Let's move past color coordination

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
5:51
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Floyd MayweatherRon Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesNow hear this: Floyd Mayweather got an earful from UFC president Dana White.

There are either more racists out there than we would like to admit or too many people who think they can spot a racist a mile away.

On Tuesday night, Dana White lambasted Floyd Mayweather and called him a racist on Fuel TV’s “UFC Tonight.” Why? The beef goes back a long way, but the tipping point was when Mayweather tweeted on Feb. 13, “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”

White took the opportunity to speak his mind on the show’s “Presidential Address” just as Mayweather spoke out on his Twitter account. This isn’t the first time Mayweather has been called a racist, and he’s always quick to call things as he sees them. It’s not the first time White has sounded off, either -- on Mayweather or another topic. Both guys speak first and consider consequences later.

Yet what's interesting is the overarching premise to White's tirade that, as a boxing fan, he thinks Mayweather is a major contributor to boxing's downfall. He interspersed calling Mayweather a "racist" with calling him a "dummy" and a "knucklehead."

Only one of those charges carries any real weight.

Racial accusations almost always boil down to subtext, and subtext is reading between the lines. It’s perception-based, and perception is often fed by the darkest corners of the imagination. In a world of instant reaction and rampant social-media platforms, the term “racist” is flung about far too loosely when hinging on quick takes. One bad perception can become a collective one quickly. This is how awful precedents take wing.

Right now is one of those times when people start reading into motivations.

Jeremy Lin is, of course, the basketball player who went from the end of the bench to a superstar in the time it takes a groin to heal (in this case, Carmelo Anthony’s). Lin is of Taiwanese descent, which is novel in an NBA star. He plays for the New York Knicks in one of the biggest media markets in the league. He went to Harvard and entered the Association as a nonentity journeyman who passed through Golden State and Houston. When he entered the Knicks' lineup out of necessity, they were in the tank with a 8-15 record. With Lin, they were resurrected and won seven straight.

In a confluence of events, a superstar materialized. Now the Knicks are busting Nielsen ratings records based on his phenomena. They are trademarking “Linsanity.”

And his case sets up a perfect storm in the sensitivity of racial tensions, too, such has gone on with White and Mayweather and plenty of others. Last week ESPN fired one employee for using a pun headline in extremely poor taste on a Lin story, and suspended another for using the same phrase on ESPN News.

A headline writer lives in the world of double entendres and puns, while dishing out common phrases that have been said a thousand times before on live television is part of an on-air talent's duties. Insensitive? Yes. But only retrospectively. Did Max Bretos consciously use the controversial phrase he used as a backhanded slur? Doubtful, when you consider he has an Asian wife and the 15 years of experience in the field. That’s a lot to lose for the single purpose of slipping in a racially motivated shot.

Was White right to take to the airwaves and call out Mayweather as a racist? Is anybody right to do that, whether it stems from a hunch or from something more pointed? Is Mayweather right to point out that Lin is getting special handling just because he’s Asian?

Who knows, but the real issue under it all is equality. And this is where generalizations of any kind come in. Generalizations, as a rule, can’t help but come across as equally foolish.

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