Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sexist Tweets, OK. Racist Tweets, Not So Much

In the space of two weeks reporters for national media have gotten themselves into hot water for tweets about sporting events. First up – Roland Martin of CNN who was disturbed by the David Beckham underwear ad broadcast during the Super Bowl. His homophobic tweet calling for a little causal violence directed toward men who like the ad was roundly criticized by GLAAD, the LGBT media watchdog organization, as well as others. He was suspended as punishment.

Now, ESPN commentator, Jason Whitlock is on the hot seat for making the following comment about the great play of the New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin: “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.” After the outrage his stupid and insensitive tweet caused, including an open letter from the Asian Journalist Association, Whitlock offered up a quasi-apology. Apparently ESPN is satisfied that Whitlock’s contrition is genuine and requires no further sanction.

Similarities between these two sports-related tweet uproars are apparent. Both Whitlock and Martin are African-American men. Both, at least initially, had no qualms about posting offensive tweets and apparently didn’t anticipate or care about any negative reactions. Whitlock, who often takes on what he sees as racism in sport, does not seem to get the contradiction of speaking out about racism when it applies to black people, but feeling totally comfortable expressing racist sentiments about Asians.

Both situations say a lot about sports culture, especially men’s professional sports culture. The association of masculinity with violence is a troubling theme. Martin recommends “smacking the ish” out of other men who enjoyed the David Beckham underwear ad. Whitlock, in addition to using an ugly stereotype for Asian men, seems to think that inflicting sexual pain on women is an appropriate way of celebrating a great athletic performance.

The reactions to Whitlock’s tweet focused almost entirely on pointing out how racist the comment was. It seemed to go right over the heads of most commentators that there was also a huge dollop of sexism in his comment also. Whitlock’s comment is offensive to Asian men and all women. Why haven’t more men who object to Whitlock’s racism also criticized his sexism? Here is one exception.

If the answer is that most commentators did not see how his comment was equally offensive to women as it was to Asian men, then we have a mighty long way to go before we can hope for any real change in the culture of men’s sports that incites, accepts and condones violence against women or lesbian and gay people.