Racism, Sexual Abuse and the Evolution of Media in Sports

Luke Van PattenContributor INovember 10, 2011

A dark and sinister gray area....
A dark and sinister gray area....

If there was ever a Ground Zero for sports in America, I think we hit it at the beginning of this past week. This nation, like many others, harbors a society that has erected monuments in order to remind them of values which have shaped our past, and consequently form our identity today.  The institution of sports is no different.  It acts as a living breathing organism, simultaneously yielding both entertainment and parallels to social values that are applicable to what us Americans have come to call the real world.

If sports in America was a mirror on a maple colored armoire, than we woke up on Monday hoping to see a reflection of ourselves, only to stare into broken and fragmented shards of glass.  Our faces and bodies disfigured, as if copied from Guernica. We stared into a splintered representation of ourselves.

Kanye’s “Good Morning” fills my ears more ominously than I ever thought it could.  My cell phone alarm clock song has never caused such deep and sickening introspection.

So as I rub the sleep out of my eyes, where should I begin….

The last hopes for salvaging any kind of an NBA season drifted further and further into the abyss of labor disputes, leaving the American public deprived of one of its most concrete pastimes, solely for the reasons of financial advancement and stubbornness. Being that the players never had any data at all to back up their economic proposals for bargaining, watch as the owners pick up on the scent of blood in the water and rip the proposed 50-50 split of revenue to shreds like a cranky Great White, leaving no sight of any NBA life on the Pacific horizon. 

Major League Baseball’s season is over, the climax of which was a surprising beacon of refreshment in the midst of the NBA lockout, but now, sadly, that’s gone and the distractions are becoming fewer and far between.

Oh, and what else…oh yeah! A legendary personality and coach within Penn State’s storied football program is an alleged child molester and is being taken to task for the separate abuses of more than nine children, some alleged incidents apparently taking place WITHIN the sacred halls of PSU football facilities!  What a great morning to be a sports fan in America.

So I turn off Kanye and attempt waking up to the familiar chimes and banter of SportsCenter, only to be bombarded with the following: Highlights from the two deformed stepchildren that live together under the stairs in a linen closet of the American sports household…drumroll please…the NHL and MLS. Hooray for goals; further coverage that the pompous parties on both sides of the NBA lockout have moved yet farther apart. No baseball coverage, which, in a pathetic way, would actually be enjoyable; and breaking news that one of the most famous, respected and tenured programs in the history of college football has played an integral part in covering up the alleged sexual abuse of several children by its former defensive coordinator. 

What is going on here? Where am I? Who are we?

And that is the primary question at hand: Who are we? What is wrong with our mirror? Why, overnight, has it become so hard to see the reflection of ourselves we had become so accustomed to waking up to? Is our mirror broken forever, or is it simply just changing?

This sudden fragmenting of our sports perception is something not at all specific to just America, or sports in general.

Suarez is at the center of his own racism debacle
Suarez is at the center of his own racism debacleClive Brunskill/Getty Images

Hop across the Atlantic Pond to visit our friends in Great Britain; The soccer playing, toffee eating, pint slashing barbarians of the north. Here, the acronyms are all backwards. The premier sports leagues in which all media drama and scrutiny arises are as follows: the EPL, the EPL and the EPL. Combine the media orgy of every domestic American sport into one, and you’ve gotten one-fourth of the situation in England’s Barclay’s Premiership.

And at the moment, the league has no shortage of its own controversies. 

In the fledgling life of the season, there have already been two reports of racial abuse in a “player on player” context, each respective abuse having elicited a report or investigation by the FA (Footballing Association). The latter of these two incidents, shockingly involving London’s in residence philistine, John Terry, has ascended to such a level of uproar within the media world because of the camera footage of Terry addressing the accuser on the pitch.

You don’t need to be a lip reader for the CIA to see what JT is insinuating towards Ferdinand Minor. Go YouTube it if you haven’t had the chance to yet…

And of course, there is a fence with two sides. In one yard, there are those who feel it is absolute rubbish to even read into and follow up on delegating punishment for such offenses in the “heat of the battle” if you will, of a sporting event, and the Mr. Feenys on the other side are horrified that a professional athlete would act out in such a way and feel as though there is no other alternative to punishment for the sake of preserving societal standards.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 10: On College Avenue, a passerby walks by a crying Penn State Nittany Lion window painting, November 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno was fired during the Penn State Board of Trustees Press Conference yesterda
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Although seemingly appearing as non sequiturs to one another, the Penn State cover-up scandal and the alleged practice of racial abuse by John Terry are linked by a similar thread: the role media played in expediting the respective “overnight” transformations of each entity, in a context of positive to negative, good to bad, brute to bigot, coach to criminal. 

The two incidents beg the same statement: No athlete, coach, institution, franchise or club can continue its ongoing operations in today’s society if there are or have been any traces, big or small, of illegitimacy, illegal activity, misconduct, abuse or misguidance in each respective entity.

Media has grown too fast and too strong.  In its growth, it has perfected relentlessness, perfected its efficiency. Initial reports are gasoline leaks which lead to infernos. Reference Tiger Woods’ recent life developments. Sandusky and Terry’s plights were both initiated by accusations, which were later affirmed by media details. Emails were searched, cameras were checked, audio was re-ran, cell phones were infiltrated, lips were read and lives were ruined. 

With no cameras, would an event even have been made out of the accusations by Anton Ferdinand on JT?  With no phones, how can we prove that Gerald Sandusky made 57 calls from his cell phone to Victim 1’s home phone between 2008-2009, as explained so accurately in the Grand Jury Report?

Our advancements in technology have created an environment for professional athletes, and all professionals in general, where every action is seen.  Every conversation is recorded.  No event, good or bad, goes by undocumented. Financial and moral transparency is the most crucial business asset any sporting enterprise could possess in this climate. 

Big Brother...
Big Brother...

The fragmented and broken reality of my mirror is in a sick way truthful. It is in a sad way accurate.  The images of sporting icons and institutions in which we rally around, to provide structure to our boring lives, in the hope to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful than our routine, are unfortunately splintered in their nature and DNA. 

Nothing from this point forward, and consequently anything in the past, has been or will ever be black and white again.  Gray areas, very very very dark gray areas are what seemingly more and more of professional sports entities are made of. 

And gray is the appropriate color. Because no one can take away from the positives that Joe Paterno brought and fostered into that football program and town in State College. But as we learned in elementary school art class, when you mix white with black, it makes gray.  Paterno’s negligence to the grad assistant's confiding in him that he had seen a former member of the coaching staff sodomizing a child is the empty pitch black to the fulfilling bright white of the Nittany Lion’s on-field success.

In this sense, the advancements of technology in media appear beneficial. Acting as a vacuum to suck out every single spec of what our society deems “foul play” from the infrastructure and appearance of every sporting franchise and athlete.

I never knew that some 1984 stuff could be so beneficial to the masses. I never thought that I would be such a sudden and staunch advocate of increasing and bolstering this surveillance. The real reason why this is such a meaningful development is because it will weed out the people and places who will try to hide the ugliness of their humanity behind the purity of sports.

And in all honesty, no one is asking them to be anything other than human. Embrace the gray area, leave it out in the open for the benefit of being forthcoming and completely truthful ALWAYS outweighs the cost of trying to hide human errors.

For now, this Orson Welles stuff is helping sports clean up its act.  I am supporting the continuous expansion of media as a means to document sports and sporting entities more accurately and more entertainingly.  Perhaps these opinions of mine will change when the cameras are watching me as I mindlessly act out. It is Scary how fast things can change. 

Until then, keep up the good work, Big Brother, keep up the damn good work.