NBA / Jun 17, 2008 / 1:56 pm

Race in Sports, Chapter 212


Because I currently keep vampire hours, I was actually awake and listening to the radio at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday when the New York Mets announced that manager Willie Randolph was getting fired. Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t follow baseball too closely outside of my Seattle Mariners and my favorite individual players (Dontrelle Willis, Ken Griffey Jr., C.C. Sabathia), so I haven’t been paying much attention to the Mets despite living in NYC. But I do know that when I heard Randolph had been let go I immediately remembered what he said earlier this season, about being criticized more harshly than other managers/coaches in pro sports because he’s Black. In that interview Randolph cited previous New York coaches Herm Edwards (Jets) and Isiah Thomas (Knicks) as victims of the same problem. And a few months back, ESPN.com’s Scoop Jackson wrote a column asking if Isiah was being given an inordinate amount of criticism compared to Pacers’ president Larry Bird, who has arguably done a similarly bad job managing his NBA franchise.

Is there any truth to it? Are Black coaches — or Blacks in any capacity within pro sports — judged more harshly and given less leeway than Whites? Of course when Randolph dropped his little verbal grenade, the mostly-White national media mostly stomped out that potential fire, mostly writing it off as the desperate attempt of a desperate, losing manager to gain some sympathy votes. And maybe they were right; again, I don’t watch the Mets enough to know how much blame Randolph deserves for their underachieving record. Personally, I think Randolph — just like Isiah and just like Herm — drew what probably seemed like heaping amounts of criticism more because he was working in New York and dealing with its ravenous media than because of race. But at the same time, I understand why he would think it’s the other way around.

Over the past two years I’ve been to a lot of Knicks games and heard Isiah Thomas raked over the coals by NY fans and ripped apart by NY media. Simple booing from the fans would have been the nicest thing; Thomas was also drowned in “Fire Isiah” chants at least once every game, and some of the stuff I’ve heard fans screaming at him isn’t even printable. Did Larry Brown get the same treatment when he led a garbage Knicks squad? Will Mike D’Antoni hear the same things Isiah heard if he can’t turn things around? My automatic response as a Black man says “No,” but I also wasn’t here for the LB era and I can’t rightfully judge what I’ve heard in Madison Square Garden up against my previous NBA arena experience, because the Seattle and New York fan bases are completely different. (Seattle fans are generally nice and never flat-out hate you unless they feel you screwed them over on your way out of town, i.e. A-Rod, or if your name is Kobe Bryant or Karl Malone.)

Why was Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weiss (White) given a 10-year contract extension for posting the same record that got ex-Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham (Black) fired? Why was ex-Green Bay Packers coach Ray Rhodes (Black) fired after going 8-8 in his first year with the team, while current coach Mike McCarthy (White) went 8-8 his first year and kept his job? (McCarthy led the Pack to a 13-3 record in Year 2.) These are questions worth asking.

No one can deny that, under Isiah Thomas’ coaching and front-office tenure, the Knicks were terrible. And no one can deny that — from putting the roster together to bad game management to fostering an overall depressing mood — plenty of that falls on Isiah’s shoulders. As much as I respect where he’s come from and loved his game when he played in the League, if anyone in pro sports deserved to be booed by fans and bashed by the media over the past two years, it was Isiah.

Was there a little extra on top of those boos and chants because Isiah is Black? I can’t tell you. But as every Black man and woman in America can testify, the thing about it is that we can never, with full certainty, answer those kind of questions with a “No.”

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  • Duke

    All I know is that they would NEVER fire a Caucasian coach at an ungodly hour.

  • s,bucketZ

    i had black people nex to me gettin in on my JEFF VAN GUNDY chants at the garden so i duno man…i think its more of ny bein crazy about ther sports than about race

  • doc

    We getting better as a whole in that race thing but its not completly gone yet so.People probaly do get treated different.I dont think we’ll see a black caoch last as long as Jerry Sloan if his team is competitive.

  • Celts Fan

    With all due respect, Willie Randolph was at the helm of a COLOSSAL choke job to end last year. He never should’ve even seen this year.

    Isaih completely disgraced the franchise (Indiana’s completely different, but if Larry was in NY, I’m sure he’d’ve gotten plenty of venom too, but remember, Zeke got the sexual harrassment trial that they LOST, was the GM, AND the coach. That’s the trifecta of shame there. At least Larry (and Donnie Walsh, your new GM!) only sucked in one facet of the team. Isaih screwed them over on the court, in the front office, and in the PR Department. Way to be Zeke)

    Herm Edwards on the other hand, is where you might want to make the argument and frame it around him. That’s one that’s actually winable (though in NYC of all places, I find it tough to believe that’d happen. Maybe I’m just naive…)

    Randolph and Zeke were just plain bad at what they do (in Willie’s case, it’s probably more the players than him, but just like in basketball, it’s always the coach that goes)

  • Bond

    While I think things are improving, there is still some racism going on. Did Randolph get fired prematurely because he was black? It’s possible, but I’d like to think that Randoph, Edwards and Isiah were treated more harshly simply because they are in the huge city of NY.

    As far as Larry Bird goes, I think he would catch more heat if anyone actually cared about the Pacers.

  • Myrie

    As a New York Knick fan…I booed Isiah Thomas my damn self. With NO shame. He just made a mess.

    As for the centerpiece of this article, there is STILL plenty of RACISM in sports.

    In fact, I believe anywhere up to 50% of sports articles are about race. Especially on television with cnnsi, foxsports and most of all ESPN.

    A great majority of their sports reporting is generated by race.

    Ask yourself sometimes….why are they telling me this story?

    I cannot defend Willie Randolph….I do not believe he was fired because he was black; anyone who believes that must also then believe that he was hired because he was black.

    In any event, I still believe up to (about give or take) 50% of daily sports related stories are due to race.

  • Tom

    Isiah was GM and coach. He made all the decisions. Dolan is an idiot (who I hated more as a cablevision customer than as a basketball fan), but he gave Isiah complete freedom. There’s no one other than Isiah to blame.

    Sure, there have been other coaches who’ve struggled, there have been other GMs who struggled, but no one has ever fucked things up to the extent that Isiah has, and it isn’t just in New York. He was chased out of town in Toronto. He killed an entire league in the CBA. Since retiring as a player, he has been the biggest failure in professional sports.

    Dude can’t even flirt with women without fucking that up… how many millions did his libido cost the knicks? Of course, that’s nothing compared to the money they lost because he couldn’t do his job with any semblance of competence: http://www.portfolio.com/executives/features/2008/04/04/The-Isiah-Thomas-Tax

    There’s definitely racism in sports, and black coaches don’t get the respect they deserve (Tony Dungee in Tampa for example), but Isiah Thomas is a terrible example, because he deserves every single criticism he has faced.

  • doc

    Fuck Ray Rhoades AB.The man fucked the Eagles up.

  • Celts Fan

    @Bond, Randolph didn’t get fired prematurely at all. He should’ve been canned when they blew a 15 game lead last year (though it happening at 3AM is beyond anything you could rationally explain, which is the 1 reason I could see race coming into play here.)

    @AB, you’re right, the Charlie Weiss thing SCREAMS racism. I love him for everything he did to help the Pats, but that is so blatant it’s not even funny (and in an area where you may actually expect it, no offense to anyone from there that’s actually got common sense, but you’d expect something like that in the midwest or south MUCH more than in NYC.) The ironic thing is that Weiss got that terrible record w/ Ty’s team, only AFTER they’d actually come of age, instead of their first year(s) in the program, which is what Ty got saddled with…

  • turambur

    I’m not going to sit here and say that racism is dead in any area of our nation (though we are making progress), but to even hint that Isaiah Thomas was singled out and fired because be was black is BS. It was universally agreed that he was doing an awful job and needed to be fired, and that includes the Dime staff and 99% of their readers who post on these blogs. To now hint at condemning what only two months ago you were actively calling for is dangerously close to hypocrisy and I’m calling you out on it.

    And Duke (post 1), Scott Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve. Given the choice, I’ll take getting fired in the middle of the night on some random day in June over Chrismas-f’ing-Eve ten times out of ten.

    And to support Bond’s idea (post 5) that how harshly these coaches were treated has more to do with being in NY than with race, remember that Joe Torre, a multiple World Series winning manager, was fired at the end of a season where the Yanks made the playoffs (which still means something in baseball with only four teams from each League making the cut.)

    Again, I’m not saying there is no racism in sports or anywhere else. I live in the South and I’m not completely stupid, so I know better than that. Just don’t build up straw men and try to stir up controversy where there is not. Randolph got fired because his team was underachieving (in the GM’s opinion). That’s what happens to coaches who don’t deliver, ask Mike D’Antony, Scott Skiles, or Flip Saunders if you don’t believe me.

  • fallinup

    @Celtsfan: There are racists everywhere, not just here in the mid west. I’d point the racism more at Notre Dame than anything…but I get your point. And no, I’m not offended.

    Glad you brought up Weiss cause I was going to anyway. Living 10 minutes away from Notre Dame, I can assure you that Ty was fired because he was losing, and he was black. The attitude towards Ty, even by the locals was hostile after year 2. Now, the attitude with Weis is still “Wait until next year.” and “The ship’s comin around, we gotta give him a chance.” Weis is still harolded as a savior here even though he’s done in my opinion, a worse job than Ty. (Remember, Weis had an okay season his first year, but it was Ty’s recruiting class.)

    So yeah, Ty was given the short end of the stick. And most folks will point out that Weiss got the contract because he is bringing TONS of talent in with just his name. That’s something Ty couldn’t do.

  • Celts Fan

    @fallinup, I agree w/ Charlie winning w/ Ty’s recruits. I mentioned that at the end of my post too. Ridiculous…

    also, “And most folks will point out that Weiss got the contract because he is bringing TONS of talent in with just his name. That’s something Ty couldn’t do.” That’s very true, but it only lasts until his first embarassing season (or in other words, it’s already done.)

    and I don’t mean to sound like I think there’s only racism in those areas, just that, there are certain pockets of the country that are a little more accepting of it (aka Notre Dame) than others (NYC would BURY someone for comments that guys in West Virginia for example – where there’s a former KKK guy in the US Senate! – could get away with.) There are jackasses everywhere, so please don’t take what I said before to mean I think there aren’t…

  • fallinup

    Oh not at all, Celts. Everyone here was just as shocked, when Ty was let go. But was more willing to look past it because Notre Dame is like it’s own entity here. And Notre Dame knows that, which is why they just up and fired him.

  • yallallreadyknow

    notre dame football SUCKS!!
    they’ve been the MOST OVERRATED football prgram in the country for the last 50 years…

    …i’m SICK-n-TIRED of seeing them bums on tv every saturday like they are gods gift to college football.

    for all their undercover racism, they suck! they have nothing to show for being in existence other than a black coach whom they wrongly fired…and a new fat (FAT) ass coach who can’t get to 1 of 23456578459439 billion available bowl games

  • boogeybanger

    as NE sports fan I have to say racism is still real prevalent. Up until very recently tier 1 blavk athletes didn’t want to come to New England. Seriously before this year (Moss, Allen, Jr Seau (sp), Garnett) who was the last big name free agent that wanted to come to New England in any sport. I’m not talking Dominican, etc, BLACK. As a diehard fan I would have to say besides Nique (with one achilles), a washed up Glove (and he threatened to quit first) and Gin Baker I can’t recall any big names. And it hurts when I hear cats say they would like to go to Timbuck 2 before saying New England. I know we were a wasteland for most of the 90’s in all sports, but you would think with the sox and pats someone would at least say I’ll give Boston a shot. Something else has to be going on.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @turambur — It’s not simply about getting fired or keeping one’s job. What Randolph was talking about was more the level of criticism levied by the media, and is that criticism more harsh because of race. As people have said on here, are White coaches given more of a “Give him another chance,” leeway than Black coaches?

  • godfreyallstar

    maybe its because the pacers have 48 fans, all of which are in the kkk

  • Rico

    @doc….No coach will ever last as long as Sloan. The Utah Jazz organization is an interesting organism, they operate their way. Who’s to say if it works – they’re always good, but they’ve never won a title with Sloan. What do y’all think?

  • JC

    What about Doc Rivers and Mo Cheeks? I feel like they were pretty awful last season and managed to keep their jobs… Then again, can’t forget about Tubby Smith, who endured “they need to fire that n*gger coach” rants on local radio stations after every loss. Racism is still here, but it’s a bit less consistent now lol.

    I think the problem with Isaiah and Willie is that they stirred the pot while losing. Isaiah with his off the court issues, and Willie with his claims of racist media coverage. You actually have to win before you stir the pot. Look at Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox, last I checked, were in first place, not to mention the 2005 World Series. Ozzie is acting a dayum fool here in Chicago, but he’s good for the time being. He built up some credit. You can apply that to Willingham and Weis as well. Ty didn’t have that “well-established winner” label attached to him when he got to ND. He was somewhat new to big-time football, although he was successful previously. He essentially stirred the pot by posting a .500 record at Notre Dame. That didn’t work out well for him lol. Weis came in with all his pro accolades, therefore he garnered a higher level of patience because people felt like they actually “knew” he could make it happen. It sucks because I was among the first to say F Notre Dame when Ty got fired, and while I still say F Notre Dame (lol), part of me is beginning to understand an alternative explanation that I hope I have communicated clearly just now…

  • turambur

    Austin, I really don’t follow any sports other than basketball, but I do know that the only thing that would have kept the Mets out of the 2007 playoffs after 167 games was losing all of the last 15; which is exactly what they did. It sounds to me that Randolph was “given another chance” and failed to capitalize on it.

    There are two simple facts of sports that led to Randolph’s situation. One, when things starting going wrong the coach is the first one who gets blamed. It’s only after two or three coaches have the same problems that owners are GMs start looking deeper into the problems.

    Two, the New York media is down right cruel when reporting on local athletes and coaches. This applies regardless of race, history, or logic. Manning, Torre, and A-Rod are all good examples of guys that have done good things in New York but were hammered by the media for not winning championships (and therefore underachieving.) None of these guys are black and all of them were (undeservedly) nearly run out of town by the media in the last year.

    Again, I’m not saying that there is no racism in sports. All I’m saying is that Randolph is a straw man argument that is getting in the way of discussing the real issues that need to be addressed.

  • Celts Fan

    Boogeybanger, we have been a wasteland for free agents, but think about it rationally. There were issues here 3-4 decades ago (honestly though, where weren’t there back then?) Would you want to choose a state nicknamed Tax-achussetts and get slammed in the wallet, live in an area where we get a legit summer for all of 3 days a year, and that same area has a Napolean complex about NY and a media (Celtics excluded) that completely DEMANDS greatness and is almost as bad as the NYC media in that regard (worse in the BoSox case) I sure as hell wouldn’t. There also don’t tend to be a ton of pro athletes coming from New England for whatever reason, so the “coming home” aspect isn’t there much.

    Compare that to NYC (considered the most important city on the planet, definitely in this country anyway, hometown of tons of pro athletes) LA (celebs, always amazing out, almost as huge as NYC, also home to tons of pro athletes,) and Miami (see LA, but less celebs and NO STATE INCOME TAX – HUGE for guys making tens of millions of dollars.)

    There’s much more to athletes not wanting to come here than that, but yes, there are problems everywhere, and we in New England are no exception.

  • yoda

    as a guy from europe, who has never been in usa, i won’t comment on other names that you mentioned above. but as basketball fan and nba fan, i think that there is not one single thing isiah could do to screw knicks more, aside killing babys or something like that. i’m amazed he lasted even that long. awfull trades, bad decision, couldn’t keep his pants up…

  • rob stewart

    I played D-1 ball for an NCAA tournament team and we had a black coach who blamed the way he was treated on his color. As a black player I was embarasses that he always used the race card when in actuality he just wasn’t up on his job. Race is often an issue when it comes to employment but black people should only bring it up when they have actually done a good job.

  • Tay

    Why do so many things have to come down to race? As a black man, I am so tired of hearing people play the race card for their failures. With many minority groups coming so far, I feel like our complaining brings us a step back and we are stooping to the level of those who brought hate upon us.

  • We miss John Starks

    SCOTT LAYDEN was the man who originally dug the Knicks into their current hole. He was probably the least competent, most dim-witted, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing human being to have ever run a sports franchise. Every second he was here he looked woefully out of place and unqualified. Yet he was never treated as cruelly as Isiah has been. However, I think that has less to do with race and more to do with the fact that Isiah is a high-profile personality that draws attention to himself. He attended all the home games as GM, then took on dual coaching/GM responsibilities, and somewhat unintentionally made himself the face of the franchise. If he had hid in his office the last 4 years while making these bonehead moves, his downfall wouldn’t have been so publicized and the fans wouldn’t have had the chance to spit nearly as much venom.

  • sans

    It goes both ways. I was accused of being racist for calling a kid (black) for charging in a basketball game. That parent was an ass, but I really believe he thought that I was calling the game differently because his son is black. The race-card gets pulled a bit too often, in my opinion, and Isiah deserved everything he got this past season, Randolph, too. Anywhere else in the country, with the budgets they have, they’d have been crucified just as bad as in NYC. In fact, Isiah would’ve been gone way way way way way sooner anywhere else on this planet for how terrible his team played for him. Herm got screwed though, having so many injuries a year after making the playoffs. That ish was cold.