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March 20, 2014 4:59 PM White Magic

By Ed Kilgore

I admit I’ve sneaked a few peeks today at March Madness, particularly the end of the Dayton-Ohio State game (I’m a sucker for David-versus-Goliath in-state upsets). So I definitely noticed veteran broadcaster Verne Lundquist’s paean to Ohio State guard Aaron Craft as unexcelled in admirable qualities among all the players he’d seen in three decades of covering the NCAA tournament. Since I don’t follow basketball all that closely, I thought: How did I miss the basketball version of Tim Tebow being among us?

Jonathan Chait wondered about it, too, and he thinks it may be just be a stereotype run wild, as evidenced by the title of his post about Craft and his admirers: “White Basketball Player is Basically Jesus.”

I wrote earlier today about how sports-media and announcers project certain virtues — smarts, toughness, hard work — onto white athletes, using coverage of my alma mater, Michigan, as a case study. But there’s probably no better example than Aaron Craft, point guard for Ohio State.
Craft is a pretty good basketball player. He’s strong and quick and plays fantastic defense. His jump shot is atrocious. Basketball announcers tend to treat him as the embodiment of all that is good and decent in sports. That habit was on display today, thankfully, for the last time ever, in Ohio State’s last-second loss to Dayton.
The commentary was a game-long rhapsody to the grit, determination, and human decency of Craft. At some point, somebody said, “There’s a toughness in that shirt that belies the angelic countenance.”

And then came the Lundquist apotheosis, just before Craft missed what would be the winning shot against Dayton, spoiling what was looking to be a sure-fire dominant story-line for the first day of the tournament.

Now Chait is famously a big University of Michigan fan, who can be expected to become especially annoyed by the lionization of a player for The Ohio State University. But as the lede indicated, he had earlier done a post noting that differential treatment of Michigan players usually followed the racial pattern of white guys being smart and gritty, and black guys being “great athletes.”

The thing is: there’s been plenty of commentary on this habit over the years. Isiah Thomas probably made his famous complaint that he was treated as though “I came dribbling out of my mother’s womb” even before Lundquist started covering NCAA tournaments. So you’d think the networks would be sensitive to it, and maybe conduct a little training in the off-season. But still it continues, and if casual watchers like me are noticing, it must be pretty bad.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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