginia) would route for some white athletes, I am much more convinced by the above reasons, as opposed to some idea of them as your "brothers." Wait, you aren't related to any of them, right?