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Liz Cambage and the double standard that's not going away

This was a moment Tuesday afternoon when a friend of mine, an African-American woman, zinged me rather efficiently.

"How does it feel," she said, "when the unfairness of the double standard is aimed at white people for a change?"

It was as if she just hit my mute button.

The mouth opened, but no retort was forthcoming. I couldn't. A direct hit. We both looked at each other and chuckled, eventually resuming our conversation.

I sought her counsel to help make sense of the recent cause celebre between Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller and Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage. During Sunday's game, what happened in Vegas certainly didn't stay there.

Miller, in pleading to an official about a call, alluded to Cambage's weight, saying, "come on, she's 300 pounds!" Cambage formed her response after the game on Instagram.

Miller apologized Monday, saying, "I made an inappropriate and offensive comment in reference to Liz Cambage's height and weight. I regret what I said in the heat of the moment and want to sincerely apologize to Liz and the entire Aces organization. I understand the gravity of my words and have learned from this."

The WNBA fined Miller $10,000 and suspended him for Tuesday's game in Seattle.

I sought counsel from my friend (and several others Tuesday) because I'm chafed that Cambage, who alluded to Miller's skin color and made a physical threat to him during her retort, hasn't been subject to disciplinary action. And probably won't.

Cambage: "If there's one thing about me is that I'll never let a man disrespect me. Ever, ever, ever. Especially a little white one."

Later, Cambage said, "you are so lucky it was during a game," staring menacingly into the camera for four full seconds.

This has been referred to as a "veiled" physical threat. There was nothing "veiled" about it. It was clear and overt. She wasn't done threatening. "Next time you disrespect me, remember, I'm 235," she said, waving her finger into the camera. "It might seem like 300 pounds to your little (butt)."

To recap: In the middle of a game, Miller spontaneously made a dumb remark about Cambage's weight. After the game, Cambage made a premeditated reference to Miller's skin color and threatened him physically.

One was suspended and the other was not.

This is a double standard.

And one that's not going away for a long time.

This much I understand: It is difficult for Whites to comprehend the breadth and gravity of our privilege. Whites have normalized the belittlement and dehumanization of members of other races and cultures for centuries. Except that now the marginalized are finally getting their voices. And those voices are more prevalent than ever.

Author Brene Brown says it this way: Our country is beginning the process of rehumanizing the people "in the hearts and minds of those who consciously or unconsciously bought into the insidious, rampant ongoing devaluation. All lives matter, but not all lives need to be pulled back into moral inclusion."

Hence, Liz Cambage gets away with behavior for which Curt Miller was fined and suspended. As Cronkite said after the CBS News for 19 years: "That's the way it is."

And to argue its bona fides for another second is fruitless. I don't have to like something to accept it.

But the crickets heard across the WNBA (and in most of the media) about Cambage's words and behaviors make me wonder about the earnestness of the league's social justice initiatives. The WNBA has been quite loud and proud in its pushes for justice and equality. But here, when one of its own resorts to the very behavior league members would purportedly want to abolish, they practice benign neglect.

Liz Cambage said that stuff because she can. And that's good enough with her colleagues. She can use skin color in a derogatory context and bully someone of less physical stature. Because she can. And nobody else says a word. Because she's apparently on the side of truth, justice and retribution.

How disappointing that more of Miller's current and former players haven't found the fortitude or decency to speak publicly about who he is and what he stands for. Miller is a gay man and a pioneer of sorts in pro sports who has heard his share of abhorrent language in his life. I know him to possess nary a sexist or racist bone.

"He issued a statement; he apologized for what he said," third-year guard Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman said Monday. "We're really just focused on the game (Tuesday), and as a team of course we stand behind our coach."

Interesting that a relatively young player becomes the team spokesperson here. Where is Jasmine Thomas? Alyssa Thomas? Jonquel Jones? They are well aware of Cambage's leaguewide reputation of thriving on drama. Yet their silence suggests they tacitly approve of Cambage's words and methods. Again: Miller said something dumb. But it wasn't in the same stratosphere of irresponsibility as Cambage's threats.

I'm not sure if I'm feeling moral outrage here or hopeless idealism. But in my sphere, it is not ever acceptable to disparagingly refer to another person's skin color. It is not ever acceptable to threaten physical harm on another person. I don't live that way. I don't teach my son, 10, to live that way.

You disappoint me, Connecticut Sun.

You disappoint me, WNBA.

I thought you stood for more than this.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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