Steph Curry points out that “rich, successful Black people” are perceived as “anomalies.” The word “articulate” comes to mind. It’s those subtle cues that might not seem noteworthy but are bound to affect impressions.
“That's the subtle racism and prejudice that kind of starts to add on itself,” Curry said. “And if another white person hears that comment, they're going to think the same thing. And it's not going to trickle down to anybody else and be able to create opportunities for somebody else to get that in that room and prove their value. Prove their worth.
“It's just shifting perspectives and, again, holding everybody accountable whether it's a private conversation, whether it's a tweet, whether it's a video. Whatever it is, to do the right thing, no pun intended, but to see everybody as equal and that's all we're asking for.”
It’s a big ask, Steph. Noble by all means, but also gigantic – even in sports, where performance ought to be the first and foremost consideration.
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Sports provides countless examples of America’s racial double standard, perhaps none more topically evident than those available in NFL pre-draft evaluations of Lamar Jackson. Simplicity, though, compels us to focus on two of the greatest baseball players to ever enter a clubhouse.
They both crouched at the plate, worked the count and drew a lot of walks. While one was subjected to questions, even snide comments, about his intellect, the other lauded for his ability to “think the game.” Even became a manager.
They both trusted and relied on the headfirst slide, despite its severe toll on the body. While one was labeled a malingerer, the other was characterized as passionately committed.
One is fourth on MLB’s all-time list of games played, the other No. 1.
Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose are the same side of very similar coins, except for one salient difference. Skin color.
And that evaluation distinction, around for centuries, remains so. We see it and hear it in the coded language of pre-draft evaluations in every major sport. In descriptions of players on rosters in every sport. We live it on a daily basis, and the resultant images have a profound way of establishing perception and distorting reality – as well as value.
A great athlete? Generally Black.
Smart player? White or Asian.
Incredible natural ability? Black.
Worked hard to reach this level? White.
Undisciplined? Black or Latino.
Fundamentally sound? White.
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“I saw it in the scouting world; I was a scout for the Giants for 10 years,” says Brian Johnson, who spent eight seasons playing in the big leagues. “There are different ways that guys describe a black athlete, a black baseball player, than they do a white baseball player. So, there’s a lot of change, a lot of things that need to be done that I don’t think you know. A lot of the leadership are not even aware that it’s going on.
“We within baseball,” adds Johnson, who is white, “have the same type of systemic racism that the United States in general and every facet of the United States has.”
It’s found in baseball, but also in football and basketball.
Knows how to get open? White.
Stretches the field? Black.
Sleeps with his playbook? White.
A bit of a wild card? Black.
A coach/manager on the field? White.
Have to coach/manage him carefully? Black or Latino.
Would make a fine manager/coach someday? White.
To examine rosters in MLB, NBA and NFL is to realize sports, often advertised as a strict meritocracy, is anything but. Ask Colin Kaepernick. Or Eric Reid. Or MLB pitcher Edwin Jackson, who recalls being sent down to “work on your slider,” when it is his career-long go-to pitch.
Merit is a factor, but so are salary, attitude and perception. There are too many witnesses to conclude race irrelevant, particularly in the case of the final roster spots in all three sports, as well as those given the opportunity to forge a career as a backup quarterback. The unspoken message is that unexceptional Black quarterbacks don’t get paid to watch.
All pertinent things being equal, there remains a measure of inequality.
Which brings me back to Henderson and Rose and perceptions. Several of Rickey’s managers reached an internal verdict that he was a slacker, never mind his signature headfirst slide – the same tactic for which Rose was celebrated, earning the nickname “Charlie Hustle.” Indeed, if you Google “Charlie Hustle” images, you get numerous pictures of Rose diving into a base.
Yet Henderson, the perceived slacker, played more games than the indestructible Cal Ripken Jr. Scored more runs than Rose and everybody else. Stole more bases that anybody, period. To find someone who more consistently endured physical trauma, you’d have to resort to football.
Rickey’s work ethic ... well, he didn’t much believe in weightlifting, but he probably did millions of pushups and sit-ups. Genetics surely played a part, but he exploited his genes to the fullest.
And, yet, there were those in baseball, even teammates, who underappreciated him. There were those in baseball media, 28 members to be exact, who declined to vote him into the Hall on the first ballot. He took too many games off.
There are those trusted, veteran personnel scouts, who didn’t think Lamar Jackson had “the tools” to succeed at quarterback. Have you thought about moving to wide receiver? Why? He didn’t fit the QB profile.
Their QB profile.
Is there any need to wonder why?