Racism, human rights: Allegations mar marquee sporting events

With the ongoing Beijing Winter Olympics and Super Bowl, Sunday may be one of the year’s biggest sporting days. But the organizers are in the news for all the wrong reasons – China has seen diplomatic boycotts of the Games because of its human rights record and there are allegations of racism and harassment against the NFL. Jane McManus, Director of the Center for Sports Communication at the Marist College, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    With the ongoing winter Olympics and this evening's Super Bowl, it may be one of the biggest sporting days of the year. But with allegations of human rights violations in host countries, to claims of racism and harassment, both the International Olympic Committee and the N.F. L. have found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

    For more I spoke with Jane McManus director of the Center for Sports Communication at Marist College.

    So the Olympics right now, it's hard for a lot of people to watch the Olympics without this kind of gnawing feeling at the back of their head on whether they should be thinking about what's happening in the rest of China.

  • Jane McManus:

    I think that's very true, particularly when China chose to use two Uyghur athletes in opening ceremonies. You also have Peng Shuai, the tennis player who was detained two months ago after making a sexual assault claim against a Chinese official. And now she has been brought to these venues to watch, and did an interview with L'Equipe, and the photo that went along with the story had in the background a Chinese official. So very clearly she was being watched, and I think that is very difficult for a lot of people.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I wonder going forward, is this kind of ethical quandary something that we're going to see in global sports?

  • Jane McManus:

    The countries that want to make the investment in the Olympics are also countries that have something that they want to prove, whether it's China, you know, proving that it can have something other than a traditional liberal democracy and still be a showcase for the games. You know, whether it's Russia who wanted to make a play for an internal audience about the status of its power and the ruling party there. And I think now you look and you see that the IOC has had to overlook things like the doping scandal in Russia and allowing Russia to compete not as a traditional country, but as more of a federation, and the distinction that it's making there that I think raises a lot of eyebrows. And you have to say, what are the sacrifices that are made in the name of being able to hold these competitions like this?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And you know, whether it's the Olympics or it's the Super Bowl, the sponsors play an enormous role. I mean, kind of shifting gears here, the Super Bowl is still expected to be watched by millions of Americans. And when you look at the Olympics, Toyota is still sponsoring everything you know here in the United States, we had a lot of companies say that Black Lives Matter and we are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. And yet the NFL is, while it's hosting the Super Bowl on multiple fronts dealing with issues of race.

  • Jane McManus:

    Yes, the NFL has really had to grapple with this issue. You have a league that is 70 percent Black and you have coaching ranks were only generally you have two coaches now who are who are Black and you have had in the past, you know, maybe three, maybe four, but more like one or two. There's a real reckoning here about what is acceptable in terms of who are you letting be leaders, who are you letting be owners, and then who are you expecting to do the work? And I think a lot of people look at the NFL right now, and they feel fairly uncomfortable with the way that pipeline has existed for Black coaches to be able to rise to the highest level of the game.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Even when it comes to the halftime show, in the past couple of years, the NFL's partnered with Jay-Z's company Roc Nation, and it's going to be kind of a glaring difference. Here you have again, the talent that's on the field are predominantly African-American, and yet the leadership are not.

  • Jane McManus:

    And this has been a real critique for people who watch these issues, which is that if you're comfortable with Black people as athletes and entertainers, but not as coaches and not as owners, that's not enough. That's not OK. And I think you're going to look at this halftime show, and I think there are probably a lot of people who are wondering, you know, are the people who are actually performing in the halftime show, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, are they the type of people who are going to be quiet? They are going to have a microphone in their hands, and I think it'll be interesting to see whether or not they comment in some way or another, stylistically like Beyonce did when she was the halftime performer, or any in a more deliberate and vocal way during the game on Sunday.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the biggest differences, I think, if anybody who's been on the internet in the last couple of weeks has seen the overwhelming number of ads for sports betting because so many states have made it legal now for you to be betting online and I can't imagine, I mean, Super Bowl Sunday is going to be one of the biggest betting days ever.

  • Jane McManus:

    So what you've had in the last three years is the Supreme Court decided that states could regulate sports betting, and a lot of states, I believe it's around 30 now, have taken them up on that and are doing it. So, you know, there are apps, there are casinos, there are all of these different entities that are looking to get a piece of a very lucrative betting market. And what they're trying to do is normalize betting for the American sports market to teach you how to bet, essentially. And they're doing that not just through this advertising, but through partnerships with different media organizations which are now able to talk about parlays and spreads and all of these things when before, just like five years ago, that was completely verboten.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yeah. Jane McManus, thanks so much.

  • Jane McManus:

    Happy to be here.

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