Friday, September 5, 2014
The White Male Pathology Files: Sports Hooliganism
This is the second installment in my series, The White Pathology Files. The series is prompted by the false narrative that the pathologies of black people are what's to blame for their economic and social inequality in American life, not systemic racism. There are plenty of pathologies out there that are overwhelmingly associated with white males, and sports hooliganism is one of them.
In many European countries soccer matches are marred by violence between fans and racist and homophobic chanting. The whiteness of the participants in hooligan culture is rarely discussed, whereas I would bet that if black sports fans were involved en masse in such behavior that race would very quickly become a part of the discourse.
Of course, Americans like to point to the embarrassing violence and hate they see among European soccer fans and feel smug, as if that kind of thing doesn't happen in this country. It does, but in a much more random and less organized fashion. Just take a look at our college campuses. Michigan State University is infamous for its post-game rioting, where students have a tradition of lighting couches on fire in the street after big games. Earlier this year a student mob at the University of Arizona had to be dispersed by riot police after their team lost a basketball game. When Penn State fired Joe Paterno for having protected serial abuser and rapist Jerry Sandusky, students rioted, tearing down lamp posts and throwing rocks at police. (Guess what? The police did not bring in military vehicles, point rifles at the students, or use tear gas. Gee, I wonder why?) If it were young black men and not white men doing this you can bet that couch burning would be turned into an epidemic by Fox News along the lines of the bogus "knockout game."
Or take the NFL. Each year the indispensable sports site Deadspin does their hilarious "Why Your Team Sucks" series where one of their writers disses each NFL team and readers submit their own reasons. If you read the comments section (which on Deadspin, is actually quite good) you will see story after story about violent, drunk, and racist fans attending NFL games. I can't count the number of instances when fans of opposing teams were physically assaulted without any repercussions. Those responsible are almost exclusively white men.
When Michael Brown was killed, the police did everything they could to paint him as a hooligan, including deliberately misrepresenting video of him at a convenience store. The implication was that if he was a "thug" he must have done something to deserve being shot six times while unarmed. Young white men, however, are free to commit hooliganism without getting gunned down by the law. Yes, they may have to go to court and face punishment, but never the ultimate punishment. When it comes to sports, white men have a space where they can be drunk, violent, and out of control, and seem to feel entitled to it. As always, the pathologies of white men are linked to their inborn superiority complex, which entitles them to things others don't get. It's time to call it out when it comes to sports hooliganism, and to stop pretending that it isn't intrinsically linked to whiteness and masculinity.