Sports News about Racism, Homophobia, and Weed

I’ve always watched American sports closely because I’m a fan. I also see how sports can give a good read on cultural changes. This week, there are several sports stories that indicate some aspects of cultural evolution in this country. I usually try to focus on one per week, but there are just too many good stories for one blog…so here’s all three:

1) Donald Sterling gave an interview to Anderson Cooper on CNN last night. I’m not sure what he hoped to accomplish, but he garnered no sympathy from this viewer. Maybe racism has been eradicated from this country because people like Sterling insist they are not racist…and if people with obviously racial viewpoints are not racist, then I don’t know who qualifies. Sterling insisted that he said some awful, uneducated statements in his living room, and he does not ever do that…in fact, he does not attack individuals in such a manner and this was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Then, he provided more awful, uneducated statements and attacked Magic Johnson, who he does not respect because he had lots of sex and contracted AIDS (not HIV)…while Sterling wants people to understand he said awful things because he wanted to have sex with a woman much younger than him. Talk about self-deluded fabrication. One of the more offensive comments involved his insistence that he has done more for minorities than most…because he’s given money to the black community. He believes his players still love him and the black community still loves him generally; he might want to listen to the Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” He gives a percentage of his millions to the black community, and apparently that gives him a pass to wield his opinion, in his own mind. Being rich might be one of the factors that allows for Sterling’s racial make-up. The ability to wield power and authority over others seems to foster racist opinions in some individuals like Sterling. Maybe we should stop and consider how precarious it is that some people with obscene amounts of money are, in fact, “uneducated,” as Sterling admitted he was. Some people have elected to point out how Sterling’s privacy has been violated in this instance (Never thought I’d see Sean Hannity endorse Bill Maher, but it happened last night!). We shouldn’t have to worry about violating his privacy now, as Sterling showed us how he can publically make a fool of himself without much prodding. Sterling is a public figure, and his status as millionaire and sports team owner shouldn’t sustain his right to privacy, even if he is in his living room. Racists have thrived in the comfort of privacy, and I don’t mind that light was shed on this hypocrisy. If people are so concerned about being recorded in their own living rooms, then maybe those individuals should consider who they invite into those living rooms…certainly rich, entitled senior citizens who are looking to bed money-hungry women who are decades younger might think better about what they say or do, in public and private.

2) Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday. I’m glad to see that he was drafted, as I wrote about last week. The culturally significant occurrence was the filming of Sam’s reaction when he found out he was drafted. He broke down emotionally. So many players get emotional when they are drafted by an NFL team, but Sam obviously had greater motivation to be emotional than the average heterosexual player. He cried, and then he kissed his boyfriend, passionately. My instantaneous response was, “uh, oh.” I knew all the homophobes in the nation were simultaneously expressing their disgust at having to see two guys kiss on national TV. Sure enough, we can now read plenty of Twitter threads that express their opinion against Michael Sam. Basically, some machismo-infused guys are getting their panties bunched up. Guys get a bit squeamish about two guys kissing because they don’t want to think about what it would be like to kiss a guy. I get a bit uncomfortable myself, but I’ve gotten over it. Watching Brokeback Mountain in 2006 was uncomfortable for me, but I still think it is one of the best short story-to-film representations I possess in my DVD collection. I tried to watch Looking on HBO through its first season, but I admit I abandoned it after the visual representations of male homosexual sex became too graphic for me to handle. I possessed some homophobic tendencies, but I have worked to evolve past my personally- oppressive reactions to male-on-male physical affection. Michael Sam’s kiss is culturally significant, and it doesn’t bother me that it is repeatedly shown. It’s historic, and the rest of the macho guys in the nation should just let it go. If you don’t want to see it, don’t look at it (although, I bet it might be hard to look away for some repressed individuals…time to let the personal anxiety go…it’s no good for your psyche!). Don’t attempt to curb Michael Sam for who he is. He’s identified himself, and he should be allowed to express himself in whatever way best defines him, especially in the moment where one of his life goals have been confirmed.

3) Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns will likely be suspended for a full year because he smoked marijuana. Marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, but the NFL continues to include it on their banned substances list, for which they incessantly test their players. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN’s First Take blew a gasket yesterday because of Josh Gordon. His anger comes from his confusion for how a player can blow millions of dollars by wanting to smoke weed, knowing that the player will lose those millions of dollars. “For weed! Because of WEED!” he kept exclaiming. I know how Stephen A. Smith feels about marijuana as I’m a regular viewer of the program. I usually agree with Smith, and I enjoy his mode of rhetoric greatly. I do occasionally disagree with Smith, and on this occasion, I do vehemently disagree. I’d prefer to look at changing the archaic policy of the NFL before I blame the player here. Smith believes that there is no validity for smoking weed…that those who smoke weed will abuse the medicinal licensing for the purpose of partying and acting like irresponsible youths. Our country seems to be slowly progressing towards the understanding that marijuana can be a useful drug, that it can assist mentally stressed and ill people towards normalcy. In a country that remains confused about mental health, I think it is important to remove the social stigma around marijuana; in a sport where brain injuries are prevalent and the study is incomplete, it should be at least considered that marijuana could assist with handling pain, brain injury, or trauma. Smith acts like it’s unheard of that an NFL player would dismiss fame and money for the personal right to able to consume a drug that could be beneficial to an individual’s mental health and happiness…I seem to recall Ricky Williams putting his personal evolution ahead of public perception, at a time when he had no support from the sports community or the country-at-large. I think Stephen A. Smith’s anger at Josh Gordon is misdirected. I would love to debate Smith on his notions about marijuana (and haircuts!). In the very near future, more Americans are going to have to reconsider their stance on marijuana, just as they are forced to reassess their stance on race and homosexuality.

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  1. I have two thoughts:

    1: Your comment about Brokeback Mountain being one of the best short story to film adaptations – I don’t disagree, but would also suggest you check out Apt Pupil and Stand by Me if you want to talk amazing adaptations of short fiction.

    2: I struggle with reconciling your first and third point with one another. Racism, as objectionable and wrong as we agree it is, is perfectly legal. It is, technically, his first amendment right to make prejudiced statements in his living room, and yet he is now permanently banned from the sport. It bothers me that athletes who actually break the law (Federal laws, no less) are met with far more forgiveness and acceptance when it comes to participatory allowances in professional sports. Sterling spoke some racist words in a private room and he’s gone forever, but we allow murderers, rapists, animal abusers and drug users to take a few games off without pay and give them a fine, and then welcome them back. I don’t have any real solution, just the observation that it is a moral issue for me that I struggle with.


    1. 1) I have a lot of love for Stephen King, but he’s not really regarded as a literary author in academic circles. He can be formulaic with his fiction, but Stand by Me and Apt Pupil are indeed some of his strongest adapted works…I would also include The Shawshank Redemption as my favorite short story to film of his. Annie Proulx’s story succeeds in establishing character through brevity of statement and colorful structure, just as Ang Lee is able to take such a short work and derive such thematic longevity from the film representation (didn’t hurt to have Heath Ledger at the peak of his shortened acting career, either…I’d be interested to know your interpretation of Ledger’s Joker, btw).

      2) Thanks for sharing about this…it’s a moral struggle for many of us, and I’ll admit I don’t have all the answers to such grandiose social conditions…I’d wager to say nobody has a completely agreeable stance on any of these difficult issues. I suppose I’d respond by agreeing that Donald Sterling has not broken any laws, but his consequence has very little to do with criminal punishment. He’s not going to jail; he’s losing his sports team…and he’ll likely get rewarded with a big cash payout instead of penalized by losing his established fortune. In fact, there’s a lot of hand-wringing in the NBA now because Donald Sterling might be able to counter these consequences…in a court of law. As for my third point concerning marijuana, there’s a lot I could write about it, and chances are I will be writing about it in future blogs…what I will state here is that I think the federal and state laws need to change concerning marijuana specifically. I don’t think it’s fair to compare pot smokers to murderers, rapists, and animal abusers; if smoking marijuana is harmful, in most cases, it is only harmful to the one ingesting the drug. I also don’t think it’s fair to jail quite a few of our black youths for the “crime” of smoking marijuana, still unfairly classified as a schedule I drug by federal law. There’s a lot of hypocracy that’s been shovelled to people our age about the dangers of marijuana, especially when drugs like Ritalin, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Adderal are legal and potentially more dangerous to individuals than marijuana has ever been in the world’s history. To be fair, I do have anxiety about individuals who will abuse marijuana if it is made legal…people became addicted to alcohol and gambling when made legal in this country…but we have put laws into place that specify legal use of those potential vices. We can modify laws in this country to allow for the use of marijuana once we concede that it is not a dangerous drug AND that there is an authentic benefit for allowing users to consume the drug. I buy the argument for medicinal use more than recreational use…doesn’t mean that I’m entirely right, but I see the national conversation leaning more towards the legalization of marijuana, specifically.

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