Hating Isiah, A Media Adventure

(Hating Isiah is about more than skin-color for the mass media, but how much more?)

It’s hard to say it’s not about race.  It has become very difficult to say that it is about race too.  In this imagined post-racial society where everyone is afraid to have a frank discussion about racial attitudes, whether they are as blatant as the steam from a hot cup of tea on a cold day or subtle, hidden barely beneath the icy surface of the complexities of American life, there is no longer a dialogue as much as there are shouting matches and take downs.  But that is how our media has categorized the issue of race, in segments or rounds like a fake wrestling match.

So as the media writes about Isiah Thomas receiving another chance; as the individual pundits and critics shovel one hateful article after another towards a man for getting a second job as though he committed murder; as the mass media in its glaringly overwhelming whiteness emerges as a subjective lynch mob in an effort to kill off a man’s livelihood; and as the major sports media outlets have seemed to find yet another man of color to plaster across America’s plasma screens and computer terminals, it is impossible not to believe that there is some type of racial tax being paid by Isiah Thomas, not just because he is black, but because he dared to defy mainstream convention while being black and he continues to pay the price.  It is hard not to believe that he continues to be penalized in the media worse than a man who killed 3000 people in an horrific New York murder that reverberates across the nation on this very day.  Ever since he said he agreed with a teammate that Larry Bird was receiving more praise than others because he was white, he has been paying the black tax — ever since.

Today, over-the-top hatred is palatable because it is excused by the actions of its target.  Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds get hate because they dared to be connected to steroids in an era where everyone knew and benefited from their actions — Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark McGuire received no where near the media vitriol of the colored boys in this saga. On his way to irrelevancy, Terrell Owens dominated ESPN headlines the way Iran did when Nightline became must-see TV — Brett Favre, as disruptive as he has been the last few years receives the old white-man glove treatment — he’s just a good ole boy trying to make up his mind.

It would be wrong to conclude that it is all about race or all about skin color.  It is not and that is what makes the discussion so difficult.  Tiger Woods initially received the kind of hate reserved for politicians, since the days of Bill Clinton (formerly the first Black president according to the NAACP), for having too much extra-marital sex while selling wholesomeness.  The media-hate died down after the mother of all apologies, but let’s be real, it died down because Tiger is worth more alive as a top athlete than as a dead has-been.  Tiger is worth more to the ESPN’s and Golf Channel’s of the world as a golfer than an adulterer — his primary color is green, not black.  Similarly, ESPN’s media policy will be careful not to kill the brand of it’s NBA partner by generalizing the hate of LeBron James.  In the media, LeBron hate is only valuable for a brief period since the 25-year old is in the prime of his revenue producing life.  So it is not all about race, especially when money is involved.

In Isiah Thomas’ case, the hate is supposedly based on his incompetence (not racial hatred) which is somehow greater than the incompetence of legions of sports owners and executives that have produced less.  When there are many reasons for the hatred, it is difficult to suggest that race plays a part, but the issue isn’t simply that the hatred is caused by racial attitudes.  Certainly, his failures should have Knicks fans angry, but the intensity and extent of the hatred differs from that imposed on any failed white-skinned executive in New York or otherwise.

The hatred is out of proportion with reality, but oddly in proportion with the ratio of white-skinned sports writers to writers of color which raises another very difficult issue — whether racial attitudes are based solely on skin-color.  Few writers, of any skin color, dare to publicly admit that racial attitudes are not genetic but cultural, not based on skin-color but based on how one is raised and what one is exposed to.  White writers are not inherently racist and Black writers are not inherently race conscious.  Far, far, far from it.

Writers, like any other members of a community however can easily be absorbed, for legitimate reasons,  into a group mentality with an illegitimate basis.  By way of example at least one study showed woman police officers could be tougher and less approachable than their male counterparts in part because they are attempting to fit into the male-dominated police community.  In the media, although writers are becoming more diverse in their opinions, the mainstream writers, including colored ones, still move in packs on certain issues — hating Isiah is one of them.  Writers of color want to be accepted in mainstream media too and not considered to be judging someone based on race — many of these writers will go to great lengths to prove they belong in the mainstream or that they can make a name for themselves by beating on Black athletes harder than they would on  white-skinned ones.

So, it is no wonder that as one reviews the vast majority of recent articles on Isiah Thomas getting a second gig that most of those articles are hateful and disrespectful in a way never suffered by any other executive or sports team consultant.  Notably, one of the authors most sympathetic to the complexity of Isiah’s predicament is a black-skinned man — William Rhoden.  Equally notable is that most of the hate comes from the mainstream press which does not benefit, as it does from LeBron and Tiger, from Isiah’s success.  While the mainstream press remains notably white-skinned — the color of a writer’s skin does not tell the whole story — but the color of their attitudes comes pretty close to explaining the intensity in hating Isiah.

Below are some of the stories published on the internet since Isiah accepted his job offer with the Knicks.   Each story is identified by the level of hatred or love directed at Isiah.  Those stories which simply reported the facts were labelled as neutral.  The positive or slightly positive pieces were labelled “love” and those which took a totally negative view of Isiah were identified for what they are –  “hate.”

There is a lot of “hate.”  Do you know why you “hate” Isiah so much?

Isiah Thomas Re-signed By Knicks

Thomas Returns To Knicks (Jonathan Abrams and Lynn Zinser, New York Times) (Neutral)

Isiah Thomas To Join Knicks (Andy Katz, ESPN.com) (Neutral>Hate (Video))

No Need For Panic Knicks Fans (Howard Beck, New York Times) (Neutral)

Second Chance for Isiah Thomas and Knicks Fans (William Rhoden, New York Times) (Love)

The Horror of Hiring Isiah

A Bad Movie Is Getting A Sequel (Harvey Araton, New York Times) (Hate)

Time For Walsh To Ditch Dolan And Thomas (Frank Isola, New York Post) (Hate)

Isiah’s Return Is So Funny It Hurts (Wall Street Journal) (Hate)

Dolan and Isiah Deserve Each Other (Mike Lupica, New York Post)  (Hate)

Stern Should Knix Deal Between Dolan and Isiah (Ian O’Connor, ESPN) (Hate)

Confounding Hire Adds To Garden’s Image Problem (Richard Sandomir, New York Times) (Hate)

Dolan Risk’s Pissing Off Garden Advertisers (Bob Raismann, New York Daily News) (Hate)

What Anucha Browne Thinks Matters (Mike Lupica, New York Daily News) (Hate)

Krzyzewski Frowns On Thomas Hiring (Harvey Araton, New York Times) (Unbalanced>Neutral>Hate)

Isiah’s Past In Present Tense

Isiah Thomas, A Racial Memory (Joe LaPointe, Huffington Post) (Hate>Neutral>Love)

When Isiah Does It, It Breaks Rules

Thomas’ Knicks Job Raises Questions (Katie Thomas, New York Times) (Neutral)

Two Unnamed Owners Rip Thomas Deal (Marc Berman, New York Post) (Hate)

NBA May Void Isiah’s Deal (Marc Berman, New York Post) (Neutral>Balanced)

Zeke, His Mentees and Friends

Zeke As A Great Mentor According To FIU Star (Marc Raimondi, New York Post) (Love)

Appreciating Isiah Thomas As Mentor (William Rhoden, New York Times) (Love)

Marbury Wishes Knicks Good Luck With Thomas In Fold (Marc Berman, New York Post) (Hate)

David Lee Loyal But Not Sure About Isiah’s GM Skills (Stefan Bondy, Daily News) (Neutral>Balanced)

Brendan Suhr Says Dolan Right To Hire Isiah (Marc Berman) (Love)

Dolan Stands By Zeke After NBA Ruling (Marc Berman, New York Post) (Neutral>Balanced)

Dim Wit Dolan Will Rehire Thomas (Mike Vaccaro, New York Post) (Hate)