The meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks’ Asian-American point guard phenom, seemed like an all-around feel-good story until the comments involving race started pouring in. First, there was this, from welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather:
Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise.— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) February 13, 2012
Next came an especially low blow, from Fox Sports Columnist Jason Whitlock, who tweeted a stereotype about the size of a Asian male’s certain body part: “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.” (Whitlock later apologized.)
And then, in a video of the Knicks’ win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday, with an incredible finish by Lin, a fellow teammate is seen deeply bowing to Lin. See at 29 seconds in:
While Lin did not express any offense to the bow, Seattle-based The Slog’s Charles Mudede wrote of the moment: “He really thought it was appropriate to do that?... What an embarrassment to my race.”
Lin has faced comments involving his race for years. This from a Time Magazine story about Lin in 2009:
Everywhere he plays, Lin is the target of cruel taunts. ‘It's everything you can imagine,’ he says. ‘Racial slurs, racial jokes, all having to do with being Asian.’ Even at the Ivy League gyms? ‘I've heard it at most of the Ivies if not all of them,’ he says. ... According to Harvard teammate Oliver McNally, another Ivy League player called him a C word that rhymes with ink during a game last season. On Dec. 23, during Harvard's 86-70 loss to Georgetown in Washington, McNally says, one spectator yelled ‘Sweet-and-sour pork!’ from the stands.
This week, some sports commentators seem shocked by Mayweather’s comment, calling it “a disgrace.” “Mayweather should know better,” Yahoo sports writer Shawn S. Lealos wrote.
But the boxer isn’t the only one in sports who doesn’t know better.
The Lakers’ Shaquille O'Neal, for example, famously used a mock Chinese accent while talking about Houston center Yao Ming. At one point, O’Neal said: “Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.”
Last year, after a goodwill trip to China for the Georgetown men’s basketball team descended into an all-out brawl with the Chinese professional club they were playing, racist comments were flung the other way around.
The Daily Beast quoted a Chinese blogger, one of many making offensive remarks, as saying at the time: “It doesn’t matter that those black people are big and fierce, when it comes to fighting we can kick the [expletive] out of them.” The incident was also chronicled on the blog “Stuff Black People Don’t Like.”
The bigotry extends beyond just two racial groups.
A whole coalition devoted to fighting against racism in sports spends most of their time trying to stop Native American stereotypes. “American Indians are people, not mascots,” the coalition says on their home page.
Recent basketball news reports are no more reassuring, including headlines like “Racist basketball cheer was a ‘joke,’ high school player says,” “Basketball coach benched for racist remarks,” and “Black high school players mocked with banana suits.”
TotalProSports.com’s round up of the “10 ridiculously racist remarks from sports personalities” has athletes making bigoted comments on just about every race. Many of those comments sparked a backlash.
Lin, however, seems to respond to comments involving his race now just as he did in 2009 — by ignoring them.
“Honestly ... I don’t react to it,” he said to Time. “I expect it, I'm used to it, it is what it is.”
An earlier version of this post stated that Floyd Mayweather was a heavyweight champion. He is a welterweight champion. This version has been corrected.