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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

I like that my students (who live in the worst state for African-American kids) have a professional sport in town that means something to them. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Racism and sportsball


I don't know much about sports, or balls, or sportsballing in general. When I was in high school, my varsity sport was chess; baseball practice would have conflicted with the spring musical. The sole football game I attended at my division III college was the one where the kazoo band, of which I was a member, played the halftime show. I have never watched a Packers game all the way through.

There's a solid explanation for all this, which is that I grew up in Cincinnati, and learned early not to place much faith in the local sportsball teams, as they would undoubtedly just break my heart. My father had a ritual of saying, after the first out of the first inning every year, "The season's over for the Reds." He was almost always right.

So I find all the ink and pixels spilled over the recent sale of the Milwaukee Bucks and the question of whether to build a new arena for the team's home games kind of foreign. What I know of the BMO Harris Bradley Center is that when there's a game or wrestling or something else there, parking is a lot more expensive when I'm trying to go to a show at Turner Hall the same night.

And, as a certified nerd (remember the varsity letter in chess!), I know well the professional economists' view that spending tax money on sports facilities never, ever pays for itself.

Let me come back to the sportsball in a moment though, because one other thing that's in the news this past week is racism. It's actually been a banner week for racism, starting with Chief Justice John Roberts basically declaring racism over, with Cliven Bundy's racist self-immolation proving him wrong almost immediately thereafter.

The week ended, of course, with the on-tape comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling: "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" Sterling told his girlfriend, asking her not to bring any African-Americans – like legendary NBA star Magic Johnson – to his team's games.

Which is how this comes back around to sports.

The NBA is the sport with by far the biggest African-American audience. The students at my Milwaukee Public School, largely African-American, love to talk basketball, knowing the ins and outs of various players' statistics far better than any of the things I try to teach them. They can recount whole seasons' worth of NBA history but not, to my dismay, the story we read yesterday.

They also love going to Bucks games. The quality of the Bucks' play notwithstanding, having an NBA team in town means my students get to see their heroes – Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, names I know from my students' talk more than any actual experience of sports – at the top of their games.

And you want to talk racism? How about this horrible piece of drivel in the Journal Sentinel? It's mostly boiler-plate Milwaukee-bashing from Waukesha blogger Nathan Sass (and not even very good Milwaukee-bashing; the Journal Sentinel's Alex Runner has already catalogued a lot of factual errors in it) as he opposes the idea of putting a new Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee. But then there's this: "Simply put, the Bucks are not the Brewers, and the NBA is not the MLB. No value judgments here – just recognizing the realities."

When someone tells you they're not making a value judgment (kind of like starting a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but …"), they're making a value judgment. Basketball, with its overwhelmingly black players and heavily black audience is worth less, to people like Sass, than baseball, with its 83 percent white audience.

Sass thinks he's just judging relative popularity. It's hard to imagine right now with the Bucks in the toilet and the Brewers atop the league, but the NBA is consistently more popular around the country than baseball. My students don't know anything about the Brewers, and they don't look forward to trips to Miller Park the way they do trips to the Bradley Center. My students, I bet, look nothing like Nathan Sass.

Because I know the economists' argument against tax-dollar investment in sports facilities, I don't like that idea for Milwaukee. But one thing I do like is that my students (already stuck living in the worst state for African-American kids in the whole country) have a professional sport in town that means something to them and other urban residents, not just sports in town that appeal to the Nathan Sasses of the suburbs.

So, I hope that the Bucks stay, and that if it takes a new arena to make that happen, someone steps up without tax dollars to do it in a thoughtful way that benefits the city. And if it riles a bunch of vaguely racist suburbanites, all the better.


Talkbacks

emills81 | April 30, 2014 at 12:12 p.m. (report)

Stick to dungeons and dragons

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fetlarpo | April 29, 2014 at 8:16 p.m. (report)

You throw a lot out there. Some more kernels of truth. Such as legendary base ball player and Brewer Hank Aaron calling all Republicans apart of the KKK this month. The media seems to have let that slip by or they agree with Aaron. You say this is the worse state to be black in but there never is a solution. Studies show most young black children have sex before they are fifteen. How do you combat this with money. More free birth control or more Public service Announcements. Do we need to tell them that we love them more and then how do we do this? Also, young black children experiment with marijuana at much earlier rates than Asians, Hispanics or whites. Should we just decriminalize it in the city of Milwaukee. Part of the reasons that young blacks have it so bad is that they are in a poor environment but if you keep voting for one party you kind of get what you paid for. See Detroit or most urban cities.

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folkbum | April 29, 2014 at 5:13 p.m. (report)

@mikeb, I did not at all write that opposing a tax-funded stadium makes you racist. Indeed, even *I* generally oppose using tax dollars to build a stadium.

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mikeb | April 29, 2014 at 3:19 p.m. (report)

Oh great, so now you're a racist if you oppose a taxpayer funded arena. Did you get the a referendum on a sales tax in Brown Country BARELY passed for the Green Bay Packers? Did you forget that the Miller Park tax cost the swing voter his job and would have never passed a referendum?

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