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Colin Cowherd blames race for the Pacers low attendance

Colin Cowherd has done it again.  The ESPN radio host known for his offensive statements and gross mischaracterizations and stereotypes has caused controversy once more with what else – baseless social commentary.

This time Cowherd, who is no stranger to race based controversies himself, said on his radio show Tuesday that Pacers fans aren't attending games in spite of the team's success this year because of race.  Cowherd's opinion (backed up by the airtight evidence of a few random Facebook quotes) is that the infamous Malice in the Palace Pacers-Pistons brawl and association with violence is still scaring away fans from NBA basketball in Indianapolis.  

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So not only are you people in Indiana bringing unemployment on yourselves, you're also not supporting your professional basketball team because of race.  Conveniently, Cowherd didn't share these comments in the same thread:

"GO PACERS!!! Paul George is Awesome…..Team is one of the best this year…..David West reminds me of Haywood Workman – – bring back those Hard Hats – – – Support these Guys – – GO PACERS!!"  

"A lot of people don't work 9-5 anymore….or have every weekend off. A lot of times I have to DVR the end of the game then go to work, let alone be able to attend. We try to make 5 games a year."  

"I would go to every game if budget would allow! Yeah they have cheap seats where you have to take your binoculars and tissues but in that case I'd rather seat at home and watch! Which I do do anyway! LOVE the Pacers!!!! Go team!"

Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star took to defending the city from charges of racism saying attendance has dropped for the Pacers because of losses on the floor and a declining season ticket base.  Not a stunning turn of intolerance from the home fans…

"Here’s what Colin doesn’t quite get as he watches from afar in Bristol, Conn. After that 2004-05 season, pro basketball died here in Indianapolis. Ron Artest went crazy. Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley and others got in trouble. The team made the playoffs, but it was an unlikable team, and the Pacers were forced to trade off all those players to change the culture.

The result was five or six years of nice guys who couldn’t play a lick of basketball.

After having the 17th-best attendance in the league in 2004-05 — and keep in mind, with the fieldhouse’s capacity, the best the Pacers can be if every team sells out its games is 13th — they dipped to 24th in 2005-06, then fell to 30th two years later, losing more than 3,000 fans per game. And it has remained near the bottom since."

Kravitz uses facts to support his argument.  Let's look at more facts and numbers because those are fun!  Malice in the Palace occurred in November 2004.  Here's a list of Pacers attendance ranks and their finish in the Eastern Conference the last 10 years:

02-03: 16,352, 15th – Eastern Conf: 3rd.
03-04: 16,544, 16th – Eastern Conf: 1st.
04-05: 16,944, 15th – Eastern Conf: 6th.
05-06: 16,179, 24th – Eastern Conf: 6th.
06-07: 15,359, 28th – Eastern Conf: 9th.
07-08: 12,221, 30th – Eastern Conf: 9th.
08-09: 14,182, 28th – Eastern Conf: 9th.
09-10: 14,202, 27th – Eastern Conf: 10th.
10-11: 13,538, 30th  – Eastern Conf: 8th.
11-12: 14,168, 29th – Eastern Conf: 3rd.
12-13: 14,496, 26th – Eastern Conf: 3rd.

You know who ranked in the Top 2 in attendance every year from 2003 to 2009?  The Detroit Pistons, who also happened to be involved in that 2004 brawl.  Miraculously, the Pistons were able to maintain their huge crowds throughout much of the 2000s while the team was winning 50 games every year from 2002-2008.  Let's check their rank in attendance the last few years:

09-10: 8th
10-11: 18th
11-12: 28th
12-13: 28th

I'm no sociological expert, but I wonder if Colin Cowherd has an enlightened opinion as to why the Pistons did so well for so long in attendance and now struggle to crack 12,000 fans a night.  Why have they dropped from 1st in the league to 28th?  Racial issues?  Economic issues?  Why is it the Pistons have lost 37% of their fans?  Could it be they haven't won more than 30 games in a season since 2009?  Could it be they've missed the playoffs each of the last three years and are on track to do it again this season?  Hopefully Colin Cowherd has the answers.

If race is the biggest factor in people in Indiana not attending Pacers games in droves, why didn't attendance rise for the glory years of Mike Dunleavy, Travis Diener, and Josh McRoberts?  Why did it bottom out instead?  Why was it that attendance in the seasons before, during, and after Malice in the Palice were relatively unchanged from 2003 to 2006?

You could also spin the numbers to say Pacers attendance has risen 20% since 2008, but that doesn't fit the narrative.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Cowherd's commentary is the fact that he uses a few rogue Facebook and social media comments to drive a larger narrative about basketball fans in Indiana being scared by black NBA players.  It's ignorant to pretend that issue doesn't exist.  Social media and internet comments are filled with racism, sexism, and all sorts of isms everywhere.  But this isn't a blog pulling out a few racist or homophobic tweets to paint the rival city's fans in a negative light.  This is a national radio host for one of the largest media companies in the world basically inferring an entire city has significant racial issues with their professional basketball team.

When will ESPN step in and say enough is enough with this shallow social commentary?  Because this is precisely the type of commentary that hurts the ESPN brand in a big way.  If Cowherd had something productive and useful to say it'd be one thing, but instead he casually infers racism and informs his listeners with inaccuracies.  And the biggest problem is that Colin Cowherd keeps going back to this well of social commentary that leads to careless and reckless statements.  And all the while ESPN sits back in silence.

It's a pretty audacious step for the same person who once criticzed a black NBA player for a "yo dawg look at me I'm the man dance."

Matt Yoder

About Matt Yoder

Managing Editor of Awful Announcing and award winning sportswriter. Bloguin consigliere. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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