Play by Play: The role of race in sports and journalism


By CJ DONALD – COLUMNIST

College basketball pundits owe Doug McDermott an apology.

There is a 6’8” college basketball player who — since the fall of 2011 — has led all Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) players in scoring. He’s been a consensus first team All-American award-winner over the last three seasons. As an 18-year-old, he was the Freshman of the Year for his conference.

The summer before his sophomore year, he represented the United States on the Under-19 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Championship team and averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in the endeavor.

Just this year, the young man won the Naismith and John Wooden Awards as College Player of the Year.

Given the statistics above, I wonder what race or ethnicity you’d attribute to this player.

I ask because, generally, when folks mention high achieving basketball players at the professional level or within the NCAA, many think of black athletes. There is good reason for this perception. Currently, 80 percent of the NBA’s players are black.

On the other hand, almost everything that we read or hear about sports is conveyed to the public by white journalists.

Think about it the next time you watch ESPN or as you tune into your local sports radio broadcast: those who are considered “true journalists” are white, and their life’s work is researching and reporting the athletic endeavors of black sportspersons.

Now, there could probably be a book written about what this means for the black athletes, but we should be careful to consider the effect that such a demographically distorted point of view has on white athletes.

I’d like to argue that there may be a little bit of implicit discrimination from journalists to white basketball players.

Let’s go back to the player I mentioned in the opening: his name is Doug McDermott, and he is a graduating senior at Creighton University.

I believe that, if McDermott were a black student-athlete, he would be receiving public praise as if he were the next savior of basketball.

Instead, journalists refuse to mention him on their sports shows and, up until last week, very few sportswriters were writing substantial stories about him.

Make no mistake about it — this guy is good. He is fifth on the NCAA Division I scoring list, with 3,150 total points.

In this regard, he ranks higher than Oscar Robertson (#9), Larry Bird (#14), J.J. Redick (#18), David Robinson (#24), and Wayman Tisdale (#25). It’s embarrassing that it’s taken almost four years for us to recognize the genius that McDermott brings to the court.

When pundits are attacked for not writing or speaking about McDermott’s talents, they use a cop-out that we’ve heard many times: his team, the Creighton University Blue Jays, does not play good enough opponents.

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that this understanding of the Creighton Blue Jays is grossly inaccurate.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll compare Creighton to a team that most Americans know pretty well, the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Over the course of the 2013-2014 season, the University of Kentucky played what some pundits have called the “toughest schedule in college basketball.”

Well, that schedule boasted five non-conference opponents that would eventually be participants in 2014’s March Madness: Michigan State, Providence, Baylor, University of North Carolina, and University of Louisville.

Creighton played six future March Madness participants this year — Nebraska, George Washington, San Diego State, Arizona State, Tulsa, and St. Joseph’s.

Of those NCAA tournament teams on their schedule, the Wildcats beat three. The Blue Jays beat four.

Some pundits argue that Kentucky’s conference — the Southeastern Conference (SEC) — is better at basketball than the Big East, Creighton’s conference.

Well, if March Madness brings together the best that college basketball has to offer, it’s sure strange that four Big East teams participated while only three teams in the SEC can say the same.

My point is this: Doug McDermott deserves an apology. He’s done more than we give him credit for and will certainly go down as one of the most consistent and productive players in the history of college basketball.

I don’t know for sure that McDermott will be a force to reckon with in the NBA, but I believe that we should at least give him the chance.

Is there one team in the NBA right now that can say that they don’t need a 6’8” small forward that scored 26.9 points per game last year off of only 17 shot attempts? I don’t know for sure that McDermott’s skills exactly translate to the NBA (and this point largely depends on the team he is drafted by), but I do know that he deserves the decency to not be compared to other white basketball players.

In a cover for Sports Illustrated this year, McDermott and two Creghton University cheerleaders struck the same pose as Larry Bird did for Sports Illustrated in 1977.

Is there a reason why, 37 years later, we lack so much creativity that must compare one white player from the Heartland to another? Why can’t we just let Doug McDermott be Doug McDermott?

Let’s give him the respect he deserves by treating him like what he is: a prolific scorer, soon to be NBA superstar, and a role-model for student athletes everywhere.


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