I love watching the Winter Olympics.
I love seeing sports that don't get much exposure in the four years between Games and the frenzied following they attract in countries that aren't dominated by professional sports leagues. I love watching the great Bob Costas serve as anchor, and even will guiltily admit to sometimes enjoying Jimmy Roberts' fluff "Olympic Moments" pieces. And I'm anxiously awaiting to see whether the immensely athletic and elegant — not to mention gorgeous — Sasha Cohen can extend America's dominance in ladies' figure skating.
It seems, rather unfortunately, that Bryant Gumbel of HBO's "Real Sports" doesn't agree. Expressing his distaste for the Winter Games on his show Feb. 7, Mr. Gumbel said: "So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention." He went on to express his excitement for March Madness, presumably because most college basketball players, like Mr. Gumbel, are black.
Let's be clear: Mr. Gumbel is a bona fide racist here. He insinuated that skilled white athletes are, in fact, not really that great, simply because they do not display Mr. Gumbel's preferred skin color. Apparently, only sports dominated by blacks qualify as "Real Sports."
Never mind that there's no conspiracy by the International Olympic Committee to include only white athletes at the Winter Games. Never mind that the lack of black athletes is explained in large part by the fact that most countries that excel in winter sports just don't have large black populations. In those that do, like the United States, black athletes just haven't taken to winter sports in very large numbers.
But those are just details to Mr. Gumbel. In fact, I'm not even sure he'll be able to fully enjoy the NCAA tournament, as he says. Sure, the majority of players in it will be black, but it's near certain that college basketball's player of the year — either J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison — will be white this year. Perhaps Mr. Gumbel should boycott the tournament to protest a non-athlete winning that honor.
His remarks were also a blatant shun to the likes of Shani Davis, an African-American who won the men's 1000-meter speed skating race Saturday. And it's not a stretch to say the GOP convention comment served as a slap in the face to the likes of Lynn Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver who is running for Pennsylvania governor this year. Swann is a Republican. He's also black.
But then, even though he disparaged the athletes that I've greatly enjoyed watching for the last week and a half, I'm not too mad at Mr. Gumbel. It wasn't the first time a racist comment was muttered on television. It won't be the last. I vehemently disagree with him, but he's allowed to advance his views, no matter how misguided or bigoted. If anything, I'm glad Mr. Gumbel is only able to spread his warped views to a more limited audience on the premium cable station of HBO, as opposed to his old post at NBC.
What really bothers me is the complete lack of reaction to his remarks. The blogosphere has rightly criticized him, to be sure, and there's no shortage of angry feedback at HBO.com, but by and large his remarks have bypassed any serious level of scrutiny — or repercussions.
The mainstream media seems hesitant to touch the subject, and some have actually defended Mr. Gumbel, such as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane.
Flash back to 1987. Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis, asked why there weren't more African-American managers in baseball, said blacks lacked the "necessities" to fill those positions. Mr. Campanis was fired two days later amid a huge public outcry.
Now flash forward to 2003, when conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, a new addition to ESPN's NFL pre-game show, claimed the media overrated Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because they wanted to see a black man succeed at the position. Mr. Limbaugh was kicked off the show faster than Stuart Scott can say "boo-yah."
But Mr. Gumbel? Nothing. No scolding. No reprimand. Certainly no termination.
If Mr. Gumbel was white, he'd be looking for a new job right now. Imagine if Mr. Costas signed off tonight's Olympic coverage by complaining about the shortage of white athletes on the United States' track-and-field team at the Summer Games. NBC would blindfold Mr. Costas, send him down the downhill course in Sestriere during a snowstorm and wish him good luck.
So where's the outrage over Mr. Gumbel's bigotry? Perhaps the country's indignation is still being wholly devoted to Cartoongate, another perfect example of the dubious double standard that exists in this country when discussing issues concerning race — or in this case, religion.
Although some papers, including The Badger Herald, have published some of the Danish cartoons that have sparked international controversy, most newspapers have refused to reprint the images, despite the inherent news value in showing the cause of scores of deaths in Muslim countries.
But these same papers routinely show little discretion in printing cartoons depicting Christianity in a negative light. The Pope, Jesus and priests are all considered fair game for negative cartoons — including some in The Badger Herald — but the uproar over such depictions rarely rises above a light murmur.
Of course, that doesn't take away from the offensiveness of the Danish cartoons. I will always defend the Herald's decision to reprint one of them, but then, it wasn't the Herald's original creation. The cartoon's viewpoint — a message that is obviously offensive to followers of the second most prevalent religion in the world — is not one I personally agree with.
Yet if there's this strong of a backlash over the mere reprinting of an anti-Muslim drawing, then where's the outrage when papers present original content demeaning to Christians? And where's the scorn for a man who disparages an entire race with his outlandish comments about the participants of winter sporting events?
Society will never overcome the presence of racism or religious hatred so long as it defines the terms by this double standard.
Newspapers certainly are under no obligation to run the cartoons, and there are many factors that must go into any decision to publish them. But if newspapers refuse to run the cartoons because of a specific effort to not offend Muslims, they're really making the problem of religious bigotry worse by imposing an unequal standard when dealing with material pertaining to certain religious groups.
That doesn't help anybody. Not Muslims, not Christians, not anybody.
A class cannot be afforded different protection because of who they are or whom they attack. When applied to criminal behavior, such a belief is an affront to our principle of equal protection under the law for all. When applied to comments such as Mr. Gumbel's or the cartoons, it only acts to deepen the divide between the multitude of racial, ethnic and religious groups comprising this country.
I won't call for Mr. Gumbel's head. I'll simply say comments like his won't go away until they're subjected to the same benchmark as other racially insensitive remarks.
In the meantime, I'll be enjoying the Olympics, where the commercials remind us Visa is everywhere you want to be.
Like American Express, Mr. Gumbel's race card should not be accepted.
Ryan Masse ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and economics.