Don Imus and Everyday Racism

Today Jonathan and I watched game four in the Suns/Lakers playoff series. Of this player, Amare Stoudemire:

A white sportscaster said, "He is a beast out there!"

I said to Jonathan, "WHAT? Isn't that a little racist?"

He said, "Yeah, they can be pretty racist."

A few minutes pass, and what sounded like the same sportscaster exclaimed, "He is a surgeon out there!"

I had looked away from the TV for a second and missed the reference, but I said, "Hey! Who was he talking about just now? 'He is a surgeon out there'?"

Jonathan said, "Steve Nash."


Two metaphors for athletic performance by two brilliant athletes: beast, and surgeon. Would a White guy be called a beast? Would a Black guy be called a surgeon? I don't know, but I have a feeling that the Imus utterance was only the tip of the rhetorical iceberg, and I'm going to start listening more closely to sportscasters in the future.


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One is a power player, primarily, and one is a finesse player. There was "Dr." J., after all.


I doubt that either of those guys (Breen or Jon Barry) is in any way an overt racist. But I agree that they and sportscasters in general should be more attentive to these connotative issues.


People should understand that these terms will have unintended effects when they collide with other discourses and backgrounds. But in basketball, I think "beast" is just about as complimentary of a title as a power forward could have, whether black or white or anything else. It means they're dominant at their position. And as Jonathan notes, the same goes for "surgeon" at the point guard position.

I've never seen these terms apportioned by race, only by position.

Stoudemire's footwork

Does need improvement. I think Charley Rosen, a sweet-tempered writer at Fox Sports News Cast Agency, observed that he's reluctant to spin since his knee surgery. He's still incredibly fast and explosive, but if he could develop Olajuwon-style footwork; well, that'd be something.


There is a long history in sports broadcasting for providing physical terms to Blacks and mental terms to Whites--this is not news--unfortunately. The recent movie Glory Road reflects this history. While rooted in racist thinking, I think that unfortunately many broadcasters have adopted these language conventions without much critical awareness of what they are saying. There is research on this issue. See, Billings, Andrew. "Depicting the Quarterback in Black and White: A Content Analysis of College and Professional Football Broadcast Commentary" Howard Journal of Communications 15.4 (2004); Eastman, S. T.; Billings, A. C. "Biased voices of sports: Racial and gender stereotyping in college basket-ball announcing" Howard Journal of Communications 12 (2001). Billings has a few more articles on the topic, including one on Tiger Woods and his references provide some additional insight as well.

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