By Jason Dobkin
The panelists at the Racism in Sports symposium at the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism on Nov. 11 all agreed on one thing: we have made great strides over the years, but major problems still persist.
“When Shirley Povich wrote his first column, all sports were segregated. Now, things have changed,” said Kevin Blackistone, a visiting professor in the Merrill College of Journalism and panelist on ESPN’s “Around the Horn.”
Damion Thomas, the Curator of Sports at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, is looking forward to the continuation of the change that Blackistone referred to.
“One of the most exciting things about this current moment is I think we’re in an era where we’ll begin to see large scale transformations in the relationships between sports and race and athletes and owners,” said Thomas.
Merrill College Dean Lucy Dalglish, who moderated the event with Povich Center Director George Solomon, brought up the topic of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being forced to sell the team after racially charged comments he made about African American fans were released to the public.
Blackistone touched on how people were not calling for the NBA to get rid of Sterling before he was caught on tape, even though he had been guilty of severe housing discrimination against blacks and Hispanics for years.
“The fact that the NBA got rid of him because of that and not because of systematic racism really is what bothers me,” Blackistone said.
Michael Wilbon, co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” agreed Sterling should have been punished for his earlier racism, but said that he’s glad Sterling became the symbol for racism in sports for his more recent comments.
“It’s very important that Donald Sterling was outed as he was,” Wilbon said. “For the first time in American history, there didn’t have to be some quiet uprising of the NAACP.”
Blackistone mentioned a NASCAR advertisement that used a fight between two drivers to show how heated the rivalry in the chase was becoming. He pointed out that the vast majority of NASCAR drivers are white, and that predominantly black professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL would never use fights to attract people to their sport.
“You think college football, this coming weekend, is going to replay clips of the Penn State-Maryland rumble before the game to get people to watch the game? Absolutely not,” Blackistone said. “We have a different view of white athletes in white sports, which is what NASCAR is perceived to be, when they get involved in these sorts of activities than we do of black athletes when they get involved in these sorts of activities, and we immediately label them thugs.”
University alumnus and current ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt agreed, and noted the major double standard between white and black athletes in that regard.
“Thug is another word white people use for the other word,” Van Pelt said.
Van Pelt also noted that there are professional hockey players whose main role on the team is to fight opposing players.
WNBA veteran and college basketball commentator Kara Lawson also chimed in in agreement.
”It’s a different connotation for someone that’s black that gets involved in something physical,” Lawson said. “There’s a desire to make the entertainment less black in order to endear themselves to a white corporate world.”
The panelists talked about how prevalent racism is on social media sites like Twitter.
“It’s a cesspool,” Van Pelt said.
Lawson said that Twitter is the source of most of the discrimination she faces.
“As far as race and gender coming at you at the forefront on a daily basis, that’s where I feel it,” Lawson said. “Social media is where racism rears its ugly head a lot.”