Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stereotypes (II)

In today's edition of the New York Times, Harvey Araton discussed the turnaround of perceptions of New York Knicks' stars Nate Robinson and David Lee. Being that the Stephon Marbury era officially ended last night with the buyout of the final months of his contract, it seems that the Knicks' press corp wanted to throw a party as the most infamous signing of the Isiah Thomas era has officialy departed. Yet, with all the moves made in the NBA over the past week, Araton chose to reflect on the moves not made (and wisely not made considering their individual skills).

A few paragraphs about Lee, the fourth-year forward out of Florida, were interesting to read:

When (head coach Mike) D’Antoni was hired, it was often said Lee would not be around long because he wasn’t a classic D’Antoni player, a seven-seconds-or-less-style jump shooter. He has debunked that theory, in small part by improving his jumper but in large part by demonstrating that he is an excellent transition player, ambidextrous and dangerous.
“The first thing I realized about him that I didn’t know was that he’s got great talent with both hands around the basket,” (team president Donnie) Walsh said. “He goes in against shot-blockers, gets around them because they don’t know which hand he’s going to use. Plus his rebounding ability, his instincts — now, those are all talents I don’t think the guy gets credit for a lot.”
That’s because adroit hands and good court instincts have typically been underplayed as natural assets in a sport too often obsessed with hang time. Moreover, it has been too convenient for mythmakers throughout the decades to extol white players for their hard work, while the inverse has been the case for blacks, celebrated mainly for natural ability.
Normally as anything racial or seemingly racial in sports media is littered with trolls, extreme reactions and tasteless references to someone well-known in the public eye (here's looking at you, President Obama). And so there's a concerted effort to not dip too much in that well unless I personally feel it's warranted.

However, Araton's last paragraph brings up the most persistent stereotype in sports. It's more common in contact sports such as (American) football and basketball, though this can certainly rear its ugly head in other games. It's what made Jack Johnson one of the least-recognized technicians in boxing history, what made Jimmy the Greek and Paul Hornung synonymous with "foot in mouth" disease and Brett Favre somehow tougher than Steve McNair for so many years. It's an ideal that finds itself popping up online, on the air (more often than we care to admit) and at some obnoxiously loud bar on a Friday night.

Yet, I ask you all: considering how much more aware we are of the perceptions of athletes over the years, even before in the 'good ol' days' before our lives began, do you think that this stereotype will ever go away?

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