Imagine working your entire life with the dream of making the NBA, playing in a game that’s aired on ESPN.
Then, imagine that you make that dream come true! You become a number one draft pick. Heartbreakingly, you have a knee injury common to basketball players that causes you to miss the first 44 games of your career. Then imagine finally getting to make your NBA debut at the age of 19 – and scoring 22 points – 17 of them in the fourth quarter on seven consecutive possessions in just three minutes, causing the stadium to erupt in chants of “MVP!” and then, when it was time to leave the game to protect the knee rehab “WE WANT [YOUR NAME!]” in a game being aired on ESPN. All your dreams coming true.
Now, imagine you learn that ESPN’s announcer team of Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy spent basically the entire game body-shaming you, starting literally four minutes into your professional career. Including questioning if you were heavier than the official reported weight, claiming that you were out of shape, creating a graphic to compare your weight to the rest of the NBA players like it’s a stat, and saying that they wouldn’t have drafted you number one if they had a re-do.
That’s exactly what happened to Zion Williamson.
Then of course, there are armchair doctors all over the place blaming his knee injury on his weight. David Griffin, the Pelican’s executive vice president told ESPN “The notion that this happened because Zion is in poor condition is asinine. He wasn’t in poor condition when he went 12-of-13 last week against Utah. That’s not what it is. He’s just a very unique body type and certainly from a physics perspective.”
I’m sorry that this is happening to Williamson. That said, the Pelican’s approach is a good model for treating people in larger bodies who have injuries (rather than a medical community that insists that we have to become thin people before we can get ethical, evidence-based care.)
Plenty of people responded to point out that body-shaming is wrong, which was really heartening. Of there were those who claimed that the announcers had a professional responsibility to body shame him. For the record, Williamson is killing it. He’s played in 9 games and scored 20+ points in 7 of them. In a game played last Thursday, “When he was announced in the starting lineup for that game against Chicago,” CBS Sports reports, “he received the loudest cheer not just of Pelicans players, but of Bulls players as well. Everyone in attendance was there to see Zion Williamson put on a show, and he did. He finished that game with 21 points while shooting 81.8 percent from the field.”
In a game played today “Williamson had yet another sensational showing, posting 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists while shooting 10 for 17 from the field and 11 for 14 from the free-throw line. He did all this in 28 minutes. ”
Some, well-meaning but misguided, said that Williamson shouldn’t be body-shamed because he’s not really fat. But that’s missing the entire point, since countering fat-shaming by denying fatness says that the current target doesn’t deserve poor treatment (which is true) but at the expense of reinforcing the incorrect idea that they would deserve it if they were fat (or some greater degree of fat), or that being called fat is an insult. There is no size at which people deserve to be treated poorly.
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