Saturday, February 18, 2006

Losers Like Bryant Gumbel Keep Americans Tripping Over Themselves

Loser, originally uploaded by mightymerk.

Race in America is Topic-A once again.
OK, I didn't see this during its initial broadcast, so I was not one of those folks who were immediately offended. After reading/hearing about it for a full 24 hours now I have some comments.

For those of you who are not aware of the controversy, let me provide you with some details.

Bryant Gumbel (pictured above) is the host of a TV show on HBO, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. During his closing monologue about the Olympics he had this to say:

"Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t like them and won’t watch them ... Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won ... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin."

More than offended I am truly insulted that such a public figure, on a sports show of all places, finds yet another opportunity to race bait and political bash the American people. Yes Bryant Gumble has a history of this.

What was the purpose of such comments? Are the Winter Olympics just a waste? Is he bashing the winter olympics because they are primarily (though far from exclusively) white athletes? Is he bashing the GOP? Is ther any justification for any of it?

The bottom line is that this was not simply social commentary from Mr. Bryant. They were inflamatory statements that once again spark racial tensions and attempt to polarize Americans. Fact is that I enjoy watching the sport of snowboarding (primarily dominated by white athletes) as much as I do the the sport of American Football (primarily dominated by black athletes). Unless of course there is widespread discrimination within the sport I see no reason to discriminate between the racial component of each sport. Most Americans are like me Mr. Bryant.

In proper context, what could have been discussed quite possible is the reason why there are fewer African-American athletes on the U.S. Winter Olympic team as opposed to the Summer Olympic team. Of course though, Mr Gumbel would not be able to get in his biased views quite so easily as one would find that many African-Americans may not participate in Winter Sports (at the moment) simply out of racial/cultural preference. I also find it hard to believe that such a charge against the GOP is being made in this day in age, when
BY FAR the past 6 years has seen more African-Amerians work at the highest levels in government in the history of our nation. What some proof? Check out the members of Bill Clinton's cabinet (some call President Clinton the 'First Black President') versus that of George W's cabinet. Never before has there been as diverse a cabinet as there is today. Then there is such recent news as Lynn Swann for Governor.

This isn't to say that the history and struggle of Black in America should not be continually discussed. But it must be done so constructively and in proper modern context.

While Bryant Gumbel continues to live a fantastic life, by in large the due to non-racist whites,
his recent commentary, much like Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb, keep Americans focused on sparring with one another rather than being productive citizens. Good Job Mr. once again have helped no one other than yourself.

My advice to all is to recognize Mr. Gumbels
bumble for all it is worth, and move on. In the grand scheme he doesn't really matter to any of us anyway.

Posted by mightymerk, 6:46 AM


By Blogger andrea


i find it hard to see how race isn't an issue still in the 'modern' united states (or, b/c i am canadian and shouldn't be such an american-basher, canada either)

i'm not sure how i feel about his particular reference though... i would agree it was a poor articulation of an otherwise important subject. but, its popular tv, i wouldn't expect it to have any depth into anything worthwhile

and, i do agree, any sport that has a wait and cry area is not a sport.

@ 9:05 PM  

By Blogger mightymerk

Hi Andrea,

I appreciate your comments.

I hope you can take some time answering a few questions as I am interested in your thoughts.

In what way do you find 'race' is still an issue? I mean in an informal sense I can understand how race factors in, but in the formal sense that Mr. Gumbel seems to indicate, no I just don't see it. How do you see it?

Regarding the reference and the subject, what I fail to see is what the "important subject". I can't even see the point Mr. Gumbel was even trying to make.

BTW, Amerian Shanni Davis became the first black athlete to claim an individual Gold Medal in Olympic history. But I guess Mr. Gumbel would claim Davis to be a 'token' of the U.S. GOP/Winter Olympic Team.

@ 6:28 AM  

By Blogger andrea

Good morning,
Well, its my understanding at least that race is still an issue of concern. The example that comes to my mind is an often used one but is still relevant - the prison population. Black men are by far disproportionately incarcerated, leading some to describe a "prison industrial complex" in the US that is not too far off from slavery (seems like a leap, until looking at What black men are incarcerated for, being sent to private prisons and shipped around the country to forced labour camps...)

I just looked over and saw the cover of Harpers magazine from September... "still separate, still unequal: america's educational apartheid". Average % of students in NY state's majority white school districts who graduate in 4 years: 70... in districts where majority are black/latino: 40.

So when I said the :important subject: i meant Race... as in, I personally think that race is still a determining factor in people's life chances.

Sooo I don't actually believe that this all comes down to cultural preference and individual choice. I'm wondering if there has been any research done specific to the olympics. B/c yes, I think the argument WOULD in fact be Davis is an anomale and would in fact be the token that could be used in these kinds of arguments to say, "but no look, black people win medals." Same as the, "but look, black people are in government" to counter the argument that blacks are treated unfairly by the government/law.

And this is me going on a whim, I have nothing to back it up... but I think that a lot of winter sports are predominately "white"... I'm wondering why. Is it really so easy to explain that its a matter of choice? What makes a black youth "choose" basketball over hockey.. track and field over figure skating? I'm wondering if the cost of the sport factors in, or if social location (there probably aren't many speed skating centres in the ghetto?)

I'd be interested to look into that kind of thing.

Thanks for replying :) I don't mean it as an argument, I just disagree that race is no longer an important issue. That said, I don't think that any of these factors work alone. Race, class, gender, sexuality, geographical location... all work together to influence life chances. And it just so happens that it still holds true - and its no coincidence - that to be black, poor, female, lesbian from an innercity core... probably (but there are exceptions to every rule) means you aren't going to get very far in the US, and I find it hard to boil it down to choice.

@ 8:54 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

Hi Andrea,

I thank you for replying. In the end just because we will most likely disagree does not mean that we should not have continued dialogue. I appreciate that you see the wisdom in this as well.

Like you, I see no use in using the words 'all' and 'always' in arguments like this.

That said, I do honestly believe that cultural and personal preference play a much larger role in today's Western Society than any resemlence of instituional racism.

Let's take the case of Davis for example. A simple internet research yielded me this article.

"He shrugged off friends who wondered why a black kid from the city of Michael Jordan and Da Bears would want to don a tight-fitting suit and compete with a bunch of white dudes in a fringe sport.
"Maybe I can be the Michael Jordan of speedskating,'' he said.
His choice of sports wouldn't be the last time he bucked the norm.
Davis' mother, Cherie, has a long-running feud with the folks at U.S. Speedskating, believing they worked against her only child when he was younger because of the color of his skin. The organization says that's not so, but Davis doesn't train with the national program, frequently complains about a lack of marketing opportunities and gladly lets his mother fight his battles."

What this quote does provide for is that the reasons for a lack of black athletes, by Davis' own admission, can be attributed to more than one factor. This quote seems to indicate that yes after he made his personal decision to participate in this sport he raised some eyebrows and had his detractors, but it also indicateds what his cultural peers thought. Essentially that they preferred to see him dribble a basketball than skate on the ice.

Put into context though, it was Shani Davis' choice to particpate in the sport, despite the pressures fromm the existing sports body, and despite the pressures from his peers. Nothing legally prohibted him from participating. Even Geogrpahy (the fact he was Davis was from the Southside of Chicago) held him back. A true credit to Mr. Davis as an individual. He is now a champion for it.

So, while racial makeup of sports, education and business can be observed, the factors for this are more complex than many (those who polarize people for a living) would have us believe.

Personal example: I regularly ski, mountainbike and hike. Up until a few years ago I also played baseball, football and soccer.
The truth of the matter is that on a hiking trail I have a better chance of seeing a hobit than an African-American on the trail. This is a free sport, with trails located all around the county I live in. A county that is probably one of the most diverse places on earth.
Just what is keeping blacks off of the hiking trails or ski slopes? I would explain it as cultural preference, which is always subject to change, which makes for even more of an interesting story.

Also, the list of 'exceptions' is far too extensive at this point to hold any weight in a rational arguent.

You mention
" that to be black, poor, female, lesbian from an innercity core... probably (but there are exceptions to every rule) means you aren't going to get very far in the US, and I find it hard to boil it down to choice."

How do you explain Oprah Winfrey. A woman from the impovershed south, sexually abused as a youth, and formerly addicted to drugs. Her success, and status as America's Most Powerful Media Figure, can be attributed in large part mostly to non-racist whites.

Let me close with this. What words/advice do you have for your black friends? Do you tell them to "beware of whitey"? "Hey you are born a victim, you need help"?
Or like me, do you give them the same advice you would any other person?

It is a complex subject but I want you to have the last word on this topic. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts and I look forward to your reply.

@ 10:20 AM  

By Blogger andrea

That was excellent... got me thinking.

I think that on one level, we do agree. I do agree that the individual ultimately can make a choice. Oprah, Davis, etc (the long list of exceptions that you noted) prove that to be true. I'm not trying to make an entirely social-constructionist kind of argument that denies individual choice and autonomy.

But maybe I can word my thoughts a little bit differently, and I think that the quote you gave from Davis also illustrates this. To be black, poor, female, homosexual from an innercity core doesn't necessarily mean that you won't get very far in life (that is a completely disempowering argument, as you pointed out when you asked what advice I would give to my own friends who may fall into these categories). However, I think that the choices made possible, the opportunities given and the potential for social mobility are extremely limited by these factors. Any individual can of course challenge their own situation, but even Davis notes that his choice was very difficult - more so perhaps than his white contemporary?

Of course there are no institutional laws for why blacks do not go hiking. Being black doesn't mean you aren't allowed to do so. Yet it does seem that "cultural preference" often plays out on racial lines. What is it about being a black male from an innercity neighbourhood that makes people expect you to play basketball before donning skates? What is it about being a woman that makes one choose to stay home to raise a family instead of pursuing a professional careers; there are no laws dictating that women must do so more than men, andyet it plays out that way. (And I'm not so sure its just gender perference. And I realize I've taken the argument to an entirely different plane of difference, but I think it still works.)

I just find it difficult to buy the #1 rule of capitalism that your lot in life depends on your own choices and your own efforts. I think that denies the very real ways that race, sexuality, gender and class intersect to affect the opportunities made available to a person. It makes individuals responsible for their poverty, their experience of discrimination (racism/sexism/homophobia) without acknowledging the wider social context of these situations. And yet, my interest in social structures does not lead me to believe that it is all fate and we might as well just accept it. Individuals transgress the system all the time; it keeps the system changing.

Yes, it is a complex subject, one I grapple with often...! But I appreciated the dialogue and the different perspective. (Its nice when procrastination is something thought provoking!)

But, alas, I have to get back to it. Have a good one :)

@ 4:18 PM  

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