Know Your Audience

After tweeting a tasteless joke about NBA players, Minnesota legislator Pat Garofalo has walked back his statement a bit. (AP)

After tweeting a tasteless joke about NBA players, Minnesota legislator Pat Garofalo has walked back his statement a bit. (AP)

I’m not interested in whether or not Pat Garofalo is a racist. That’s the sort of argument people bring up to distract from an actual event by enticing us to speculate on something that’s impossible to prove. Maybe Garofalo is a swell guy who did a foolish thing, though that seems unlikely. What’s indisputable is that Garofalo, a member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives, tweeted out the following on Sunday evening:

You only need to know that Garofalo is white and about 80 percent of the NBA is black to understand what he meant. He was being an unimaginatively grumpy sports fan and at least a little bit racist. (For the pedants: acting in a racist manner is different from being a racist, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.) This might speak to some very stupid fears he tries to keep under wraps, but it is, at best, a needlessly mean thing to say.

It’s completely false, too. The NBA is as healthy as it has ever been in terms of the size of its fanbase — its next TV deal is going to be staggeringly lucrative — so I have no idea what Garofalo is talking about when it comes to the whole “folding” thing. And, as has been delineated by Kevin Draper at the Diss and Kyle Wagner at Deadspin, NBA players actually commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population. The NBA crime rate is especially low when you take into account that it’s a league of men in their 20s and 30s. Garofalo, when he was initially standing behind the spirit of his tweet on Sunday night — he has since walked his sentiments back with a textbook “sorry to those who might have been offended” non-apology — also tried to argue that the NBA doesn’t penalize players for marijuana use, which isn’t true either.

So the Minnesota lawmaker was wrong about a staggering amount of things in a 24-hour period, and now he’s publicly half-sorry, and… whatever, he’ll remain the person he is because he has no real reason to change. It sucks that Minnesotans have a guy like him in their government, but then thoughtless half-wittery and fierce parochialism isn’t something that’s uncommon to politicians.

Perhaps the only instructive thing that can be gleaned from Garofalo’s thinly veiled contempt for a league of mostly black players is that the NBA, which occasionally becomes troublingly preoccupied with selling itself to a broader — i.e. white — audience, shouldn’t worry so much about about the color of its labor force’s skin. Its overwhelming blackness is not anything like a problem. Anyone with a shred of intelligence knows the league is made up primarily of upstanding citizens: some nice people, some jerks, some goofballs, a small handful of criminals — same as any other workplace, really.

Paranoid, blinkered white people — occasionally ones in the public eye — are always going to mischaracterize the NBA regardless of how it’s presented to them. One of the wonderful things about the NBA is its athletes are the most expressive of any major sport. There are plenty of self-conscious personal brand guardians, but there are also mercurial cranks like Rajon Rondo and laid back straight-talkers like Paul Pierce. The NBA has a great deal of personality, and the league should encourage that, because it will never win over the Pat Garofalos of the world, no matter how much it tries to sanitize its product. A minimum of open-mindedness is required if you’re white and follow the NBA, and that’s a good thing. It keeps some of the idiots away.

3 thoughts on “Know Your Audience

  1. Sounded silly, but then I realized he is probably right. It’s not just the NBA players whose lives change, but the fans too. Wasn’t this the premise behind midnight basketball?

  2. Nice try Mr McGowan, but I’m fairly certain if the general populous had an NBA avg income, criminal activity and other socially unacceptable behaviors would be much lower, and this doesn’t include such inherent job perks as free shrinks, babysitters for adults, and team gofers hired for cleanup duties. Nor does the general public have apologist, such as yourself, protecting its image.
    I don’t know Mr Garofalo, but why should he or anyone else be censored for pointing out an issue using hyperbole. No one thinks all NBA players are thugs. You want a stereotype: Here is one, how about left leaning liberals who believe the masses are mutant descendents of trailer trash, and thus lacking intelligence, need to be told how to think. Well, here is what I’m thinking. A bum is a bum, white-black-or olive colored, and it is not racist to point that out. P.S. if Mr Incognito’s conduct off the field is accurate he should have been gone years ago from the NFL.

    • This might be one of the dumbest posts I’ve ever read. First off, your initial point is off since the Rep. was arguing that crime would go UP if the NBA folded. Secondly, all you’re saying is that if the general population had NBA money, the crime rate would be lower, which is what it is with NBA players so that again disproves the Rep.’s point. Thirdly, how is he being censored? Who is censoring him? He was CALLED OUT for making a dumb comment. Finally, what is with conservatives and their paranoia about liberals.