Journalists and Historians, Black and White, Discuss Racism in Sports in Shirley Povich Symposium

At the Shirley Povich Symposium on racism in sports on Nov. 11, panelists Kevin Blackistone, Scott Van Pelt, Kara Lawson, Michael Wilbon and Damion Thomas questioned the double standards the media and sports fans alike have for black and white athletes as well as for sports deemed to be black or white.

Blackistone, a sports journalist and professor at the University of Maryland, brought up an ad for NASCAR he saw on television which featured a recent fight amongst a few of its top drivers to show how heated the sport is.

“Do you think the NBA would ever use the Malice in the Palace to get people to watch basketball?” he said. “Do you think the NFL would ever use any fights that happen in a game to attract people to their sport? Absolutely not, because 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 things than we do of a black athlete when they get involved. They’re labeled as ‘thugs.’”

Lawson, a current WNBA player and basketball analyst for ESPN, agreed with Blackistone that black athletes who get into altercations are called “thugs.”

“I remember watching the Malice in the Palace and that’s what you heard from people,” she said. “You heard from people, ‘Ron Artest is a thug, Jermaine O’Neal is a thug.’ I think there’s a big disconnect to, whether it’s hockey, whether it’s baseball, that when it’s someone that is white, it’s, ‘they’re tough’ or ‘they’re showing their support for their teammates.’ It’s a different connotation if a black athlete gets involved in an argument or something physical.”

Van Pelt, an anchor and radio host for ESPN, said hockey is a perfect example of these double standards.

“The hockey piece is undeniable,” Van Pelt said. “There are specific guys that play hockey whose job it is to be a goon; to be an enforcer and protect and stars. You mess with Sydney Crosby, we’re going to send our goon out and we’re going to drop gloves and that’s that.”

Van Pelt explained his disdain for the word thug and that it is just a substitute word for the N-word.

“The word ‘thug’ gets used,” he said. “All that it is is a better word for white people to use for the other word, that’s all it is. Anytime there’s a fight in the NBA that’s the ground that we encroach too quickly.”

Justin Meyer
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Justin Meyer

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Justin co-founded The Left Bench in 2013, and ever since nothing was the same. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio, who has transplanted to the University of Maryland for college. He watches more college basketball than any one person should and is admittedly a 20-year-old curmudgeon.
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Justin co-founded The Left Bench in 2013, and ever since nothing was the same. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio, who has transplanted to the University of Maryland for college. He watches more college basketball than any one person should and is admittedly a 20-year-old curmudgeon.