Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. She previously worked as an editor at the Huffington Post. A native New Yorker and a lifelong sports fan, Davidson attended Columbia University, where she was the sports editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator, covering baseball and swimming. She has also worked for political campaigns, minor league sports teams and philanthropic organizations.
BSO had a chance to talk to Kavitha about the impact that Michael Sam, Richard Sherman and Incognito news has had on sports.
BSO: Situations like Michael Sam coming out, Richard Sherman are these important situations within sports to take notice like we did?
KD: Well, sports fans are becoming more progressive so the sports world will have to move with them. As average sports fans become younger…more progressive, owners, managers and advertisers have to catch up with them obviously. With Michael Sam, that obviously has to do with gay rights; with Richard Sherman it was more about the notion of what behavior we think is appropriate from black athletes especially. Even if the players are talented and intelligent, we expect them to take it in stride, not necessarily keep their head down but we don’t embrace the same bravado from a black athlete that we would from a white athlete, from Brett Favre for example. By the way, 30 seconds after he made the biggest play of his career and was asked a question on the field that was meant to bring up that exact emotional response he gave, a lot of fans reacted by infusing his reaction with a lot of meaning than it needed to have. Sports is meant to garner these kinds of emotions and you are suppose to be that invested in it, when people aren’t invested we accuse them of being lackadaisical, kind of a no win situation in that way. Richard Sherman was a victim of what everyone thought he should be.
BSO: Do you feel like we are heading in the right direction when it comes to racism, sexual orientation and differences within sports?
KD: We don’t say Tom Brady is a detriment to the white cause and has set back athletes from the University of Michigan for like 500 years, we don’t take it as a personal front as we did with Richard Sherman. I think that we are obviously moving in the right direction. I was lucky enough to see a screening of the documentary on Muhammad Ali and he dealt with the same kind of backlash because he was equally arrogant and outspoken and a little bit of a loud mouth but he backed it up and was the greatest fighter of all-time. When you have that level of talent, you are allowed to be a little loud mouth about it. Papers at the time exploited him for not being humble and basically not knowing his place as a black man no matter how talented he was. Obviously we’ve come a long way and there is a long way to go, the backlash to the backlash was very encouraging, right after people on Twitter started reacting to him you had articles from Deadspin and BleacherReport basically saying everybody needs to calm down… and he was not the stereotypical thug everyone wanted him to be. In that way it was very encouraging, there is definitely some long way to go.
BSO: Do you feel like recent situations with Richard Sherman, Michael Sam and even the bullying on the Dolphins is helping not only fans but the NFL to accept differences more?
KD: I think it’s definitely providing us an opportunity to embrace these differences. It really comes down to play on the field, Michael Sam’s biggest role in furthering LGBT rights will be making a squad… how he performs once he is on an NFL field. They said that, he can’t be a direct spokesman for gay rights, he can’t appear at a bunch of parades, can’t do awards shows because that’s not his role. His role is to prove that he is more than his sexual orientation and he is a talented football player no matter if he is gay or straight.
BSO: Where do you see in general specifically the NFL being in the next 10 years with its acceptance of different individuals. Do you feel like the NFL will progress more so than the other sports leagues like MLB, NBA, or NHL?
KD: I don’t necessarily, I think it’s circumstantial that it happened to be an NFL player that came out it might be beneficial to the cause because we associate football more than the other sports with violence and stereotypical masculine traits and direct contact and hitting and things like that but I don’t think the NFL is more progressive than the other sports. Might be more progressive than hockey for example but that’s an entirely different discussion. I do think that it’s not going to take ten years to have this issue be completely accepted, there was a recent poll of NFL players and vast majority had no problem with the idea of having a gay teammate and the vast majority of them, unless they are living under a rock, realize they probably have played with gay teammates they just didn’t know it. It’s an issue that is moving more quickly than we would like to give it credit for and in ten years it won’t even be a part of the discussion, it will be a given.
BSO: What are your thoughts on the Incognito bullying situation and do you feel like the NFL will do it’s part to prevent such thing from happening again?
KD: I unfortunately think the NFL is not going to do enough to combat this level of bullying. They have to take some steps but it is a culture that is engrained it’s not engrained in every locker room, I would not go that far but it is kind of the mentality that’s bred from a very young age, in my article I call it a “Frat boy mentality” and it’s not to put down fraternities around the country but it is a mentality that should stay in high school and college and once you get to an adult level it has no place in an NFL locker room. It’s really disturbing to read the report… You have a lot of things at play…a lot of different pressures going on. I totally understand a football locker room is not the same work environment as a law office and we have to make exceptions for it but when anything goes and not taught where the line is, it is very easy to cross that line. There’s a lot of real world consequence of this unbridled, unchecked and even institutionally engrained behavior.