Critiquing ‘The Slaveship’: Journalism, individualism and our institutions

When you put your byline on the top of an article, the teamwork that encompassed the process of journalism becomes an afterthought to readers.

You are responsible for errors, typos, omissions of fact and everything good or bad about the piece. As every reporter knows, that includes the headline.

Look, I’ll take responsibility for it all. But not the headline.

Having been a part of a newsroom, and having come up with clanking headlines, I can tell you firsthand a collection of idiots wrote it, thinking it was brilliant.

It’s groupthink and bystander effect, mixed into a horrible six-word attention-grabber. I saw that manifest itself while watching a college basketball game on “The Mothership,” ESPN.

For a full accounting of my diatribe, you can check Twitter.


The nutgraf of the rant is ESPN, the so-called worldwide leader in sports, put up a racist infographic during the primetime telecast of the UCLA-Oregon game.

The graphic, “Winning the Genetic Lottery,” had a black-and-white evolutionary chart, from monkey to mankind. Superimposed were cutouts of prominent black athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.

Reading Darwin’s Athletes: How Sports Has Damaged Black American and Preserved the Myth of Raceby professor John Hoberman, made me sensitive to how debunked pseudoscience persists in America and how it reinforces views about blacks being genetically superior at sports.


Debunked racial biology was floated to explain black athletic prowess.

That idea was floated by so-called scholars in the early 1900s who performed ludicrous experiments, under the banner of racial biology, to try to make white people feel better about getting their asses kicked in athletics.

The result for blacks, Hoberman argued in his book, was they became transfixed on the idea that their ticket to a better life was through athletic achievement rather than academic achievement.


Professor John Hoberman (Courtesy CNN)

(On a side note, Hoberman sent me an email a few weeks ago about stories I wrote related to steroid head cop Randall Hanson. He is researching how cops’ steroid use may be more rampant than steroid use among players in major leagues sports.)

The book was published in 1997 and sparked controversy in the black community and among the black intelligentsia because they felt an out-of-touch white scholar was telling them what it was like to be black in White America.

It took an individual, someone outside of the clique, to point this out.

The same way, ESPN’s infographic fell on mostly deaf ears.


I scoured Twitter, usually a forum of petty attacks and outrage, to see if anyone picked up on ESPN’s use of racist antebellum imagery.

One person reached out about “The Slaveship’s” playing up of outdated racial stereotypes and reinforcing notions that blacks can ascend the political, social and economic ladder only through the white-backed institution of sports.

How had such a seemingly socially conscience institution failed, especially after fallout from the controversial Jeremy Lin “Chink in the Armor” headline?

As an institution, ESPN should have known better.

Headquartered in mostly white Bristol, Connecticut, ESPN passes itself off as a diverse employer by hiring a stable of former black athletes as in-studio analysts. Stephen A. Smith is one of its most visible and recognized sports journalists and commentators.

“The Slaveship” makes millions every year on television contracts with sports leagues driven by black muscle.

In the ultimate slap in the face, ESPN allowed the glaring racist mistake to appear on the network, undermining the idea of the network as a cauldron of diversity.

With as many socially conscience and progressive black and white employees as it boasts, how did this happen? Did no one see how this was problematic? Did no one speak up?


The “Slaveship”

Did it air because a group of white managers, looking to stir controversy and boost ratings, allow the racist imagery on the program?

That’s what seems to have happened, in yet another example of how institutions suck.

This isn’t just about ESPN. This is personal for me.

My professional career has revealed a theme: An individual like me cannot exist in institutions. I’ll touch on this more in future posts.

We need individuals to check powerful organizations which influence the masses.

Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

Sports, with the fervor fanatics follow it, has become the new religion of the masses, and it turns them into asses.

And ESPN, revealing itself as an unaware racist organization, might be the biggest ass of all in the sports world.


One thought on “Critiquing ‘The Slaveship’: Journalism, individualism and our institutions

  1. “Modern day plantation” is what a friend of mine who led African American Student Services at a University in the Southwest called college athletics. Keep up the good work, Avilucea.

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