Lakers center Andrew Bynum has become persona non grata within the Los Angeles media. Bynum has become the source of media condemn and criticism, most of which has nothing to do with basketball, minus the manufactured panic over the Lakers’ non-struggles, and hand-wringing over whether Bynum is a viable trade asset in a deal for Dwight Howard.
T.J. Simers, in “Lakers need one more big man, fewer Chicken Littles,” feeds this panic over the Lakers in typical and clichéd demonization of Andrew Bynum. Depicting him as a “big baby,” unreliable and injury-prone, Simers is skeptical about Bynum’s worth to the Lakers:
“If the Lakers are going to be successful, they need Bynum playing shoulder-to-shoulder with Gasol and Kobe, making it the Big Three. That would mean Bynum stepping forward as a professional,”
Simers piles it on further
“I have my doubts. I was in his corner before he went punk in the playoffs, the big baby walking off the court while removing his jersey.”
The infantilization of Bynum while seemingly without much basis is especially troubling given the history of representing black men as immature boys. This column, however, doesn’t limit itself to the basketball arena offering cheap shots that would make any number of NBA “enforcers” proud. He follows-up his discussion of the basketball issues with the following:
Then he became the walking embodiment of the entitled athlete, twice in a span of two months having his car photographed parked in a handicap spot. Obviously he doesn’t care about the rules, civility or what others think. How many times did he park wherever he wanted without being caught?
The criminalization of black athletes is nothing new and Simers deploys this common deployed narrative with ease. According to sociologist Jonathan Markovitz, “The bodies of African American athletes from a variety of sports have been at the center of a number of mass media spectacles in recent years, most notably involving Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, but NBA players have been particularly likely to occupy center stage in American racial discourse.”
While certainly not comparable in terms of the types of crimes involved, the language here is reflective of not just the efforts to criminalize black athletes, but the effort to comment on the attitude, personality, demeanor, and cultural values in the relationship to purported transgressions and criminal misconduct. Simers essentially depicts Bynum as yet another example of a stereotype that Patricia Hill Collins refers to as a “‘bad boy Black”. Paraphrasing sociologist Abby Ferber, implied in Simers’s assessment of Bynum is that Bynum is reflective of another basketball player whose “out of control,” “unruly” “disrespectful,” and “in need of civilizing”.
What’s peculiar about this trend is that the NBA practically encourages these representations. The Allen Iverson inspired dress code represents the clearest example that the league itself believes that its players cannot dress, much less comport themselves in a presentable way in public.
Simers is not alone in his effort to demonize. Mark Medina, with “Andrew Bynum’s stubborn sense of entitlement,” rehashes the issue of handicap placards, while also noting that Andrew Bynum recently received two moving violations (for speeding and equipment deficiencies). The horror (sarcasm intended). This led Simers to write a second sermon, where he once again laments Bynum’s childish behavior, his immaturity, and his sense of entitlement reflective in the fact the “toughest decision he has to make every day: Which car do I take? Can you imagine keeping track of 13 different sets of keys?” Simers not only writes about the traffic violations but also emphasizes the fact that he got these traffic violations while on suspension. Worse yet, Simers bemoans the lack of accountability that both reflects and contributes to a sense of entitlement. I always thought a suspension, lost money, tickets, and daily-hatched job columns constitute accountability, albeit unfair accountability in many ways.
Yes, in three straight days in the Los Angeles Times, two different columnists focused on Andrew Bynum’s alleged traffic violations. Worse yet, these reports were reported during the TNT Thursday night telecast. Hard to imagine why the public has such a negative view of the media.
What is instructive here is not just the effort to pathologize and otherwise define Bynum as “entitled” using tickets and alleged violations as evidence, but is the total erasure of context. If Andrew Bynum is “immature,” “entitled” and unfit to play a prominent role on the Lakers because of these issues, he has a lot of company. According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times story, 2.6 million of 23 million drivers in CA held a handicap placard. At 11%, it is clear that a sizable portion of those parking in handicap parking spaces do so under false pretenses. According to an Associated Press story, over 25% (almost 60,000) of the 2 million disabled placards sent by the DMV were sent to deceased individuals. This sounds like a much bigger problem than Andrew Bynum, yet readers are lead to believe that such behavior tells us something terrible about his character and values. Moreover, those whose memory extends past the previous news cycle will remember that in 1999 a coterie of UCLA football players, including its highly touted quarterback Cade McNown, were similarly cited for using false handicap placards.
Lets be clear, I am not excusing behavior because others do, but rather questioning the ways in which these columnists used sensationalism instead of evidence, used stereotypes instead of facts, and used innuendo instead of substance to condemn Andrew Bynum. One has to wonder what next week’s column will be about: the immaturity of some athlete evidenced by his propensity to jaywalk or because they don’t recycle. Why not write a column on something that matters, basketball or otherwise, rather than take cheap shots that do little than reinforce stereotypes. Better yet, how about you write about entitled sports columnists.