Sports and Thoughts

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Photo Credit: Juan Parada

“True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.” ― William Shakespeare

During broadcast of an OKC Thunder NBA game in April, play-by-play announcer Brian Davis said their star player, Russell Westbrook, was “out of his cotton-picking mind”. This was after he made his ninth assist halfway through the second quarter of the team’s final regular-season game.

This slip of the tongue brought about a one-game suspension for the experienced announcer. Davis’ offensive statement set off a chain of reactions.

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First, Davis apologized publicly for his racially-charged phrase in a statement to ESPN:

“It is with great remorse and humility that I accept this suspension for the insensitive words I used during Wednesday’s broadcast…While unintentional, I understand and acknowledge the gravity of the situation. I offer my sincere apology and realize that, while I committed a lapse in judgment, such mistakes come with consequences. This is an appropriate consequence for my actions.”

Secondly, Brian Davis was suspended for game one of the 2018 NBA playoffs, losing a day’s pay and returning just in time to see his verbal victim, seven time All-Star guard Russell Westbrook in pure form.

MVP candidate Russell Westbrook has scorched opponents and averaged a triple double for a second straight season – mind you – which is equivalent to, well, no one. Westbrook became the first player in NBA history to average a triple double in multiple years but his feat was overshadowed by Brian Davis statement. So life in sports continues with the next drift of a headline.

The names may change but the game stays the same

Although Jackie Robinson broke color lines in Major League baseball way back in 1947, racism was still rife a half century later, when in 2007 Don Imus described African American Rutgers women basketball players as “Nappy headed hoes”.

Imus’ comment resulted in a longer suspension than Davis, complete with network lawsuits and other litigation, but he ultimately was allowed to return to work.

In 2008, when Tiger Woods was the number one player in golf, announcer Kelly Tilghman was asked a question concerning Woods matching up against his competition.

Everyone was trying to dethrone Tiger at that time so her response as a proven golf announcer was respected by all, so that day, another slip of the tongue happened.

The story went something like this…

Someone asked Kelly Tilghman “What should younger competitors do to beat Tiger?” Without any hesitation “Lynch him in a back alley”, Tilghman replied.

This racist reference landed Kelly Tilghman a two week suspension from her job on the Golf Channel. Her repentance also came with a direct apology to Tiger Woods, whom she had known for years, and an apologetic press release stating a new ‘mantra of attrition’.

Words like unintentional, inappropriate, regret, and suspension, pop up soon after a fall from grace, but it’s just another day in US sports.

We all continue in a perfect union of ignorance, holding each other closely, dancing off-beat in our secluded world of wins and losses, never realizing how loud our voices are in sports – nor how this same voice echoes across American culture.

So we chug along like a loaded freight train, steadily moving but sometimes burdened by extra baggage. Everything flows along just fine until another slip of the tongue happens on live television, instantly opening up old wounds in sports culture.

This then, reminds us of the last time – which reminds us of the time before that – which reminds us of….well, you get my drift.

It’s like a never ending song. From basketball to golf, to football to figure skating, to whatever sport you name, we all know an untimely word still burns. Runaway words from a few sport commentators range from insensitive racial slurs to gender-biased words.

In our current sports system we’re all subject to Group Dynamics. That is, a system of behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a community group. Sigmund Freud would be proud but that’s a new way to say an old thing.

You’re either in the dominant ‘intergroup’ or considered second tier in the ‘outer group’. Starter or bench warmer? Rookie or veteran? Winner or loser? The competitive nature of sports is built into its DNA.

I once heard a swimming champion at a Manhattan bar saying:
“The only one who likes second place – is he who’s in second place.”

Bullish fecal matter?

But a new sport is being played right in front of our eyes, without cleats, helmets, bats, mats, grass and definitely, with no class.

This new sport is all bullish fecal matter – for lack of a better term. And unbeknownst to regular folks, this new game is called – slip-of-the-tongue.

To play, all one needs is a microphone, a responsibility to be an unbiased professional, and a nice suit. Being college-educated, having a great resume and years of experience get lost in a single moment on live television.

The goal is to remain employed after using a derogatory term while broadcasting. Once you complete that part, you immediately qualify for a bonus round of pre packaged public relation statements, personal apologies and you’ll win your job back by saying it was a “slip of the tongue”.

The long list of respected commentators who bit this apple can start a ‘Who’s Who’ club. This slip-of-the-tongue fraternity sidestepped their ugly comments and oppressive statements like blitzing lineman on a November Sunday.

They are unified by the aroma of the game too: it really stinks.

By accepting such behavior in sports commentary, we fumbled at Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder’s theories on the breeding of black athletes and Michael Irvin’s musing about the African-American genetic influence on Tony Romo. We made ample space for Don Imus’s line about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Add in Steve Lyons’s comments on Jews and Hispanics, plus Rush Limbaugh racial opinions of Donovan McNabb which was equal in offensiveness to Ben Wright’s views about female golfers and the offensive remarks he made about their breasts.

In this context, Brian Davis recent suspension seems like an insect on a car window. Most likely it will happen again sometime in the near future.

A new play by play

Some well respected broadcaster will have a routine slip-of-the-tongue, but this time we won’t accept their apology or their repentant jargon of excuses.

We won’t even expect them to be suspended from work. We’ll just choose to retire all slip-of-the-tongue games for the sake of sport lovers worldwide, which mean broadcasters will no longer have that exit door when confronted about their statements.

Hopefully we’ll learn to charge them according to their venomous verbiage.

No cash or credit cards will be accepted either: we’ll only accept change.

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