The case of ‘King Kong’ and his court

By John Burbridge

Though far from a perfect movie, “Training Day” is one of my favorite flicks.

Whenever I see it listed amid the channel guide, I switch to it no matter if it’s already past the midway part. I’ll even watch it at the beginning when knowing that my schedule won’t allow me to stick around more than 20 or 30 minutes into it.

Mainly, I’m captivated by the Academy Award-winning performance of Denzel Washington’s murderous corrupt narcotics officer “Alonzo” who among cinema’s greatest all-time villains ranks right up there with Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and Tonya Harding’s mother.

Perhaps Washington’s — or ‘Lonzo’s — most famous scene comes near the end after his green partner Jake (played by Ethan Hawke) strips him of his badge and blood money, and even shoots him in the derriere for good measure. Angered that no one in the neighborhood where he comports himself as the defacto “Mayor” or “Lord” has come to his aide, ‘Lonzo lashes out at the residents, “I run this place … you just live here!” before exclaiming “King Kong has nothing on me!”

‘Lonzo likely never had to battle in the paint with Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, whom Iowa Hawkeye radio play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin referred to as “King Kong” after the Angola expatriate recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in just 14 minutes on the floor while leading the Terrapins to a 66-65 victory over UI last Tuesday.

Hawkeye Sport Properties, which owns the rights to University of Iowa broadcasts, promptly suspended Dolphin for the rest of the season.

Dolphin is not the first sport broadcaster who has gotten himself into trouble after making a primate reference to a black athlete. Howard Cosell likened Washington wide receiver Alvin Garrett to a “little monkey” breaking loose in the open field. Despite the support of black dignitaries such as Jesse Jackson and Muhammad Ali, and even Garrett himself, Cosell was removed from the Monday Night Football crew at the end of the 1983 season.

Cosell would have been better off by referring to Garrett simply as a “Redskin”.

Being a broadcaster these days — especially a sports broadcaster — is certainly a challenging gig. Even the good ones are dogged and trolled incessantly. For example, I consider Cris Collinsworth to be an excellent color man on Sunday Night Football telecasts even though I admit roll call at our monthly fanboy meetings doesn’t take too long. Collinsworth has an uncanny ability to accurately break down teams’ deficiencies. This done in real time while someone’s favorite team is getting smoked is probably the reason why Collinsworth doesn’t get too many Valentines from already irritated viewers.

And longtime Hawkeye announcer Dolphin has accrued his share of detractors, not only from Hawkeye fans but from the team itself. Earlier this season, he was suspended by his employer after he was caught on a live mike disparaging the team’s recruiting efforts and the vision and court awareness of one of the Hawkeye players.

For someone whose job requirement is too fill the airwaves with multiple hours of narrative and commentary, you can never be too careful when you have enemies lurking on social media. A slip of the tongue here, an inappropriate analogy there, or even a mispronunciation will unleash a fury of self-righteous indignation that too often drifts into self-congratulatory territory.

In his public apology, Dolphin said he was praising the effort and talent of Fernando with no racial malice intended. I believe him. His suspension is a frivolous over-reach — or at least it appears so on the surface.

I can’t help but wonder — taking account of his soured relationship with UI’s men’s team and its head coach — if Dolphin’s days were numbered before the “King Kong” reference, which now can serve as a convenient last straw for just cause termination. I’m tempted to consider such a possible ploy as being “weak”, but that would be an insult to Shawn Bradley.

Like a semi-celebrity filing a false hate-crime report, Dolphin’s suspension is something that can only drive a wedge through the arguably still widening racial and political divide. It angers and corrupts the public into taking a more condescending approach toward real victims of bigotry, while at the same time emboldening the real bad actors to act more overtly with the confidence of being backed by an increased wave of anti-political correctness sentiment.

By suspending Dolphin, Hawkeye Sport Properties is not championing sensitivity but exasperating an already volatile climate.