Friday Feature: The Plight of the Black Athlete

By Melva N. Lloyd 

Sports fan or no sports fan, just about everyone remembers the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills six years ago during a Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game; less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Pistons center Ben Wallace took a hard foul from resident bad boy Ron Artest of the Pacers.  Chaos ensued and before we knew it an all out smack down was taking place.  Players from both teams left the bench to take part in the melee and if that wasn’t shocking enough Artest, with the help of teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, made their way into the stands to fight with fans.

By the next morning, the mainstream media was referring to the incident as “horrific” and “ugly”, even calling the players involved “thugs” and “hoodlums.”  Sure, the entire situation got out of control and it didn’t bring a positive light to the NBA, but let’s be honest, the players weren’t solely to blame and a fight of that magnitude has only happened once on the professional basketball level.  

Recently I’ve been given the opportunity to work in a place where I am exposed to every element of the sports world; and while I like to consider myself athletically aware, I learn something new everyday.  Within the past month I have attended three hockey games, more than I’ve ever watched on television in my entire lifetime.  What caused me to raise an eyebrow while experiencing my first ice hockey competition was the excitement that the fans felt while entering the arena, not because they were coming to see their favorite team play, but because they were most looking forward to some on ice brawling.  Within the first five minutes of the opening period two players from opposing teams threw their gloves to the ice and after ten seconds of circling each other on their skates, helmets were removed and punches to the head were being thrown.  All of this chaos set to the sounds of a cheering crowd.

I was informed that in the National Hockey League, fighting is allowed.  In fact, the referees give the players at least 30 seconds to have at it before they decide to intervene (this must explain why so many professional hockey players are missing teeth); players are given a five-minute penalty and they’re back on the ice before the quarter is over.   

So I say that to say what?  To make it plain and simple, black athletes aren’t getting cut any slack.  Serena Williams’ outburst during last year’s US Open cost her the title and over 90,000 dollars in fines.  But that was NOTHING compared to the numerous on-court tantrums thrown by John McEnroe during his career. 

And let’s not forget when our favorite superstar we love to hate Kobe Bryant was charged with sexual assault back in 2003.  While it was later revealed that the sex between the Lakers champion and 19 year-old Colorado resident was consensual, Bryant was on the cover of every newspaper, magazine and tabloid for months.  The entire country knew every waking detail of the future Hall of Famer’s infidelity, but in recent months Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s allegations of sexual assault have gone seemingly unnoticed.  

The two-time Superbowl champion has been accused of sexual assault on two different occasions throughout the past 8 months.  But unless you were an avid Sports Center viewer, you would have probably never known. 

It seems as though being a black athlete comes with an automatic intimidation factor and the slightest misstep sends a healthy portion of white America into a panic.  Verbal altercations bring the fear that they might snap at an innocent bystander at any given moment and physical fights take the spotlight off of their talent. 

But let’s remember this: before judgement is passed on the player who has tallied up the most technical fouls in a season, we should realize that in hockey, the defensive line is nicknamed goons, thugs and enforcers.

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