Monday, February 27

Arriving late to the Jeremy Lin table

Yes, I'm well aware that I'm the last person in America left who hasn't written anything about Jeremy Lin. But I think this will be interesting.

So...Jeremy Lin. Those of you not living under a rock are probably well aware of his story and how his exploits on the court have captivated the sports world over the past month or so. A quick recap: California HS prep hoops star goes unrecruited by DI schools, stars at basketball hotbed Harvard, is overlooked during the draft, gets signed by the Golden State Warriors to sit on the bench for a season, later picked up by the Knicks, inserted into the lineup with the New Yorkers shorthanded via injury, starts absolutely lighting up the league, leading a remarkable turnaround for the moribund Knicks. His rise from obscurity and amazing play have rightfully made Lin a major story, and one that most have been quick to embrace. Lin is also Taiwanese-American, and not surprisingly, that has generated as much discussion as his play. I'd like to talk about a little of that discussion, though I want to reiterate throughout that it's Lin's inspired play that makes this whole thing interesting in the first place.

By now, everyone has a take on Lin's ethnicity and how that has impacted public perception of the Knick guard - perhaps none that I perused was as insightful as Rembert Browne's Grantland take on the topic. I recommend that piece if this story interests you.

In the article, Browne tackles two tweets (the same two I wanted to address) from two men who are both high-profile, not particularly tactful, and African-American. This is relevant because, as SNL's hilarious cold open from a week ago pointed out, there's a significant double standard in sports regarding what level of casual racism is permitted when the subject is Asian-American versus when he is African-American. For the record, and let's be clear: "Linsanity" isn't racist. It's just a pun. There have been a lot of puns, signs, and comments that have crossed the line, but not everything needs to be viewed through the lens of race.

The first tweet was from former ESPN'er Jason Whitlock, and frankly I don't feel like reproducing it because of how stupid it was. Whitlock later apologized for letting his "my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature" get the better of him, but trust me, it wasn't "comedic" at all. The irony of Whitlock's situation is that he's a talentless hack who has made his name mostly by writing about race in sports - his tweet was the exact same kind of thing that would cause Whitlock himself to absolutely fly off the handle if someone else wrote it. Fortunately for us, Whitlock isn't anyone worth worrying about.

Neither is Floyd Mayweather, who I assume is a really good boxer because I actively avoid boxing and have still heard of him. Perhaps after a few too many blows to the head, he sent this masterpiece out into the twittersphere (is that what we're calling it?)

Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise.

There's a lot of stupidness to unpack in less than 140 characters there. Let's start with the first sentence. I'm obviously not going to deny that Lin's heritage isn't an interesting aspect of the story. That was a terrible sentence by me, too many negatives. Let's try again. Lin's heritage is an interesting aspect of the story. It adds an angle that resonates with people and makes it more interesting than if he were of an ethnic group more well-represented in the NBA.

But to suggest that "all the hype is because he's Asian" is complete folly. Lin's story would be compelling no matter his descent. People LOVE a feel-good story, and the tale of this undrafted kid coming out of Harvard, ending up on the end of the Knicks' bench and eventually saving their season would dominate the sports pages under any circumstances. Don't forget too that New York is the basketball Mecca of the world. So yes, Lin being Taiwanese-American does add a dimension to the story, but it's plenty damned remarkable without that.

The second sentence is laughably stupid and can be deflated on two fronts. First off: which black players are doing what Lin does every night? In his first five games, Lin scored more points than ANY PLAYER IN LEAGUE HISTORY had in their first five games. This alone makes Mayweather's remark factually inaccurate. Lin is also the first Harvard grad to play in the NBA in over 50 years - neither black nor white nor any player is thus "doing that every night." Can't we just be impressed by what he's achieved?

Secondly: is this really the battle Floyd the Fighter wants to fight - that African-Americans are not being properly recognized for their basketball-playing talents? I'm pretty sure I've read a lot of really positive stuff about black dudes being pretty good at basketball. Browne handles this subject deftly in his piece, offering some perspective on what might motivate Mayweather without backing Floyd's inanity.

As athletes who say dumb things are wont to do, Mayweather naturally doubled down on his comments after they were criticized, following up with:

I'm speaking my mind on behalf of other NBA players. They are programmed to be politically correct and will be penalized if they speak up.

Lame, lame lame. This is your doing, Floyd - stop trying to throw Lin's colleagues under the bus for your brain-damaged musings and accept some responsibility for yourself.

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