Last week, I responded to complaints from some listeners on two Morning Edition commentaries by Frank Deford. One of the commentaries expressed outrage at the violent hazing that takes part as an initiation ritual in some of the marching bands at historically black college and universities. The other was a humorous piece making fun of the end zone antics by professional football players after touchdowns. Deford said the antics violate the "manly" game.
Deford may get some vindication by a huge layout in the New York Times Saturday on the latest celebratory moves, which the paper christened the "run and bump." One of the two articles was actually written by one of the paper's dance critics, Gia Kourlas.
My post focused on whether Deford should have given some racial context to his criticism, as he is white and the antics were historically associated with black players, who make up the overwhelming majority of professional players. Some African-American listeners didn't take kindly to the implication of their being called unmanly. I agreed in part, but noted that much depends on whether you think that the antics are still associated with race.
The Times stories don't mention race, but the many photos show black and white players jumping and bumping butts equally. This might suggest that Deford was in the clear not mentioning race in his commentary. As I wrote, "The antics, in other words, have a black origin, but maybe, just maybe, they aren't black anymore. They are just football."
I've enjoyed following the discussion in the comments section on the original post - you're welcome to use the Times piece and listener comments I've pulled below to keep the discussion going here.
NPR STAFF: Host, Tell Me More
Michel Martin (Michel_Host_TMM) wrote:
Edward this is Michel Martin. I want to thank you for taking my concern seriously and for such a thoughtful review. I do have to say I regret the unnecessarily harsh way I expressed myself initially— I listen to Mr. Deford and I respect his reporting— I just thought both columns especially taken together, reflected serious blindspots. But the other point I made to you was lost altogether and that has to do with the lack of an on air forum to respond—even though I also have an on air column! listeners to my show have a weekly space..i think that should be standard . as to those who don't like MY commentaries..well..that is why I have an on line AND on air space for their responses.
WUCX-FM group owner (WUCX_FM) wrote:
Dear NPR: Personally, I have no use for Frank Deford or his commentaries. It's segment of the NPR News magazines that I have long disliked. I listen to NPR for the news & a fresh presentation of the facts. I care little for anyone's commentary. I can draw my own conclusions from a proper presentation of the facts. I for one would not miss Frank Defords' weekly commentaries. As a matter of fact I routinely turn them off now. Howard Sharper, Program Manager WUCX-FM 90.1
Craig Summerhill (Summerhi) wrote:
Call me a "crusty old white guy" if it makes you feel better, but I agree with Frank Deford 100%. I would go even further, especially with regards to the post-touchdown / post-sack displays. If it is a cultural thing, it is an American cultural thing. And it is entirely about a lack of civility. (The same social flaw is glaringly apparent in our political system currently.) The more over-the-top the display, the more outlandish, the better as far as many American athletes and many American sports fans are concerned. It is Hollywood FX in real life. In my lifetime, we've gone from disdaining such displays, to passively accepting them, to a point now where the fans EXPECT jeering, taunting, and poor sportsman-like behavior. Such outbursts are entirely self-centered displays, there is nothing sportsman-like or ethnically cultural about it. Maybe James Harrison would have helped the Steelers achieve victory over the 49ers on a recent Monday Night Football game if he weren't on the bench for his SIXTH dangerous hit rules infraction? He didn't think about his TEAM — it was all about his personal self-aggrandizement. Ndamukong Suh, more of the same. Saying this is part of any culture other than the American one is a cop out.
Charles Ryder (ctd) wrote:
Deford has nothing to for which to apologize and should not be expected to change his writing because of some people might find offense. The mere fact that he is a columnist or journalist does mean he should be responsible for predicting the sensibilities of all possible listeners. I, for one, had never heard that people associate "showboating" with black players.
Chandra Montgomery (MissEm) wrote:
Honestly, I heard the commentary about football celebrations and was slightly offended. I also found Mr. Deford to be just plain incorrect. Has he never seen an exciting goal made in professional soccer? Particularly in any of the European leagues?? In the 73rd or 89th minute? Or stoppage time...?? His assertion that theatrics in the end zone or otherwise (and yes, I did perceive that there was subtext/dog whistle - whatever you want to call it - whether intentional or not) was quizzingly overblown [in my humble opinion]. Honestly, sports by nature is celebratory. I didn't identify with his critique at all. I didn't hear his assessment of the FAMU incident, but I can imagine how he may have been interpreted or misinterpreted. Extreme hazing - whether it be band, the military, or Greek letter organizations is unacceptable. Risking life and limb to "belong" is absurd. What happened in Florida should be examined within that context, but regardless - we should all be horrified and grieved at the senseless loss of life; race shouldn't enter the conversation.