Posted on March 25, 2010

Underdogs Bring to Light: Time to Fight Trite, White Stereotypes

Mike Freeman, CBS Sports, March 24, 2010

Saint Mary’s Omar Samhan owns a vicious big-man game and significant athletic ability, which made it all the more strange why, when during the Gaels’ embarrassing defeat of Villanova the Wildcats’ coach, Jay Wright, decided to mostly single-cover him.

“I get it,” Samhan said. “I’m a slow white guy, and I’m overweight. So maybe you don’t respect me because I have good numbers. But after I kill you the first half, what are you waiting for? I don’t know what he wanted. Did he want me to have 40?”

He ended up with 32 points. Close enough. I pulled aside Samhan, my new favorite player in the tournament, and asked him to elaborate on that quote. He summed up beautifully a phenomenon that is again creeping into fan and media dialogue as the NCAA tournament progresses.

“Some people still see a white team or white players and think we can’t play,” Samhan explained. “It’s offensive sometimes. It still goes on. That perception is wrong. It makes no sense. We’re all good athletes. White, black, red, whatever.”


The rhetoric that white basketball players are all smart and non-athletic was supposed to die in the 21st century. But now . . . it’s baaaaacckk.

As mostly white teams like Saint Mary’s, Northern Iowa, Cornell and even Duke have advanced, a certain type of rhetoric has returned with tornadic vengeance. {snip}

The New York Times called Saint Mary’s heady. {snip}

“The perception is we’re a bunch of white guys who can’t play and some of us are from Australia so we’re not all that talented,” said Saint Mary’s player Mickey McConnell, speaking of the five Australian players on the team. “We can play. Period.”

{snip} Each of these mostly white teams is athletic as hell. You don’t get to the Sweet 16 by not being elite athletes. You don’t make the tournament by not being extremely athletic. Hell, you don’t make a Division I basketball team by not being a supreme athlete.

Again, we were supposed to be beyond these infantile stereotypes and primal desires to stupidly categorize. Instead, here we are. Again.

These stereotypes continue to work both ways, too. If white players are smart and hard-working what does that make African American players? Imbecilic and lazy?


My firm belief is Kansas lost because some of the Jayhawks players looked across the floor and saw a white team and thought: “We can take these guys. Jeez. Look at ’em.”

Then the Jayhawks got smoked and didn’t realize until the end they were playing a bunch of talented athletes.

Some of these underdog teams, underestimated and underappreciated because of their ethnicity, might lose this weekend. They all might.

Opponents should still be weary. Teams ignore and downplay the athleticism of a Saint Mary’s, Northern Iowa or Cornell at their own risk.