N-Word Hypocrisy; NCAA Fuzzy Math Strikes Again


n word

Shaun Powell

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The N-Word Problem

Chris Bosh wants to ban the n-word from sports, but despite a few incidents (hi, Riley Cooper), it’s much more of a music industry issue.

Warning: The following opinion piece contains explicit content and deserves a Parental Advisory warning label — you know, the label your kids ignore.

* * *

It’s nice that Chris Bosh and other well-meaning and progressive players want to exterminate the n-word from their workplaces and maybe their vocabularies, and their hearts may be in the right place. But when I heard this, my response was: Don’t show me your stance. Show me your playlist.

Suppose, for example, the No. 8 song in America is a big hit in the Heat locker room. Maybe it isn’t — for all I know LeBron James and friends are heavy into classical music or soft rock. But if the song by Jeezy is inside the earphones of Bosh’s teammates in the locker room, the place Bosh is supposedly trying to scrub clean, then here’s a sampling of what’s coming through the speakers:

Fucked my first bitch, passed her to my niggas.

Hit my first lick, pass to my niggas.
Fuck them other niggas cause I’m down with my niggas.
I ride with my niggas fuck them other niggas.
My niggas, my niggas.
My niggas, my niggas.

Yes, the No. 8 song in America has a certain word in the title, and take a guess what it is.

It’s amusing to witness how that word suddenly has become a sports issue. Well, it’s not a sports issue. Just because Richie Incognito used it with a black teammate and Eagles receiver Riley Cooper let it rip during an insane moment at a Kenny Chesney concert doesn’t make it an issue. Two examples are all it takes to make a trend? Two examples and suddenly sports is on fire? Does that word actually affect what happens on the field or influence the final score? Is it written in some team’s playbook or on some jersey? It’s not a sports issue, per se; it’s just a topic driven by the sports media looking for a lightning rod here in a dead spot on the calendar because, well, we need something to discuss on these endless debate shows.

But it is a pop culture issue, and most definitely a popular music issue. And that’s where honest conversation most needs to be held: Not in a locker room, but among recording artists and music moguls and record companies and hopefully between parents and the largest consumers of this type of music: Teenagers and young adults who have embraced the n-word and generally have no issue with it being in their personal dictionary or pumping through their headphones.

That word became public in a few isolated incidents in sports and yeah, it’s often used among athletes. But compare that to the music industry, where that word is mainstream in certain genres and creeps into the top 10 list almost on a weekly basis and is accepted by those in power. Then tell me which industry has an n-word problem, sports or music?

The language used in songs currently getting heavy airplay and selling in the top 40 wouldn’t be tolerated at the dinner table or the boardroom or in school, and yet teenagers can recite those songs word-for-word. Ask some kids to memorize their math homework and you’ll get a blank stare, but ask them to sing a few verses from the biggest song of last year, a collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West, and you’ll get a flawless, polished rendition of “Niggas in Paris,” which by the way was cranked non-stop in sports arenas and stadiums everywhere (the sanitized version, thankfully).

There’s a reason the unedited version of a Lil Wayne song sells far more on iTunes than the radio-friendly version, because going G-rated isn’t how your kids roll. They’d rather worship this Lil Wayne verse from “I’m On One”:

I walk around the club, fuck everybody.

And all my niggas got that Heat I feel like Pat Riley.

There’s no real need for a one-hour special about the n-word in sports, like ESPN recently put on. And it’s largely silly for the NFL to penalize players who use that word on the field, something the league is weighing right now. However, there is a need for the suits at MTV to take a brutally honest look at the songs and artists that the network promotes. There’s a need for Rolling Stone and other influential magazines in the industry to ask the one question they’ve never asked in any interview: What … the … hell?

They won’t, of course. Perhaps worse than the n-word and other offensive lyrics are the companies and industry types who apologize for them and cover for them and try to rationalize, one way or another, how this is an “art form” and therefore exempt from criticism and so-called standards. That card — that Artists Card — is how people like Jay-Z get away with saying they have 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one, and make millions in the process.

The music industry, you see, doesn’t have a commissioner or a front office or a board of governors. The music industry doesn’t answer to anyone except consumers, and so everyone plays the Artists Card and gets away with saying niggas and bitches and telling women to bend over and put their face on a pillow and “reach up in the dresser where them condoms is” (how nice of Chris Brown to be so thoughtful in his top-10 hit “No Bullshit”).

It’s all about the money. The n-word sells. Calling women “bitches” sells. Talking about smoking blunts and blaming the alcohol sells. It sells because popular music has always been about rebellion and lust and breaking rules, which caters to young people searching for independence. I get that, and we’ve all been there. But there’s a big gap between Elvis shaking his hips and a lot of what you see and hear now. Lyrics today are much more raw and offensive and polarizing, at least to parents. And in particular, some (not all) hip-hop and rap music has taken a sharper turn, from the Sugar Hill Gang to Rick Ross. He was the headliner two years ago in a concert hosted by NBA players during All-Star Weekend and shouted “nigga” to a mostly-black (and approving) audience.

Shouldn’t there be standards, at least among the artists? Shouldn’t there be lines that can’t be crossed, or are all the lines blurred, with apologies to Robin Thicke? Lyrics that are considered, by the mainstream anyway, to be racist, homophobic and sexist haven’t stopped our biggest-selling artists from using them. How can Jay-Z use “bitches” the way he does when he’s the father of an infant daughter?

Anyone who thinks athletes are the biggest outside-the-home role models for kids and teenagers would be dead wrong. Musicians are, and it’s not even close. Not all kids are into sports, but almost all kids are into music, and most are into pop music. And yet the same parents and media people who are so quick to slam an athlete for doing something dumb will say nothing when Kanye banks another million for writing “nigga” in a song.

It would take stones for an influential pop music critic or an entertainment exec to call out certain artists or forms of music. That might be career suicide, and so too many people simply shut up, hail the artist for being “cutting edge” or “poetic” or “keeping it real” and keep collecting paychecks.

Why the n-word is tolerated in the black community, or any community, by virtue of the silence from the masses on the subject, is a mystery — and a rather disturbing one for me personally. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, although Richard Pryor and Red Foxx many decades ago made quite a living for themselves from that word and were considered comedic geniuses, then and now.

And so maybe the real “enemy” when it comes to the n-word and other offensive lyrics isn’t them, the entertainers. It’s us. It’s the consumers, the people who fund the industry and keep it alive. It’s everyone who condones nigga by virtue of making nigga very profitable and very acceptable in everyday language among certain people. Because in the end, we the people decide what’s appropriate and what isn’t through our own actions and the decisions we make with our wallet.

If the public demanded songs about animals and the importance of clean air and water, then pop singers and groups would furiously try to create the next “Mercy Mercy Me,” an all-time classic about the dangers threatening the ecology.

Of course, the great Marvin Gaye then pioneered the kind of raw lyrics that are popular today when he scored “Sexual Healing,” so what do I know?



fuzzy math14

More from Sports on Earth

Fuzzy Math


Patrick Hruby

The NCAA’s claim about the money that goes to student athletes doesn’t add up.

Pop quiz: When the National Collegiate Athletic Association claims that more than 90 cents of every dollar the organization generates goes to schools to support college athletes, said support includes:

A) Head coach performance bonuses B) Assistant coach car stipends C) Athletic department staff country club memberships D) All of the above

This being the command economy and semantic Orwellian hellscape of amateur NCAA sports, the answer, of course, is “D.” Not that you’d know it by following the association’s official social media propaganda arm Twitter feed. Earlier this week, the NCAA tweeted — humblebragged, actually, assuming that’s still a thing — the following:

The embedded link directs to the association’s financial “about us” webpage, which makes the same 90 cents-plus claim. And that sounds wonderful. Charitable. Downright magnanimous. Certainly reason to reject the share-the-wealth arguments of those greedy O’Bannon lawsuit plaintiffs and union-agitatin’ Northwestern University football players and whoever picks the cover stories for Time magazine. To borrow from Patrick Ewing’s long-ago NBA lockout logic: Sure, the NCAA and its member schools make a lot of money off athletes. But they spend a lot of money on athletes, too. Over 90 percent of the total take. DYK, y’all!

Thing is, the 90 percent support claim is the product of creative accounting. And by “creative,” I mean the bookkeeping equivalent of duct-taping a waffle cone to a donkey’s forehead, then claiming you’ve discovered a real-life unicorn.

Let’s break it down.

According to USA TODAY Sports, the NCAA took in nearly $872 million in revenue in the 2012 fiscal year, mostly from television and marketing rights. About $504 million of that was distributed to member schools and conferences; another $115 million was spent on association-wide programs; more than $38 million went to management and general spending; and the organization reported a $72 million surplus.

Add $504 and $115 million and guess what? You’re only at 71 percent of total NCAA revenue generated — which last I checked, is less than 90 percent. Still, let’s assume that the association is telling a half-truth, and that 90 percent of its revenue does go to schools. Does all of that money actually support college athletes?


In a paid-for expert witness report filed in the O’Bannon case late last year, economist Lauren Stiroh defends the NCAA’s position by arguing that college athletes already receive a significant portion of the money made by college sports. She cites scholarships, of course, but then goes on to include the following as “substantial non-monetary benefits”:

… expenditures on the salaries and benefits of coaches and trainers, game expenses. Athletic departments also make expenditures on facilities, team travel, equipment and supplies, medical care, and recruiting, among other categories …

By Stiroh’s definition, the 94 University of Nebraska athletic department staffers who reportedly receive complementary cars and/or memberships to country, golf and health clubs are doing so in support of … college athletes. This tee time isn’t for me, son. It’s for you! Of course, you’ll be in morning film study while I’m putzing around in a gold cart. But still. And Stiroh isn’t being sneaky — as she makes clear in a footnote, she is simply following the same standard accounting definitions used by the NCAA and its member schools, which basically considers all athletic department spending to be in direct support of college athletes, including “housing allowances” and “country club memberships.”

When Northwestern football players are bussed to a road game instead of having to buy their own Greyhound tickets and/or carpool and front gas money, that’s a benefit.

When Jim Harbaugh builds a $70,000 office bathroom while coaching Stanford University football, that’s a benefit.

When the University of Oklahoma employs compliance officers to police the precise amount of gratis pasta eaten by players at a graduation banquet, that’s a benefit.

Needless to say, the 90 cents claim is absurd. As is the logic behind it. Without doubt, the NCAA and its member schools spend a lot of money to support college athletes — but they also spend just as much, if not more, to support the entire gold-plated edifice of college athletics. The two are not the same, any more than your office installing ergonomic desks and a higher-speed Internet connection is the same as getting more vacation days or a bump in your paycheck. For the NCAA to boast otherwise is disingenuous.

Only don’t take my word for it. Ask the association. In a NCAA-produced video describing college sports finances, a helpful narrator explains a screen-sized pie chart:

… So, where does that money go? Last year, NCAA Division I and II institutions provided more than $2.3 billion in direct financial aid to their student-athletes, what most people call athletic scholarships. Another $2.9 billion went into items that directly benefitted the student-athlete experience. Expenses like travel, equipment, facilities, and academic services. So approximately half of all expenditures go to direct benefits for student athletes (bold added) …

Wait. Approximately half? What happened to over 90 cents of every dollar generated?

… The rest of the spending goes to compensation for head and assistant coaches, administrative compensation, and other operating expenses …

Oh. Right. But wait! By the NCAA’s ever-shifting standards, most of that counts, too. Like amateurism itself, spending on college athletes is whatever the association says it is, and a depressing reminder of the real golden rule: Those who have the gold, rule.

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