November 04, 2009
When we tweeted last night about local coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks Halloween Party, we did so begrudgingly: The notion that Adam Burish(notes) as Dennis Rodman and Patrick Kane(notes) as Scottie Pippen were racially insensitive in wearing "blackface" for their Chicago Bulls costumes is a joke.
It's something that didn't even cross our minds when we first blogged about the Blackhawks' costumes on Monday because this wasn't an instance of offensive caricature or simmering bigotry. But upon reflection, the image was obviously a sports media pinata for a columnist to either feign outrage or sound the politically correct siren; Ernest Wilkins of the Chicago Tribune's Red Eye did one of the two earlier this week, focusing on Kane:
It's not a good look, You've got a lot of people and kids looking up to you, and I refuse to believe that a #1 overall pick in one of the "Big 4" leagues with the media relations department of that caliber at your disposal is silly enough to believe that no one would have a problem with you doing some "extreme tanning".
It's interesting being a Black (feel free to sub in Latino/Woman/actual Penguin at your will) hockey fan sometimes. We don't see a lot of players that look like us, and we want more people out there to look up to out there on the ice. Stuff like this doesn't help.
Forgetting, for a moment, that turning this into an issue is completely asinine, we don't necessarily want to discount Wilkins's feelings as a black hockey fan. After all, we just blogged about the alienation of gay fans who come to the arena and suffer silently through homophobic slurs. We can't conceive how one is as intolerable as the other -- especially when the former happened at a private function rather than the rink -- but Wilkins wrote what he wrote, and we'll respect it.
That said: Are we seriously headed to apology-ville for this benign stuff?
Red Eye has decided to turn this manufactured controversy into a cottage industry of content. Along with Wilkins's piece, the Blackhawks photo has been blogged about in at least three other places on the publication's Web site.
No matter that Kane was simply acting out by his costume that he looked up to Pippen as a boy. No matter that neither Burish nor Kane intended any malice. They will be seen as poster boys for bad behavior depending on your point of view, and these are varied when it comes to race.
Everything would have been fine except for Kane and Burish coloring their skin. The history of blackface in entertainment is demeaning. You can google plenty of history on the subject and learn more, which is something I wouldn't be surprised never crossed the minds of two pro athletes just trying for fun by dressing in a sports motif for Halloween.
So do we condemn them simply for the blackface? I don't. But I'm not African-American and I haven't seen that practice through an African-American's eyes. So I don't presume to judge what they see.
There was George Ofman, adding the Blackhawks to Michael Phelps's bong as Orwellian moments in sports journalism:
If you happen to be a Blackhawks hockey player at a Halloween party, better make sure your costume doesn't offend anyone. Remember, Big brother is watching. And so is the rest of the world. And then everyone has a comment, like me only this is not about race.
It's about Big brother.
There was Kara Kyles, too, adding a note about the Hawks to a piece that covered a recent blackface controversy on "America's Next Top Model." She supplied "a handy dandy guide that might help avoid future trading-races drama"; note that the Blackhawks followed two of her three rules.
Today, Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune piled on, tying the Hawks to gay slurs and Bob Griese saying Juan Pablo Montoya was "out having a taco." Seriously:
The controversies are also a sign of society's robust health. We debate these words and behaviors -- are they heinous and unforgivable or just dumb and obtuse? -- because we don't really know just how to feel about them. And sports is both mirror and lamp. The mirror shows us where we are; the lamp leads us up and out.
Were many people really, deep down, offended by the Blackhawks' blackface, Griese's silly slip, Gooden's alleged insult or Johnson's reported slur? Doubt it. But we still have to argue about it. These incidents give us a chance to talk about things that are sometimes hard to talk about: race, ethnicity, sexuality.
Actually, it's easy to talk about in this case: Burish and Kane have nothing to be sorry about, nothing to regret and nothing to be ashamed of. If the Blackhawks issue an apology under the weight of media scrutiny for something that didn't occur anywhere near the rink, it would, in our estimation, be more detrimental to the conversation about race in this country than anything Burish or Kane did to their faces.
And if we're really going to get morally outraged over race, shouldn't the PC police Commit To The Indian first?