Shani vs. Chad: Black, White, And Several Shades of Gray

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 23, 2006
Shani Davis (left) and Chad Hedrick (right) flank gold medalist Enrico Fabris.

Shani Davis (left) and Chad Hedrick (right) flank gold medalist Enrico Fabris.

“He (Davis) is going his own way. He’s very different to a lot of speedskaters, and we have to respect that, but he is not a team player.”
— Speed skater Eric Heiden, 5-time Olympic gold medalist.

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — While watching the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy unfold, I was anxious to see if speed skater Shani Davis would be able to bring home the gold for the United States.
To no ones surprise, instant controversy and media misinformation became bedfellows again concerning Davis and fellow American Chad Hedrick.
While the affair has quickly become a black and white issue, there are many areas of gray that have been either glossed over or have not thoroughly been investigated.
Here are some facts and or questions that we hope will shed some light:
1. Technically, there is no “U.S. Speed skating Team”.
The much talked about team pursuit format is being used in the Winter Olympics for the first time. While the format has been used in other Olympic sports such as cycling, but this is the first time it’s being used in speed skating. In doing some research, I found that all five of Eric Heiden’s gold medals won in the 1980 Lake Placid games were individual wins as were Bonnie Blair’s and Dan Jansen’s in other games. In retrospect, the history of this sport has always been about individual accomplishments.
2. In that same vein, why did the U.S. “federation/team” wait until they reached Italy to ask or inquire about Davis’ in joining the team pursuit?
It seems apparent to this reporter that the U.S. officials knew about the format long before they came to Turin. Why would they wait nearly less than a week before the event to put together a team pursuit squad? Why wasn’t another “team member” asked or considered? Also, even if Davis had decided to participate, there was no guarantee that the U.S. would have won a medal. According to Olympic officials, the competition required several time trials to reach the final round.
3. How did the general sports media “help” state Davis’ claim of racism?
When it was being reported that Davis refused to participate in the team pursuit, it was widely reported by most of the media that Davis’ refusal would cost Hedrick’s pursuit of matching Heiden’s feat of winning five gold metals. Directly or indirectly, the media made it sound as if Davis should have given up his pursuit of a medal not for the “team goal”, but in fact for Hedrick’s shot at history. Davis’ place in history is and was just as significant at Hedrick’s, especially when you consider the fact that Shani is the first African American to win an individual gold metal at the Winter Games.
4. The “good guy, bad guy” syndrome and the sports reporting.
No matter what happened, it appears that the mainstream media already had Davis and Hedrick placed into their own separate category’s. Davis was the sullen, always angry Black man without any morals or scruples while Hedrick was the fun, loving all-American boy in pursuit of his dreams. Much like when we saw the whole Nancy Kerrigan-Tanya Harding affair play out, preconceived notions by the media have a way of distorting the truth.
In the final analysis, it’s too bad that Davis wasn’t given a true chance to enjoy his much earned moment in the spotlight. Yes, his “interview” with Melissa Stark left a bad taste in many folks mouths. However, to try to encapsulate every thing he’s done off of one interview would be a bit narrow-minded.
Was Davis a bit boorish this week? No doubt. But before you pass him off as someone trying to “play the race card”, understand that he has unjustly been depicted as some sort of pariah?
The real question may be: If he’s such a pariah, why did the U.S. officials feel the need to ask him to help them after ignoring and apparently making an example of him over the previous years?