Even people who love sports also love to complain about how spoiled and bratty many professional atheletes are. We complain that they're selfish, egomaniacal, that they're only interested in money, and sometimes that they're just generally piece-of-shit human beings. And, often, they are.
At times, this complaining carries racial undertones, even if those undertones are only presumed or unintentional. For example, it's hard to complain about the U.S. Men's Basketball team's lack of work ethic without wandering into an area where it can be perceived that you're actually complaining about African-Americans' work ethic. And, of course, sometimes this criticism will be born of genuine racism. Legitimate criticism of individuals and bigoted criticism of an individual because of his race are often difficult to separate.
The racism issue here stems from two parallel facts: 1) We frequently witness atheletes exhibiting selfishness, greed, and criminal behavior, and it certainly seems that they exhibit these traits more than the general population, and 2) Atheletes are disproportionately African-American. When people witness these two things at the same time, they sometimes assume that one caused the other.
That erroneous leap of logic is the problem; in fact, correlation does not prove causation. This is, I believe, the source of most modern racism: we witness a behavior correlating with a race, and we assume that the race caused the behavior (I'll leave the fallacy of "races" for another blog). In this case, we see that atheletes are greedy, spoiled and egoistic, we see that most of them are black, and some of us assume that they are greedy, spoiled and egoistic because they are black. Wrong.
Supporting my case is this article: Rooney and Grey in Restaraunt Scuffle. It's about two English soccer players getting in a fight in a restaraunt. This isn't an isolated incident; this is pretty typical of the type of thing that English soccer players (especially Wayne Rooney) do all the time. Since I've been following the English Premiere League, I've learned that the traits we see in the big American sports leagues - selfishness, whining, money-grubbing, and general thuggishness - are present in the EPL as well. And this is a league in which the majority of the players are white.
So, in this instance, we see a behavior that correlates with race, but it also seems clear that race isn't the cause. What is the cause? No one knows for sure, but I feel pretty confident in guessing that atheletes (like everyone else) are shaped by the world around them. Specifically, my thesis is this: People surrounded by fame, money, and adulation at an early age stand an excellent chance of becoming complete assholes.
Of course, the point I'm trying to make isn't about what turns atheletes into assholes, it's about what causes racism and why it's a bad way of viewing the world. I'm trying to make this more than an anti-racism blog (it doesn't take much to come out and say "hey, racism is bad"); I'm trying to point out that racism is sometimes (usually, I would argue) the outcome of making casual, often subconscious, links between observed phenomena. Drawing these connections is a natural (though flawed) process, and it happens to all of us.
I think that this is an important distinction. Often, the argument against stereotyping is that the stereotype isn't true. Sometimes that's correct, but sometimes it's not. African-American men do, for example, commit more violent crimes per capita than white American men. That's hard to hear, and it's a fact that most of us don't like, but it's simply a fact; there's no getting around it. To try to deny that that fact exists would be ridiculous, but it's often where people go when arguing against the "black men are criminals" stereotype. The correct argument against the "black men are criminals" stereotype is this: Though it is true that African-American men commit more violent crimes per capita than white American men, they don't commit those crimes because they are African-American. The cause of the action lies somewhere else. Specifically, a person is more likely to commit a violent crime if they are from a broken home, if they are poor, or if they live in an area with a high crime rate, and African-Americans are more likely to live in those circumstances than white Americans (this is also a verifiable fact). And African-Americans are more likely to live in those circumstances because of this counrty's history of slavery and discrimination, especially discrimination in education and housing (that's not a fact, but it's a point that I doubt most people would argue).
I think that this understanding helps us get away from the idea of race as an explanatory variable; I personally believe that race can never be an explanatory variable. It also helps us understand where racism comes from and how we can best go about getting rid of it. I often feel that many of the anti-racism sentiments you encounter are well-meaning, but also simplistic and incorrect. In this instance, it does matter what logic you use to reach the correct conclusion.
On another topic: I am the worst comedian-blogger ever. Roughly 80 percent of my blogs are not funny at all, and at least 50 percent (including this one) are dense and sober. I am essentially trying to publish lightweight academic papers on MySpace. I'm sorry.