AN EDITORIAL BY MATT DE SARLE
The Black Lives Matter college basketball jerseys, with equality slogans instead of last names, and public service announcements between every TV timeout, mean nothing. That is, unless we call out white privilege when we see it.
On Friday afternoon during a closely contested conference tournament game between Michigan and Maryland, Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard got ejected after a verbal altercation at mid-court. Mark Turgeon, a white coach who also was very animated during the discussion, was not ejected.
[One year later, White Privilege is on Full Display again amidst Wisconsin-Michigan Brawl involving head coach Juwan Howard. Read more here.]
And if you’re a fellow white person shaking your head ‘no’ at this point, consider this.
How many times have you been watching a Michigan Wolverines basketball game during this 2020-2021 regular season and heard something like this: A commentator discusses how much success Juwan Howard has enjoyed during his second season as the Wolverines head man…
That is, until shortly thereafter you see the camera cut to assistant coach Phil Martelli. The television commentator continues on about how the success Howard has enjoyed has been backed up by the mentorship of Martelli, a veteran head coach who saw some success at Saint Joseph’s. In 24 seasons, Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to the NCAA Tournament less than one third of the time, 7 in total. However, you’ll hear how Martelli is almost like this “Godfather” character. It’s almost as if Juwan Howard, a living legend as an NCAA player, member of the “Fab 5,” longtime National Basketball Association professional (and champion), and seven year assistant coach in the NBA, couldn’t do it by himself.
When a white coach enjoys success early in his head coaching career, does the camera cut to a black assistant coach to discuss how his mentorship has boosted the head man’s abilities?
No. It doesn’t work the other way around.
Still, on this Friday afternoon Juwan Howard went to mid-court to protest a ball deflecting out of bounds. As he explained since in a postgame interview, he felt the ball was out off of a Maryland players hands. Whatever Howard was saying to the referees, and/or the Maryland sidelines at the time, it was not a physically demonstrative act. However, it was met by Mark Turgeon’s storming over towards Juwan Howard, pointing his finger and fist down, and scolding him as if he were a naughty little boy. It’s as if Juwan Howard needs an adult in the room. It’s as if he needs a Godfather looking over him.
And so, when at that point Juwan Howard responded in a pissed-off fashion, the refs probably made the right call to eject him. However, to not eject Mark Turgeon at the same time is a very basic form of white privilege that can’t go un-seen.
In my opinion, the white privilege is enjoyed when the black coach is ejected and the white coach is not. Both men approached one another. Juwan Howard started the protest, whatever it may have been. And both coaches showed a tremendous amount of class, not surprisingly, in their postgame interviews. Each showed some remorse for how things transpired, but both talked about needing to defend themselves and their teams. Instead of punishing only one of these two coaches in the heat of the moment, would it be possible to have some more tolerance and understand how each human being might get “heated” in that moment? I think that would be a more common sense solution.
Obviously most of us will never know what was said, or what backstory really set this off. But if Mark Turgeon’s gripe was that Juwan Howard left “the coaches box,” were two wrongs made right when he himself clearly left his coaches box to tell Juwan Howard off? Again, both head coaches acted demonstratively. But are we really excusing Mark Turgeon because he spent the last 24 years as a college head coach while Juwan Howard spent those 24 years as an NBA player and/or coach?
This blog is written by a huge college basketball fan. The whole theme of the blog is about what is being observed. However, its author is not a “let’s stick to sports to escape from reality,” type of person. The basketball highlights seen on TV are secondary if we can’t really see each other as equals. If we set boundaries where we can and cannot talk about race, we are inherently “talking our ball and going home” as a society.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made more people aware of micro-agressions. These are the seemingly innocent benign comments, behavior or treatment of one another that, in a subtle way, reiterate certain dominance or perceived superiority in society. The white player or coach who can yell and not be punished in the same fashion as the counterpart person of color might seem innocent at face value. But it’s not. Or, as basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a Los Angeles Times editorial:
“Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in,” writes Abdul-Jabbar. “As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.”