to paint Owens as a philanderer who, because of his attitude and ego, is writing checks that he is unable to cash. The efforts to blame, pathologize, and ridicule Owens by imagining his own failures and betrayal of the American Dream is a central theme in the media coverage.
The narrative of Owens and Iverson as “rags to riches to rags” is a powerful ideological commodity that at one level celebrates the American Dream, which represents sports as a wonderful escalator to fame and fortune. Often erasing hard work, dedication, perseverance, and the talents of professional athletes, the narrative celebrates the system not the person. Yet those stories focusing on the “falls from grace,” on the financial tumbles, don’t tarnish the system because the focus is often on the individual. Demonizing our athletes for personal failures – ego, bad investments, not paying child support – that are the result of a bad combination of ego and a lack of education, the dominant discourse exonerates the system and keeps our focus on the pathologies of particular Black players.
James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. David J. Leonard is Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman. He is author of After Artest: Race and the War on Hoop (SUNY Press, spring 2012).