Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

Watching TNTs NBA coverage last Thursday (December 4th) I was mildly amused when Kenny Smith made a comment about the quality of Terrell Owens's physique, and his interlocutors (Barkley, Webber, Ernie Johnson) thought that was fun-fun-funny. They continued ribbing Smith all night, and the producers made a series of cartoonish Photoshopped images mocking Kenny's adoration of Owens's abs. (Kenny's comment comes at 0:45 of this video, and the goofy cartoon comes at about 3:05) The mockery continued all night into the postgame show, past the events shown in this video.

[UPDATE: After I put this post up, the Youtube video (not my video) was taken down due to terms of use violations. You can find the "official" TNT video of the postgame show by clicking here, and then paste the following into your address bar:


The beginning minute of the postgame video makes some reference to the Kenny-T.O. stuff. However, the video of the halftime show where all these hijinks started is not available. Perhaps TNT realized that this was not professional television, and they want to expunge it from the record. Anyway, now back to the original blog post.]

All right, that was mildly amusing. Here's what Kenny said: "T.O. doesn't have to wear anything to make his body look like he's in shape." The context was that Barkley just said that T.O. and Tiger Woods like to wear tight shirts to show off their muscles.

Well, that's probably true. Owens is a fit guy. All wide receivers are: they have to be fast, agile, and strong. Is this any different from scouts saying that a prospect is "freakishly long" or, when LeBron finished high school in 2003, that he had an "NBA body"? Why is this worthy of juvenile ragging? If Kenny had said that, say, Marko Jaric has a fine-looking woman, there would have been a general chuckle, and then we would have moved onto to something else, right?

It's no mystery that mens sports have a homophobic, but simultaneously homoerotic, undercurrent. (I should know, I was on my high school wrestling team for one year!) Whats with all the butt-patting? That link suggests that football coaches pat their players on the rear end because the rest of the body is covered in pads and they can't feel it, but gee, Ive seen plenty of butt-patting in baseball and basketball, also.

And its no stretch to make the connection between the macho, martial mores of the playing arena to bullying behavior off the court. There are plenty of examples of NBA players abusing their wives and girlfriends. (I dont know whether this rate of abuse in the NBA world is higher than the basal population rate, but that seems like a lot of dudes.) There was a whole book about this phenomenon, which, lazily, I have not read.

Former NBA center John Amaechi, who came out as gay in 2007, writes that when his teammates contemplated the thought of knowing a gay person, they came up with: "If my kid grew up gay, I'd throw him into the street." Of course Amaechi surely spiced up his quotes a bit to sell his book, but I have little doubt that this is redolent of the general tenor of locker-room life.

I don't know what else to say, except that Im a bit disappointed that Ernie Johnson, a non-jock, would encourage and even further the homophobic joshing. I guess when you "embed" a journalist with the troops, he tends to internalize the values of the unit.

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