On the street, macho code like Sprewell's is deadly

May 23, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

Let's see if I get this straight. Latrell "Throat Boy" Sprewell is now a victim. Two lawyers with dollar signs where their X and Y chromosomes should be filed a $30 million lawsuit for lost wages and damages on his behalf.

Sprewell and his lawyers continue to argue that he was punished "too harshly." Exactly what punishment Sprewell feels is warranted for choking his coach is not clear, but I suspect he figures being sent to his room without supper would have been too harsh. Deep down, Sprewell feels he did nothing wrong. After all, his manhood was challenged. He could not be disrespected.

Latrell Sprewell: victim, or simply an idiot? That's a question for an intriguing poll. Students in Jean Lillquist's Journalism I class at Franklin High School in Baltimore County have already cast their votes on the subject of Sprewell's culpability and that manhood question that continues to vex black men. Here are some of their comments, written in March in response to my column "Sprewell shows what ails many young black men":

Ian Wright: "I felt Latrell didn't get off when the arbitrator reduced the NBA's verdict. The reason that his sentence should have been reduced is for the simple fact that the NBA rushed to judgment. The topic that you touched on at the end of this article was about the Black Man's Code. I feel that it is not so much the black man's code. It is the way that inner city society has grown. This is not a good situation that is going on with today's youth. I feel that young blacks only hear this kind of criticism, and it seems to be very little done to correct this problem."

Chanel Savage: "I agree totally that NBA players get away with a lot simply because of their salaries, and this sets a bad example for young black men. Latrell Sprewell should have been punished harshly for choking his coach.

"Sprewell's reasoning for attacking his coach was that he was 'disrespecting his manhood and taking away his pride.' This is the dumbest reason for young guys doing some of their stupid acts. Like you stated, many of our young black men are six feet under because of feeling 'disrespected.' "

Eric Radom: "I believe that Sprewell did not get off easy, because it was his first mistake. Sprewell did not actually attempt to kill P. J. Carlesimo; he hardly even hurt the man. If he really wanted to hurt him, he would have been able to do it before getting pulled off. All he wanted to do was put a stop to Carlesimo's verbal abuse. His main punishment is that his reputation will never be the same because of one mistake.

"You said that it is a code for black young men that they cannot be disrespected. I am in disagreement with this point. Nobody likes to be disrespected at all. You are stereotyping black people as people who take things to extremes, and who you can't mess with. Every person is different, and this point is far-fetched."

Lindy Eisen: "I think it is somewhat unfair of you to make Latrell Sprewell and his behavior an example of black males all over the country, young ones in particular. I just don't think one spoiled, ill-tempered, NBA player is a fair representation of the attitudes and behaviors of young black males everywhere.

Don't take my word for it, Eric and Lindy. Were it just Sprewell talking this "manhood and respect" nonsense, we might be able to dismiss it. But listen to the words of Larry Johnson of the New York Knicks and Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat after their recent scrap in the NBA playoffs.

"It's unfortunate," Johnson said in a story by The Sun's Jerry Bembry. "But I'm a street guy. I guess I should have just been a punk and not done anything."

Johnson's ideas about manhood are similar to Sprewell's. And we're kidding ourselves if we refuse to acknowledge that the same ideas don't prevail among young black men in urban America, where the fear of being perceived as a punk surpasses the fear of death.

Mourning, in the same article, expressed similar beliefs.

"You got to draw the line somewhere," Mourning said. "Hey, my manhood was tested."

We should be grateful that both Johnson and Mourning had their "manhood tested" on a professional basketball court, where their violence was brought to an abrupt end. Unfortunately, young black men on the street share the same feelings. But on the street, confrontations often turn deadly. Those of us who point this out are accused of stereotyping young black men and hurting black people's feelings. I'm more concerned about the feelings of those black mothers who have lost sons to violence driven by the black male macho code that apparently prevails in both the NBA and the streets that spawn most of its players.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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