The news: Sometimes what the Internet needs most is a little more racism.
At least that’s what Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Minn.) might have been thinking when he tweeted this inane drivel on Sunday:
Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime— Rep. Pat Garofalo (@PatGarofalo) March 9, 2014
The tweet doesn’t appear to have been prompted by a particular incident. But it certainly embodies the level of thoughtful maturity you’d expect from a guy who sent this gem during a debate with MN Progressive Project founder Eric Pusey:
The online backlash has been significant:
@PatGarofalo the racial and racist undertones in this comment is beyond alarming.— Ryan Vernosh (@RyanVernosh) March 9, 2014
.@PatGarofalo So, how long have you been a racist?— recognize. (@jenihead) March 9, 2014
@PatGarofalo there's more criminals in your profession than the nba buddy.— B-ball Jenky (@BBallJenky) March 9, 2014
But while Garofalo’s ignorance was putting an ugly smear on an otherwise pleasant sports weekend, this was happening 400 miles southeast in Chicago:
That’s the heartwarming video of Yannick Noah, former professional tennis player and father to Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, cheering elatedly during an on-camera interview as his son puts a hurting on the Miami Heat.
The stark dichotomy between these incidents is telling: the latter embodies the best that sports has to offer — the pride a parent takes in his or her child’s achievements and hard work, wrapped in the narrative of a city supporting its hometown heroes. Garofalo’s tweet, alternately, is an unfortunate reminder of the regressive thinking that often rears its head in sporting contexts.
Reality check: The congressman’s sentiments are certainly not new. Pro sports leagues around the world have been spotlighted lately for racially-charged incidents involving spectators: The Guardian went so far as to publish an entire expose of racism in soccer, focusing on the racial taunts frequently hurled at black players in Italy. And a Canadian court recently fined a fan $200 for throwing a banana peel at black NHL player Wayne Simmonds.
Garofalo’s tweet is especially dubious because it implicitly roots its racism in statistics. Even as he claims he's referring to the NBA's "generally high arrest rate," the congressman's reliance on numbers may incriminate him even further. For starters, there seems little doubt that his “70%” figure alludes to black Americans’ prevalence in the league. According to USA Today, 76.3% was the official black player count for 2012, a number slightly too close to Garofalo’s tweet figure to be coincidence.
The congressman suggests that if these players were not in the NBA, national street crime would rise. This purports a special link between black NBA players and criminality that frankly doesn’t exist. Since the beginning of 2013, only nine arrests of black NBA players have been made – two of which involved the same player (Ty Lawson), and one of which targeted an inactive free agent (Lamar Odom). Considering there are 445 active NBA players, this figure is approximately half of the most recently documented national arrest rate, which counted 12.2 million arrests out of a 313.8 million-person population – a rate of approximately 4%, compared to the NBA’s 2%. Assuming that black NBA players are any more likely to commit crimes than anyone else is simply inaccurate.
But really, so what? Engaging in a percentages debate based on an ignorant tweet is admittedly dangerous, and frankly beside the point. But it’s important to note just how rooted in presumptions and stereotypes Garofalo’s words are. The major takeaway is that we should continue celebrating moments like the Yannick Noah video, while remembering that ignorance will continue being spouted by fools like Rep. Garofalo – and that we should keep fighting it wherever it arises.
One would hope the congressman’s home team Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been accounting for his concerns when constructing their recent rosters. The jury’s still out on that front:
Image Credit: Star Tribune