Dan Le Batard came close to saying the Patriots have white wide receivers because they’re a racist organization and Boston is a racist city. But then he stopped just short.
On his ESPN radio show Monday, Le Batard talked about the stylistic differences between the Patriots and Falcons, who will face off in Super Bowl 51.
“Is anyone going to, at any point in 2017 America, point out the contrasting styles we have in this Super Bowl? Two very different cities, the wide receiver cores for both teams are very different,” he said. “When is that going to become a thing as we head towards Super Bowl week and we’re going to have to talk about everything and people are going to get tired of the chess match. Is anybody going to dare to wander into that topic? You’ve got Julio [Jones] and Muhammad [Sanu] and [Julian] Edelman. No? We’re going to avoid that?” Le Batard, like other ESPN personalities who have defamed Boston in recent weeks, refuses to defend his words when challenged. On Tuesday, he implied his comments were said in jest.
Given ESPN’s history of disparaging Boston, it’s difficult to give Le Batard the benefit of the doubt. Earlier this month, when Celtics fans cheered soon-to-be free agent forward Gordon Hayward during pregame introductions, several talking heads at the WorldWide Leader brought race into the conversation. Jae Crowder, who took exception to fans applauding an opponent, is black. Hayward, of course, is white. For some, the low-hanging fruit was too much to ignore.
On Highly Questionable, Bomani Jones appeared to say Celtics fans like Hayward because of his skin color.
“Is there another arena in the whole country that would get this charged about Gordon Hayward maybe coming as a free agent? Clapping for Kevin Durant is one thing. But if you put Gordon Hayward on the same level as Kevin Durant, you might be the city that had the Kevin Love welcoming tour when he wasn’t even a free agent yet,” he said.
Writer Israel Gutierrez made a similar connection on Around the Horn.
“It’s Boston. They’re famous for having Larry Bird on their team. Gordon Hayward looks more like Larry Bird than other players in the league. So maybe there’s that Boston connection there,” he speculated.
Never mind that Celtics fans also showered then-pending free agent Kevin Durant with applause last season or that Crowder said he was upset his remarks were interpreted as race-related. Don’t let context or facts get in the way of a good rant, like when NBA analyst Amin Elhassan said in a recent podcast Boston is the most racist city in the country north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Somebody asked me, ‘How would you kind of tabulate or kind of quantify how racist a town is?’ I said, ‘Oh that’s easy. Record scratches per square foot.’ Because I’m telling you, it’s a funny thing from movies, but it’s happened to me for real in Boston. You walk in, the music stops, and everybody who’s all in their individual conversations stops and turns to me. I’m talking places not a stone’s throw from the arena.”
Presumably, Elhassan is referring to the T.D. Garden, the place where Celtics fans cheered for Hayward and within a stone’s throw of where they once cheered for Larry Bird. Apparently, it’s improper for fans to like multiple white players per half-century. They can only choose one. (Jones, Gutierrez and Elhassan all declined invitations to appear on WEEI, by the way.)
There’s no ignoring Boston’s repulsive history when it comes to its treatment of African-American athletes. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate and Bill Russell endured a disgusting amount of hardship. One night, vandals wrote racial slurs on his walls and smeared feces on his bed.
While these shameful episodes shouldn’t be forgotten, it’s reckless to use them as ammunition to support the lazy narrative about Boston being unwelcoming towards black athletes. David Ortiz might be the most beloved Red Sox player of all-time, with Pedro Martinez finishing a close second. Kevin Garnett, who originally didn’t want to play for the Celtics, now says Boston will always have a special place in his heart.
Few black athletes are more outspoken than Martellus Bennett, and he’s seemed to embrace Boston with open arms. This week, in fact, he made a t-shirt that says as much.
If Bennett spoke ill of Boston, race-baiting provocateurs like Le Betard and Jones would probably discuss his comments ad nauseum for the next two weeks. But since he didn’t, his shirt and accompanying tweet likely won’t be mentioned on their respective shows.
At ESPN, slandering Boston sports fans and teams seems to be part of the mission statement. And instead of defending his wild insinuation about the Patriots preferring white receivers, Le Batard decided to deflect. It’s par for the course.