back to Niagara Falls Reporter main page

back to Niagara Falls Reporter archive


By David Staba

Time for a little sports blotter quiz.

  1. Which All-Star professional athlete was arrested on domestic violence charges last week?
  2. Which former Buffalo Bills standout was most recently found liable for the death of his wife in civil court after being cleared of criminal charges?

Easy, you figure. Allen Iverson and O.J. Simpson, right?

Wrong. The correct answers:

  1. Iverson's alleged rampage has been dominating the sports pages and talk shows for weeks.
    But last Monday, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Lisa Ortiz.
    The altercation allegedly took place after Ortiz accused Erickson of cheating on her, and ended with Erickson throwing her to the floor of an elevator in their apartment building.
  2. The families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman have been trying to collect their $33 million settlement for more than five years.
    But last month, one of Simpson's former teammates was ordered to pay his children $579,000 for causing the wrongful death of their mother.
    A jury in Purvis, Miss., found Jim Dunaway, a Bills defensive tackle from 1963 to 1971, responsible for the 1998 death of Nonniel Dunaway. An autopsy showed that she had been knocked unconscious by a blow to the head and put in a half-empty swimming pool, where she drowned. Nonniel Dunaway had recently won a divorce judgment that gave her more than 800 acres the couple owned, $1,800 a month in alimony and half of Dunaway's NFL pension.
    Dunaway was initially charged with murder, but a grand jury did not indict him. So his kids sued him, and won.

While Iverson's arrest attracted swarming media coverage and endless radio-talk debates about his worth as a human being, and Simpson's arrest, flight and trial were the biggest television hit of the mid-1990s, the cases of Erickson and Dunaway barely caused a blip on the national radar.

Part of that is due to their level of fame. Superstars always get more attention than supporting players. And you'd hate to think that the fact that Iverson and Simpson are black, while Erickson and Dunaway are white, had anything to do with the amount of attention paid to their respective legal problems.

But the venom spewed in the cases of black athletes in trouble indicates otherwise.

Iverson's latest arrest (before he even got to Georgetown, where he played two seasons before turning pro, he was involved in the most famous bowling-alley brawl in American history) gave license to far too many commentators and fans, particularly on the radio waves, to vent their racist thoughts. Whether they were conscious of what they were doing or not.

One national host, not worth giving publicity by naming, spent the better part of an evening ranting and raving about Iverson's arrest. The beyond-middle-aged (judging from his cranky-old-man voice and schtick) made sure to use obsolete slang like "homies," "ghetto" and "the 'hood" in virtually every sentence, repeatedly breaking into an apparently black dialect that would embarrass fans of Amos 'n' Andy.

When one listener called him on his blatant racism and mentioned the recent arrest of Indy car driver Al Unser Jr. on domestic violence charges, the host jumped into redneck territory with both feet.

"Iverson is worse, because he pulled himself up out of the 'hood, and now it seems like he's trying to go back there. He moved on up just like the Jeffersons."

He then began to sing the theme song from the venerable sitcom. Really.

Using traditional slurs or expressing overt racism gets callers bounced from most talk shows. But too often, it bubbles right up to the surface in the voices of callers and hosts alike. And it's not just when an athlete gets arrested.

When then-Baltimore Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar spit in the face of a white umpire in 1996, the public outrage overwhelmed the final week of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. Commentators and fans demanded a lengthy suspension and heavy fine.

But the reaction a year later, when former Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski (who happens to be white) hawked a loogie through the facemask of San Francisco wide receiver J.J. Stokes (who isn't)? Well, Romo's just a fiery guy.

Spitting in someone's face is disgusting.

Physically assaulting your significant other is brutal, cowardly and should be unforgivable.

Murder is even worse.

Whether the perpetrator is black, white, Hispanic or Asian. And whether he or she is a professional athlete, a construction worker or a newspaper reporter.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter and the editor of the BuffaloPOST. He welcomes email at

Niagara Falls Reporter July 30 2002