The Five Stages of Grief, as Seen in Racist Comments About Jeremy Lin

The rise of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks' electric, Asian-American point guard is supposed to be a feel-good story, but a recent flurry of racist comments about his success just proves why we can't have nice things. 

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The rise of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks' electric, Asian-American point guard, is supposed to be a feel-good story, but a recent flurry of racist comments about his success just proves why we can't have nice things. Speaking as an Asian-American, the pretty heinous stuff that people have started Tweeting, talking, or writing about Jeremy Lin isn't unfamiliar. And speaking as a big basketball fan (sigh: Villanova), a direct relationship between a player's success (see: Redick, JJ; Bryant, Kobe; James, LeBron) and the number of  haters he attracts is all but a given.

Instead of dissecting the racial dynamic (The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates and Capital New York's Edmund Lee do quite eloquent jobs) of each of these comments, we're examining how they fit into Five Stages of Grief.  Whether it's misplaced grief that the Knicks aren't as terrible as they usually are or that the Lin-led Knicks might have beaten your favorite team, or anticipatory grief that things for the Knicks might not be as good as they are now when its key players return---there's a stage of grief, thanks to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, to suit much of the current commentary about Lin. Below, we diagnose.

via Floyd Mayweather Jr., Professional Boxer

Grief Stage: Denial"Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief."

It should be noted that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is one half of a bitter-boxing rivalry with Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, so perhaps there's a bit of projection here.  But according to the Kubler-Ross method, this stage is actually about being "left behind." Of course, the Kubler-Ross stages apply to death, but Mayweather's feeling that African American players might be "left behind" in the wake of Lin's hype could be very real.

via Floyd Mayweather Jr. (Again)

Grief Stage: Anger"There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits."

The anger here isn't directly at Lin. To be fair, Mayweather's anger is directed at the Twitter backlash he felt over his previous tweet about Lin's race. At this point, according to Kubler Method, anger and denial have a hard time co-existing--meaning that that Mayweather at least acknowledges that Linsanity is real (even though he had to be convinced of it by the backlash to his comment).

via Michael Che, Comedian and Jason Whitlock, a Fox Sports journalist

Grief Stage: Bargaining: "After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce"

Whitlock's tweet came after Lin's 38-point outburst against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant. In a literal sense, his "truce" came in the form of giving into Linsanity with an immature penis-size joke—in order to acknowledge Lin's prowess on the court, he had to neg him elsewhere. Che's tweet signals support for Mayweather's harsh stance, but his truce is that it's an amazing story for Asians (however problematic that view may be).

via Jason Whitlock, Fox Sports journalist

I get Linsanity. I've cried watching Tiger Woods win a major golf championship. Jeremy Lin, for now, is the Tiger Woods of the NBA. I suspect Lin makes Asian Americans feel the way I feel when I watch Tiger play golf...

The couple-inches-of-pain tweet overshadowed my sincere celebration of Lin’s performance and the irony that the stereotype applies to pot-bellied, overweight male sports writers, too. As the Asian American Journalist Association pointed out, I debased a feel-good sports moment. For that, I’m truly sorry.

Grief Stage: Depression (and a bit of acceptance): "If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way."

According to the stages, depression signals moving into the present. The scolding that the Asian American Journalist's Association laid on Whitlock coupled with the backlash he received might have helped him get into this stage. And guys! He's capable of crying! And perhaps he's a little sad for that terrible penis joke?

via Spike Lee (Lee has been a big Lin supporter from the very beginning)

Grief Stage: Acceptance: "We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live."

It's probably not fair to put Lee into this stage, since he never experienced grief.  But being a long-time Knick supporter, Lee is one of the most visible people out there accepting Linsanity. He's also been one of the most vocal, calling for people to stop the "racial profiling" of Lin. As the Kubler-Ross stages detail, acceptance means "recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality." A winning streak is definitely a permanent reality that Lee is willing to accept.

An example for the others to follow might be ESPN's Bill Simmons, who once wrote about Kobe Bryant, "I like watching him and arguing about him. I like being bothered and thrilled by him. And I really like when he plays like Michael J. Fox instead of The Wolf."

As Kubler-Ross notes, not all stages are experienced by grievers. Theoretically, the same could apply to Jeremy Lin's detractors, some of which may never get to Spike Lee levels of Lin acceptance. Clearly, Mayweather is not ready to move on.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.