Medill professor J.A. Adande weighs in on the Lebron-Ingraham controversy

    In 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month by calling upon Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our history.”

    Ever since, the month of February has stood as a testament to African-American pride, resiliency, courage, and, of course, achievement; this February, however, bore witness to an astonishing level of ignorant political discourse concerning African Americans, especially with regards to sports.

    Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham caught the ire of the sports world by castigating Cleveland Cavalier Lebron James for his comments concerning President Donald Trump, and told him to “shut up and dribble” rather than make “barely intelligible, not to mention ungrammatical” hot takes.

    Isolated, this incident screams backlash against the most prominent and vocal NBA player for voicing a popular progressive viewpoint. If one considers Fox News’ history of covering African-American athletes, however, Ingraham’s comments turn from outraged naivety to racial disparagement.

    “[Ingraham’s comments] represent this desire to keep black athletes in their place and limit them and to basically say your role is to provide entertainment and nothing else,” Director of Sports Journalism and Associate Professor J.A. Adande said.“To say shut up and dribble is to attempt to invalidate everything that he is beyond mere athlete. To negate his concerns as a parent, to negate his awareness and the education that he has taken upon himself to become aware of social issues, to so dismissively cast all that aide comes off to me as white privilege.”

    Fox News has a history of covering black athletes, and specifically Black athlete activism, in a negative light. When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the 2016 NFL season, Fox News labeled his actions as an insult to the nation, to the flag and to the military.

    From online articles criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL from not taking a harsher stance on kneeling, to television segments devoted to shredding his name in the name of patriotism, Fox News took a hardline stance.

    In the eyes of Fox News, Kaepernick represented everything wrong with athlete activism; a progressive, African-American taking a stand against racial discrimination by insulting ideas conservatives hold dear. Similarly to how Ingraham told James to just shut up and play basketball, Fox News urged NFL players to stand up and play football.

    This negative treatment of black athletes is heightened by Fox News’ treatment of white entertainment stars. Contemporary stars like Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight and MLB pitcher Curt Schilling have appeared on Fox News’ airwaves in support of classic, conservative positions.

    “For her to try to disavow any racial animus in her comments rings false,” Adande said. “[Fox News] has had several white people from the sports world on their shows to speak about issues beyond sports, and yet she feels that Black athletes are not entitled to voice their opinions. She had to be aware that when she made these statements that, at the very least, they could be perceived as having racial undertones, even if it wasn't her intention.”

    None of these individuals have any political record, nor have they displayed the intellectual acumen that Ingraham implied that James needed to comment on political issues. Forget that Nugent once referred to former President Barack Obama as a “subhuman mongrel”, or that Schilling has ties with Anti-Semites and has compared Muslims with Nazis.

    Rather, Fox News believes that these individuals, as white conservatives, deserve the right to air their political opinions no matter how incendiary, misleading, or discriminatory they may be. At the same time, they chastise black athletes for exercising their own right to freedom of expression.

    Clearly, Fox News has no respect for black athletes and their political opinions, but that does not give them the right to slander these individuals for exercising a Constitutionally-protected right when they offer white entertainers these same avenues without a word of complaint.

    Unfortunately, these attacks mischaracterize African-American athletes to a Fox News audience that has most certainly been hardwired to oppose progressivism, making it hard to view political activism as an expression of free speech in an objective light.

    To Fox News, toleration is not determined by whether or not one is allowed to exercise one’s freedom of speech, but whether or not the content of the speech itself fits into a conservative narrative that supports their right-wing ideology.

    Putting white, conservative entertainers on air is fine; these individuals have the right to discuss their beliefs and opinions on television. Fox News, though, should not be hypocritical in demeaning black progressive athletes from voicing their own opinions, and instead engage in discussion, not slander.


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