The Media Polarization Of Black Athletes

LaVar Ball dominates the airwaves, while Colin Kaepernick's altruism is ignored

This story originally appeared on The Shadow League.

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The UCLA Bruins lost to the Kentucky Wildcats by 11 points in the Sweet 16, ending their college basketball season. But you wouldn’t know that if you were watching your favorite sports show on mute. Other than De’Aaron Fox of the Wildcats, the person front and center has been LaVar Ball, whose son Lonzo recently announced that he will be leaving the Bruins and declaring for the NBA Draft.

Undeterred by the Bruins’ loss, LaVar was on ESPN’s First Take and other media outlets yet again, discussing his son’s dominance and how Lonzo will be able to concentrate while in the NBA in a way that he couldn’t while in college.

Young Lonzo was there as well, but the conversation was overwhelmingly dominated by his father. In fact, at one point Lonzo stated that he doesn’t really listen to his dad in the media because he knows what he’s going to say. In fact, we’ve all heard it before. The question is, why are we still hearing it?  

The answer may be that the media prefers polarizing figures and controversial stories rather than uplifting ones. This would explain why LaVar can command media attention, even after his son’s season-ending loss. This also explains why LaVar is invited to do most of the talking: we know he’s going to say something that he, or more importantly, his son, may not be able to back up.

The more outlandish the claim, the more the media eats it up. So do we.

Meanwhile, very little attention has been paid to stories that are equally, if not more, important, but not nearly as controversial. Colin Kaepernick recently donated $50,000 to Meals on Wheels, a program that will be affected by Trump Administration proposed budget cuts in 2018.  He is also involved in the #LoveArmyForSomalia campaign, which aims to raise $2 million to aid starving people in Somalia.

This altruism will almost certainly save lives but is receiving very little airtime.

Kap dominated the headlines for expressing his First Amendment right and kneeling while the National Anthem was played during the 2016 football season, something considered controversial by some. But now that he is focusing on helping others, there are crickets at the mic, not him. Unfortunately, it is more media and ratings-friendly to showcase those being outspoken and doing something controversial rather than uplifting.

What does it say about our TV consumption when a boastful dad gets more airtime than the saving of scores of people?

Not everyone has an issue with this. Clearly, UCLA doesn’t mind the attention. The school knows that LaVar Ball’s brash statements have people tuning in to watch their games who wouldn’t otherwise, even if they’re rage-watching. It doesn’t matter that some were hoping to see Lonzo fail so they could drag his dad on social media. Ratings are ratings.

UCLA is happy to have Ball in the spotlight and the hot seat, because he brings attention to the basketball program. Ball’s younger two sons have also committed to UCLA, guaranteeing that the papa’s prideful prognostications will continue for years to come. As the adage goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

While that may be true for the school, one wonders if it’s also true for Lonzo. Any team that drafts him is, ostensibly, also drafting his father.

While Papa Ball’s antics may be tolerated at the collegiate level by a program that wants to boost its ratings, an NBA team might not look upon his overbearing nature as kindly.

It remains to be seen whether LaVar’s mouth will write a check that Lonzo’s NBA skills won’t be able to cash. In the meantime, one wonders how many other stories aren’t receiving their deserved coverage.