Vapid Adjectives of Basketball Players Are Actually Just Racist?

Posted on March 31, 2010 by


Everything about written argument I’ve learned on sports and politics message boards.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 10 years of message board posting, it’s that no matter how much you argue, people rarely ever seem to change their minds.

Urban Planning guru Donald Shoup kept saying during class “the problem can’t be solved until the solution is found.”  That means that people usually already have answers in their heads when presented with problems, particularly in regards to politics.  They then use these answers already in their head to define the problem.  Essentially, they don’t answer a question, their answers make the question.

I’d been wondering how strongly people are married to their perspectives within the message board context.

When I argue about basketball in particular and see the stuff posted on message boards, sometimes I wonder about people’s observations.

A white basketball player, Kirk Hinrich is always described in terms of being a “leader”, “intelligent”, “team-oriented.”  In contrast, the large number of black basketball players have been described with the characteristics “full of potential”, “athletic”, which sooner or later devolve into discussions of unfilled potential or “rawness.”

Hinrich is described by many fans, media, and the team owner as a type of protagonist, despite very mediocre if not downright poor statistical output.  He brings “intangibles.”  He doesn’t need to score, because he plays defense.  Ironically enough, this would earn a black player the label of being “one-dimensional.”

There have been many times when he showed unwillingness to be a leader, “lacked basketball IQ”, was a selfish player.  Nonetheless those labels have stuck to him like white on his skin.

No matter what he actually does during the game and how many mistakes he makes, the labels have stuck to him as he continues to get playing time.

Labels stick to black players, however they are based on describing the players as objects and animals, instead of protagonists.   Unless they are the superstar players that the NBA markets heavily or old and have been in the league a long time, very rarely are young black players described as “leaders”, having an “intelligent basketball IQ”, or being a “team player.” Instead, they are likely to have “attitude” or “raw athleticism.”

If they have one skill, they are easily labeled “one-dimensional,” like departed guard Ben Gordon, who in his rookie year propelled the Bulls to its first winning season since Michael Jordan left the joint.  Unless really elite, these black players don’t get the benefit of being described in terms of a protagonist like Hinrich, who had such descriptions being as young as rookie.

I think what fans say on the message board is mere reflection of what popular thinking and perhaps feeds into management thinking as well.   I think such descriptions have underlied much of popular thinking and even management thinking.  This thinking has then affected  such decisions made by the Bulls…for the worse.  They made the decision to keep “team leader,  selfless” Kirk Hinrich over the “one-dimensional” Ben Gordon, who could only score, despite Ben Gordon having been the leading scorer for over 5 years.

I think this is not just a phenomenon on message boards.  I think all kinds of contexts, this is applicable.  I wonder how adjectives used to describe people in general are informed by racial stereotypes as opposed to “raw” observation of what they do.  Like when someone’s applying for a job, I wonder what racial stereotypes are going through a recruiters’ head when they read a resume from Tamika or Jamal.