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Archive for July 21st, 2007

More on race and sports

Posted by digglahhh on 21 July 2007

During a recent discussion about race and the perceptions of athletic success, my friend Tony over at Baseball-fever reminded me of this 2003 poll of 550 Major Leaguers, taken by Sports Illustrated.

The two questions that I found most intriguing were the following:

5. Who gets the most from the least talent?

David Eckstein, Angels 62.2%
Craig Counsell, Diamondbacks 6.7%
Jamie Moyer, Mariners 4.8%
Joe McEwing, Mets 2.7%
Kevin Millar, Red Sox 1.7%
Juan Pierre, Marlins 1.2%
Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1.0%
Brad Ausmus, Astros 1.0%
Eric Byrnes, Athletics 0.7%
Greg Maddux, Braves 0.7%
Mike Sweeney, Royals 0.7%

6. Who gets the least from the most talent?

Ruben Rivera, Giants 29.3%
Raul Mondesi, Yankees 6.9%
Frank Thomas, White Sox 3.1%
Mo Vaughn, Mets 3.1%
Adrian Beltre, Dodgers 2.8%
Kyle Farnsworth, Cubs 2.8%
Ken Griffey, Reds 2.4%
Aramis Ramirez, Pirates 2.1%
Esteban Loaiza, White Sox 2.1%
Juan Gonzalez, Rangers 2.1%
Jose Guillen, Reds 2.1%

*If you are interested in reading a little more about the players, and my attempt at an objective evaluation of whether the players were good choices for the respective lists, see the comments section.

Eight of the top ten responses to the first question, including the overwhelming first choice, are white players. Minority players account for nine out of ten of the top vote-getters in the second, including the top choice.

Other observations:

· Six of the players on the top list are not only white, but blond.

· Skinny guys always hustle? The average height and weight of the top list is certainly lower than that of the bottom list.

· Most fans would agree that the players on the top list, on a whole, show more “enthusiasm” when playing the game than those on the bottom list.

· As of the time of the poll, three players on the bottom list were former MVPs (Griffey, Gonzalez [2x], Thomas [2x]). Players on the top list had won none, though Maddux has won four Cy Youngs.

· As of the time of the poll, players on the second list had nearly twice as many All Star appearances, 23 to 12.

I could write about how different skills are perceived as bearing a greater relationship to natural abilities while others are understood as being the products of hard work and study. But, that skirts the issue and distracts from the point.

Such a proposition is a chicken and egg argument as it passes through a racial filter. Virtually all events on a baseball field require a mix of athleticism and natural talents and abilities. Athleticism plays the smallest role in baseball of any of the major sports. In fact, the core component of the game, hitting, is largely a function of hand-eye coordination. All players who play the game are naturally gifted and methodically trained. Whether skills are considered “natural” or “developed” is a false dichotomy that has as much to do with who possesses specific skills as it does with some sort of theoretical essence of that skill.

Years ago, future NBA Hall of Famer and gangsta-rapper look-alike Allen Iverson was chastised for taking practice too lightly. His original press conference tirade was memorable, because it is played over and over. The line that he repeats repeatedly is, “Practice, we talking about practice – not a game, not a game – practice.” That remark made people think of him as lazy and undedicated. The caveat to that remark is not replayed ad nauseam. Iverson went on to ask if it is logical to assume that a player of his caliber could achieve such a level of play without being intensely dedicated to practice. A perfectly reasonable question and self-evident truism. It is well known that Allen Iverson played as hard as anybody in league – many said he played harder than any other player. He is undersized, underweight; his body took more punishment than any other player’s. He is one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA, a former MVP – an immortal. To assert that he didn’t value practice, or was lazy, was absolutely ludicrous in the face of his game and his accomplishments.

These pronouncements are often based on personality, on disposition and appearance. We are talking about quantifying the difference between a group of people who are all anomalies on an individual basis – both in terms of their gifts and their dedication. Iverson did lead the league in tattoos, and was one of, if not the first NBA player to sport cornrows. He also dabbled in a second career as a rapper, projecting a general thug-like image.

Once again, we see implicit racial associations at play. And, once again, we deny their existence by propagating false dichotomies and overstating our abilities to perceive differences in immeasurable, yet largely similar, quantities of vague and arbitrary ideas, like “natural talent” and “dedication.” Furthermore, it is likely that the arbitrary definitions are tainted by inherently racialized perceptions and thought patterns.

Posted in digglahhh, language, sports | 3 Comments »