Advertisements
Home

Sport as a Reflection of Dangerous Trends in U.S. Society: The Case of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open

Leave a comment

A few days ago American tennis star Serena Williams opened up regarding her now infamous U.S. Open Final Loss to Naomi Osaka on 9 September 2018. In a forthcoming interview, Serena Williams reasserted her belief that sexism played a role in the penalties she was assessed during her loss, saying “If you’re female, you should be able to do even half of what a guy can do”. While the equality of male and female athletes should certainly be something we all strive for, it seems that (as with so much in current U.S. society) the point was missed.

 

Most American commentary on the debacle was conspicuously one-sided, as commentators looked to either blame the rules, the umpires, or—of course—sexism in a bid to deflect blame. Even the few articles which acknowledged the blame that lay with Ms. Williams’ actions seemed to do so half-heartedly, with Jerry Bembry of The Undefeated opining that, “like solid officials have done in every sport when confronted by great athletes expressing themselves in the heat of the moment, [Spanish Referee Carlos] Ramos should have looked away and ignored her continued complaints”. Make no mistake, Mr. Bembry should be commended for at least acknowledging that some of the blame lay with the athlete’s behavior, but essentially telling a referee to not do their job—by ignoring unsporting behavior—is hardly something that would alleviate an existing double standard (if indeed there is one); quite the contrary, such actions would only encourage double standards to continue!

 

And indeed this is why Serena Williams’ outburst says something about the current state of American society which goes far beyond the tennis court and sports, or even ideas of “sexism” or “racism”. Rather, Ms. Williams’ behavior—as one non-American commentator in the Australian press, Greg Baum explained—was one which caused everyone to lose:

 

In her outbursts, she invoked sexism and, implicitly, racism, and so managed to set back both those momentous causes. Williams came from a long way back in life, but she is now just about the most privileged black woman in the US, the most indulged, too. It makes it hard to buy the interpretation that this was some sort of stance against oppression. And it obscures the mighty, desperate and real battles that are being fought around the world in the name of both.

 

Mr. Baum’s comments are far more useful than those emanating from the U.S. media, which goes to show that there is a very real problem in American society which is being actively ignored by the news media. In fact, one look at the fifteen minute highlights of Ms. William’s interactions with umpire Carlos Ramos shows just how ugly things got. The American fans, instead of calming Ms. Williams down, decided to—in effect—egg her on by cheering for her whilst she berated the umpire. The crowd’s behavior goes beyond just the boorish and banal form of nationalism which American sports fans can sometimes be guilty of, rather it was done with the sense that she was doing something “right” . . . which completely overshadowed the well-deserved victory of her Japanese/Haitian opponent, Ms. Osaka.

 

It seems that American society has allowed improper behavior—like the poor sportsmanship of Ms. Williams in this instance—to be excused by invoking the rhetoric of “social justice” (indeed, cartoon criticism of this incident was roundly criticized as “racist”, again missing the point of what social criticism is all about). What American sports media fail to see is that this trend does not look good in the eyes of the rest of the world, nor does it serve to further any of the causes which it purports to further! Indeed, as Mr. Baum points out, the fight for racial and gender equality is a very real and very righteous cause. But by excusing immature behavior in front of the world by invoking these same causes, it only serves to demean and obscure those messages. Just like encouraging referees to “look the other way” does nothing to ensure fair refereeing, invoking “sexism” and “racism” to defend poor sportsmanship only serves to belittle the fight for equality which these causes are engaged in.

 

American news media would do better to encourage and congratulate Naomi Osaka for a well-deserved victory in what is the biggest moment of her career to date, rather than try to find excuses for Ms. Williams disrespectful behavior. After all, sport is above all a human endeavor which celebrates the accomplishments of athletes, regardless of their background; poor sportsmanship goes against those humanist values of mutual respect. Sport is certainly a political field, but we must do our best to not allow sport to be completely consumed by politics. By focusing solely on intersectional identities like “race” and “sex”, we obscure the “human” and—through the obsession with categorization and political correctness—risk losing our own humanity as well.

 

Advertisements

Racism In Progressive Society: A Short Example From the Sporting World and Why We Need More Communicative Action

Leave a comment

A few weeks ago on 12 February 2018, NBA head coach Gregg Popovich candidly stated that, in the United States, “we live in a racist country”. As someone who studies both sports and society, this was—of course—fairly obvious. Yet, it was not obvious in the sense that Mr. Popovich may have meant it to be. While he might compare the current state of the United States to “the fall of Rome”, the road to that trajectory was paved by the 44th President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama. Indeed, the racism goes much deeper than the surface level change in the White House which Mr. Popovich seems to allude to.

This kind of racism was clear on 8 Februrary 2018 when House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D of California) uttered these words regarding her six-year old grandson speaking with regard to his Guatemalan friend “Antonio”:

This was such a proud day for me because when my grandson blew out the candles on his cake, they said, ‘Did you make a wish?’… He said, ‘I wish I had brown skin and brown eyes like Antonio.’ So beautiful, so beautiful. The beauty is in the mix.

To me, as an American, the odd veiled form of racism contained in the above statement made me cringe; indeed it made me embarrassed to be an American. It was uncouth to say the least. Yet, sadly, this kind of veiled racism—disguised with the rhetoric of “tolerance”—is, sadly, everywhere in American society. It is this tendency to blindly subscribe to “tolerance” without actually believing it which has made so many Americans into what they should never be and, indeed, what they claim to fight against. Many Americans have become—unwittingly—racists, sexists, and bigots. It is a twisted and remarkable story.

I was reading an article for a graduate seminar last week and was struck by a passage written by the author, Ellis P. Monk, Jr. In his 2015 article “The Cost of Color: Skin Color, Discrimination, and Health among African-Americans”, the author has this to say:

 

I find that medium-tone blacks actually perceive significantly less discrimination from other blacks due to their skin color than both the very lightest-skinned and very darkest-skinned blacks (both self-rated and interviewer-rated skin color measures produce this result, although I only present the self-rated skin color findings in table 4). Moreover, I find that both very light-skinned and very dark-skinned blacks report significant amounts of discrimination due to their skin shade within the black population (table 4, models 3 and 5).

Monk (2015: 422)

 

As I read this passage I was repulsed. How was it, I wondered, that in 2018 we were discussing something as banal as gradations in human skin color? I found it to be the epitome of racism; indeed, I thought to myself that 100 years from now (if the world still exists, of course) sociologists will look back at our era and comment on how backward—and indeed racist—our society really was.

It is my hope that, as individuals, we will be able to get over our collective hyper-sensitivity to all that is different and which has poisoned our society due to the emphasis on identity politics. The signs of this kind of hyper-sensitivity—which encourages division over unity—are visible all over the town I currently live in, from a sticker on a trash can which reads “this oppresses women” (how a rubbish receptacle can oppress an entire gender I will never know) to a ludicrous poster in the window of a local bar. I would never have thought that all races, religions, countries of origin, sexual orientations, and genders would not be welcome at a bar—until, of course, I saw this particular poster. Acting as if the default—that is, inclusion—is not actually the default, that it is somehow an exception, is not doing a service to wider society. Indeed, this kind of absurd virtue signaling only serves to further divides within society by erecting boundaries where there are none and–in turn–furthers the other-izing of marginalized populations.

 

20180210_00320820180211_182855.jpg

A Few Absurd Images From Around the Town I Live In. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

I, for one, see the Besiktas ultra group Carsi as one example of how football fans can collectively poke fun at the small absurdities we see around us every day in order to combat these divisions. We cannot deal with a social problem like racism by further concretizing our differences; quite the contrary, we can only move forward and truly “progress” by abandoning the neo-fascistic ideology of modern progressivism which tends to concretize marginal identities in the name of “oppression”. That is why Carsi’s banners—which address social problems through humor—are so refreshing. During a match in 2009, the fan group acknowledged Michael Jackson’s death with a banner in the stadium which read: Rest in Peace Michael Jackson, the Great Besiktas Fan Who Lived Half His Life Black and Half His Life White [note: Besiktas’ colors are black and white].

 

50160.jpg

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberaktuel.com/carsidan-michael-jackson-pankarti-haberi-205645.html

 

Carsi’s ability to shed light on social problems through humor with banners like “Carsi is against nuclear weapons”, “Carsi is against racism”, “Carsi is against terrorism”, or even “Carsi is against itself” allows for at least a semblance of communicative action (in the Habermasian sense) in Turkish society; this is how the group has become such a successful social movement. Unfortunately in American society, there is currently little dialogue since the real racists are hiding behind a neo-fascistic form of progressive ideology which only serves to mask a dangerous tendency to “other” everyone, whether they agree or (especially) if they disagree with the dominant strains of thought.