Broncos, Seahawks are battle-tested

"A Dreadful Deceit" is one of those books that may succeed more because it coincides with developments in public thought, than because of being a great work. Jones employs the "storytelling" structure that is all the rage in academia, which posits that because minorities and women of the past were marginalized, they can be understood only through their personal narratives. This may be true; the trouble is that for every personal narrative of oppression, there is a personal narrative of someone who was not mistreated. Grand themes of history, one of which Jones claims to have discovered, need more than anecdotes, however compelling. Jones also comes perilously close to contending, "Race is an imaginary concept for which the white race should be blamed."

Readers have little way of judging whether Jones' assertions about past centuries are true. Facts attached to the present day can be checked, and there are red flags. Jones declares, "Beginning in 2009, drastic cutbacks in public services and wholesale layoffs of public employees took a particularly high toll" on African-Americans. Government employment did decline. But considering record deficit spending, the "drastic cutbacks in public services" part didn't sound right to me, and indeed is not right. From 2009 to 2012, federal spending on social services, health care, and benefits to seniors and the disadvantaged rose 12 percent, by about $263 billion: see page 55. So I checked the article Jones cited to back her fact about "drastic" cuts. The article is on a different subject -- trends in median household income of those nearing retirement -- and does not mention public services.

When Jones switches to sports, she asserts, "An estimated 90 percent of NCAA revenue comes from just one percent of the 'stars,' 90 percent of whom are black." Besides bad grammar -- she means "from the 1 percent who are stars" -- the money part sounds way off. Last season Louisville won the men's basketball title and a BCS bowl; its revenue for these sports was $70 million, and the school had 100 scholarship football and men's basketball players. If 1 percent of those athletes generated 90 percent of the $70 million, who was the amazing man who made $63 million -- while the other 99 Louisville players were nearly worthless? This year the original Pac-12 schools receive $18 million each from ESPN and Fox for sports television rights. If a handful of stars generate nearly all college athletic revenue, why does cellar-dwelling Cal get exactly the same network sports income as bowl-bound Stanford and Oregon?

It may be true that in college sports, the top 1 percent of athletes receive 90 percent of the attention. But that's quite different from the economic claim Jones makes. I checked the source Jones cites, which turns out be a magazine article that quotes the ever-hyperbolic Sonny Vaccaro saying, "Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes." So an unsubstantiated opinion from a businessman who is prone to exaggerate becomes a fact in Jones' book. A historian should work to higher standards.

Such faults aside, "A Dreadful Deceit" may put into the national conversation the notion that categorizing by "race" is an obsolescent idea. Skin color tells nothing more about a person than eye color; there is simply one human race. That is a powerful, progressive idea.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...