Saturday, March 29, 2008

LeBron James/Vogue Magazine: Which Side Are You On?

I suppose I should have an opinion on the latest polarizing racial dust-up.

The cover of the latest issue of Vogue magazine is the center of this week's storm. On it, LeBron James is bouncing a basketball in one hand and clutching Tom Brady's old lady, Gisele Bundchen, in the other.

Unfortunately, it's way early out here in Cali, so I'm going to have two of the usual suspects make their cases for me – pro and con. In the blue corner, it's's Jemele Hill. She argues that the cover was "distasteful" and likens LeBron's image here to "King Kong enveloping his very fair-skinned lady love interest". In the red corner, it's white America's most quotable Negro this side of Dr. Cosby…Jason Whitlock of His position, in a nutshell, is that this entire hubbub is much ado about nothing. Ladies first:

[LeBron] is widely considered one of the best-dressed guys in the NBA -- perhaps even in all of sports. LeBron's mentor is Jay-Z, the rapper-turned-mogul who dropped throwbacks for Armani suits years ago. – Jemele Hill

TBG Sez: Oooooooh, way too early to play the Jay-Z card, Jemele. You've almost instantly lost whatever white supporters you might've won over with that one. Y'see, to a lot of them, all rappers are "gangsta rappers" and their music (sorry, "music") is contributing to the downfall of society. Sure, society survived slavery and the Holocaust…but, Black guys cussing to the beat? F*ckin' apocalypse now, yo. -1, Jemele. Your turn, Jason.

Would someone please write a handbook? "What Will and Won't Piss Black Folk Smooth the **** Off" would be an international bestseller.

I'm black, and I'm pissed off most of the time, but I wouldn't leave home without the handbook. Not in these racist-ly confusing times. I can barely keep up with when I'm supposed to be disappointed as opposed to offended as opposed to being pissed smooth the **** off. – Jason Whitlock

TBG Sez: BAM! See what he did there? Whitlock took Fox News' critique du jour (that us spooks are a hyper-sensitive, self-pitying lot) and used it on himself! He took the "power" from the word(s)! It's like the inane n-word debate all over again! Jason Whitlock is the new n-word! +2, Jason.

[Gisele] looks like she's on her way to something fashionable and exciting. [LeBron] looks like he's on his way to a pickup game for serial killers. – JH

TBG Sez: Sorry, Jemele…as I'm sure you know, the universally acknowledged, one-size-fits-all media appellation for scary African-American athletes with tattoos is "thug". Thug. We were looking for "thug". Here's a little trick I use to help me remember: tattooed recovering drug addict, repeat f*ck-up and $4 million dollar signing bonus bandit Josh Hamilton = hero. Bron-Bron…thug. -1, Jemele.

The photographer captured [LeBron] exactly as he is. You know, when he covered his body in tatts years ago, mimicking a death-row inmate, LeBron invited people to jump to the conclusion that he's dangerous. Yeah, that's the way the image-is-everything game is played. Ink is a prison and gang thing. Don't act like you don't know the origin of the current fad.

TBG Sez: Way to negate your first round win, Ruben Studdard. May I borrow your analogy? What if your "death-row inmate" was in prison for raping and murdering a woman (let's call her, oh, I don't know…"Becky") who happened to be wearing a short skirt and low-cut top. Isn't Becky "inviting people to jump to the conclusion" that she's a slut? Wasn't she "asking for it"? Well, probably not the murder, but definitely the rape. And, tattoos are "a prison and gang thing"? That's how the fad began? It started in the NBA with this guy. Crip or Blood? It's been nearly 15 years, I can't remember. -4, Jason.

LeBron is just the third male ever to appear on Vogue's cover, but it's hard to believe Vogue would have made Brett Favre, Steve Nash or even David Beckham strike his best beast pose. And even if Vogue had, it wouldn't carry the same racial undertones as having a fear-inducing black man paired with a dainty damsel. – JH

I'm intrigued. A quick trip through Google Images produced the Brett Favre "beast pose". Personally, I can't get past the crow's feet, the dentures or the Peter King vacuum seal that the camera lens must've missed. Next up is Steve Nash. JESUS! Too bad Gisele is three feet taller than Wee Steve. It's like someone shaved a Mogwai, then fed him after midnight. +1, Jemele.

When David Stern insisted on helping these players with their image by implementing a dress code, many of the players and their media groupies screamed racism. You see, showing up to work in a white T and iced-out (heavy jewelry) was their way of showing loyalty to their boys in the 'hood, a shout-out to the corner boys and girls. – JW

TBG Sez: Wait, wait, wait…David Stern instituted that NBA dress code to serve the players? It wasn't to quell, uhh…"certain demographic concerns" that Stern's league was spooking(!) those who can actually afford to buy season tickets, luxury boxes and sponsorships? Stern works for the players' best interests, now? That will come as quite the shock to the Cream of Wheat man. -5, Jason.

In fact, the shirtless black male athlete cover is pretty much a staple, reinforcing the idea that black athletes were blessed with physical characteristics, not mental ones. – JH

TBG Sez: I thought Nike and ESPN invented Tiger Woods to shatter these myths and end racial ignorance once and for all? Of course, no one could've known that Woods would go all "I, Robot" on his creators and run from who he is, but February 2009 will be here before you know it. He'll stop by the studios for a "Black History Minute". Singular, I'm certain. Still, Jemele makes a good point. +1

Just look at how much heat the NFL takes for trying to stop Chad Johnson from bojangling. When Johnson slaps in his gold teeth, dyes and cuts his hair into a blonde Mohawk, dances a jig in the end zone and makes life absolute hell on his black coach that is fun and good for the game. - JW

TBG Sez: I will never tire of the use of "bojangle" as a verb. Never. "Jalen, quit bojangling and get in the car!" +6, Jason.

It's like Barack Obama said in his much-talked about speech on race Tuesday. We know so little about one another. Even scarier, we know even less about the fallout of racist history. – JH

TBG Sez: Barack Obama?! That Muslim?! He's who you reference at the end of your column after starting out with Jay-Z? Oh, Jemele. -1.

Would we be having this discussion if LeBron struck the same pose on the cover of Ebony while holding Selita Ebanks? Think about it. And if we wouldn't be having the discussion, what does that say about us? Are we only bothered by negative images of black men when the primary/sole consumer of the image is white people? – JW

TBG Sez: Well, Jason…I think the whole point of this controversy – and correct me if I'm wrong – had to do with LeBron's image juxtaposed with a white woman. So, I'm gonna have to say "no" to your first question. I don't have to think about it. Besides, Ebanks is dating New York Giants star defensive end, Simon Adebisi. And, to your last question…isn't that the whole concept behind your own "bojangling" example? Why do people keep hiring you? -1, Jason.

Final score: Jemele: 0, Jason: 0.


Tom said...

Is it bad that this is the first I've heard of this "controversy."

Everyone knows that LeBron has a team of handlers and they had probably had to OK this cover, right?

I mean, I guess it is kinda sterotypical that they had him go with the basketball outfit instead of getting dappered up but he's also a basketball player. I think it would be way more awful if they made Obama or Denzel be on the cover in the same outfit.

.... which is actually a really funny mental image.

Anonymous said...

and i will never tire of the 'mfwntak' tag.

JPinAZ said...

So who's the MFWNTAK? Everyone?

Tom B. said...

I'm on the side that deposits loads on Gis' face.