February 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm
filed under Uncategorized
Okay, so you’d have to be dead to the world to have not heard about Jeremy Lin in the past two weeks. After only playing in a handful of games, this has become the best and most captivating story of the NBA season. I watched the Lakers-Knicks game last Friday, when Lin scored an insane amount of points on national TV, and I have not been so excited by an NBA game in years. And this is still the regular season!
A week ago (yes, this post is a little tardy given how fast this story is moving), boxer Floyd Mayweather sparked some controversy by tweeting: ”Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”
Understandably, Mayweather received quite a bit of backlash for this comment. But let’s be a little forgiving with his precise choice of words, since he is not exactly renowned for his precise verbiage. Let’s just change the word “all” in his quote to “a lot.” This comment then becomes…
“Jeremy Lin is a good player but A LOT of the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”
So the thing is, this slightly modified tweet is completely and obviously accurate. Of COURSE race matters. If Lin were black, or even white, he would not be THIS big of a deal. A friend asked me the other day, “What percentage of the hype around Lin is due to his being Asian?” My gut response was “75%”. Now, that may be a little bit high, since there are so many aspects of this story that are so fantastic and unbelievable. Unrecruited out of high school. Undrafted out of college. Cut twice already this season. Most points scored in first five starts ever. Seven straight wins for the Knicks in the Center of the World. Sleeping on a couch. Harvard nerd. Devoutly Christian (and therefore the Tebow parallels). But let’s say that was it. Let’s say all of the above was true, but he was black. In my opinion, I think this would be a very big story in the world of the NBA. I think every NBA fan and most casual sports fans would at least know his name by now. But there’s no way that my sports-ignorant girlfriend would know who he is. There’s no way that Letterman would be doing his Top 10 about him. There’s no way that Linsanity would be this insane. So even if it’s not 75% like I initially stated, it’s got to be at least half.
So the problem with Mayweather’s comment is not the accuracy of his statement. The problem was his tone of tweet, that it sounded like he was complaining, like this was something NEGATIVE. And it is that negativity alone that reveals the ignorance and hypocrisy of this comment.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, becoming the first African-American player in baseball. Recognizing an untapped pool of talent, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey had been looking for awhile for the right man to be the first black player. He recognized that given the racial climate of the 1940′s, the first black player would not only have to be extremely tough mentally but also extremely talented, since he would be under extreme scrutiny. In Robinson, he found his man. Not only did Jackie endure the repeated death threats, hateful racial epithets and the enmity of both opposing players and teammates, he was an electrifying player, using speed, defense and hitting prowess to become a no-brainer Hall of Famer. In 1997, fifty years after Robinson’s debut, Major League not only declared that April 15 of every season would be “Jackie Robinson Day”, but also decreed that Robinson’s #42 would be retired throughout all of baseball, meaning that no player for ANY team would EVER wear the #42 ever again. This was a completely unprecedented honor. While Robinson was certainly a very good player, no baseball expert would even make the argument that he was the single greatest player of all time. Yet he received an honor that undisputedly better performing ballplayers such as Babe Ruth or Ted Williams did not receive. So clearly, it wasn’t because of his performance alone that Robinson received such a singular honor. It was because he was a great player AND because of his race. And nobody, NOBODY would or should question whether MLB made the correct decision.
I kid you not, Jeremy Lin is our Jackie Robinson. I’m not going to pretend that this is still the 1940s or that this comparison completely holds. But if you think that Lin is not facing barriers because of his race, you are living in a dream world. Sure, perhaps those obstacles aren’t quite as high or as dangerous as that which Jackie faced, but they are just as real. Lin is breaking the mold of what a professional athlete is supposed to look like just as Robinson did. By naysaying the magnitude of this achievement, Mayweather is unwittingly putting himself in the same position as the white majority that sought to hold Jackie Robinson down 65 years ago.