Can We Actually Talk about both Race and Gender when we Talk about Sports?

In the elevator at the Unrepentant Homer annual conference, I ran into someone who wanted to express himself. So, I’m posting him just below with the paragraph break. He might stick around, he also might be an imaginary friend….But I’ve been wanting to talk about this topic, and he’s a lot more articulate and intelligent. …

So, I just finished reading a yahoo contributor piece (David C. Cutler) comparing NBC’s coverage of the US women’s hoops squad versus the soccer squad. All the usual caveats are in the piece along with what passes for honest “race-talk” in the US. the author asks the rather obvious question about whether the fact that the hoops squad was overwhelmingly black while the soccer team was overwhelmingly white played a factor in nbc’s coverage–only he doesn’t actually ask that question. in fact, he never mentions it, choosing instead to point out that there was only one black nbc correspondent who was relegated to msnbc anyway, and suggesting that this was the reason for the imbalance in nbc’s coverage. the solution, presumably, is to make sure that there are more black correspondents who will apparently make sure they report more on black athletic success.

In no particular order, this is what’s wrong with this analysis:

1) the writer can’t even bring himself to make the actual observation that most of the hoops team is black and most of the soccer team is white. apparently this violates the norm of color-blindness.

2) how much demographic, survey-based research do you really need to know that the largely white soccer team plays huge in white (and especially middle-class and would-be middle-class) America, and that this would NEVER happen if the team was largely people of color? of course race played huge in the coverage. (insert caveats here that are in the original article).

3) the analytical focus on matching the race of the correspondent with the athlete is obviously shallow–too shallow to even take apart without feeling like at best i’m wasting time and at worst encouraging conservative trolls to pile on.

4) the emphasis on skin color and personal preferences of the correspondents completely buries the structural analyses that could be made.

Although race is a huge factor, the imbalance in coverage is not JUST about race, it’s also about other axes of difference and domination. most of you reading this are probably having some knee-jerk response about how the domestic attention paid to the US black men’s basketball team’s shows that it’s not about race. i’d say that it’s precisely looking at the men’s team versus the two women’s teams (and implicitly the absence of conversation about the men’s soccer team) that you can see how you have to look at more than one axis of difference. when it comes to the olympics, the most obvious axes are going to include race, gender identity, nation, and class. this deserves its own later post and i’m tired of responding to liberal inability to think deeply about race.

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