Coupon Shopper Columnist Challenges Wilbon

Posted in Racism Corner, Sports Journalism, Sports Radio at 5:53 pm by

The day after the NBA Draft, the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon chatted with ESPN Radio’s Dan Patrick and implied Boston’s poor history of race relations (to coin a phrase) to be the reason behind Kevin Garnett’s refusal to accept a trade to the Celtics. Perhaps unaware how many high profile black athletes feel the same way, the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune’s Bill Burt accuses Wilbon of “pulling an Al Campanis”.

On several occasions, fans in the “Boston Garden,” which was replaced by the new FleetCenter/TD Banknorth Garden in 1995, and apparently on the “street” called Wilbon the “N-word.”

Is he serious? When did this happen? Did he report this to his editors? Did he call security in the Garden? Does anybody believe this?

Then Wilbon went on to talk about Pumpsie Green, Jackie Robinson and Bill Russell, stories that have been told so many times I get ill.

Weren’t we over them? Didn’t everyone with a drop of New England blood in his/her veins agree they were not proud times in our region?

Wilbon questioned Patrick about great, cherished black athletes who came to Boston after Bill Russell. Patrick, unfortunately, didn’t have a clue and was speechless. Before Patrick was able to pull a rabbit out of his hat, Wilbon brought up Jim Rice and disarmed him by implying Rice, a Hall of Fame-caliber star, was not beloved.

He, of course, used that four-decades-old argument of “Freddie Lynn was loved more.”

Of course, Patrick and Wilbon forgot about probably the most beloved Boston athlete of the 1990s around here, Mo Vaughn. I covered the Sox then and this guy was a god compared to Roger Clemens, who was despised by most fans by the time he left here after the 1996 season.

Robert Parish, Andre Tippett and Cedric Maxwell are well-paid and well-embraced ex-Boston superstars who played and stayed here. But the fact that I have to bring that up is patronizing to blacks.

Patronizing, perhaps. But also inaccurate. Parish played a final 3 seasons with the Hornets and Bulls, respectively. It is also a tad selective for Burt to paint Vaughn or Rice as universally beloved, much as he’s awfully careful to omit any number of incidents a tad more contemporary than Pumpsie Green. Like Dee Brown being pulled over by the police. Dennis and Callahan yucking it up about the “METCO Gorillia”. Really, what can we make of Burt being quick to cite Andre Tippet but not nearly so fast to recall Charles Stuart?

If Burt wishes to argue that Boston isn’t a racist town, he’s certainly entitled to his point of view. But he’s either blissfully ignorant about how the city acquired such a reputation, or he actually believes there’s anything to be gained by scoffing at Wilpon’s claims of being verbally abused.

Burt’s twisted sensibility on this point is further exposed when he demands to know where Michael Holley stands on all of this (“Holley, who is black, unfortunately had a chance to make Wilbon look like a fool. Instead, though, Holley walked on egg shells, semi-refuting Wilbon. Maybe some of our finest are too close with the popular Wilbon.”) And why single out Holley? Bob Ryan’s worked alongside Wilbon far more recently. Or is Michael Holley’s employment at WEEI and the Boston Globe supposed to prove how enlightened Boston’s truly become?

I’m trying very hard to get into Burt’s head, but it’s a dark and scary place. Because Michael Holley has managed to negotiate the Boston sports media scene without being lynched, he’s qualified to tell us Michael Wilbon is lying about being hit with N-bombs on Causeway Drive? Good fucking grief, perhaps Boston struggles with a racist tag because some of the burg’s most blatant apologists are in such denial.

23 responses to “Coupon Shopper Columnist Challenges Wilbon”

  1. howard in nyc says:

    it is the height of presumption for one black person to dictate how any other, much less how all other black people should respond to racism. as well as presumptuous, it is , well, racist.

  2. bc says:

    while i cannot confirm nor deny anyone’s experiencing boston as a racist town, i would like to point out that it’s the only city i have lived in where one can be randomly called out on the street and possibly mocked for being jewish, hispanic, african american, italian, irish, or even wearing the wrong color pants. put simply, and it doesn’t excuse any of it (nor cast falsehood on claims of racism), but it seems to be a place where anyone can catch shit for anything at any time. don’t know what that’s about (small town envy, perhaps?) but it seems to some degree an equal opportunity racism.

  3. jon says:

    so you’re saying that in boston, its common for people to scream racial epithets at folks walking down the street? that’s really interesting. i’ve lived in boston my whole life and have never witnessed anything like that. perhaps i’m just blissfully ignorant. perhaps i should pay more attention when i’m walking down the street to all the racists mocking everyone’s ethnicity.

    we do have a black governor, you know. he was elected in a landslide. and our black athletes seems to be pretty happy. talk to some of the celtics young players, and ask them if they’d like to be traded.

    i’m sure there are racists in every city in america. i’m sure there have been racial incidents in every city in america, especially in the 60’s and 70’s. i’m sure black people have been pulled over in other cities as well. yes, yes, i know we had that busing crisis three decades ago. sorry i wasn’t born then, and neither were most of my generation of boston sports fans.

    michael wilbon can go to hell and he can take that chronic loser kevin garnett with him. oh, sorry. thats just me being racist again. down with black people!

  4. As a lifelong Bostonian I understand why Bill Burt was quick to jump at Wilbon for making that statement. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that when professional athletes make that claim they are often proven wrong when they you know – actually come to Boston (see Bonds, Barry). Was Boston a tough place for African American athletes? Of course, but you can say that about a lot of places. Is Boston still a difficult place for African Americans? Of course, but so are a lot of places.

    I think Boston is commonly pigeonholed as a racist city because of the nature of the city and the state where it is located. Massachusetts holds itself up as a beacon of understanding and acceptance so people love to throw that R word around to bring us back down to earth.

    Like I said – Boston has it’s problems I can’t deny that, but if you can point out one city with no racial tension, and no history of racial issues than I’ll tip my hat to you and Michael Wilbon. It’s tough to deny that in recent memory Boston has improved it’s image and the fanbase here has embraced athletes who have worked hard regardless of their skin color. You think David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Troy Brown, Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson or Doc Rivers have a problem getting a dinner table in Boston? Would Robert Parish, Jo Jo White, Bill Russell, Jim Rice, K.C. Jones, or Dennis Johnson (RIP) have continued to return to Boston to work if they were getting death threats?

    The misconception seems to be that because something was true once it remains true today. Unfortunately that seems to be a distinction that a lot of places with much more racial tension than Boston (I’m looking at your Rudy Guilliani) has been able to overcome while we still struggle with it today.

  5. G.Wo says:

    Equal opportunity doesn’t mean right. That seems more like something to hide behind than anything. It’s one thing to dish out some good-nautred ribbing about that sort of thing among friends. It’s quite another to shout it at random strangers. What it makes that person is an equal opportunity asshole.

  6. Lally says:

    I grew up outside of Boston and have lived here for the past 7 years and have noticed a big obsession with race and the city’s perception as a racist town. My take? Today, it’s probably just like any other big city – there’s enlightened people and there’s the less than enlightened.

    What I think makes Boston a different case is 2 things

    1) In the past (as you’ve pointed out) there certainly was a strong racist sentiment in the town that cemented its reputation today. The Yawkeys, the busing riots, the list goes on. Now, when something happens (i.e., Romney calling for mosques to be wiretapped or the METCO Gorilla statement), it is attributed to the “Boston is a racist city” meme. This happens here more than another place. When Imus broadcast from NYC his “nappy-headed hoes” line, no one rushed to call NYC a racist city.

    2) New Englanders and Bostonians have a strong attachment to their region, probably more so than any other place I’ve lived. When they hear Boston being mentioned disparragingly, they take it personally, as our columnist has done here. In his mind, Wilbon didn’t call only call into question Boston’s attitudes toward race, he called into question his own as well. I’m sure our local columnist here is an open-minded and progressive person and wants to dispel this misconception about him (and the city).

    That said, there still is a view among many black atheletes that Boston is a racist town. That element is still here, but it’s in Chicago, NYC and other cities as well. Some people just grow up ignorant. But for whatever reason, Boston’s racist past has stuck with its identity while other’s haven’t.

    Also, I wouldn’t call the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune a “Coupon Shopper newspaper:” they have 2 Pulitzers hanging in their newsroom.

  7. GC says:

    “talk to some of the celtics young players, and ask them if they’d like to be traded.”

    Most of those young players don’t have the leverage to dictate where they work. Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion and Paul Pierce, however, have far more juice. Two of the three have expressed a desire not to be traded to Boston, and the third was on the brink of demanding to be dealt. Not for racial reasons (that we know of) mind you, but Wilbon’s point wasn’t that draft choices were refusing to report to Celtics training camp.

    “so you’re saying that in boston, its common for people to scream racial epithets at folks walking down the street?”

    No, I don’t recall claiming that. But Wilbon says he was racially abused while attending events in the old/new Garden. I don’t find said accusation incredible.

    “yes, i know we had that busing crisis three decades ago. sorry i wasn’t born then, and neither were most of my generation of boston sports fans.”

    OK, in that case you might want to take a peak at this photograph and ask yourself — 30 years ago or not — if you were a black person with any sort of options about where to live and work, how psyched would you be to move to Boston?

    Granted, that was a long time ago. But the question is whether the social climate has changed a little, a lot or totally. Sure, Bill Russell is a beloved, iconic figure in Boston. He also called your town “a flea market of racism”, and that kind of thing might stick in the craw of someone like KG. The Metco Gorilla thing didn’t happen 3 decades ago, and last time I checked, those jerks were still employed.

    JD, you’ll find no apologies for Rudy G. from this corner of the world.

    I do think Doc Rivers might have trouble going out to eat, but again, it might have nothing to do with his race.

  8. jon says:

    “it’s the only city i have lived in where one can be randomly called out on the street and possibly mocked for being jewish, hispanic, african american, italian, irish, or even wearing the wrong color pants.”

    i was responding to this person’s claim.

    all i can say is that present day boston is not a racist city. also, our young players don’t WANT to be traded. they love it here. all have stated repeatedly that they hope the front office doesn’t break up the core of young players we’ve accumulated. hell, even sebastian telfair is openly begging not to be cut loose.

    that’s a pretty ugly picture, for sure, but i bet we could find some pretty ugly pictures from other cities as well, especially from the 60’s and 70’s. also, when bill russell played basketball, i’m sure a lot of cities in america were quite racist. saying a city has a “history” of racism is meaningless. lots of cities have lousy histories when it comes to that. tell me about the city today. that’s what matters and that’s what should matter to our athletes.

    oh, and why did paul pierce sign that contract extension two years ago? that was a great opportunity for him to say “no thanks” and be on his merry way. the team was/is horrible. nobody would have blamed him. he chose to stay anyway and, unlike many other stars from around the league, has never publicly demanded a trade, despite the sometimes shocking incompetence of his front office. maybe he doesn’t realize we are a racist city with no beloved black athletes. somebody better clue him in!

  9. Ezra Fischer says:

    Isn’t it more relevant that the Celtics are a young, bad team let by a coach without a record for winning and a G.M. who’s universally thought of as a loon? That would make me think twice about playing for them if I were a 31 year old superstar who has never won a championship. Without making a statement about the veracity of Wilbon’s comments about race and Boston, I think it’s a good guess that racism is not the motivating factor for Garnett to avoid Boston.

  10. GC says:

    I think Sebastian Telfair begging not to be cut loose has more to do with his not wanting to be labelled a two-time loser after the Blazers gave up on him than any deep love for Boston. But maybe I’m wrong.

    While I’ll agree with you the current climate in Boston is the most important thing, there’s nothing meaningless about the history you’re quick to dismiss. Do you think the Red Sox would’ve waited until 2004 to win a World Series if they’d signed Jackie Robinson or Willie Mays?

    If we’re believe reports from right before the draft, Pierce all but DID demand a trade unless something was done to improve the team. Granted, there’s no racial angle to this, but it’s incorrect to claim he’s been very happy with the club.

    Look, if you’re happy with the way things are going, that’s great. But there’s all sorts of little messages, blatant and otherwise, that give the rest of the world (including zillionaire athletes like KG) that Boston has some screwy ‘tudes about race. The Dennis & Callahan thing is a great example. Bill Burt expecting Michael Holley to defend Boston (as opposed to a white sportswriter) is one, too. Another might be this 2004 poll that Jon Heyman cited. I might’ve called Bill Russell “a beloved icon”, but apparently, he’s no fucking Bobby Orr.

  11. GC says:


    I would suspect Imus wasn’t tagged an example of NYC racism because he neither looks, sounds nor ID’s himself as a New Yorker.

    Your point about the Eagle-Tribune is well taken. I sincerely apologize to their staff, editors, readers, and of course, Roxanne Pulitzer.

  12. jon says:

    those poll results are interesting, but do you honestly think it’s because the respondents don’t like black people? i find that hard to believe. another reason might be because boston has so many sports icons. williams, bird, and orr are all sports legends by anybody’s standards. i suppose if you were looking for reasons to call boston a racist city you could find them. i bet if i tried really, really hard to implicate some other city as being racist, i could come up with some pretty damning evidence. seriously, pick a city. i will do some research and come back with an impressive case as to why they are racist and should be labeled as so.

    and yes, dennis and callahan, two morons i can’t stand, are among many, many sports radio hosts around the nation who have made racially insensitive comments in recent years.

    there’s no hard evidence that boston is currently a racist city, and none of our current players are having a hard time here at all. ask al jefferson and rajon rondo if they’d like to be traded somewhere else. those guys can’t walk down the street without getting laid, and they are on a team that won 24 games last season.

    i actually hope we never have another great white basketball player in this city, because people would be so self-conscious about embracing him. poor brian scalabrine was practically booed off the court every time he touched the ball last season, to the point where his teammates were speaking out in the media to defend him. yes, he was crappy, but none of our crappy back players suffered that fate.

  13. Ap says:

    Jon, was racism gone 40 years after slavery was abolished? How about in the South where it was most prevalent?

    I’ll presume what you answered to that question and ask this:
    Well then is racism gone 40 years after segregation ended? How about in Boston where it was quite prevalent?

    Boston’s not a racist city…NO WAY.

  14. TC says:

    Some columnists are just idiots. Not only that, and (full disclosure, I’m white) if a black man is to say that some black athletes, or he, is uncomfortable with something, who is a white man to question that? It’s the height of arrogance and disingenuousness. He or I cannot know what the black experience is and it would behoove him not to make assumptions otherwise.

  15. TC says:

    Really, saying, OK, Boston has a racist past, but so do other cities is a very very weak counterargument to the nontion that Boston isn’t a racist city. Just change the color of the skins of those men in that photograph, fellow white people, and ask yourself how comfortable you might be going to work in that city, if you had a choice about going there. Even if you didn’t say, well, the city might not be racist, still, and even though that’s a long time ago, just ask yourself whether that would be the city you’d be most comfortable.

  16. GC says:


    I’m not saying that prefering Bobby Orr to Bill Russell makes one a racist. But I would agree with Jon Heyman that there’s something very telling about the way Teddy Ballgame, Orr and Bird are embraced compared to Russell’s standing in that poll. I mean no disrespect to any of that trio in calling Russell a more important figure in Boston sports history.

    I do thank you for your comments, because I wouldn’t have otherwise known that Al Jefferson and Rajon Rondo getting laid so easily meant the end of racism in Boston. What time does the matinee of “Mandingo” start?

    Likewise, I hope Brian Scalabrine can get good money for his early pressing of Minor Threat’s “Guilty Of Being White”.

  17. MD says:

    So is LA a racist city because of the 1965 and 1992 riots? Is NY a racist city because of all the allegations of excessive police force against minorities? What about New Orleans and what happened after Katrina? If you just pick anecdotal information from a 50 year period and use that to form your conclusion about the thinking of millions of people then you could make any city out to be racist. I would venture that Kevin Garnett didn’t want to come to Boston because the team is horrible and he wants to win. If they had Tim Duncan on the team I think he’d be jumping at the chance.

  18. GC says:

    KG didn’t want to come to Boston because he was horrified at the racist treatment of Brian Scalabrine.

    I do not personally believe Boston is a racist city. It’s just a wild coincidence that you’ll see more black faces on the floor of the GOP convention than you will in the stands at Fenway Park.

    I think it is terribly unfortunate when people who closely resemble me use actual historical events to illustrate why the city of Boston might have a particular reputation. It is also unfortunate that in the past week, a Boston area columnist all but called Michael Wilbon a liar, and seemed to suggest it was the responsibility of another black journalist to set the record straight.

    By the way, if you’d like to cite institutionalized racism on the part of the NYPD, by all means, be my guest. No complaints from me.

  19. gimmeabreak says:

    Which city boasts:

    *First black NBA head coach

    *First all-black NBA starting five

    *First black NHL player

    New York? LA? Chicago? Nope, it’s Boston. There is a valid case to be made about racism with the Red Sox back in the day. That was under different ownership and in the past decade the team has been colorblind as it became a perennial playoff contender.

    But then, if you throw out things that happened a half-century ago, you lose most of your arguments about Boston being a racist town.

  20. GC says:

    excellent points gimmeabreak. And don’t forget Maurice Starr turning the Sam Phillips paradigm on it’s head whilst pimping a white boy band. I take it all back — Boston’s awesome!

  21. illest says:

    please boston is a racist city. they used to tip over busses of black kids in the 70s. fuck boston. so what if some athletes like Maxwell and Parish are embraced. Wow thats two athletes out of many. Its ironic that the Celtics are all black now. A little poetic justice.

  22. Alex says:

    GC – you are being unreasonable. No black fans in the seats at Fenway? Why, it must be racism!

    In case you haven’t been following the news, black participation in major league baseball is at an all time low. Why? Well, for a whole host of reasons, one of them being that the MLB stopped dedicating resources to developing inner city black ballplayers when they turned their attention to Latin America.

    So it makes sense that if inner city blacks aren’t playing baseball, they sure as hell aren’t going to be watching it either (let alone going to ballgames). Ever notice that a lot of Americans find baseball boring? There’s a good chance they didn’t play it as a kid.

    Second thing. Fenway Park isn’t exactly Tropicana Field. A Red Sox ticket is an expensive item. Not too many people without the means are going to be going to games. Where do the Red Sox fans with money live? In the suburbs. Massachusetts as a state is roughly 80% white. These are the people who attend Sox games – not kids from Roxbury and Dorchester.

    Oh, and if you think that New England is somehow inherently racist because its got such a low percentage of blacks, then you aren’t worth any rational person’s time.

  23. GC says:


    I’m well aware of the many articles documenting the relatively low percentage of black players in the big leagues. However, the paucity of black faces in the stands at Fenway is a long standing phenomenon.

    “Ever notice that a lot of Americans find baseball boring?”

    Ever notice that Fenway Park is sold out, every game?

    “Where do the Red Sox fans with money live? In the suburbs. Massachusetts as a state is roughly 80% white. These are the people who attend Sox games – not kids from Roxbury and Dorchester.”

    So it would stand to reason, then, that perhaps some affluent black persons might enjoy a night out watching the Red Sox. And if you’re personally convinced the reasons it is so difficult to find many are purely circumstantial (as opposed to say, the deep rooted suspicion they wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms), it isn’t my place to say you’re naive. But if someone else would like to say so, I won’t pick a fight with ’em.

    You’ll note that I already wrote “I do not personally believe Boston is a racist city.” That does not, however, mean there’s anything to be gained by turning a blind eye to genuine acts of intolerance. I’m still wondering what possible purpose was served by Bill Burt calling Michael Wilbon a liar.

    At no point have I alleged that New England is inherently racist. I have said that many of the women are unattractive and almost every band from the state of Connecticut has sucked like crazy, but that’s not the same thing.

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