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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stephen A. Smith Pulls Race Card When Discussing Bryce Harper

What do the two above athletes have in common?  They both passed up some form of higher-level education to pursue a career as professional athletes.  What does the athlete on the left lack in common with the one on the right?  Race.  According to Stephen A. Smith, that’s a very significant factor in examining the way the public portrays 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper.

By now we all know what Harper is capable of physically. We also know a bit about the type of person he is — or at least that he has a pretty brutal temper from what we can see.  What some of us may not have thought about yet is any racial implications that go along with the way we look at the future Nationals superstar.  Cue Stephen A. Smith, who isn’t exactly the most respected analyst in the industry and I’m still not sure I can agree with his latest rant.  In his article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Smith refers to all the buzz and positive coverage surrounding Harper as a “clear case of hypocrisy.”  Like many professional athletes have done in the past, Harper has foregone higher education by dropping out of high school to to get his GED, which has allowed the road to Major League Baseball to shorten.

Stephen A. Smith’s beef with this is that when African American athletes like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Derrick Rose skip college or leave early for the NBA it creates an uproar.  Here’s some of what Smith had to say in his article about people portraying Bryce Harper differently because of race:

If Harper were black – Yes! I said it – most folks would be bantering about those three letters, GED, attached to his name. Few would care that Harper does volunteer work, that he possessed a marvelous 3.5-grade point average, that he attended religious-education classes before he dropped out. Or that his parents decided that, strictly for eligibility purposes pertaining to MLB, that GED, combined with a stint in junior college, would suffice for the Washington Nationals’ most recent No. 1 pick.

Money is here to be made in America. For those with the ability to earn it legitimately. The exception appears to be when you’re young, gifted and black. There are always questions when the three intertwine. And the time has now come to discuss it candidly, lest we collectively decide as a nation to shut our mouths once and for all.

I guess I can see why Smith sees it this way, but I think he’s overreacting a bit.  Bryce Harper’s skill is undeniable, but even here at LBS we have noticed he is not seen by everyone as being a “golden child.”  I think that it happens so often in basketball combined with the fact that there is a significantly higher percentage of African Americans playing in the NBA than in MLB may contribute to the lack of emphasis on the issue.  Often times the youngest players that come to Major League Baseball are ones who come from places like the Dominican Republic. For many of those young men, baseball is their best chance to provide a better life for themselves and their families.  I think that’s one of the reasons baseball players being drafted at such a young age in general receives less negative attention.

Yes, I understand that is also the case with players who pass up the opportunity for a college education to pursue a career in the NBA, and Stephen A. Smith could very well be right that race plays a part in the way African American players who take that road and white players who take it are seen.  I just don’t think Harper is made out to look like an angel while African American players are made to look like villains, as he seems to be implying.  Take this section of an April article on Baseball Prospectus by Kevin Goldstein as a perfect example:

The Makeup: This should not be underrated. It’s impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn’t blown away by Harper’s ability on the field, but it’s equally difficult to find one who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. “He’s just a bad, bad guy,” said one front-office official. “He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.” How this plays into the negotiation or future evaluation is yet to be determined, as history has shown us that the bigger talent a player is, the more makeup issues teams will deal with. Bench players can’t afford to be problems, but plenty of teams happily put up with difficult superstars.

If race truly is the issue, Stephen A. will need a few more solid examples to convince people that his assessment is accurate.

Sources:
Stephen A. Smith: Harper’s rise a clear case of hypocrisy [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Future Shock [Baseball Prospectus]



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