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How the NBA’s Great Insult Artists Outlasted a Moral Panic and Normalized Talking Trash

As the NBA boomed in the ‘90s, smack talk became a problem. Here’s how players solved it.

Ostensibly, the NBA’s earliest efforts to regulate trash talk in the 1990s—in combination with its stricter penalties and heftier fines for in-game fights—were meant to ward off the high-profile brawls and lower-profile “scuffles,” as former NBA referee Bennett Salvatore puts it, that seemed to increasingly interrupt the course of competition. But really, it was about business as much as anything. As a more demonstrative brand of trash talk emerged from the playgrounds, and out of the fledgling culture of hip-hop, the sports world’s rule makers fretted more than ever about what might look bad for their widening (and predominantly white) television audiences.

There has long been a racial double standard when it comes to trash talk. Black athletes who talk during games are often cast as loudmouths, volatile, and showy, while vocal white players are lionized as leaders or scrappy hardworkers who leave it all on the floor.

“It becomes a sign of his love of the game, and not, ‘Oh, he’s talking trash and gets angry,’” says David J. Leonard, a professor in the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race at Washington State University, Pullman. Before his exhibition bout against Conor McGregor, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.—whose public image is complicated by the fact that, in real life, he has done some genuinely villainous things—called out the sports media for criticizing his use of trash-talk tactics as “arrogant” and “cocky” and “unappreciative,” while Conor McGregor—also maybe not a candidate for the World’s Best Person Award—was lauded for doing the exact same things. But critiques of trash talk are almost always as much of a code as the trash talk itself. “What makes the conversation about the NBA particularly interesting,” adds Leonard, “is it becomes a way to dismiss and deny the artistry and athleticism and the intelligence of players, when it should be, in fact, evidence of all those things.”

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Bradley Cooper’s fake nose disaster didn’t have to happen

Though [Leonard Bernstein’s] life and image have been captured in the documentary film form, the TV streaming company, Netflix, is due to release the dramatized Maestro this fall, first in theaters and then on the platform. Producers could have chosen from a significant array of talented world-class Jewish actors. Since Bradley Cooper with Steven Spielberg bought the music rights to the film in 2018, however, and Cooper wrote and directed the film, he cast himself as its star.

While Cooper has certainly shown that he is a competent (verging on brilliant) actor, the fact that he is not Jewish limits the potential for true “representation.” To add further insult, pre-screening publicity pictures and the film’s trailer show Cooper wearing a prosthetic nose.

Notwithstanding the fact that members of Leonard Bernstein’s family supported the film’s casting, the plastic schnoz makes him look like nothing more than Bradley Cooper with a silly-looking nose approaching that of a circus clown.

Cooper’s image resembles the antisemitic caricatures from the 18th century onward, the ones depicting the evil, bulbous-nosed Jewish bankers often representing members of the Rothchild family, with their hands grabbing into and covering the globe.

Jews, however, are certainly not the only members of marginalized communities who have been misrepresented in the classroom and in the media.

Blackface — when people darken their skin with shoe polish, grease paint, or burnt cork or wood and exaggerate their lips and other facial features — has been the mainstay of U.S. popular culture since soon after the Civil War. It dates back centuries to European theatrical productions, most notably to Shakespeare’s “Othello.” It is founded in racism.

“It’s an assertion of power and control,” says David Leonard , a professor of comparative ethnic studies and American studies at Washington State University. “It allows a society to routinely and historically imagine African Americans as not fully human. It serves to rationalize violence and Jim Crow segregation.”

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Who Can Teach Ethnic Studies Revisited

Carmen Lugo-Lugo.

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, cultural studies professor at WSU, further explores its genesis and history, which she divides into three parts.

A few months ago, I published an op-ed titled “Who Can Really Teach Ethnic Studies?” After its publication, I received numerous emails from scholars asking me to reconsider my position, since my main criterion for teaching ethnics studies was training in the field. I realized then that I hadn’t really explained what I meant by “training.” Ironically, the question of needing “training” or not isn’t often asked when dealing with disciplines like English, philosophy, math, chemistry and others.

I am using this opportunity, then, to expand on what I meant by “training” in ethnic studies. In my view, it can mainly be gained in one of two ways: 1) by getting a degree in ethnic studies and 2) by being hired to teach in an ethnic studies program or department (regardless of degree).

But exactly why is training important? What makes ethnic studies different from other disciplines that teach (about) race?

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Inside Higher Ed

Gilman scholarship students heading abroad

Four WSU CAS undergraduates recently received the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship toward study abroad programs of their choice. Cougs will use the funding to study in Taiwan, Italy, Kenya, and Japan.

“The Gilman scholarship is a federally funded initiative and the top study abroad award in higher education,” said Tiffany Prizzi, senior advisor in International Programs-Global Learning. “Besides looking great on a resume, this award is an open door to international opportunities and consideration for post-graduate awards, such as the Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships.

Students receiving the award, their year in school, their major, and their intended study abroad destination are Ryan Lewis, senior, Anthropology and Chinese, one semester in Taiwan; Ramiro Lopez-Guerra, junior, Social Sciences, one month in Florence, Italy; Darya Maysam, junior, Animal Sciences and Mathematics, 6 weeks in Kenya; and Jarely Aragon Ramirez, senior, Linguistics and Political Science, one semester in Nagasaki, Japan. All the students are from Washington state.

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WSU Insider

Teaching Academy inducts 32 new members

The Teaching Academy at Washington State University added 32 new members to its membership roster at its first induction ceremony since 2020.

“The organization is made up of educators from every college and campus who provide advocacy, expertise, and the resources to enable faculty to engage students in transformative learning experiences and achieve academic success,” said Kara Whitman, academy chair and faculty member in the School of the Environment.

“New members infuse energy and ideas into the group and make valuable contributions to teaching and the scholarship of teaching across WSU. “We are very pleased that so many talented and qualified educators applied for membership this year.”

Induction ceremonies were held April 13 in Pullman, led by Whitman and Ashley Boyd, vice chair and faculty member in the English department.

The roster of new members includes from CAS:
Lisa Carloye, Biological Sciences; Blythe Duell, Psychology; Robin Ebert Mays, English, WSU Tri‑Cities; Brigit Farley, History, WSU Tri‑Cities; Leeann Hunter, English; Sergey Lapin, Mathematics and Statistics, WSU Everett; Yimo Liu, Biological sciences, WSU Tri‑Cities; Allison Matthews, Psychology, WSU Tri‑Cities; and Michael Pieracci, Languages, Cultures, and Race, WSU Tri‑Cities.

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WSU Insider
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