Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bruce Pearl’s racial remarks largely fly under the radar


Bruce Pearl utilized his stature as head basketball coach of the Tennessee Volunteers recently to raise money for charity. Pearl delivered a passionate speech to potential donors for charity. During his speech he resorted to the use of racial stereotypes to humor the crowd.
Here’s what Pearl stated, "I've got a tough job. I've got to put these guys from different worlds together, right? I've got guys from Chicago, Detroit. I'm talking about the hood! And I've got guys from Grainger County, where they wear the hood!" Pearl said. After a pause, he added, "That wasn't part of the script."

Pearl’s choice of words was rather poor. This country that has a ugly legacy of racism, lynching and hate. To use such remarks wasn’t necessary or warranted at a fundraiser.

Of course damage control quickly ensued. Here’s Pearl’s scripted apology, "This morning while speaking at a private kick-off event for a great organization that benefits many local charities, I made a statement in jest to describe the diverse group our staff recruits year-in and year-out. Unfortunately while I was trying to excite the crowd and encourage employees to give, I made an inappropriate joke. I certainly did not intend to offend anyone and I apologize to everyone, especially the people of Grainger County.”

When situations like this come up they should be used as “teachable moments.” Not like the farce meeting between Henry Louis Gates and President Obama at the White House. The Gates situation was such a hot-bottom topic that isn’t even talked about anymore. It’s been thoroughly swept under the rug by the media with nothing ventured and nothing gained. Just the way a segment of America wants it.

It’s not right to resort to racial stereotypes in order to satisfy your quest to raise money. How about stating the following, “I have athletes on my team come from a diverse background that I must coach and manage. I have African American athletes from urban America and I have white athletes who come from rural America. We have to work as a team, learn from our individual differences and function as a unified group.”

How is that? You get the same point across yet delivering it in a more appropriate fashion.

Objectively speaking it doesn’t appear Pearl was intending to use his platform to intentionally harm but he did. He was trying to lighten the mood while attempting to persuade the audience to reach into their pockets

There lies the problem.

It bothers me to utilize a touchy topic like race in this fashion to raise money. We’ve not progressed far enough as a nation in order to publicly make jokes about race let along profit from it.

Those in the media, educators and activists should take moments like this and truly educate. But in order to do that something must happen first.

First of all you need diversity in the media. According a study conducted by eminent scholar Richard Lapchick last year 89.7 percent of sports columnists in the mainstream media are white. The vast majority of the athletes at the professional and collegiate level are African American. Hence when the African American athlete is interviewed or quoted they are in a room full of white writers and reporters. I know first hand because I’m often one of very few African Americans in press boxes and media rooms of the events I’ve covered.

There’s a need for more African American journalists to help educate and thwart some of the racially insensitive material that arises out of stupidity and ignorance. If Golf Magazine would’ve had diversity they wouldn’t have stupidly attempted to publish a cover with a noose on it. If the New York Post would’ve had diversity it wouldn’t have published a racist caricature depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee.

Remember the latter events?

Once a level of diversity is established more constructive dialogue can take place. Then when we look at Pearl’s statements they can be utilized to inform, awaken and educate. The way things are set up now a white figure makes insensitive racial remarks, they apologize, time goes by and it’s forgotten.

That’s the travesty. Nothing is ventured, nothing is gained, but more importantly nothing is truly learned.

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