November 5, 2009
By Brian Spencer
What would happen if a white TV analyst “accidentally” referred to a black athlete as a “ni**er?” Think that would make national headlines? Think that TV analyst would still have a job almost a week after letting that bomb slip? Of course it would, and of course he or she wouldn’t.
So–and apologies for leading with so many questions–why is it, then, that NBA TV analyst Rick Kamla is still gainfully employed by NBA TV and Turner Sports after calling New Jersey Nets forward Yi Jianlian a “Chinaman” during a recap of last week’s Nets-Magic game? That recap, by the way, was available on NBA.com for almost a week before finally getting pulled down this morning. Tom Ziller on NBA FanHouse:
Turner Sports spokesman Jeff Pomeroy relayed to FanHouse an apology to anyone offended by the remark from Kamla and the network, which manages NBA TV and NBA.com. Pomeroy said Kamla was not aware of the connotations of the word, and meant nothing malicious or offensive by it.
Kamla’s ignorant slip is far less troubling than the fact this video was broadcast on NBA TV and had been available on NBA.com for five days. The NBA has made serious strides to reach out to all corners of America and to expand the league’s presence worldwide, with particular emphasis on Asia. Given the league’s emphasis on marketing product to Chinese Americans, for this to go unnoticed within the NBA’s digital arm for so long is disheartening.
So, let me get this straight: Kamla apologized under the guise that he didn’t know this was a racial slur and didn’t think it was offensive? Bullshit. If he’s that ignorant, he has no business being on national television and representing the NBA.
We exclusively deal in sports here at Empty the Bench, so I’ll spare you my soapbox rant about the double standards in this country when it comes to racial awareness. But I will say this: inappropriate, tasteless jokes directed at people of Asian descent are, for whatever reason, not viewed or dealt with with equal gravity. For example, former Detroit News columnist endured waves of criticism for asking then Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli if his daughter should have married a better defensive coordinator. (Joe Barry, the Lions’ former DC, is Marinelli’s son-in-law.) Eventually, Parker resigned. Unprofessional, to be sure, but nowhere near the level of Kamla’s assinine gaffe.
Yet, Kamla remains on the air for NBA TV after calling Jianlian a “Chinaman?” Unbelievable. Everybody makes mistakes, and I’m not out to crucify Kamla for his idiocy. But, sorry, he needs to be held accountable for his actions. It’s shocking that the NBA, a league with global ambitions and one that’s heavily invested in the Asian market particularly, would stand pat and allow this incident to essentially be swept under the rug. Oops, sorry, he didn’t mean it? Seriously?
Kamla should be suspended, and a look back at Shaq’s racist remarks after the break…
Then again, maybe the league’s lack of a sufficient response isn’t all that surprising. Shaquille O’Neal, still marketed as one of its stars, got a free pass on the many derogatory, insulting comments he used to make about Yao Ming:
“I look forward to breaking down that motherfucker’s body,” said O’Neal. “He said my name three times, two in Chinese and one in American. You don’t ever call me out. I’m from LSU.” (Yao never “called” him out)
“Wang Zhu, whatever your name is, you want some of shaq-fu, you come get it. I’ll be waiting for you.” (Video)
“Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.”‘
Brent Musburger and the Miami Heat got a pass too:
On Christmas Day, while calling the Celtics-Nets game for ABC, veteran sportscaster Brent Musburger lamented that “the hordes of China” might stuff the All-Star ballot box and vote Yao Ming in as the Western Conference’s starting center, rather than Shaquille O’Neal. Then, in “honor” of Yao’s first game in Miami, the Miami Heat on Dec. 16 passed out 8,000 fortune cookies to spectators. Yao found the promotion amusing but pointed out that fortune cookies have nothing to do with him.
Kamla should be suspended without pay, immediately, and have his status as NBA TV’s daily analyst reconsidered. Anything less on the part of the NBA and Turner Sports should be considered irresponsible, insufficient, and insulting. We urge all of our readers to contact the NBA League Office and demand that Kamla’s racist remarks be appropriately and immediately dealt with.
Addendum: I don’t think Kamla should take the entire fall for what amounts to a systemic attitude and problem within the United States towards people of Asian descent (nor do I think he should get off the hook because of said systemic issues). Normally, Kamla is a fairly innocuous figure in the NBA landscape who’s never given me or anyone else, as far as I know, reason to think he’s an out-and-out racist. Should he automatically lose his job because of this? No, probably not, especially since his comments weren’t delivered in a specifically malicious manner.
Still, like I said, he’s in a public position as a visible representative of the NBA, and what’s been said has been said. It was offensive, it was wrong, and it should be addressed. He deserves a suspension, and he should make a sincere public apology… not settle for a PR representative kinda sorta apologizing on his behalf. And David Stern, too, should probably be proactive about it and issue an apology for allowing this video to run on NBA.com for almost a week. Address it, dole out the appropriate measures, and let’s move on.
Photo via The Hoop Doctors.