Pointing the Finger and Playing with Race

By Off the BASN Sports Wire By Rebecca Smith
Updated: March 5, 2006

Speed skating gold medalist Shani Davis takes heat for not being a “team player”

CALIFORNIA—Word rang out two Saturdays ago that 23-year-old Shani Davis had just won the gold medal in the men’s 1000-meter speed skate competition, making him the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics. But just like the principles that founded the earliest days of American culture, in 2006, we can’t let Davis—the black man—take all the glory.

A history of resistance to racism in the Olympics dates back to when U.S. olympic team members Tommie Smith and John Carlos held their Black Power fists high to the crowd while accepting the gold and bronze medals for track in Mexico City in 1968. In later interviews, Carlos remarked that their actions were a symbol of the still prevalent racial discrimination in this country. However, the media stirred up a storm of sentiments accusing the two athletes of being anti-American.

Well, not much has changed if Shani Davis can’t even withdraw from a 1000-meter speed skating team competition held three days before the individual race on the basis that he needs time to prepare (in a sport, mind you, that is not team-oriented) without getting low racist blows for it.

In the days prior to his win, Davis had been slashed with accusations of selfishness and unsportsmanlike conduct from viewers, NBC newscasters, and even his teammate, Chad Hedrick. Media-bred “Davis-is-not a-team-player” discussions may have well translated to “blacks are not team players” like they did in the ‘60s, and perhaps defeating his white opponent, Hedrick, in the individual race didn’t help his image.

In response to heated questioning regarding his absence from the team event, Davis refused to make eye contact with NBC reporters and spoke only a handful of words per answer.

According to the Chicago Tribune, one anonymous post on www.shanidavis.org read: “Just like a [racial epithet]…absolutely no loyalty to the country that gave him this opportunity, he says screw the team, screw the country, it is all about him. May he fall and lose and get zero medals. Selfish [racial epithet].”

With regards to racism, Davis told the Chicago Tribune, “There’s a lot of ignorance out there, but before all this Olympic stuff, I’ve never had any problems.”

With Davis’ anti-team pride media debacle aside, it is my guess that what perpetuates the racism that black athletes receive is the very pedestal that holds their race separate and distinguished from the white race. By labeling individual athletes as “the first African-American to ever win the…,” is America actually exacerbating a competitive racial divide?

Davis told the Chicago Tribune, “If people in America are excited and thrilled to have a black Olympic champion in speed skating, then I’m happy that I can make people happy.”

If Davis’ racial status wasn’t his point of focus upon accepting the gold medal, than everyone is getting a kick out of the fact that he’s black except for him. The award may cause public awe because speed skating is not traditionally an African sport, but then again, Davis is not from Africa—he’s from Chicago.