King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Terrell and Nicollette and the "Monday Night Football" sex scandal: Isn't the whole mess really about race? The readers write.


Salon Staff
November 19, 2004 1:00AM (UTC)

You readers have been writing, and what you've been writing about mostly is the ongoing, ridiculous controversy over the Terrell Owens-Nicollette Sheridan skit at the beginning of "Monday Night Football" this week.

And many of you have brought up a subject I didn't mention in Wednesday's column about the brouhaha: race.

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"Am I the only one who thinks there is a racial element to this whole 'MNF' flap?" writes Geoffrey Reed. "Was the problem that it was racy? Or was the problem that it was a black man with a blond, white woman?"

I assured Reed he isn't the only one who thinks that, and he wasn't anywhere near the only one who wrote to say the same thing.

The race issue has been strangely absent from most of the national discourse on this matter, though a few people have addressed it, and don't we miss the late Ralph Wiley this week? On the controversy's second day, someone connected with the league finally brought up race when Colts coach Tony Dungy called the skit "racially insensitive."

"It hit at a lot of stereotypes towards athletes, the black athlete in particular," Dungy said. "Any player, I would have been outraged, but the fact it was a black player, me, as an African-American man, I was hurt even more."

I guess it's never strange, exactly, when Americans don't want to talk about race, but considering how many of my readers and friends brought it up in the Owens-Sheridan flap, and how quickly, it's a little odd how quiet the typing and chattering crowd has been about it.

Me included.

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Here's why I didn't mention race in Wednesday's column: My initial feeling was that the flap wasn't racial. I thought about that aspect of the controversy, but the indignation just didn't feel racially motivated.

I thought, and still think, that there were parents genuinely upset to find their kids watching a steamy little minidrama when they expected to be tuning in a game of good ol' American appropriate for all ages football. And there's the "I've rewound the tape and watched it 12 times and boy am I outraged!" crowd, who would have been outraged if the player and actress had both been white. Those people are feeling their power at the moment, and I think they're seizing any opportunity to wield it.

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But, as I've written before, I also think pretty much nothing in this country is not about race at least a little bit, and the more I think about it and listen to the thoughts of others, the more I think that while the flap still would have happened if the player had been, say, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, it was intensified by the racial element.

Sometimes the effect of that element is subtle enough that we don't even notice what's behind our reaction. Jenice Armstrong of the Philadelphia Daily News points out that the skit had Owens portraying "some of the usual stereotypes about black men. That they're hypersexed. Irresponsible. Bucks even."

This is what Dungy was referring to also. He went so far as to say it never would have occurred to ABC to tape that skit with a white player. The Colts coach noted to Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, "We played [on 'Monday Night Football'] last week, and they didn't ask Peyton Manning to do it."

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Reader Steve Hicken writes that the Owens-Sheridan scene "embodied the two biggest threats to white male America that we know: Female sexuality (active female sexuality, as opposed to the passive sexuality of cheerleaders) aggressively directed at a black male. We can't have that now, can we?"

Not according to reader Edward Tarkington, who writes: "White America has carried on a love-hate relationship with black manhood ever since the days of blackface minstrelsy. We love to watch 'em perform, but just let 'em look at a white woman with desire, and we'll hang 'em from the nearest tree. Similarly, Nipplegate, while focused on Janet Jackson's bare boobie, was another example of suggested miscegenation.

"But it's not polite to talk about such things, so everyone just focuses on nipple-rings and dropped towels, while the rest of us reasonable people are left scratching our heads, wondering what the fuss is all about."

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We don't really have to imagine what the reaction would be if such a sexualized scene were shown without the black man-white woman racial element. Such a scene was shown, repeatedly, in 2001.

"Am I the only person in the world who remembers the TV commercial that ran repeatedly during NFL games and elsewhere a few years ago," wonders John Wilheim, "in which Kim Cattrall of 'Sex and the City' was shown sneaking into an NFL locker room during a game, then soaking in the whirlpool? The team came in to find her in the tub, drinking soda. When she said, 'Anyone have a towel?' the players with towels all hastily hid them behind their backs."

You're not the only one, John, and why do my readers seem to feel so alone?

Cattrall was the star of a series of ads for Pepsi One that had a fairy tale theme. In the locker room ad, a Goldilocks riff, she tries a Coke and a Diet Coke -- "too many calories ... too diet-y" -- before finding the Pepsi One, which is, of course, "just right."

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The NFL had a big problem with that ad. But not with the fact that by the end of the spot Cattrall had apparently slipped out of her slinky red dress to take a bubble bath naked in the metal whirlpool tub that one player referred to as "my hot tub." That player, by the way, was white, same as Cattrall, though the player who said, "Somebody's been drinking my Coke," and some others were black. There was no significant outrage on the part of the league or the public about the sexuality of the ad.

No, the NFL's issue was that the locker room was that of the "Bears" -- get it? Bears? -- and the team's uniforms looked a lot like those of the Chicago Bears. The NFL, which counts Coke as a sponsor, didn't like its trademarks being used in an ad for Pepsi. The cola company made some postproduction changes in the commercial to appease the league.

That's one color nobody around the NFL is reluctant to share their feelings about: green.

Previous column: The towel crisis, Day 1

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