Sports Law Blog
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Monday, March 31, 2008
much ado about . . . ?
Perpetuating stereotypes is nasty business. One of the more prevalent and damaging stereotypes in collegiate and professional sports in that of the criminalized African-American athlete. According to Kinesiology Professor Damion Thomas at the University of Maryland, “Images of black male athletes as aggressive and threatening ‘reinforce the criminalization of black men.’” Almost weekly now, stories of athletes being arrested for criminal mischief dominate the news cycles. Cue the latest stereotyping controversy:
The April 2008 cover of Vogue Magazine features LeBron James and Brasilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Editors of Vogue hailed the cover as an historic moment as James became the first African American male to ever grace its cover. Unfortunately for Vogue, this historic moment has come under fire as commentators and pundits decry the photo as perpetuating racial stereotypes. According to some, the cover conjures an image of “King Kong” and Fay Wray, perpetuating the idea of a criminalized black man.
Magazine analyst and critic Samir Husni believes that the Vogue cover was intentionally provocative, deliberately attempting to perpetuate the stereotype: “It screams King Kong. . . . [W]hen you have a cover that reminds people of King Kong and brings those stereotypes to the front . . . it is not innocent.” Husni continues that magazine covers, particularly for publications as influential and prominent as Vogue, are not rushed into without careful deliberation.
For his part, James is pleased with the cover claiming that he was just trying to show “a little emotion.”
Still, critics claim that this type of stereotyping, criminalizing the black athlete, is nothing new. Memorable magazine covers in the past have portrayed black athletes in unflattering ways. To wit:
No one would or could reasonably argue that black athletes are more inclined to break the law than are white athletes. Still, troubling images only lend themselves to perpetuating unfounded stereotypes.