Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dissing Black Female Athletes Is Nothing New

Don Imus' racist comments have exposed something that is a major irritant to me and many other African-Americans.

I'm tired of the racist comments and negativity that is hurled at African-American female athletes, whether the racism is blatantly out in the open or subtle. The Rutgers women's basketball team is only the latest group of peeps affected by it. And how dare some of y'all accuse Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. of 'self-promotion' by rising to the defense of these women. I would've called both their behinds out if they'd stayed silent on this issue.

Before Title IX mandated increased funding for women's athletics in 1972, the African-American community was long a proponent of allowing women to compete in athletics. The YMCA's, YWCA's, sports clubs and HBCU's ensured equal funding for boys and girls sports in our communities and in many cases to insure excellence insisted that the girls play by the tougher men's rules.

For example, you have many women's basketballers in my mom's generation and mine who played full court b-ball while shooting the regulation men's ball. Many of them also routinely played pick up games with the guys. I still remember a frustrating pick up game I played in college in which I was expertly boxed out from the rim and thrown off my game by a UH women's player who was five inches shorter than me. The late Kim Perrot used to light the elite guys up at Fonde Gym before moving on to help the Houston Comets win two of their four WNBA titles.

So when the ripple effect from Title XI began to take hold in the late 70's our community was positioned to take advantage of it.

But with that success came negativity. The L-word was (and still is) hurled at many women athletes. The WNBA was so sensitive to it in the early days that despite a fan base that is 10% GLBT peeps, they still market their athletes by heavily playing up their femininity. They are seen glammed up, you'll read articles on WNBA.com concerning which WNBA players have the rep for being fashionistas or they inform the public when players miss the season due to pregnancy.

Black women athletes face additional challenges. If they perform at high levels they are quickly accused of cheating by the white male dominated sports reporting world and the court of public opinion which is shaped by their blustering comments.
Florence Griffith-Joyner was accused of cheating after she destroyed the women's 100m record during the 1988 US Olympic Trials. That 10.49 time she clocked still hasn't been close to being threatened almost 20 years later. Those accusations followed her to the grave. Even the autopsy didn't dissuade the haters from persisting in their attempts to paint Flo-Jo with that negative brush despite the fact she never failed a drug test.

The other challenge is the racist views that sometimes color news coverage of Black female athletes. A prime example is the coverage of figure skater Debi Thomas in comparison to her German rival Katarina Witt during the runup from 1985 to the Calgary Games in 1988. Debi was described as 'athletic and powerful' while Witt was called 'graceful and artistic'. Never mind the fact that both women won figure skating world championships during that period, that's the perception. It's the same one in the figure skating world that has dogged Surya Bonaly of France as well.

Don't even get me started on the negativity that permeates the coverage of the Williams sisters. They've been branded as 'athletic' by tennis analysts and not being given as much credit for their knowledge of the game as is routinely done with others of a lighter pigmentation on the women's tour. They're hit by some media outlets and the blogsphere with every negative sobriquet from 'surly' to being called 'trannies'. In addition the Williams sisters have to deal with the racist remarks that are sometimes hurled at them at various tour stops.

Now comes Imus and his recent dissing of the Rutgers women's team. Instead of coming home to celebrate an almost-Cinderella season, the Rutgers team faced "racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable and abominable and unconscionable," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.

She also touched upon another more salient issue. "You see, because it is not about these young women...It's not about the Rutgers women's basketball team. It's about women. Are women hos? Think about that. Would you have wanted your daughter to have been called that?"

A season that should have ended with celebrating a run to the championship game that just fell short to mighty Tennessee has been blown to Hades. This championship game will not be remembered for the fact that Pat Summitt won her seventh national title, Rutgers going from worst to almost first or the coronation of Candace Parker as the best women's player in the nation, but for a shock jock calling young African-American women 'nappy-headed hos'.

That's something we should all be angry about.

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