Anna Holmes, until recently a Style section writer for The Washington Post wrote a piece for Yahoo News called "The White World of Sports." She began by attacking NBC host Bob Costas and his "man-child hairdo" (?) for not sounding more like Al Sharpton when Gabby Douglas won the all-around Olympic gold in gymnastics.
"You know, it's a happy measure of how far we've come that it doesn't seem all that remarkable, but still it's noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women's all-around in gymnastics," Costas proclaimed. "The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself." Holmes hated that:
In a political and cultural environment in which the patriotism—the very Americanness—of people of color (including the current president of the United States) is often called into question, Costas's scripted deep thought—his "little homily,” as one Twitterer called it—was at worst dishonest, at best naive. What leveled barriers, I wondered, was Mr. Costas referring to?
Who, excepting the most Pollyanna-ish or cloistered of cultural observers—the type who assert the legitimacy of phrases like "post-racial"—would believe that Gabby Douglas' challenges were primarily psychic, a statement that can be contradicted by pretty much any news story or feature profile on the 16-year old gymnast, all of which make no secret of the undeniable whiteness of being that is high-level American gymnastics? "Bob Costas just re-affirmed that the success of a black person means we're not racist anymore. THANK GOD THAT'S OVER," wrote the political writer Ana Marie Cox.
Holmes went straight for the racial quotas -- a National Women's Law Center study showing black girls participate less in athletics than whites, and a study commissioned by USA Gymnastics in 2007 found almost 75 percent of the gymnasts were white, and only 6.6 percent were black -- and pronounced that racial barriers are still up, and forbidding:
Members of USA Gymnastics—coaches, judges or athletes who participate in its sanctioned events—responded to (and within) the survey in a variety of ways, many of them unsympathetic: "This is just another example of political correctness gone CRAZY!" Said another: "As a middle class, white Christian male, is the NBA doing any "reach out" programs to me and my family?" And another advised: "Start programs in low income areas. Once people understand you don't have to be a rocket scientist to teach and coach gymnastics, it will flourish. We are too elitist to appeal to the masses."
Elitist? Perhaps. White? Definitely. Speaking of aerospace experts, it also doesn't take an authority on modern propulsion methods to notice that coverage of this first week of the 2012 Olympics has been an overwhelmingly homogenous one. Douglas, her fellow gymnast John Orozco and other Olympians like freestyle swimmer Cullen Jones notwithstanding, the focus on fan favorites like gymnastics and swimming has underscored just how few Americans of color make up the ranks of the non-track-and-field elite. (And don't get me started on crew.)
This, of course, is a function of both access and opportunity, and it starts early; as the NWLC report put it, "girls, particularly girls of color, receive far fewer opportunities to play sports than do boys, as well as inferior treatment in areas such as equipment, facilities, coaching and publicity." Doesn't sound to me like so many barriers have been felled after all.