OK, you might as well fire up the ol' word processors and get ready to start writing the hate mail over this one.
The man pictured above, Michael Carroll, was just eliminated from the Main Event of the 2008 World Series of Poker in 27th place, the first knockout of Day 7, on which the final three tables will be reduced to the Final Table.
He was the Last Black Standing.
Why does that matter? It doesn't. But neither does it matter that Tiffany Michelle is the Last Woman Standing, yet that fact has received oodles of attention from the media. (Her name is apparently really Tiffany Michelle Graham. I assume that "Tiffany Michelle" is sort of a stage name she adopted. Since that's the name under which she entered the tournament, I'll use it here.) On the PokerNews live feeds over the past couple of days, several times a day they would throw in a post about how many female players were left, as if this fact were somehow meaningful. They never once did a post about how many black people were left in it.
Being black is exactly as relevant to one's poker playing as is being female. So why does one immutable characteristic get lavish attention and the other none at all? I don't pretend to know the answer to that. I only know that it's both silly and wrong that so many people care so deeply about whether poker players have two X chromosomes or only one. It is my own form of mini-retaliation (and spoofing) to point out that Mr. Carroll--about whom I know nothing, by the way--is just as deserving of media attention for having more melanin than any of the remaining players as Ms. Michelle is for having ovaries instead of testicles.
Yes, women are statistically under-represented at poker tables generally and in big poker tournaments specifically. But that is true of black people, too, so that fact does not constitute a rational justification for paying attention to one group but not the other.
If you privately are glad to see that a black person will not win the Main Event this year, then you are obviously a racist. Of course, if you are upset about the fact that a black person will not win the Main Event this year, then that makes you a racist, too. Similarly, if you hope that Michelle is eliminated because for whatever reason you can't stand the idea of a woman winning, you are sexist. And, in parallel, if you were rooting for her to win solely because of her gender, that, too, makes you sexist. It's all the same. If you favor or disfavor a person because of race, you're a racist. If you favor or disfavor a person because of sex, you're a sexist. You're a bigot either way.
One of the great things about poker is that it simply doesn't matter whether you're male or female, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, young or old, tall or short, skinny or fat, physically handicapped or a perfect specimen of humanity. Not only is the game equally open to all, but none of those characteristics intrinsically impact one's ability to learn and succeed at the game.
Frankly, I find the attention heaped on female players in the spotlight demeaning to women. Every time there is attention lavished on a female player specifically because she is female, there is at least a vague undertone that she merits the attention because she's doing something one would tend to think she shouldn't be able to do, like a pig learning to play a Brahms piano concerto.
What would be most genuinely respectful of women, in my never-humble opinion, is silently accepting, as a simple matter of fact--so obvious that it's not even worth mentioning, let alone dwelling on--that women are just as capable of playing the game as men are.
To the media outlets and bloggers who focus on the Last Woman Standing, but completely disregard the Last Black Standing, I ask you to justify why you deem one worthy of your attention but not the other. Can you do it?
Incidentally, I have no specific hopes for who wins it all this year. All of the players I was hoping to make it fell by the wayside yesterday. (Fortunately, so did all of the ones at whose success I would have been nauseated.) I certainly don't care about the sex, race, or age of the winner. My only hope is that it's somebody who is a genuinely skilled player (unlike, say, Jerry Yang), and somebody who will not be an embarrassment to the game, as I consider several past champions to be (including Russ Hamilton, Phil Hellmuth, Jamie Gold, and Jerry Yang, though all for very different reasons).
Addendum, July 14, 2008
Here's a sampling of some of the giddy, giggly, breathless, brainless rhetoric that is being spewed on Michelle's performance solely because of her sex:
On the blog of "TinaB": "Women poker players all over the world are watching Tiffany make World Series of Poker history today!"
From commenter "sdjennifer" on the same post: "Gotta love a stong, skilled woman making it this far and hopefully all the way! ... Go Tiffany!"
From blogger "aviganola": "BTW - Tiffany Michelle is the last woman standing in the WSOP Main Event right now. They are down to 27, would love to see her make the last 9. Go Tiffany!!"
From Snuffy: "This could be the greatest thing in poker history. Bigger than Chris Moneymaker."
From the pokerdonkeysblog: "However Poker Donkeys! has found a player among the chip leaders that we believe could win it all. Tiffany "HOTCHIPS" Michelle! That's right, the only girl in the bunch is not only one heck of a player but she's also HOT! Poker Donkeys! fully supports "Hot Chips" on her way to winning the WSOP 2008. You go girl!"
From "liveplayer": "Poker can use a new ENERGY and this lady looks like she might make it happen! The writers all of the web - covering the event this year are LOVING the story behind this gal... I WISH nothing but the best for Tiffany Michelle - I'm behind her all the way! You go GIRL!"
From pablosplace: "I'll probably now be pulling for any American, but specifically, I'd like to see Tiffany "Hot Chips" Michelle, the lone female, make a deep run."
From albiezushi: "Over $9mil goes to this year's winner and I really hope that the only girl left in the event wins as that would be HUGE news--for not just the poker world but for the general media as well. It'd be great for poker and hey, she's not bad looking either...GO TIFFANY MICHELLE!"
From $mokkee: "Who isn’t rooting for her at this point?"
From Gaming Alerts: "There’s no telling what would happen to the poker world if a woman won the tournament, but many in the industry are excited by the prospect and believe it would be a positive for the game."
Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the WSOP, as quoted in the Gaming Alerts piece: "If a woman made the final table...that would be terrific. And if a woman won, that would be terrific."
Hmmm. So, Mr. Pollack, I take it you think that a man winning would not be terrific. Either that, or your point is the rather idiotic, "It would be terrific if a man won and it would be terrific if a woman won." Please explain whether your point is the idiotic one, or the one in which you think it would, for some reason, not be "terrific" for a male to win.
I wonder if these people stop to consider that when they say they want Michelle to win because she is female, they are simulataneously telling the other 26 of today's contestants, "I don't want you to win, because you're a male." That is not one bit different than walking up to Michael Carroll and saying, "I'd glad you busted out. I wouldn't want you to win, because you're black."
On the other hand, I rather liked this thoughtful commentary from a blogger calling herself "sarawaraclara." My only disagreement is that rather than complain that her raises get insufficient respect because she is a female, she should relish that error on the part of apparently sexist male opponents, and learn to exploit it.