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September 19, 2014

Summer Musings: Fit for this

The inability of professional sports networks to deal with issues such as Ray Rice's requires other voices to step in.

I watch and read about a lot of pro sports, but I hesitate to write about them in any public forum on account of how obviously hilarious it is for a person like me to have any affinity for them. Put simply, in spite of my rather silky jump shot, I’m what ethologists call a Dweebus enormous. I’m so wheezy and flat-footed that asthmatic penguins bully me. Several nationally syndicated fitness columnists have independently described my doughy yet lanky physique using the phrase, “Pillsbury Doughboy meets helpless orangutan.” My arms and legs have so little definition that they’re less acceptable on the collegiate level than your first Hum paper, and I’m so lacking in self-confidence that I hereby withdraw that joke if you didn’t like it.

So professional sports are in a sense fundamentally impenetrable to the likes of me. But the ballooning brigade of “NFL insiders” that appear on ESPN and other major networks—as well-equipped as they are to break down defensive schemes, throwing mechanics, and salary caps—has swiftly demonstrated in the wake of the violence committed by Ray Rice that it has little of importance to add in this sort of case. Perhaps it’s sincerely helpful for some to hear the Trent Dilfers and Chris Mortensens of the world offer up repeated reminders that the Baltimore Ravens will in fact be looking to rally and move past this incident in the coming weeks, primarily by “getting back out there onto the field,” where they are financially and emotionally coerced into concussing each other. But perhaps it shouldn’t be.

At this point it’s admittedly naïve to expect ESPN of all networks to demonstrate even the slightest sustained interest in holding the NFL accountable for its lie-addled failure to properly remove Ray Rice, or for anything else for that matter. And of course it is—what is ESPN, if not a 24/7 advertisement for spectator sports funded by our national beer and chicken wing expenditure? It has never critically viewed violent crime in pro sports in terms of anything other than public image questions or player personnel issues. And so it should surprise no one to hear that ESPN reporter Adam Schefter seriously referred to Janay Rice’s vicious beating as just another “black eye” for the NFL; or that ESPN (alongside a myriad of other networks) has insisted on airing and re-airing footage of Rice’s assault without her consent. There are hardly any progressive tendencies to be found amid the apparatus that brings us mainstream sports.

That’s why, as ever, it’s largely been left to scrawny nobodies like me to try and raise hell about the litany of seemingly obvious issues that emerge whenever a story like this one surfaces—questions regarding, for example, female consent and agency, victim blaming, patriarchy, the way we talk about violence, and institutional accountability. Not a single one of these jacked dudes on national television is sincerely committed to—or, to buy into this sad rhetoric for a moment, “invested in”—dismantling the systemic biases that keep our nation and its pro sports leagues so consistently disappointing. (Although this on-air essay by CBS’s James Brown is at least decent and inoffensive.)

These biases, by the way, encompass a lot of things, and they tend to surprise us unpleasantly. Maybe it’s thanks to some recent think piece or another that, now and for the next couple of months, you’ll be unsurprised and prepared to catch yourself the next time you begin to foolishly question any victim of domestic violence for “choosing” to stay with her partner. But it almost certainly wasn’t until about 10 seconds from right now that you became prepared to catch yourself the next time you refer to Peyton Manning as a “cerebral field general” and Cam Newton as a “dual-threat athlete.” Or Larry Bird as a “pure shooter” and Magic Johnson as a “flashy player” (as though one can become one of the greatest passers in basketball history while harboring a disdain for basketball fundamentals). Or Ray Rice, or any other black stranger convicted of a crime, as a “thug” (as people are so fond of doing). Or your white male classmate as “naturally smart” and your Latina classmate as “such a hard worker.”

And so on; it’s all the same. In light of all I’ve mentioned here—the occasional outbursts of indiscipline, the lack of institutional accountability, the ignorant and often insensitive standards of discourse, the unconscious misogyny and racialism (among many other exciting prejudices!), the widespread apologism for all of these things…. I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought. What was I talking about? Sports culture? American culture? Everywhere culture? Or campus culture? Maybe turkey vultures? A marble sculpture?? Ha, just kidding. Absolutely stop watching all sports.

Ajay Batra is a fourth-year in the College majoring in English.

This is the last Summer Musings! Thank you for reading and see you all fall quarter!

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