Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Dorkiness fits the narrative
April 22, 2014 7:26 AM   Subscribe

The NBA season has ended, and the playoffs have begun, causing a figurative ton of internet ink to be spilled on predictions and power rankings. But one word in particular seems to keep popping up in articles to describe white players like Steve Novak, Cody Zeller, Mason Plumlee, Andrew Bogut, and Josh McRoberts: "Dorky." And the writers that use it are inevitably white. Triangle Offense's Khalid Saalam (previously) thinks they should probably cut that out.
posted by Potomac Avenue (43 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dorky. Goofy. Geeky. Now add the word basketball player. You just thought of a white guy, let’s not pretend.

Really? I feel like if Russell Westbrook doesn't pop into your head, then you probably don't follow the NBA.

I'm on board with finding it problematic that "hustle" "high IQ" and "motor" are nearly exclusively used to describe white players, but I watch a lot of basketball and I've not seen the adjectives in the OP used to describe white guys all that often. I'm trying to place it and I can't. When I hear dorky goofy geeky basketball player I think of Russ, KD, and maybe Chris Paul (though probably only because of the State Farm commercials). Oh, and Chris Bosh. Chris Bosh is literally out there teaching kids to code.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:33 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


The message is that to show an appreciation for the dominant culture of this sport, white writers have to disparage white players.

This is an interesting analysis of the phenomenon. Now I'm trying to think of other examples of this type of winking at an "other" about someone in one's own group as a way to gain legitimacy.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 7:36 AM on April 22


Just look at McRobert's hair.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:36 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


The League had a good bit about things this. Veteran black players are always "a class act", Latino players are "scrappy", etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:40 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Kevin Love is a 7-foot monster. I would love to see someone call him "dorky" to his face. Dirk? Hall-of-famer, amazing athlete. Does not compute. I am, however, stoked about the Spur's so-called "Foreign Legion" because it totally breaks down the white/black duality in basketball. Italians? Argentinians? Frenchmen? A Native Australian? I freaking love it. I'd love to see people everywhere drop "dorky" as a descriptor, though. It never felt good to me when it was applied back in Jr High.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:41 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I was nodding in agreement til the high school journalism contorted twist of invoking an ecigarette analogy at the end. Breathlessly juvenile (in that "uhh, why did you bring that up were you saving it? way), misinformed, and gloriously unnecessary to forward his narrative. Like what he writes about, kinda, playing on your own ignorance and projecting it to make a point. Otherwise would and will read again
posted by aydeejones at 7:41 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Bro, do you even vape?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:44 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


Here is relevant study:

To answer this question we dispatched a group of ten people to combine to watch every single television broadcast of a Major League Baseball game for a week last season—95 games total, and nearly 200 separate broadcasts, since nearly every team fields its own broadcast for every game. We analyzed these games for the words announcers used to describe players, with the goal of finding out whether broadcasters spoke about white players and players of color differently.

Our analysis shows that while black players are not discriminated against, foreign-born players—of which the vast majority are Latino—find themselves at a disadvantage.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:46 AM on April 22


Damn I totally meant to link to this under the power rankings too, from the same Triangle Offense Site: Postseason Style Power Rankings
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:47 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


causing a figurative literal ton of internet ink

Why do you hate Pawnee? :(
posted by Talez at 8:03 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


When I hear dorky goofy geeky basketball player I think of Russ, KD, and maybe Chris Paul (though probably only because of the State Farm commercials).

The problem is that the commentators and the pundits and the talking heads don't think of that -- or at least, that they don't call them that. Just like how they never talked about white players being articulate.
posted by Etrigan at 8:06 AM on April 22


The important thing, of course, is that we try really, really hard to find some unsavory suggestion about race or sex in absolutely everything anyone says.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 8:07 AM on April 22 [7 favorites]


Twelve comments to "looking to take offense" or its equivalent. The over-under was nine. Congratulations to those of you who took the over.
posted by Etrigan at 8:08 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


We don’t connect ability to chromosomal sequences anymore.

Well, except for white basketball players.


I'm not sure how you can think this unless you somehow only read articles about white basketball players. All sports commenting is fully of these kind of coded statements, gritty white baseball players, black football players who are "natural athletes"; it's all over.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:11 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the commentators and the pundits and the talking heads don't think of that -- or at least, that they don't call them that.

This is based on what evidence? Google "Chris Bosh nerd" -- plenty of people, pundits, and commentators do actually call him that. And, oh, dear Lord, we haven't even talked about Tim Duncan.

It's clear and evident that commentators talk about black players differently than they do white players. But specifically these words -- dorky, nerdy, goofy? -- I'd like to see more than a few anecdotes backing this up. I just don't hear a distinction when I watch games.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:12 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


The Onion has an entire category of articles dedicated to Tim Duncan's nerdiness.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:20 AM on April 22 [11 favorites]


Those articles are great btw.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:21 AM on April 22


Yeah, I love those.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:22 AM on April 22


Twelve comments to "looking to take offense" or its equivalent. The over-under was nine. Congratulations to those of you who took the over.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned beanplating?
posted by echocollate at 8:22 AM on April 22


Tim Duncan would have made an amazing guidance counselor.
posted by echocollate at 8:24 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Would we call a black guy in this same situation a dork? My immediate take is no, but I'm not sure.
posted by josher71 at 8:27 AM on April 22


The important thing, of course, is that we try really, really hard to find some unsavory suggestion about race or sex in absolutely everything anyone says.

You don't actually have to participate in this thread if you think the conversation is beneath you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:43 AM on April 22


josher71: I don't know, that guy does like a doofus, which transcends race I think.

however, I think that some forms of visual expression are considered more mainstream depending upon your cultural background. The askew hat falls into such a bucket. See also: eastern Europeans with gold chains & tracksuits.

Bowties are another affectation that become infinitely hipper when sported by a person of color, I don't know why, but they do.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:46 AM on April 22


Interesting article, thanks for posting it. The mocking of white players by white writers makes me uncomfortable because at best it is a cheap way of trying to claim in-group status. At worst, it indicates a kind of weird fetishization of the "exotic" black players in comparison. Kind of in the same ballpark as the person who complains that their sushi isn't "authentic" enough because the chef isn't from Japan.
posted by The Gooch at 8:47 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how you can think this unless you somehow only read articles about white basketball players. All sports commenting is fully of these kind of coded statements, gritty white baseball players, black football players who are "natural athletes"; it's all over.

It's prevalent in all commentary on popular culture, perhaps nowhere more so than in writing about popular music.
posted by yoink at 8:53 AM on April 22


The main article could maybe use more data. It wasn't helped by showing Dirk Nowitzki, a 7 ft power forward who could dribble from the back court, drive the lane or shoot the three. Maybe I don't know what dorky means. I guess I don't know what "The mythology of the inept white basketball player" means either. There really aren't any inept NBA players, just good and really good.

There is definitely a there there as to how journalists and fans think of race and basketball skill - think Jason Williams [a white guy for those that don't follow basketball], nicknamed "White Chocolate" - but this article doesn't illustrate its intended point well.
posted by vapidave at 9:21 AM on April 22


I don't follow basketball and had to google these guys. In my opinion, 3 out of 5 named in the FPP were pretty dorky looking. I could see it being a problem if writers using "dorky" is as far-reaching as these articles suggest, but as a tall white guy I can tell you a lot of us tall white guys (not all) look kinda dorky and uncoordinated for a good while, especially while younger. A good number of the guys mentioned here have very young looking faces too, which sorta adds to the overall look of "big 14 year old that just had a growth spurt." Maybe the writers just sort of relate. I do.
posted by Hoopo at 9:30 AM on April 22


This is an interesting analysis of the phenomenon. Now I'm trying to think of other examples of this type of winking at an "other" about someone in one's own group as a way to gain legitimacy.

Hipsters.
posted by one_bean at 9:32 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


It wasn't helped by showing Dirk Nowitzki, a 7 ft power forward who could dribble from the back court, drive the lane or shoot the three. Maybe I don't know what dorky means.

He's not saying that white NBA players are, in fact, dorky. If you Google "Dirk Nowitzki" and "dork" you'll find a ton of comments referring to him as "Dork Nowitzki" and as dorky. I wonder if one could replicate that with any black NBA player.
posted by yoink at 9:51 AM on April 22


Dork
posted by josher71 at 9:53 AM on April 22


A few years ago, the Mavs released ringtones in the voices of Mavs players and Dirk's was him saying:

"How many calls do you get a day? Dang what a circus. GONG SHOW!"

The article has a point, but lets not rush to judgment and assume that Dirk isn't actually a huge dork.

Also, if anyone has a copy of this ringtone, please contact me; I want to hear it again desperately.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:12 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Bowties are another affectation that become infinitely hipper when sported by a person of color, I don't know why, but they do.

That's racist.
posted by codswallop at 12:05 PM on April 22


Playing the Nerd Card on the Freakonomics podcast. Everyone wants to be a dork nerd: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Robert Griffin III. Kottke on NBA "nerds"
posted by morganw at 12:23 PM on April 22


I have to concur that the "dorky" thing seems to be an overreaching attempt at sounding cool. I don't think I've ever heard it from black guys. I remember mentioning Pistol Pete Maravich to an older black guy I used to know and his response contained nothing but reverence and amazement.
posted by jonmc at 12:23 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Also, I think the only truly nerdy NBA player would have to be Kurt Rambis.
posted by jonmc at 12:25 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


So since when was Dennis Rodman not the biggest dork in all of US professional sports?
posted by Danf at 12:34 PM on April 22


Bowties are another affectation that become infinitely hipper when sported by a person of color, I don't know why, but they do.

That's racist.


Yeah, as written, it is, and that's not exactly what I mean. Let me try again: I have observed a trend occurring within a subset of certain historically disadvantaged ethnic groups, wherein they adopt and re-appropriate certain affectations traditionally associated with stuffy old establishment folk, and in doing so make said affectations unexpectedly hip.

e.g. NBA nerds

How's that?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:40 PM on April 22


Well, I guess "historically disadvantaged ethnic groups" could include po' white trash so I guess it's okay.
posted by codswallop at 12:50 PM on April 22


Also worth pointing out that the really tall white guys like Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers in the NHL (one of the whitest leagues that ever whited a white) get called goofy, too, at least that's what I remember and found after googling their names and "goofy". Someone upthread also linked to Peter Crouch, and I don't think anyone calls him goofy for cool cred. I think the simpler answer is tall skinny white guys for whatever reason look funny to some people.
posted by Hoopo at 12:52 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Kelly Olynyk is adorkable, though.
posted by Biblio at 7:50 PM on April 22


He's not saying that white NBA players are, in fact, dorky. If you Google "Dirk Nowitzki" and "dork" you'll find a ton of comments referring to him as "Dork Nowitzki" and as dorky.

Um, what? The author said exactly that. The very first words in the main article are, "Dorky. Goofy. Geeky. Now add the word basketball player. You just thought of a white guy, let’s not pretend."

Dirk and "Dork" are convenient in a playground way. I'm pretty sure the google results reflect a convenient vowel.
posted by vapidave at 3:37 AM on April 23


historically disadvantaged ethnic groups" could include po' white trash

No. The Caucasian ethnic group is not 'historically disadvantaged.' Plenty of Caucasians are disadvantaged -- but not on account of their ethnicity.

Understanding that is central understanding racism and racist oppression.
posted by LonnieK at 10:52 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Um, what? The author said exactly that.

No, he's saying--in the very part you quote--that if someone hears "goofy NBA player" they think of a white NBAer. That's not, at all, the same thing as saying that white NBA players are, in fact, dorky or goofy. Just as if he wrote that if someone uses the phrase "ditzy secretary" you think of a female secretary he would not be saying that female secretaries are, in fact, ditzy. In other words, he is talking about certain well worn cultural narratives which, he believes, do not well capture the actual realities they purport to describe.
posted by yoink at 5:54 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


« Older Cobalt reunited and will be recording a new album....  |  "I often think about my long-a... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments