FanPost

On Frustration, "Sports Hate," Bigotry, Hate, and Racism.

First off, a special thanks to Danny Kelly for his advice and editorial prowess. We are lucky to have such a pleasant and clever bloke overseeing this forum.

--

As a younger man, I once said I "hated" a player (incidentally black) on an opposing team, and the friend who I was watching with was quite taken aback. You see, my friend is both 1) of African descent, and 2) homosexual; he faced a broad spectrum of hatred growing up in a very small and remote town in the Bible Belt. Hatred to him, you see, was something intimidating and violent, and potentially fatal. He gave me permission to "sports hate" said player, but he thought I would be a better man if I didn't ever "hate". Looking back, it was a great lesson for a early 20s kid, and I still count "JB" among my most valued friends two decades later and 3000 miles apart.

I can't really define "sports hate," but for me it's a term relegated to Clay Bennett, rival teams that have dashed my chances at eternal glory (The Steelers), teams with the most obnoxious fan bases (Red Sox), arrogant players who hold themselves high above their accomplishments (LeBron, Santonio Holmes), opposing coaches who behave like petulant children (Harbaugh, meet Schwartz), players or coaches who push the limits of morality at the expense of others (Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods), and players from whom, for whatever intuitive reason, I get a negative vibe (Kobe Bean). Almost always, "sports hate" is a a grudging sign of respect. A sucky team/player/coach just can't really conjure up the same level of exasperation and passion. Recognizing this, "sports hate" doesn't blind me in any way to the good or bad qualities of on field performance, and it actually enhances my perception because I become just a little fixated on the subject - e.g. "How can Big Ben just not get sacked???? HOW!? GO DOWN ALREADY!" (no pun intended). I digress.

I don't think I can really "sports hate" a member of my own team. I can believe they are not adequate athletically (Julius Jones), that they make incomprehensible mistakes (Hasselbeck sometimes, Tarvaris a bit more, Curry - oh yeah), or that they are a jackass on or off the field (Bosworth). "Sports hate" certainly can't be targeted at someone who fails on the field as the result of a serious drug or alcohol problem, or facing some other tragic personal issue. I guess "sports hate" is reserved for a different relationship than the one between my mind and a home-town or home-team athlete.

For hometown players who can't get it done on the field, court, or pitch, I feel frustration. It might be mild and transient, severe and eternal, or anything between. It's entirely reasonable to be frustrated with Tarvaris and to see him as inadequate for what one wants at the QB position. My perception was that he held onto the ball too long, that he wasn't accurate on intermediate passes, that the ball left the pocket a fraction of a second too late letting a defender get back in the play, and that he didn't manipulate the coverage with look-offs and pump fakes. None of these things were there all of the time, but they did seem to crop up enough that I would definitely get frustrated.

Having watched a fair amount of tape on other QBs, I personally don't think it is possible to tell what the progression is supposed to be unless you do it as a profession and perform a very strict, rigorous and quantitative analysis using All-22 tape - a la Rob Rang, Greg Cosell, John Schneider - and Jim Mora, Sr. agrees with me (my favorite rant ever, and probably the most profound and accurate rant ever as well). John Schneider's approach for evalutating QBs as a GM probably sums up best how the common fan can appreciate QB performance; he said ultimately you just put all the measurables, techniques, and intangibles aside and "look where the ball ends up." For Tarvaris last year, the ball just needed to end up in better places a few more times a game.

Yes, some of Tarvaris' play really frustrated me. But I would never cross over the line and "sports hate" a player who bled blue and green for me and my city, who never complained about his teammates being the least competent and worst organized he ever saw on an NFL field, who sacrificed his body and health to get a first down and continue a drive, and who risked even more severe injury to help my team win. When he returned, did he bring more than just playing a bit better than Whitehurst? I think so - in his post-season presser he said his proudest moment of the season was playing through the injury, because it allowed him to help his team win and to help the team grow. To help the team grow. How much less opportunity would our WRs have had if Whitehurst was the QB for the rest of the season? I'd posit there would be no way Marshawn breaks out or the OL comes around if teams are sticking nine men in the box with Whitehurst in the backfield.

On top of it all, he has been as upstanding, professional, and classy as any Seahawks player in the history of the franchise - I compare his professionalism to that of Hasselbeck, Largent, Kennedy, and Green. None of it means the team owes him a roster spot come September, and I think it is clear that Flynn and Wilson will make it a real challenge for him to earn his place on the team - but he probably has earned more respect from this organization, and around the league, than even the most appreciative of fans realize.

At the same time, it's been shocking to me how many people in the "open-minded" PNW are so closed-minded about any argument that Tarvaris isn't the worst QB in the NFL. All statistical evidence and game tape shows that he is not the worst, but the argument persists. I've used hyperbole in argument many a time, so perhaps some of the point of view is merely hyperbole. I doubt any of us could say we never stuck to a belief or opinion that was unfounded and incorrect. Ultimately, I have to concede that one is entitled to their opinion, and entitled to stick to it even if all evidence shows it is incorrect. We are all entitled to our bigotry:

Bigotry: the state of mind of a bigot.
Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions ...
_source: merriam-webster.com

The word "bigotry" has some very ugly connotations, but bigotry in its simplest form is just as stated in this definition - obstinately devoted to one's opinions; it doesn't even require that your opinions are wrong or misguided, only that you are unyielding in the belief. Looking at this definition, I admit I am guilty of bigotry, clear as day, when I defend this FO to my friend who's a NY Giants fan. Granted, Carroll and Schneider make mistakes here and there, but overall, I'm 100% sold - I've never, ever, been a fan of the management of any sports organization, but I am absolutely fanatical about this front office. It's my opinion that they are uniquely awesome, in one season they brought hope to a fanbase that had just faced two desperately hopeless and unfun seasons, and damn it all to hell I am obstinately and intolerantly devoted to them.

"The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract."
_Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

So my NYG friend mocked the Irvin and Wilson picks and said something like "Cheatey Petey doesn't know what the hell to do in the NFL, maybe Sark can hire him as the Defensive Coordinator." Wait! What? You attack "my sweetie, Petey" AND my Dawgs too? My pupils contracted, and I unloaded on him - Irvin this, Wilson that, 7th best defense in the league, 10/11 offensive starters have been on the team 2 years or less, no offseason, 5 OL players that never played together, injured WR1, Carroll in Compton reaching out to gangs... and by the way, "didn't Cheatey Petey and his rag tag crew kick the Giants ass last season?" Obstinate and intolerant? Hell yeah, and kind of proud of it. We didn't talk for about a week to cool the air.

Even more disturbing than the inflexibility of opinion is that the level of vitriol some commenters have expressed about Tarvaris feels to me to have gone beyond frustration, "sports hate", and even beyond this simple kind of bigotry I describe above, to what feels like genuine disgust. It's one thing to be "disgusted by his play," and it's entirely another when the tenor and wording contends disgust towards the individual.

When bigotry is not simple, when it joins hand in hand with disgust, hate and stereotyping, it becomes far more malignant:

Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.
_source: merriam-webster.com[

Having lived most of two decades in areas bordering or within the South, I am heavily attuned to the scent of racism and ethnocentric bigotry. The words spoken or typed by the non-minority may be of innocent intent, but can readily be perceived as racist by the minority who has been the target of real "hate." The Seahawks have recently had three players, Tarvaris Jackson, James Carpenter, and Aaron Curry, all of African descent, who have been called by a few fans, over the last year or two, "dumb," "stupid," "not intelligent," and "lazy." By my memory, none of the statements about these players made note of either race or skin color; indeed, they were not overtly racist. Nevertheless, these comments left a foul taste in my mouth; it is so incredibly disrespectful to insult another's intelligence, especially when you have never had a conversation with the man and the target of the insult fought tooth and nail and risked his career for your entertainment.

Most of the time "dumb," "stupid," and "lazy," don't sound racist, but it is different when said by a white man (or the anonymous internet poster) about a black man in America. Among those who have studied the racism and prejudice behind two centuries of biased (and invalid) intelligence testing trying to prove that those with more melanin in their dermis have fewer and/or less useful brain cells, the accusation of "not intelligent enough" rang warning bells and claxons throughout our brains. Further, consider the historical characterization (by predominantly white announcers) of athletes, especially black athletes, as "animals", "beasts," and "horses" - not particularly endearing to black Americans given the history of slavery. Finally, think about the political rhetoric of "lazy" welfare recipients, and the root of that rhetoric in the historically fiscally depressed south and the rhetoric's stronghold in heavily immigrant populated areas. To a white person, "not intelligent enough," "beast," and "lazy" may sound race-neutral, but to the descendent of a slave, or someone who grew up in the deep south, those words can conjure images of the not-too-distant past where they preceded unspeakable injustices or atrocities.

My season tickets, 19 rows behind the Hawks bench, are near an older white man who, following a Tarvaris fumble, screamed "Get that black fuck out of the game!" His comment was openly and blatantly racist - there was no other way to interpret it. Like the open racism I witnessed in the South, it colors my perception of the much more color-blind comments here that denigrate Tarvaris, Curry, and Carpenter based on words that I would not perceive as racist-tinged if they were said about a white person. But, when they are said about black Americans, I cannot help but be alarmed at the possible encroachment of hate and racism into this forum. Racism is more than a part of the nation's "not-too-distant past," it's rooted deeply in present society throughout politics, sports, media, television, music, movies, business, and virtually every other human endeavor; racism isn't something that we can just accept and ignore. Of course we can become too steeped in political correctness, but stray too far from tolerant conversation and we risk a grave insult to the players, coach Carroll, the team, the city, and the fanbase.

I honestly think (and sincerely hope) there has been no purposeful racism in the statements made about Tarvaris Jackson or James Carpenter, though I am less sure about comments re: Aaron Curry, but I think it behooves each commenter who has insulted Jackson's intelligence, or each reader who thought the same, to deeply reflect upon the possibility that there may be unrecognized prejudices, whether they relate to skin color, accent, dialect or otherwise. There are three things in this world that I am pretty sure of: 1) I cannot assess the intelligence (or any other intangible characteristic such as work ethic) of another person without actually getting to know them, and even then I am still going to be mostly wrong most of the time, 2) I shouldn't judge people based on my undoubtedly flawed perception of their intelligence, and 3) barring my forgetting 1) or 2), I probably should keep my damn mouth shut about it. I am also quite aware (having made the mistake myself) that insulting another's intelligence, especially publicly, is one of the most deeply hurtful or hateful things you can do to a human being.

After all, Tarvaris is an absolutely brilliant QB, in the 99.992nd percentile at what he does (~24,000 high school QBs per year, 16 years of high school graduates are NFL QB age, and he is ranked at worst 30th). He is around 4 standard deviations above the mean, which translated on an IQ scale would be 160, equivalent to Albert Einstein versus the entire human population. Yet someone thinks it's reasonable to call him stupid because there are maybe up to 29 even more phenomenally brilliant active QBs. He's honorable and tough and classy and a wonderful representative of the team, and he might have just given us the best year and effort of his life. And yes, he IS flawed. But, no matter how flawed he is as a QB, he does not deserve anyone's hate.

You can say "he was so bad he made Whitehurst look like Jesus playing QB." You can say "that's the worst decision ever, worse even than 'The Decision.'" You can probably even say "he reads defenses worse than anyone, ever, in the history of all mankind, because I am ominvisual, have eiditic memory, and I even saw Helen Keller play football!"

But please! Please! PLEASE! I beg of you... Don't call Tarvaris or any other Seahawk "stupid," or "dumb," or question their intelligence (or, for that matter, any other any person, regardless of skin color).

Frustration and "sports hate" are cornerstones of this community and represent a common bond among all fans of sport. Bigotry, in its purest form as unyielding obstinacy without prejudice, is a common right shared by us all; but it won't win you any arguments (or many friends). But racism and hate shouldn't and won't be tolerated, and I'm grateful there are members of this community who remain vigilant for its stench, stand proud to point it out, and eager to beat it down with giant flaming hammers of vituperation when it tries creeping in the door.

--

Post Script:

There is so much more to say and write and think about these topics. But in the interest of a reasonable length, an authentic voice, a readable flow, and a timely date of posting, I left them out - I will address a few here.

I would have liked to have touched on prejudice as well, from its basic meaning as "prejudging," to the human brain as a "prejudice computer," and the constant knowledge that we all have inherent prejudices - the key is recognizing them as often as possible and reassessing our interpretation of the world. The brain works by making associations with prior experiences, and every thought and emotional reaction I have is influenced by the 1) inadequate quantity of representation (too little data) and the imperfection of representation by the perceived object (a world reknowned expert that is a nervous speaker can sound less knowledgable than the common layman), and 2) the inherent imperfections of perception, analysis, memory association, and memory accuracy by the perceiving object. Because of these imperfections on both sides of an interaction, we cannot help but "judge" someone without adequate knowledge of their truth; prejudice is inherent to the human condition.

I think it funny (I find ironic humor in my imperfections here) that I wrote this article several days ago, and still didn't catch myself as I was posting a picture of Matt Barkley in response to a comment about Yogi Roth being a "mindless, tan, fratboy". Is it possible that I could have presented myself with a better lesson on the insidiousness of my own prejudices? I think not. I have so much to learn. But this is a Seahawks website, so I thought the philosophy of neuroscience might be too much of a digression from the immediate topic at hand.

I also wanted to touch on the topic of the imperfect perception of prejudice and racism - that everyone, rightfully and expectedly, has a different threshold for perceiving something as prejudicially bigoted regarding race, religion, gender identity, gender preference or any other way to divide people into a "we" and a "they." So, I mention it here.

There are some parts where I think the "power quality" of words or sentences could be too much or too little, and I had concerns about unfairly naming or judging people who I only know by a few words here that were countered by concerns about making the point with the passion that I feel (even as I recognize my inherent imperfection on all of these issues).

I wanted to talk more about political correctness: that the theory behind it is a nice ideal, but the ideal practice of political correctness suppresses freedom of speech and thought (e.g. Animal Farm). I wanted to briefly address the value and power of being politically incorrect in challenging us to think in new ways (see J L White's recent brilliant, but scathing, satire. I cackled. I cringed. It became a part of me).

Most importantly, I wanted to touch on how much our world could be improved by each of us having more respect for others: "the bankers" for the "poor" and vice versa, "police" for "criminals" and vice versa, "majority" for "minority" and vice versa, "humans" for "the earth" and vice versa, and one random individual for another. Words can hurt. We can all take the first step down that path by being civil towards and respectful of our athletes and our fellow fieldgulls members.

Having said all this, nothing is so intolerable as intolerance.

-- DK footnote: Pqlqi approached me before posting this to make sure it was acceptable to publish at Field Gulls, which I appreciated greatly. My first thought was that it might be best to just avoid this topic altogether but dammit if it wasn't just an amazing read. It's obviously a very sensitive subject, but the way in which Pqlqi presented his arguments and point of view really provided for a thought-provoking and interesting article.

A couple of notes - right off the bat, Pqlqi's first main concern was that a fellow reader or community member would take it as a direct accusation and he assured me that was far from the truth. Rather, it was something he'd written in his head several times over the past year or so and finally decided to put it on paper, so to speak.

The premise behind this piece, as Pqlqi explained it to me over email, is that all of us must continually reassess our predisposition to prejudice. It's intended to make us all rethink the way we perceive athletes and the way we describe them - they are not objects. When saying something that might be objectionable about an athlete, or a member of the Field Gulls community, take a second to ask yourself if you would ever think it acceptable to say it directly to the athlete if you met him in a restaurant or if you would ever say it directly to a good friend or family member.

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