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What White People Donít See When They Watch Basketball
New York Magazine ^ | 3/20 | Jonathan Chait

Posted on 03/20/2014 11:41:56 AM PDT by nickcarraway

A couple of years ago, the basketball team I root for, the University of Michigan, had a player named Zack Novak. Everybody loved his story. He was slow and pudgy coming out of high school, recruited by nobody, and offered a spot at Michigan. Turned out he could play, at least some. He was only six foot three, but he played power forward, compensating for his lack of size and skill with unrelenting effort. He graduated from the business school and became team captain. If you watch college sports, you know the kind of player I’m talking about. Right: a white guy.

If you ever watched a Michigan game, you knew Novak’s story, because the announcers talked about it every time. And it was very easy to see: Watching him hang in there on the low block against opponents five or six inches taller every game was a constant miracle. He was a gritty, hustling, tough, smart overachiever. Racial stereotyping in sports coverage is a decades-old phenomenon. In Novak’s case, nobody minded because the stereotypes were completely true. But watching every single game Michigan plays has given me some perspective on how race continues to inflect coverage in sports-media.

The player for Michigan the announcers like to talk about now is a kid named Nik Stauskas. He's also white. He’s not especially gritty or tough. He’s an incredible scorer with good height, phenomenal shooting range, and an ability to unleash dunks or acrobatic layups. The thing the announcers mention every game — the fact that is incorporated into the shorthand notes they use to define a player's story line — is that Stauskas worked hard in the off-season to gain muscle.

That’s true. Though it’s also true that Stauskas remains really skinnyand shows no special grit. Also, in contrast to the easy stereotypes of white players, I’ve noticed he makes a lot of mental errors with his passes and sometimes lacks effort on defense. Watch him on these two plays letting opposing players run right past him on the fast break for a layup:

He seems like a nice kid, and he’s still a great player. But mainly he’s just a remarkable talent playing in a great offensive system. Michigan fans have a running joke about announcers marveling that Stauskas is (they say this nearly every game) “not just a shooter” — unlike the stereotypical white player, he has the athletic ability to fly past defenders and soar into the air. The announcers are sufficiently aware of his ability to acknowledge that he is not just a shooter, but not aware enough to realize that the fact they need to mention this is a joke on their eyes.

The thing is, there is a player on the team this year who’s almost exactly like Zach Novak. His name is Jordan Morgan. In high school, he was pudgy, slow, and small. No major conference programs except Michigan offered him a scholarship. But he physically transformed himself and has become, like Novak, an amazing overachiever. As a six-foot-seven center, he’s almost as undersize for his position as Novak is. He won’t shoot unless he’s within a couple feet of the basket, and often not even then, because opposing players can often swat away his shot attempts. Instead he spends most of every offensive possession throwing his body around the court, setting screen after screen to open up shots for his teammates.

He uses leverage, smarts, and unrelenting effort to gain every inch of advantage fighting against opposing centers. Morgan is a fifth-year senior who already graduated with a degree in engineering, and is studying for a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering.

But the announcers don’t talk about this stuff even one-tenth as often as they did Novak. And when they do, they don’t use terms like “gritty,” “unselfish,” “scrappy,” and “smart.” My explanation is that it’s because he looks like this:

Jordan Morgan #52 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts while taking on the Duke Blue Devils during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Yeah, he’s black. Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t think anybody wants to suppress the story of an undersize, pudgy engineering nerd who made himself into a gritty, overachieving captain on a Big Ten champion team and who is also black. I bet the national media would love a story like that. I suspect they just don’t see it.

The gulf in physical talent between Novak and other players was glaring. Now, look at Morgan, with his gigantic biceps. If you don’t know him and you are using a simple heuristic, you probably think he’s a pretty good athletic talent, even if if is a little short. You don’t think about the fact that he gained that muscle after intense weight training. (Announcers never mention it.) And so one player is surrounded by a narrative of hustle, smarts, and toughness, and another player with the exact same qualities is not.

The situation is far better than it was three or four decades ago, when announcers would liken the skills of black players to animals. Today, they have some awareness of racial stereotyping. What’s left, I think, is far more characteristic of how racial bias typically works. Bad intent does not come into play. White people simply have certain preconceptions, and preconceptions make you see the things you expect to see and miss the things you don’t.


TOPICS: Society; Sports
KEYWORDS: athletes; athletics; chait; collegebasketball; ncaa
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1 posted on 03/20/2014 11:41:56 AM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway
Jonathan Chait spelled his name wrong. The C is an S, and there's no "a" in it.

Go Spartans.

2 posted on 03/20/2014 11:43:43 AM PDT by Darren McCarty (Abortion - legalized murder for convenience)
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To: nickcarraway

Seeing that I’m white, that isn’t something that I watch.

Oh no he di’in’!

Oh yes he di’id!


3 posted on 03/20/2014 11:44:24 AM PDT by chris37 (Heartless.)
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To: nickcarraway

Oh shut the hell up!


4 posted on 03/20/2014 11:44:31 AM PDT by Rummyfan (Iraq: it's not about Iraq anymore, it's about the USA!)
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To: nickcarraway

Huh?


5 posted on 03/20/2014 11:46:50 AM PDT by x1stcav ("The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.")
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To: nickcarraway

And the point is?

Everybody has preconceptions. White preconceeptions are no more evil than those of anyone else.


6 posted on 03/20/2014 11:47:02 AM PDT by chesley
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To: x1stcav

Basically we’re all racists.


7 posted on 03/20/2014 11:47:13 AM PDT by dfwgator
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To: nickcarraway
Yep, Johnny, we're all so immersed in Whiteness that we can't even see straight. No hope for us.

I'm patiently awaiting the day this ridiculous, racist, superficial, two-bit pop-sociology fad fades into a deserved obscurity.

8 posted on 03/20/2014 11:47:35 AM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: nickcarraway

My take away from reading this - The author has no point whatsoever, and racism is always and everywhere whatever the speaker declares it to be.


9 posted on 03/20/2014 11:47:44 AM PDT by PGR88
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To: nickcarraway
What White People Don’t See When They Watch Basketball

The Box Office?

10 posted on 03/20/2014 11:47:51 AM PDT by Navy Patriot (Join the Democrats, it's not Fascism when WE do it, and the Constitution and law mean what WE say.)
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To: nickcarraway

It must suck to look at the whole world through a straw.


11 posted on 03/20/2014 11:48:43 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: nickcarraway

Well Chait’s the whitest mu fo on the planet….


12 posted on 03/20/2014 11:48:58 AM PDT by C. Edmund Wright (Tokyo Rove is more than a name, it's a GREAT WEBSITE)
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To: nickcarraway

What white people don’t see when they watch basketball is white players.


13 posted on 03/20/2014 11:49:28 AM PDT by karnage
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Comment #14 Removed by Moderator

To: nickcarraway
What White People Don’t See When They Watch Basketball

Diversity.

15 posted on 03/20/2014 11:51:26 AM PDT by henkster (I don't like bossy women telling me what words I can't use.)
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To: dfwgator

‘Basically we’re all racists.’

Hell, I’ve known that for years. Does this doosh get paid?


16 posted on 03/20/2014 11:52:16 AM PDT by x1stcav ("The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.")
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To: henkster

By the LEFTIST definition of “diversity”, you’re seeing the culmination of it.

“Diversity” means

fewer white people, less Western Culture.

The basketball court is the penultimate example of “diversity”.


17 posted on 03/20/2014 11:53:01 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: chesley

“Everybody has preconceptions. White preconceeptions are no more evil than those of anyone else.”

Funny, no mention of Wayne Simmonds color when NHL games are on.


18 posted on 03/20/2014 11:56:43 AM PDT by EQAndyBuzz ("Heck of a reset there, Hillary")
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To: Navy Patriot
Basketball is the only sport that gets duller as the level of competition goes up. We had a 5'6" kid in high school who could literally scamper under the outstretched arms of blockers to make baskets. Very exciting.

By college, you still have kids who can make exciting 3 point shots. Not quite as exciting as my high school classmate, but close.

NBA: eight foot guys making eight foot baskets. Whoopie!

They ought to raise the basket at least five feet higher than the median height of players in the league. Coach John Wooden suggested something similar when he was alive, but the regulation height is still what it was more than a century ago when Naismith invented the game . . . in an era when 5'6" was an AVERAGE height.

19 posted on 03/20/2014 11:56:48 AM PDT by Vigilanteman (Obama: Fake black man. Fake Messiah. Fake American. How many fakes can you fit in one Zer0?)
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To: nickcarraway
Jonathan Chait hears the same 'dog whistles' that Chrissie Tingles Matthews does.

Sophomore Nik Stauska of the University of Michigan men’s basketball team was named the 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year by the coaches and media

20 posted on 03/20/2014 11:57:09 AM PDT by Servant of the Cross (the Truth will set you free)
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