Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Advantage White People: Race and the Sports Media

In social science, researchers seek to find two identical populations, apply a treatment to one (such as a social policy, like school vouchers) and measure the change between the treatment and the non-treatment (or control) groups. Ideally, the treatment groups will perform or act differently. Unfortunately in sports there is such a small population of athletes that it is difficult to get similar groups, let alone individuals (save perhaps for the Manning brothers).

However, in studying how the media portrays black and white athletes there exists an interesting case study. Ben Roethlisberger, and Michael Vick were both accused of felony crimes but in DBSF's opinion they were treated very differently by the sports media. Although the two differ in many ways that could contribute to how the media portrayed them (i.e., playing style, the crime they committed, where they grew up, etc.) DBSF believes race played a critical role in how the media vilified one (Vick) and protected the other (Roethlisberger).

Consider this. Both play QB in the NFL, both were first round draft picks, both were standouts in college (Vick a little more so), and both were accused of felonies. While many differences exist between the two players perhaps the primary one is that Vick is black and Roethlisberger is white.

In 2007, Vick was implicated in an interstate dog fighting ring, and served 18 months in jail. In the time leading up to the trial the media portrayed Vick as a villain. With images of mutated dogs, and of Vick in handcuffs surrounded by law enforcement officers, the media created caricature of a human being out of Vick. It was as if his involvement in the dog fighting was such a heinous crime that he was subhuman, and deserved incarceration.

Roethlisberger, on the other hand, who faced his second rape accusation in a year, received far different treatment. Rather than focus on a twenty-year old's accusation that he raped her in a club bathroom as a violent, deplorable act against women the media presented it as a distraction. The media asked questions like, will he be suspended? Will this delay his involvement in pre-season trainings with the team? Will this distract the Steelers' run for another Superbowl? Will they have to trade him because of his issues (referring to such offenses as 'issues' deserves consideration as an ultimate euphemism)? It was almost assumed that these charges were nothing more than a distraction from a more important pursuit--football.

Now, one might correctly point out a critical distinction--Vick was found guilty, and Roethlisberger's second rape accusation never even went to court. But--as DBSF understands it--Roethlisberger's accuser followed the standard protocol for victims of sexual assault in that she reported the event immediately and had a medical examination. But, at the advice of her lawyer, she dropped the charges when it became apparent that Roethlisberger would hire high-priced defense lawyers to publicly denigrate her so as to make her accusation seem less valid. If this is true then perhaps Roethlisberger conducted an even more ignominious offense after violently, sexually assaulting another human being by using his wealth and prestige to threaten to demean a victim further.

Interestingly, the sports media ignored this possibility.


  1. I can't believe you. This blog is absurd. HELLO!!! EARTH TO DBSF!!! Michael Vick took part in killing dogs! They were cute innocent puppies who couldn't fend for themselves! Big Ben just raped a girl, and wtf rape is so harsh! Let's refer to it as suprise sex. Big Ben and some chick had "suprise sex" in the bathroom. If that doesn't scream America I don't know what does.

  2. Vick - accused, charged, convicted, sentenced to federal prison.
    Roethlisberger - accused, never charged.

    This critical distinction alone refutes DBSF's claim that the white athlete and the black athlete were in equal situations but the media treated them differently.

    Had he been formally charged, I'd imagine the media would have been increasingly critical of Ben's behavior, and the media circus that would have resulted would have rivaled the Vick fiasco.

    Now, I'm not condoning what Ben did. It was in fact morally and socially questionable regardless of whether a rape occured - a high profile athlete giving an underage girl drinks (which is illegal) and getting involved in a disputed sexual encounter in a public restroom.

    I'm asserting the point that the two situations took two different directions.

    And as for the money Ben had for defense, I'd imagine Vick had the same type of resources. He just couldn't pay all his cronies facing the same charges to keep quiet.

    I think the lesson learned here is that DBSF is quickly turning into the Keith Olberman of sports blogs. Wait, Keith Olberman already has a sports blog.

  3. Kevin, all fair points. DBSF resents the Olberman comparison. DBSF ain't no Obama cheerleader.