Also, if you think this issue concerns only a mispronunciation, you are wrong. The announcers compared NBA player and consummate professional Haddadi to Borat. They did so only because of Hamed Haddadi's national origin. They would not have made such comments if Haddadi was from England, Japan, China, or Mexico. Is anyone seriously saying it's okay to make disparaging comments against someone because of where he was born?
Moreover, people who think the announcers made the comments only because Haddadi looks like Borat unwittingly raise a good question: if Lawler and Smith are completely blind, should they continue announcing games? In other words, are people seriously saying the announcers only compared a 7 foot 2 inches Iranian NBA player with olive skin to a much smaller, much lighter-skinned character because they thought the mustached Borat and soul patch Haddadi look so much alike? You know you have problems when your "argument" is just a variation of "All black people look alike, don't they?" (And imagine the consequences if a baseball announcer asked, "Doesn't Jackie Robinson look like Sambo's older brother?")
Some people say if Hamed Haddadi accepted the announcers' apologies, then we, too, should move on. This sentiment is wrongheaded and ignorant. It rewards the announcers who made the racist statements and ignores the victim's silent anguish. After all, what else could Haddadi do but be gracious in the face of overt racism and crassness? Let it be known, however, that had the announcers made similar remarks about Jews or African-Americans, they would have been fired. Or have we forgotten Howard Cossell's remark about "the little monkey" and his subsequent departure from Monday Night Football? And don't forget baseball analyst Steve Lyons' termination after he referenced Lou Piniella's Hispanic heritage.
Below is the transcript of the conversation between Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith, which occurred late in the Memphis Grizzlies game:
Smith: “Look who’s in.”
Lawler: “Hamed Haddadi. Where’s he from?”
Smith: “He’s the first Iranian to play in the NBA.” (Smith mispronounces "Iranian" as "Eye-ranian.")
Lawler: “There aren’t any Iranian players in the NBA,” repeating Smith’s mispronunciation.
Smith: “He’s the only one.”
Lawler: “He’s from Iran?”
Smith: “I guess so.”
Lawler: “That Iran?”
Lawler: "The real Iran?"
Lawler: “Wow. Haddadi that’s H-A-D-D-A-D-I.”
Smith: "You’re sure it’s not Borat’s older
Smith: “If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I’m going to get Sacha Baron Cohen to play the part.”
Lawler: “Here’s Haddadi. Nice little back-door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball.”
Smith: “Especially the post players.
Lawler: “I don’t know about their guards.”
Lawler and Smith need to resign, not just apologize. Comparing a professional basketball player to a boorish caricature like Borat is unacceptable because the joke relates to Haddadi's national origin. The announcers would not have made their statements unless they believed Haddadi was from a country they perceive as backwards.
In addition, their statements demean not just Haddadi, but the American Dream itself. America's prosperity relies in part upon the sweat and toil of immigrants--like Haddadi--who have taken risks to come here, seeking the American Dream. The American Dream stands for the proposition that any immigrant from any country--not just countries that happen to be portrayed positively in the media--can come to America and become American. Had Haddadi been from a European country, the announcers would not have made such comments. The announcers made their comments only because Haddadi was from a country they viewed negatively. Their statements were based on Haddadi's national origin (Iranian) and race (perceived as non-white).
By the way, I was lucky enough to meet Haddadi at a local Golden State Warriors game. The Warriors held an Iranian Heritage night to attract Iranian-American fans. Hundreds of Iranian-Americans attended the game and boosted the Warriors' and the NBA's bottom line. If the NBA cares about its image, it will take further action. (Pictures from the Warriors' Iranian Heritage Night are here.)
By the way, the person who complained to the network was Arya Towfighi, vice president and assistant general counsel for Univision Communications Inc. in Los Angeles, California. He complained to "highlight the issue that a lot of folks wouldn't consider saying such things about African-Americans or Hispanics but because this was an Iranian player it just flowed more easily." According to journalist Diane Pucin, Mr. Towfighi said he shooed his 8-year-old son out of the room before replaying the exchange. "I didn't want my son to hear that," Mr. Towfighi said.
Update: some people have commented on this post. Feel free to leave your own comment.
Bonus: click here or here for one of the most awesome NBA pictures ever.
Update on December 21, 2009: I wanted to clarify something. If Haddadi had known Lawler and Smith reasonably well, or if they had a pre-existing congenial relationship, perhaps the analysis would be different. In this case, however, Lawler and Smith had no interactions with Haddadi prior to comparing him to a caricature and focusing on his national origin.
Bonus (added on January 31, 2012): here are two other links on controversial topics:
http://willworkforjustice.blogspot.com/2009/11/fort-hood-shootings.html (Fort Hood Shootings)
http://willworkforjustice.blogspot.com/2011/02/is-christianity-peaceful-religion.html (Is Christianity a Peaceful Religion?)