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Can Skin Color Be An “Image Problem?” The NFL vs. the NBA

Yesterday on ESPN.com there was a poll asking, “which sports league is has the most damaged image?”  The poll results of over 60,000 respondents were as follows:

  • NHL (hockey) – 2%
  • MLB (baseball) – 6%
  • NBA (basketball) – 33%
  • NFL (football) – 60%

Now I agree that football must be number one, but the 33% that selected the NBA make me curious, especially when compared to the 6% that thought baseball had the worst image.  Baseball is of course the sport that has been/is rife with drug abuse and performance enhancement that prompted congressional hearings.  But perhaps people just don’t care that much anymore, but having your entire league called dirty would seem to be pretty damaging.  And it cannot hurt when 90% of your league is Latino and White (a/k/a not black).

Hockey can be dismissed as statistically insignificant since the only people who picked it had to have been hocky-only fans or people just goofing around.

That leaves the NFL and the NBA accounting for 93% of the image problems.  The NBA has had its image problems, but only two incidents stick out in the last decade – the Kobe Bryant rape allegations and the melee in Detroit a few years ago.  Both bad, but the Bryant allegations stemmed from a willing sexual partner, who went to his room and then alleged unwanted forms of sex.  If true, then Bryant is still a rapist, but there is a boatload of reasonable doubt there.  As for the melee in Detroit, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson are batsh*t crazy, but they were assaulted first (via soda cup).  And who can forget Jermain O’Neal’s sliding punch during that melee – it would have made Jackie Chan proud!

But that is really all that has made headlines for the NBA recently.  Sure 10 years ago there was the “Who’s My Daddy?” story in the NBA about paternity issues and that still is a major issue, but is it more prevalent than the NFL?  Other stories from the NBA recently have been aboutgreat superstars playing great basketball.  Allen Iverson struggling with alcohol addiction would probably seem sadder if did not look like people’s image of a gangbanger. 

Now I am writing this not about the 40,000 people that answered that football was having the biggest image problem, but the 20,000 random ESPN.com visitors who picked the NBA.  How can you pick the NBA as having a worse image than the NFL (and with the recency effect I would expect these numbers are actually higher, given that the NFL has the more recent scandals, than they would be if the timing were equal)?  Here’s some “evidence”:

Who’s My Daddy

The reigning king of paternity is Travis Henry with 9 kids by 9 women by the age of 28. The New York Jets new cornerback  Antonio Cromartie had to get an advance on his salary to handle several alimony payments.  Even if the leagues have identical problems, the NFL’s have made the more recent headlines.  And while we are here, Tom Brady seemed to avoid any scrutiny for knocking up his girlfriend and then leaving her for a model.  I guess it’s cool if you are Tom Brady. Perhaps because Tom Brady is a ladies’ man.  If he were Donovan McNabb he might be “shirking his responsibilities.” Or maybe not, but that is just one case. Let’s continue looking at the total body of information.

No real image problem here. Why?

Rape & Pillage

Ben Roethlisberger has turned out to be a possible serial rapist.  Even if he and Kobe did nothing wrong – what is more lacking in character from comparable stars – consensual sex in your room that goes too far, or banging drunk girls in bars while your bodyguards prevent the girl’s friends from entering?  You’re right – being black. (I am not defending Kobe, obviously).

If you'd been arrested in Georgia then we'd have a really interesting debate.

Murder Was The Case That They Gave The NFL

Murderers – Ray Lewis, Rae Carruth, Donte Stallworth (this season) – one alleged, two convicted – all NFL.  And on a related, but lesser note – Dog killing – Michael Vick, the ASPCA’s Hitler.  I don’t think it is the same level as the things above, but let’s not pretend that it did not tarnish his image and the NFL’s a little.

Male Enhancement

Performance enhancing drugs – I only know that Rashard Lewis was suspended for an over the counter (allegedly) substance.  There have been a lot more Shawne Merrimans and Bill Romanowskis in the NFL.

Two Tickets To The Gun Show

Pac Man Jones – punches strippers in the face – his entourage paralyzes a bouncer at a club with a stray bullet – he is the poster boy for bad character in sports.  Marvin Harrison – gun incident.  The worst the NBA has had – Gilbert Arenas – who turned out to be the worst practical joker (or the best if you think like me).

My favorite picture, perhaps of all time. A jerk? Yes. A criminal? Yep. As bad as Pac Man Jones or Marvin Harrison? Not even close.

So the NFL has the NBA trumped on felonies, paternity superstars, animal abuse and performance enhancement drugs, so the question is, what does the NBA have that the NFL doesn’t:

A higher percentage of black men. And those black men have lots of visible tattoos.  In the NFL the only black divas are the wide receivers, but in the NBA they are all divas, except for the occasional smart, hard working, scrappy white guys.

Give me a break.

Isn’t it clear that the 33% are either stupid or prejudiced?  This is the response I got on Facebook to that question:

So wait, nothing even resembling a majority number in a bullsh*t espn.com poll is supposed to make a statement about what people think about black people?
Travis Henry? Sheee-it Shawn Kemp invented that shit.
As far as I know, Ben Roethlisberger’s accusers aren’t fairing too well…and lastly, I actually happen to agree that football players in …
See MoreAmerica in a lot of cases are frakking animals (whte or black) and most hoopsters aren’t…buuuut football is a sport that has a much stronger team identity of hardworking guys who get paid SUBSTANTIALLY less than their NBA primadonna counterparts. This stix in the craw of the white people who might-MIGHT be responsible for this socalled 33%
 
Now I agree that the poll has no scientific merit, but I have no reason to believe that it is not an accurate snapshot of the average sports fan in America.  But the person who commentedhas always commented whenever  have made disparaging anti-Republican/Joe Lieberman comments so I am guessing his political leanings are to the right, even if not far right.  And this is instructive – look at the immediatetly defensive tone as if I was calling him out.  Some quick counters:
  • So if racism is not in a majority it is not worth calling out?
  • All People? – no just the 20,000+ average sports fans who see the NBA as a bigger image fu*k up than the NFL
  • “Hardworking team identity” – sounds like Hilary Clinton appealing to the Western PA voters in the 2008 primary
Now I am not casting any aspersions on the commenter, but I do feel the language of the debate is telling (after all he eventually agrees with part of my point that the NFL is worse than the NBA). And I understand not wanting race to be infused where it does not belong because it is such an inflammatory topic, but sometimes it has to be. For every Tawana Brawley there’s a Rodney King; for every Duke Lacrosse Team, there’s the four cops who shot Amadou Diallo.  Just because racism is damaging and touchy does not mean that it can’t be easy to see sometimes.
 
I honestly believe there is no way to say that the NBA has a bigger image problem than the NFL without being prejudiced or stupid.  Image is made by headlines and superstars.  The NBA has almost all black superstars.  The NFL has several white superstars and they are basically the front men for the band that is the NFL (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre).  Now the negative headlines are overwhelmingly with the NFL, but the well known white faces are overwhelmingly with the NFL as well (sorry Dirk Nowtizki and Steve Nash).  And apparently for 33% of sports fans (I’m willing to make that extrapolation, even though the poll does not probably reach more low income, non-computer having sports fans) the faces trump the crimes.
And if you asked me, is 33% of America at least a little racist, I’d probably answer yes, so the poll only shocked me because I thought sports fans would see beyond that in greater numbers.  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – after all I sat next to a white  guy at a Steeler game last year who called an opposing team’s player a Nig*ger, all while wearing the jersey of a nig*er named Santonio Holmes.  I’d hate to see that guy at a basketball game, but I’m pretty sure how he would answer that ESPN poll. 

3 Responses to Can Skin Color Be An “Image Problem?” The NFL vs. the NBA

  • Quick remark is that I think you have to consider how much more popular the NFL is than the NBA right now. That’s got to be factor in favor of less NFL image negativity. I’m pretty sure tv ratings will support this. I’m sure you can make an argument that racism is a factor in that but in general I think there are more NFL fans reading espn.com, than NBA fans. So I don’t think the two start off on equal footing. Also, number may play a role- there are 5 times more NFL players than NBA players, thus more potential idiots.

    • I understand, but to the first point – just because you enjoy something does not mean that you aren’t hearing about all the negative issues surrounding what you like. 60% still said the NFL had the worse image problem, so even if more popular, what was the deciding factor (conscious or subconscious) of the 33% that still though the NBA was worse? I believe it is the innate averse reaction to “arrogant, bling-bling” black guys being “worse” than a slightly less black, but more mired in actual crime NFL.

      And although the NFL certainly has more players, stars make the image of a league, not overall statistics. If a 3rd string long snapper was in the position of Ben Reothlisberger there would not be the same damage done. Same with if Adam Morrison had tried to butt hump a girl in Denver it would be a story, but not nearly what the Kobe story was. And if I am right and it is the stars that make the news (basically the same number of star players in each of the sports because about the same number of teams and only a few high profile people on each team) then the NFL still clearly has the worse image.

  • I’m not saying people that enjoy the NFL aren’t hearing negative things, but it’s just a natural bias when thinking about something. If you don’t enjoy the NBA, or enjoy it much less than the NFL, negative NBA stories will be easier to register in the sense that you say, “yeah, another reason to be less interested in the NBA” and it just stays in your subconscious longer whereas your enjoyment of the NFL allows you to look past some image issues. I understand that if you were to honestly answer the question you posed that you would make the distinction between enjoying something and processing information about image and character, but I believe people are inherently stupid and don’t take much to think about much of anything other than things in their selfish world. Thus, a quick snap reaction to a huge NFL fan could be that the NBA is worse- it could be motivated by race, but I just think the popularity of the NFL, in general, will cause people to answer questions like this more favorably with regard to the NFL. From today’s news:
    By Mason Levinson
    April 23 (Bloomberg) — The National Football League draft’s move to prime time led to a 26 percent increase in preliminary television ratings for ESPN, beating the National Basketball Association playoffs.
    The opening round of the draft, in its first showing at night after being held on Saturday afternoons, was seen on the Walt Disney Co. network in 5.4 percent of households in the top
    56 U.S. television markets, ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer said in an e-mail. That’s a 26 percent increase over the 4.3 rating for an almost equal-length first round a year ago.
    The draft, which started last night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, also was shown on the NFL Network, as it was last year.
    There were two NBA first-round playoff games on Time Warner Inc.’s TNT last night. The Chicago Bulls’ 108-106 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in an early game drew a 2.1 preliminary rating, and in later action the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 101-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers drew a 3.0, Turner spokesman Jeff Pomeroy said in an e-mail.

    That’s pretty telling. As a huge NFL fan I find the draft very boring and watched the NBA games last night, but it still speaks to the general popularity gap right now. Note that there were only 3 white guys chosen in the draft last night, and I think one Samoan guy.

    Despite my belief that NFL popularity influences that poll you referenced I would generally agree with you that the NBA’s image is negatively affected by racism. I just think that racism might be one of a few factors and not necessarily the only one.

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