Let's talk sports

While trying to enjoy the UNC semifinal game at a restaurant on Franklin St., I was repeatedly distracted by the table behind me. Full of females, red in the face from their screaming at the TV, the noise they were making was enough to set my teeth on edge. I’m all for cheering for your team and showing team spirit but they were yelling ANYTHING at the TV. Some of their comments belonged to a different sport, some belittled refs for a call that was undoubtedly correct. They did not know the first thing about basketball. I’m not an aficionado either, but I do know my free-throws from my 3-pointers.

The inaccuracy of the soundtrack they were providing wasn’t even what rubbed me the wrong way. It was their objectification of the men running up and down the court for their entertainment. A table full of white women, they cooed and cawed at the players, almost all of whom were black. They called them by their first names, talked about their physique and whimpered with sympathy if any of them took a charge. One even sent up a heartfelt prayer for someone’s supposedly delicate ankles. I was struck by their idolization of the men wearing these jerseys. I want to know how these white women would fawn over those same players if they were instead in hoodies, and walking behind them on the street. How many of them wept for the very real injuries of Michael Brown and Philando Castile?

I’ve wandered the same thing, as I watch the Duke basketball players get fawned over at Shooters. Easy to spot amongst a crowd of average height, they tower over the legions of white women that crowd around them. For these women to be so concerned with making the players feel good, I want to know how many of them ask them how they are feeling when yet another black man who looks just like them is murdered by law enforcement.

While the precedent of white women pursuing black athletes hasn’t always been socially accepted (maybe it still isn’t in some places), the exploitation of black bodies without the respect for them is anything but new. There’s the altogether obvious example of slavery but there’s also the modern-day sports industry as a whole. Am I the only one disturbed by the fact that some people jokingly call the Duke football training center the Plantation? Are the avid fans to blame for playing in to a system that encourages the objectification of black bodies for profit?

Stretching all the way back to the time of Jack Johnson, the first black boxer to win the heavweight champion title, the sports industry has provided some of the most prominent images of Black males. In sports arenas, where so much Black power is put on display, it comes as no surprise that Black, male expression is tightly constricted by mostly white males. Coaches and refs are, for the majority, white. While the black players seem to be free agents within the confines of the court, their actions and expressions of aggression are still policed by the white man.

While Black bodies are allowed to perform in ways that are profitable for their (team) owners, they are not to be used for political statements or the celebration of Black culture. How many players can afford to make statements like Colin Kaepernick without risking the dissolution of their contracts? How do YOU think Coach Roy and Coach K would react if the starters came out in Black Lives Matter shirts? How supportive would their adoring fans be? 

Words by Mia King

Mia King