ESPN’s TrueHoop blog published an interesting nugget the other day. Aspiring NBA player Aaron Craft was asked during a Q&A why so many fans seemed to dislike him when he played basketball recently in the NCAA.
“I’m white. I’m short. Other people can do what I do. Things like that. It’s interesting.”
Craft speculated that one potential reason a significant percentage of college basketball fans didn’t like him was because of the color of his skin. But don’t expect any outrage (there was no follow up question) or national media coverage. When it comes to possible discrimination against white players in the NCAA or NBA, the media is mostly silent.
This isn’t new, unfortunately. In another TrueHoop blog post, J.A. Adande quoted former Duke basketball player J.J. Redick. “If you look at the history of the last 20 years of Duke basketball, it usually is a white guy that people dislike.”
In fact, this issue goes back much further. In his amazing autobiography, Second Wind, published in 1979, ex-Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell wrote (page 188 of my edition):
As a rookie in 1957, I was the only black player on the Boston Celtics, and I was excluded from almost everything except practice and the games. Exactly twenty years later, I was coach and general manager of the Seattle Supersonics, which had only two white players on the team – and they were excluded from almost everything but practice and the games. The black players left them out of meals, conversations, parties and anything else that makes a lonely road trip bearable. I told the blacks how unfair this was, and they made a token effort to change, but they said the white players were just too different.
Other players have said that such discrimination also occurs on the court. Writing in Slate in 2007, ex-NBA player Paul Shirley talked about how black players would think he was inferior because of his white skin color.
“When I was on defense, the other team would give the ball to whomever I was guarding and yell, ‘Take it to him. He can’t guard you.’ They did that not because I am from a middle-class home, or because I grew up on a quasi-farm, but because I am white.”
If some of today’s players, such as Aaron Craft, still feel they are the victim of racism, why aren’t more sports writers and analysts bringing this phenomenon to light and speaking out? There are countless articles condemning racism against African-Americans in major league sports and the Donald Sterling scandal exploded to the extent that President Barak Obama felt compelled to comment. Why is there a dearth of honest writing about what it’s like to be a white player on a mostly black NBA team?
One reason is of course political correctness and clicks. Sports writers seem to fear that if they write honestly about prejudice experienced by white athletes, they will somehow minimize the very real suffering felt by African-Americans. There is also a feeling that because whites are still so dominant in American society, any discrimination that an individual member of that race may feel is minor compared to the challenges other people are facing. And articles/blog posts about discrimination faced by African-Americans and homosexuals seem to get the most clicks, for a variety of reasons.
The media has also been too quiet regarding issues of anti-Semitism in the NBA. When Phil Jackson complained about NBA teams having to play on Christmas in a strange way, I only saw one mainstream writer (Mark Kreidler of ESPN.com) tackle the issue.
‘It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to them anymore. We just go out and play and entertain the TV. It’s really weird,’ (said Jackson).
I’ll tell you what’s weird. What’s weird is hearing a decorated, spiritually diverse coach make what sounds like a coded jab at the Jewish commissioner of the league for which he works, in the days leading up to a Christian holiday.
And not enough has been made of the many Jewish conspiracy theories that bigots perpetuate about the NBA.
If players in 2014 feel that fans hate them solely because of the color of their skin, something is drastically wrong and the people who are paid to write about this stuff should be doing more. If one form of discrimination is wrong then all forms are wrong, regardless of political correctness.
UPDATE (October 9, 2014): following an NBA preseason game, Sacramento Kings rookie Nik Stauskas said:
I understand that I’m a rookie and I’m white, so people are going to attack me at all times…Just coming out there in the game, I felt it right away.
Just another example of how white players feel they are treated differently by opposing players. And the San Antonio Spurs’ Danny Green felt it was appropriate to take a selfie at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.