Apples, Oranges, and Biker Gangs

You probably about heard about that big biker gang shootout down in Waco, just as you probably heard about the riots in Baltimore, and in both cases you probably concluded they were unfortunate incidents caused by unsavory people. Those who worry about such things, though, are worried the news media might have caused you to be more appalled by the latter than the former.
Almost all of the unsavory people rioting in Baltimore were black, many of the unsavory people shooting it out in Waco were white, and these days the ensuing coverage is to be judged accordingly. Over at Salon.com they were offended that the riot was typically described as a “riot” and the shootout as a “shootout,” while lawyer and “community organizer” Sally Kohn was among many who were offended that the rioters were often called “thugs” while those involved in the shootout as were more frequently dubbed “biker gangs,” all over the left side of the internet there was great consternation about the amount of attention being paid, and of course all of these discrepancies were blamed on the subtle racism of the American media. Such nuances are apparently intended to mislead the public into a racist opinion that blacks destroying black communities is a bad thing while giving a wink and a nod to “white on white crime.”
Which leads us to wonder what sort of coverage they would have preferred, and what damage it might do to the English language. What happened in Baltimore was a riot, after all, and what happened in Waco was a shootout. Neither term carries any racial implications that we are aware of, and we note that whenever opposing groups of unsavory black people shoot at one another, as occasionally happens, most news media usually call it a “shootout,” and when white people engage in violent public disorder, as occasionally happens, usually in the wake of some sports team’s championship, the same news media invariably call it a “riot.” If such sensitive sorts as Kohn think it racist to call the people who burned down a senior citizens’ home in Baltimore “thugs” they should take it up with the black mayor of Baltimore and the black president of the United States, both of whom also employed the term, and be reassured that “biker gang” carries a rather thuggish connotation. The coverage of the Baltimore riot lasted for several days, but only because the riot lasted that long, it followed similar rioting in the St. Louis area, and there were threats of more rioting in other cities due to the same lingering controversies of policing in black neighborhoods. The shootout lasted a relatively short time before local police were able to restore order, the nine dead were all willing combatants, the remainder were arrested and duly charged, there is no reason to believe that any other biker gang shootouts are imminent, and the continuing coverage is because the media rather like this kind of story.
Most of the media dislike black-on-black crime stories, which are far more numerous than the police shootings and deadly biker gang brawls and high society murders that always go on the front page, and it usually has to happen on a scale that requires calling in the National Guard to get more than six column inches deep inside the local and state section. This in part because black-on-black crimes are so common, in part because they expose the media to the now-inevitable charges of racial insensitivity, and in part because most of the media is itself so hyper-sensitive about racial issues that they’re willing to ignore a significant problem affecting black people to assuage their consciences. They’d much rather draw attention to a white-on-white shootout down in gun-crazy and Republican-voting Texas, and will happily ignore the fact that it wasn’t exactly a white-on-white shootout. The shootout pitted the “Cossacks” against the “Bandidos,” and as the nomenclature suggests it was more of a whites-and-Hispanics-upon-one-another gunfight, and apparently it had more to with the biker gang subculture’s strange rules regarding the patches worn on motorcycle jackets and the usual drug turf disputes than race, and a lot of the mug shots are ambiguous enough that some of the Bandidos could fit into that “white Hispanic” category that The New York Times created for George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense, so most of the media are happy to give the impression of “white-on-white crime.”
They’re happy to perpetuate the outdated stereotype of the biker gangs as an exclusively white phenomenon, too, even though black and Hispanic and Asian biker gangs have been in business since at least the early ’70s and are now a significant portion of the biker gang problem. There are various ways of reading the statistics about biker gangs, which comprise only 2 percent of the nation’s gang members but cause more trouble and over a vaster area than the more common neighborhood gangs, but none that suggest they aren’t a problem worthy of the attention that the waco shootout has brought. The racialist media critics seem to believe that white America gives a wink and a nod to such violence, but most white people we know have no tolerance for it, and we expect that the citizens of Waco will insist on the most severe punishments the law allows. Despite years of cinematic portrayals of biker gangs, from Marlon Brando’s mumbling “The Wild One” to all those drive-in features to the hilariously politically correct “Sons of Anarchy” on television, “biker gang” is still synonymous with “thugs” to most Americans of all races, and the only thing they have to recommend them is that they don’t mind that no one is making excuses for them.
Biker gangs are a problem, and the riots that threaten to break out over the coming long, hot summer are arguably an even bigger one, and both require some resolution. That will require honest discussions, and separate ones, and any attempt to conflate them is not helpful.

— Bud Norman

Football Season and Its Discontents

The Wichita Wingnuts baseball team has concluded its season as champions of the American Association, our New York Yankees are unlikely to earn even one of those socialistic one-game playoff spots that we hate, and being normal red-blooded American males we now turn our sporting attention to football. There’s an appropriate chill in the air, evoking nostalgia for the heroic gridiron exploits we witnessed in our innocent youth and stoking our hunger for some more hard-hitting football, but so far all the stories seem to be about domestic battery and child abuse.
Such stories are by now a routine feature of football season. Nobody’s died, so far, which makes this a relatively placid season, but the bad news stories have been more than enough to take the fun out of spectating. One highly-regarded running back has become a YouTube sensation by cold-cocking his then-fiancee in an elevator, and although the same sordid video shows her throwing the first punches and some spits for good measure it still leaves one with an unfavorable impression of the fellow’s character. An even more highly-regarded running back has since been charged with beating his son, and although we’ll happily leave it to the criminal justice system to decide if he was acting within his legal rights as a parent to discipline a child or crossed over into criminal conduct we are disinclined to root for him in the meantime. The rest of the league seems populated largely by players eager to convey an equally thuggish public image, and there’s something suspicious about the ones who don’t, and we can’t help wondering what Walter Camp would have to say about it.
Only the most history-minded fans now know about Walter Camp, but without him there probably wouldn’t be any football fans at all. He was a star player for Yale University way back when that meant something, and later coached his alma mater to Ivy League championships when that still meant something, but his greatest contribution to the game was as a writer and journalist. Football had evolved from the “mob gangs” that ruffians played in the streets of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, and in the early days it suffered an unsavory reputation despite its association with the elite Ivy League, but Camp’s prose persuaded a nation that the game inculcated all the the masculine qualities of teamwork, discipline, and the clean living needed for the physical rigors of such a brutal game. Camp invented the All-American team, and named it with the idea that its players represented the best of America both on and off the field. This was utter nonsense even then, of course, but it was so widely agreed upon that football survived the numerous fatalities and countless other scandals of its early days to become a prominent feature of American culture.
Along the way football often has served the country well, at times even approaching that exemplary American manliness that Walter Camp described. America has been well suited to a rough world because it has played a rough game, and if the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton it is just as true that the battle on Omaha Beach was won by banged-up boys who had learned how to break through a line on some godforsaken rural football field. The game once produced mythically manly characters, and in our confused ’60s boyhood the stoic and fedora-topped Tom Landry and his Naval Academy quarterback just returned from Vietnam and the rest of “America’s Team” seemed to reassure that the best of American manhood could still find a place in an increasingly emasculated society to flex its muscles and excel at something rough and impolite and somehow beautiful. Even without such mythos there’s something to be said for that unknown fellow in the green helmet making such a gusty play and taking that vicious hit just to keep a drive alive.
Those disreputable mob game origins were there all along, though, and football’s history is mainly a tale of the mob getting bigger, stronger, faster, more injurious. The University of Oklahoma Sooners team that we’ve been weaned to root for now has an offensive front line averaging 321 pounds, according to the graphic that the television network imposed on Saturday after a big gain against a relatively puny University of Tennessee Volunteers’ line that averaged only 271 pounds, and anyone who wanders into the melee ensuing after a snap in an even heftier professional game must have a certain predilection for both inflicting and enduring pain. We are no longer surprised that many of the game’s most talented players are prone to violate the rules against violence that prevail in society after the game is played. Our favorite football movie, of many worthy choices, is the original version of “The Longest Yard,” a testosterone-drenched drive-in flick in washed-out color about a team of imprisoned criminals who prevail over their guards because their anti-social tendencies give them a natural advantage in football. it makes the occasional good guy seem all the more heroic, and makes us long for the days when hometown hero Barry Sanders would simply toss the ball to the referee after a touchdown rather than stage a minstrel show, but we have no delusions about that guy who just laid that vicious hit on the wide receiver.
The latest scandals have provided plenty of fodder for the commentators who still hope to eradicate the mob game, which is another drearily routine feature of football season. The meritocracy and manliness and Walter Camp Americana of the game are all offensive to a certain modern sensibility, and when you throw in allegations of domestic battery and child abuse and God only knows what goes on at those after-game parties the game is going to have a public relations problem when all those class-action concussion suits go to jury. Football represents all that is wrong with our violent and thuggish society, we will be told, and it won’t be hard to find twelve people willing in any jurisdiction to along with that.
We’ll be sad to see it go, though. Those soccer games where “everybody plays” and nobody keeps score aren’t likely to win any military victories, which will still be required in what remains a rough world, no matter how ardently those soccer moms might wish otherwise, and as phony-baloney as it always was that Walter Camp ideal of football was always something worth aspiring to and on certain Saturday and Sunday afternoon and even on Friday nights in those godforsaken rural football it was sometimes almost attained. That kind of football entails a code of chivalry and manliness and Americanism that football’s critics have long sought to extinguish along with the game, and their demise is not the fault of football.

— Bud Norman