December 04, 2006

The Bright Side of Page 2

In light of my recent rips on ESPN's sportainment complex and its newest hire, Jemele Hill, I feel that it's only fair to present the other side of the story. If I'm going to rip Page 2 for its numerous flaws, I should offer my compliments when it gets something right. (The same will apply to Ms. Hill, assuming she ever produces a column worthy of praise.)

In this case, I come to praise the work of occasional Page 2 contributor LZ Granderson. Granderson's Friday column, in which he urges black athletes to call for an end to use of the "N-word," stopped me in my tracks. "Wow," I thought to myself, "this is damn good. This is what Page 2 could be, if most of its writers gave a crap."

Back when Page 2 was the province of great writers like David Halberstam, Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Wiley, it was a great read. But now that Thompson and Wiley have moved on to the next realm and Halberstam has stopped slumming, Page 2 is a bizarre hodgepodge of writers who were once funny/thoughtful/interesting, but have used the same material so often that it's lost whatever zing it once had (Bill Simmons, Gregg Easterbrook, Tim Keown, DJ Gallo, David Fleming) and marginally talented hacks who survive by spotlighting deservedly marginal sports or by spouting nonsense (Mary Buckheit, Scoop Jackson, the aforementioned Ms. Hill). Combine the weak roster of writers with Page 2's lack of a clear mission (is it supposed to be "the lighter side" of sports? A sports-entertainment hybrid? Racial Soapbox Hour?), and it's a wonder that it's survived this long, or that I still bother to check it out.

Then along comes someone like Granderson, and I remember what Page 2 was supposed to be. Granderson is an excellent writer who can comfortably discuss racial issues in sports, and do so thoughtfully.

Friday's column is a case in point. Granderson points out his discomfort with the fact that the N-word is considered verboten for whites, while black culture uses the word freely and sees no hypocrisy in doing so. In Granderson's words:

Between bites of bean pies and Ramen noodles, I and other fake kente cloth-wearing Generation Xers foolishly believed that if we took the word from whites that somehow it would diminish its power. Instead we've made the nation numb through our hypocrisy.

(If you liked that passage, go read the whole thing. You won't regret it.)

Further down in the column:

At first I thought about talking to AI, LeBron and other black athletes as well as notable figures such as Cornell West and Corey Booker to get their take, but that just felt done to me. So I flipped it. Over the past few days I spoke with a number of white athletes, agents and team personnel to get their take. Under conditions of anonymity, nearly all of them said that when they hear the word it makes them uncomfortable because they have been taught it is the worst word in the English language.

And it is.

This passage made me want to stand up and applaud, for a couple reasons. First, the phrase "that just felt done to me." When so many of his Page 2 compatriots shamelessly and happily mine the same hackneyed material and cash their fat paychecks without even blushing, major kudos to Granderson for knowing a cliche when he saw one and doing something different. Also, Granderson deserves credit for recognizing that this discussion can't just take place within the black community. Too much of America's discussion of racial matters doesn't occur between races, and all that's gotten us is a lot of mistrust between blacks and whites. An alarming number of whites who believe that America's racial problems are "over," and that any black person who points them out is "playing the race card." An alarming number of blacks believe that all whites are racist, and that Michael Richards was just saying what whites really think, rather than just pulling back the curtain on his own disturbed mind. When these worldviews collide, the results are often ugly (the OJ trial, for instance).

There's a lot of other great material in this column, but the last paragraph is pure gold:

So this holiday season I've decided to give myself the gift of dignity by cutting the n-word out of my vocab. I'm not on some PC crusade, and I'm not trying to be sanctimonious. But to paraphrase Luke 6:45, a man speaks what is in his heart. In a moment of anger, Michael Richards did. When my feet are held to the fire, I don't want the n-word to come out. More importantly, I don't want an environment where hearing it no longer bothers people. White people should be uncomfortable when they hear that word. But black people should be, too.

Somewhere up there, Ralph Wiley is reading this paragraph, nodding and smiling. We may have finally found the true successor to Wiley, in both intellectual and literary terms.

Inspired by this column, I perused Granderson's Page 2 archive to see if his other columns measured up to the standard set here. And, amazingly, they do. I'd point out my favorites, but they all deserve a look, so read them all.

I see that Granderson is working on a book. I can't wait to read it. And I hope that, in the future, Page 2 will seek out more writers like him. I couldn't be happier to discover that someone's keeping the standards up around here.

Posted by Mediocre Fred at December 4, 2006 12:09 PM | TrackBack

This page inspires me too)

Posted by: Rob at December 4, 2006 06:15 PM
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