This entry is a discussion held by Bryan Bracey and Ryan King-White. So we get two blog postings for the price of one.
Bryan Bracey muses:
In the past week two very wealthy professional athletes had their credibility (whatever that means) questioned: Manny Ramirez of the Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers and Mixed Martial Artist Kimbo Slice (Kevin Ferguson) of EliteXC. The funny thing is that the crimes and atrocities committed by these two societal leeches are very different (in fact inverses) yet equally egregious and reprehensible. Given that his moment in the spotlight is almost up, we’ll start with Slice.
The Kimbo Slice story has been documented in numerous mainstream outlets. A “rags to riches” story, his assent has been quite phenomenal. Slice survived Hurricane Andrew (which put a damper on his high school football career) yet managed to find his way to the University of Miami on an academic scholarship. After struggling for money for a period, Slice’s assent to stardom began with his street-fighting career on youtube. In some respects, this clearly speaks to the potential of the internet for gathering and mobilizing individuals as this truly was the way in which Slice developed his fighting career and a following. A neoliberal American dream.
As the biggest star on the first major network Mixed Martial Arts broadcast, Slice is a modern day King Kong. Slice has been fantastically appealing to the masses as long as he is caged and contained. An exotic yet primitive monster bred on the streets, using violence to survive, that can be tamed, packaged, and sold. Equal parts Horatio Alger and Bigger Thomas, he is the American dream and the American nightmare; only the nightmare is not quite as scary when placed in a cage and placated with fame and fortune. By most accounts Slice is quite a hard worker and anxious to learn. One would think a sport which John McCain once famously called “human cockfighting” would be the perfect place to profit from Slice’s background financially while feeding popular discourse some more ideologically normative material.
Yet UFC President Dana White, UFC Legend Chuck Liddell, UFC Fighter Frank Mir, and Yahoo! Sports columnist Kevin Iole, have taken shots at Slice and his organization EliteXC for creating a mockery out of the sport. The consensus being that Slice is more a side show than an individual deserving to Main Event before the largest MMA audiences. Slice’s recent 14-second loss to the relatively unknown Seth Petruzelli seems to have rallied the critics. An obvious con, Slice and EliteXC have defrauded the public. What monster gets slain in 14 seconds by a nobody? Sport like society is the ultimate meritocracy and clearly Slice is an undeserving hustler.
His crime against society: Profiting in excess of perceived fighting ability
Manny Ramirez may be a little a different. Born in the Dominican Republic, Ramirez’s problem has never been ability. He is one of the most productive and consistent players ever. His tenure as member of the Boston Red Sox helped to bring two world championships (two more, than Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski). Yet the Ramirez love affair with the city of Boston came to an abrupt halt earlier this year.
Evidently, productivity is not enough to appease the public. As Red Sox management made it clear that they had no intention of exercising the option on Ramirez’s contract for next season, Ramirez became disenchanted with the organization as did the organization, fans, and media with him. Many have suspected Ramirez of failing to put forth the requisite effort during his final days as a Red Sock. So, I suppose that effort (something that Slice gives plenty of) is always essential despite production. The funny thing about effort is that perception of effort is linked to dirty uniforms, running into things, and contrived yelling be it necessary/worthwhile or not. The negative consequences of such actions (i.e., injury) are more than worth the risk. Heck, Pete Rose once endeared himself to a fan base through reckless effort and earned the nickname Charlie Hustle despite the fact the he was thrown out attempting to steal a base at a higher rate than anyone in history (min. 250 attempts). But he was trying. So was Slice. I’m confused.
What is also confusing is this continued obsession with Ramirez’s perceived effort in Boston. WEEI sports radio in Boston frequently discusses Ramirez quitting on the team even today. You’d think that having the reigning MLB and NBA champions, a team in the MLB playoffs, and a football team that went undefeated in the regular season in the last year would prompt a Boston area fan base to lighten up and/or talk about something else. Yet the issue remains constant. No one cheats Red Sox Nation and gets away with it! Ramirez cheated the organization and according to broadcaster Tim McCarver (not even a Red Sox fan or columnist), that is despicable. Curt Schilling (who should have his own issues with organization) and Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy are equally as venomous in their attacks of Ramirez and his effort. It has gotten to the point where the shill of all Red Sox shills, Bill Simmons, has come to the defense of Ramirez.
But like Slice (an animal), Ramirez is not a man. Ramirez is a child who just happens to be able to hit a baseball. What did we expect?
I have a business degree and I wish that someone would have told me that you could contractually bind effort. I could have skipped all this classes on improving workplace morale and motivational tactics.
In the airport in Birmingham, Alabama I had the pleasure of overhearing the fantastic idea of Major League Baseball investigating Ramirez’s last few days in Boston and ordering him return some of his guaranteed (GUARANTEED!) money. Like Slice, Ramirez is just another common con artist who should be disciplined and punished.
His crime against society: Profiting in excess of perceived effort
The most astounding revelation here is that there is this staunch adherence to the notion that the country is a perfect meritocracy. Yet more confounding is the notion the (economic) worth of an individual is equal parts effort and productivity. Anyone who is reaping societal benefits beyond the sum total of his or her effort and productivity is exploiting the collective and is therefore some sort of cheat or thief. Those individuals need to be prosecuted in the court of public opinion. Now were back in the courtroom waiting on the outcome. I wonder if something else is going on here.
Ryan King-White Responds:
Obviously something’s going on!
As some of you may know I have written a significant portion of my dissertation on the fans of the Boston Red Sox. What I found was that, largely, Red Sox fans, long accused of being amongst the most racist in all of American sport, still harbor deeply racialized beliefs in how their favorite athletes should behave. While I was doing research last year I saw things like a white Red Sox fan dressed up in a kimono, putting his hands together, bowing, and repeating “herro, herro” to a Japanese television crew covering Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima as the throng around him roared with laughter. Later that season a person wrote a letter to the editor when he overheard a white man exclaim “where’s my radio?!” to a group of black kids on bikes, again eliciting much joy from onlookers.
A book chapter from Karyn McKinney’s Being White suggests these are the ways white identities, values, and ways of ‘being’ are consistently reproduced in the general public. Following her thesis perhaps now, baseball fans, and Red Sox Nation are refraining from being overtly racist, but through the way Manny Ramirez has been treated in the recent past we see that behaving in “whitened” ways is still valued – particularly when compared to his former teammates that are fan favorites. I mean Red Sox Nation loves themselves some Dustin Pedroia, a modern day “Charlie Hustle”, all 5’ 9” and 1 for 17 of in the NLDS him. WHY? He lucked his way to the AL Rookie of the Year in 2007, when he wouldn’t have sniffed a 3rd place vote in the NL (against Ryan Braun, Hunter Pence, and Troy Tulowitzki), has notoriously struggled in the playoffs, and is generally regarded as one of the most cocky players on the team. He also has white skin. In fact this year’s Red Sox roster has become almost completely white, and Latino fans have taken notice. The Boston Globe even ran an article after the trade of Ramirez wondering aloud if race was an issue with the Sox.
Jed Hoyer, the assistant GM, suggested that the team “is completely colorblind” in terms of roster moves, a popular defense emblematic of the neoliberal moment. To suggest that they only take the best players belies the past behaviors and roster moves the organization has made. What he should have said is that they only sign players who know their role, don’t complain about management, and don’t ask for too much money. As McKinney would suggest these are values historically created by and for the benefit of wealthy white men, and, for the most part, members of the ‘white community’ tend to follow these popular conventions (not all of course, see: Derek Lowe). The Manny Ramirez’s, Pedro Martinez’s, and Nomar Garciaparra’s of the world, on the other hand, don’t keep their mouth shut, and in a town like Boston, were run out of town by their fans. Luckily, for the Red Sox, they have been able to justify their moves because Martinez, and Garciaparra have spent a considerable amount of time on the injury report…not this time. Instead of Manny being Manny in Los Angeles, he has simply been Manny being Awesome. Unlike Boston, who belittled Ramirez’s behaviors, Los Angeles has embraced them, and he has responded by knocking the ball all over the park. He’s been so good that the Dodgers reached the National League Championship Series for the first time in 20 years. This also provides evidence that while the Red Sox and their fans believe that they only root for the “best talent”, they do it with a caveat that they like talent that behaves in ways that do not upset the white majority. In this way, the white majority has become proficient at masking racism.