By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) “Linsanity” is here, and it needs to go away right damn quick. I cannot stand any more Tebowish wall-to-wall coverage of one guy who seems like a good person but in the grand scheme has yet to accomplish anything.
I’m done with America’s obsession with quirkiness over talent.
Jeremy Lin plays basketball for the New York Knicks. He seems to be pretty good at that. Lin has also made it known that he is a devout Christian. He is a Harvard graduate. He also happens to be Asian-American.
With Tim Tebow not taking the field for another six months, the perfect story has fallen into the laps of pandering media members and the gullible throng of sports fans ready to lap up everything and anything that combines sports with the saccharin superfluous. For those of us who can divorce a game from real life and don’t need fluffy Disney garbage riding sidecar to our entertainment, it is also the perfect storm of migraine-inducing newsertainment that we will be force fed until the summer and perhaps longer.
Being the first American-born player of Chinese descent in the NBA is newsworthy, don’t get me wrong. So is being the first Harvard Crimson on a roster in almost 60 years. Those are the “Oh, wow, that’s kind of cool” tidbits that will eventually be on Jeopardy! and make Lin a gift to Will Shortz and other crossword puzzle editors.
I enjoy sports kitsch, sometimes too much. There is a custom-made Brian Scalabrine Bulls jersey that hangs in that “I just cannot throw it out” section of my closet. I only wore the jersey once. For Halloween in 2010. I do not intend to wear it again. That is because novelty does not become superiority for me. Sadly, too many sports fans blur the line there if not completely erase it.
Jeremy Lin has a strong religious faith and he is not shy about discussing it. He said in a 2010 interview with Patheos.com while still a Harvard student, “My faith and my basketball began separately, then slowly converged, and now they influence each other.” Normally I would have no problem with that. Usually no one’s religious beliefs other than my own concern me so long as those beliefs are not hurting other people. And Lin has yet to appear to be someone who initiates the religion topic when miked up as Tim Tebow does.
But for some reason it has become in vogue to spotlight certain athletes and their faiths arbitrarily. At least 90% of professional athletes are Christian, I’m guessing, but only a few have their religious beliefs focussed on as inherent to analysis of them. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s faith was only a story when he chose to make it so with the National Anthem controversy. Hakeem Olajuwon was rarely talked about as “a Muslim who played basketball,” and he is one of the best centers in NBA history. Yet Lin will be discussed as a Christian who plays pro basketball a la Tebow, and ad nauseum.
Those who gravitate toward such stories are going to do so regardless because not being able to separate entertainment from that which should not change the viewing experience (like an athlete’s marital transgressions or criminal background) is completely beyond their understanding. What bothers me, though, as I saw heavily on social media all week, is that many who decried Tebowmania are jumping headfirst into Linsanity.
That’s hypocrisy, folks, and you are not allowed to have it both ways. Please tell me what more than Tebow has Jeremy Lin done? Lin’s box scores might look a bit more impressive than Tebow’s, but neither has accomplished anything of substance professionally. At the moment, Lin’s story should be a “well, hey, would ya look at that” footnote until further notice.
Compounding that is Lin’s being Chinese which, despite the fact that I think even the Amish in this country have met a person of Asian descent, has caused people to be in awe of this exotic new thing. “I didn’t know they could do that!” Yes, it is completely possible for a Chinese American to put a basketball into a hoop at a high level.
And from that awe is born the inevitable racist talk and uncreative, unfunny stereotypes. Take Andrew Goldstein, for example. He is the Senior Producer on VH1’s “Morning Buzz Live,” which I’ve never seen but I will assume is sheep-rapingly awful, and he’s a self-described “jokemaker,” per his Twitter profile. Here are four consecutive tweets by Goldstein from Saturday morning following Lin’s 38 point output in a win over the Lakers:
“Must be weird for a Chinese basketball player to play in an arena called MSG #linsanity”; “As a Sixers fan living in NYC my feelings about Jeremy Lin are sweet n’ sour. #linsanity”; “The Knicks Szech-won last night, right? #linsanity”; “Its amazing how well D’antoni’s system works when he has a point guard who can Hunan-dle the rock. #linsanity”
See what he did there? Because Lin is Chinese. And he is therefore inseparable from Chinese food. Goldstein should be writing for Jay Leno in no time!
And Goldstein is a professional writer. I’ll spare you the painfully bad attempts at humor from the unpaid masses that are out there. But even the big fish got in on the action. Maybe by now you have heard about Jason Whitlock’s tweet from Friday night—“Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.” Lots of people are angry about that, calling it incredibly racist and demanding Whitlock be fired (and creating more traffic for him, ironically). My problem with it is that it isn’t funny.
I would be lying if I said I have never made a joke regarding race. I’ve made thousands, and I’ve made them about every race, ethnicity, and superficial aspect of humanity and culture you can name—even Jeremy Lin. Friday night I tweeted “To stop #Linsanity the #Lakers just signed Kurt Russell.”
What I do not do, though, is be malicious or egregious with my jokes. I don’t use epithets. I don’t cross that delicate comedic line between good- and mean-spirited. I also try to be—wait for it—creative. There is a difference between what I typed and what Goldstein and Whitlock typed, and if you cannot see that, I cannot help you.
As Whitlock assumed something anatomically about Lin based on race, I’ll assume that because Whitlock is African American that he is aware of Chris Rock saying, “Talk about what people do, not what they are.” There is a difference between a racial joke and a racist joke.
But the bad jokes—racist, unfunny, and otherwise—will continue as long as Lin is relevant, unfortunately for him and for my eyes and ears as someone who appreciates well-constructed comedy. As will other inflated fan and media stupidity, such as the MVP chants that have been going on at Madison Square Garden for a guy who needed 23-plus points in each of his last four games to average 11 for the 26 games this season and major news outlets fanning the ignorant flames.
ESPN certainly has its new baby, and it will do everything it can do convince consumers that Lin deserves juxtaposition with Stockton, Isiah, and Magic. Maybe you, like me, hate that Facebook friend incessantly clogging your homepage with baby pictures and exalting the miracle of birth for the 108 billionth time. Well, ESPN is like that on crack (want to bet Skip Bayless is on air at some point in a replica Tang Dynasty robe?). And like that Facebook friend, ESPN likes to make you feel like you should appreciate this person that has yet to accomplish anything special whatsoever other than merely existing, and you are certainly crazy if you don’t.
Hence my desire for Lin’s irrelevancy. And I wish it were not so, as I haven’t even had a chance to decide whether I like the guy or not. See, I wait for more of a résumé before assessing a guy. I know, crazy, right?
But those selling the new product of “The Yellow Mamba,” a nickname that is going to stick no matter how dumb it is and will be all over t-shirts hours from now need that exotic, sideshow frenzy. The NBA lost a vein of money when Yao Ming had to retire and that somehow Yi Jianlian could not keep pumping, and if Lin can draw the love of the billions in China, even if he’s not a native of the country, of course they will exploit the hell out of him as long as he is marketable.
And I really don’t want him to be marketable for long.
If he attracts new fans to the game—fans who really want to learn about it and will grow to appreciate the game more so than just a player—that would be great. That I’m all for. But I’m not all for a guy becoming fans’ new pet. “I root for the Chinese dude because he’s Chinese and that’s kind of funny because Chinese people (which are all East Asians to me) are funny to me and I drink oven cleaner!” “I root for him because he shares my religious and/or sociopolitical beliefs and I gave all my children names that begin with the same letter!” “I root for him because I’m Asian American and thus I have to root for people who are superficially like me even if it means I don’t care to concern myself with basketball itself!”
You’ll never find me genuinely going nuts for a jai alai player just because he is an overweight Ginger who is bad at talking to women.
My hope is that is small sample size of Lin’s is an anomaly. Those championing him seem not to mention that his four straight big games were against New Jersey (26th of 30 teams in the league in points given up per game), Washington (27th), Utah (23rd), and the Lakers (where he was defended by Derek Fisher’s colostomy bag).
I doubt Jeremy Lin grew up dreaming of being a Chinese American NBA player. He dreamt of being just an NBA player. He worked hard to be where he is at—wasn’t offered athletic scholarships out of high school and wasn’t drafted out of college, which makes for a cute story, but as many forget more often than not does not lead to eternal glory. And if we didn’t live in a society that exploits the different in order to profit from the ignorant, I would wish him long professional success.
But I won’t. I want Linsanity to be brought back to earth and those it afflicts to be given a heavy dose of reality, and I want him to become nothing more in the sports world than a “Remember When” piece or a solid hour-long documentary twenty years from now. A Fernando. A Muresan. A Bosworth. Because I already went through being browbeaten by the story of the guy I am supposed to like just because he is new and odd and inspires cult status.
I’m sorry, Jeremy Lin. As a Harvard guy I’m sure you can appreciate my resistance against the stupid. Nothing personal.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.