News flash: racism isn’t over, and white people and black people aren’t treated the same. This is probably less true in sports because of the inherent meritocracy involved, but that doesn’t mean that giant double-standards don’t exist in the way athletes are covered and perceived. They range from the somewhat innocuous (white guys are gritty, while black guys are chippy) to the downright insidious (labeling any young black man who doesn’t live like a Benedictine monk a thug), and everywhere in between.
Shocking as it may be to some, white athletes tend to get the benefit of the doubt, especially when they’re covered by white-owned companies employing white journalists to speak to a largely white audience. That doesn’t mean white athletes aren’t criticized – let’s get real, we in sports media LOVE criticizing – just that black athletes are often criticized more, and with a harsher edge, for the same offenses. I’m not in favor of more criticism for white athletes, just less for everyone else.
No 8: Phil Mickelson
Forgive me: I know it’s
hard impossible to imagine Phil as a brother. But if you can, conjure up an image of an outspoken American-born black man on the PGA Tour with Hall-of-Fame talent (Tiger doesn’t count for these purposes; he WAS a barrier-breaker of some significance, but for all intents and purposes behaved as if he were white, and showed no interest whatsoever in adopting the black cause as his own).
And imagine if he acted exactly like Phil: complaining about taxes, the blatant self-pity (his actual excuse for being overweight: “I’ve got subcutaneous fat. It just lies underneath the skin, as opposed to visceral fat, which lies underneath the muscle. There’s nothing I can do about it”), the big issues with gambling, and the SEC complaint that may have been caused by his gambling debts, despite the fact that he earned $53 million in 2015 (he avoided in indictment by a hair). Now ask yourself honestly if that guy would be celebrated by the all-white golfing establishment the way Mickelson is.
No 7: Blake Griffin
No 6: Patrick Kane
That haircut would be tough to pull off if Kane were black, but we’re confident he would find a way. I would never suggest that Kane doesn’t already get a ton of shit – being a sloppy drinker with a record of questionable behavior and an alleged sexual assault will do that. However, much (but not all) of that criticism is relegated to the more feminist-leaning corners of the internet. The dominant narrative about him is still “the best American hockey player” and a “clutch, winning player,” not “a skeezy douche who just happens to have a good wrist shot and be from this side of the border.”
After reading up on the case, my best guess is that the alleged sexual assault didn’t take place, but I still don’t see anything redeemable about him outside of his on-ice performance. That wouldn’t be so glossed over if he were black. In fact, he would probably be toxic. Just ask PK Subban, who has received mountains of criticism, despite being basically a living saint off the ice.
No 5: Bryce Harper
Unbridled, unapologetic arrogance is forgiven – even celebrated – among white athletes in a way it isn’t among black ones not at the Jordan/Tiger/Kobe level. Harper surely plays the troll, and has a throng of haters to show for it, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be more detested if he were black. Anyone who seeks out hatred the way Harper does is bound to find some, no matter what race they are. With Harper, though, it all feels a little WWE-ish. He’s still the face of Under Armour, and in many ways, the face of the entire sport. If he were black, I’m guessing that wouldn’t be the case. Chances are he would be treated more like a pre-slump Yasiel Puig: a talented prodigy, but one who should be avoided at all costs and needs “to learn to respect the game.”
No 4: Josh Brown
You remember Josh Brown: the Giants kicker who terrorized his wife for years with emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, but was treated with an offensive level of leniency by the Giants and only suspended one game by the NFL, despite this happening AFTER Ray Rice. If Brown’s name was Vontaze Burfict, there may have been a sliiiiightly different outcome. This isn’t even a media/fan issue either: the guy was rightfully pilloried. This is on Roger Goodell and John Mara. If Brown were a black linebacker instead of a white kicker, he would have been hung out to dry.
No 3: Conor McGregor
Let’s see: loud, obnoxious, arrogant, obsessed with money, cruel with words, and debatably overrated. Not many black dudes get away with that combination, never mind become beloved because of it. Imagine the SAME EXACT flag-waving persona as McGregor, except he’s a black guy from Ghana. That sound you just heard was the UFC PPV numbers crashing through the floor.
If Big Ben looked like Michael Vick, what’s the over/under on the amount of times he would have been called a thug by now? 10 gazillion? Did Roethlisberger take some shit over the two allegations of rape against him? Of course. But whatever criticism he received would have taken a harsher, meaner, more disparaging, and longer lasting tone had he been black. That’s assuming he wasn’t prosecuted and/or convicted (a distinct possibility, considering the racial disparity in our criminal justice system).
But most of all, the media wouldn’t be so quick to forgive if he were black. This is a crude ignoramus of a human being (just one example: he once asked a pregnant waitress at TGI Fridays if her boyfriend forgot to pull out) with not one, but two sexual assault allegations against him, and just a few years later we’re seeing shameful articles like this explaining what a “changed man” he is (with little to zero evidence). If you hear Jim Nantz talk about “Ben” on TV, you would think he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
No 1: Gronk
Let’s be clear: I love Gronk. I don’t think he should change or apologize for a single thing. But none of his partying or craziness or misogyny or crazy drunken boat trips or his refusal to play until he’s 100% does anything to change the fact that he is UNIVERSALLY beloved, and that wouldn’t be the case if he were black. I am far from the first to point this out – the brilliant Dan Le Batard asked the same question over two years ago – but I think it bears repeating because it is pretty fucking obvious.