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Posted on Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

'This is Michigan' poster blatantly misleading and offensive

By Letters to the Editor

Recently I was trying to enjoy breakfast at a favorite eatery, a restaurant frequented by players and staff of the University of Michigan Athletic Department. The décor is related to U of M sports. As I sat at my table, the 2011-2012 U of M men’s basketball team poster caught my eye.

The poster is dominated by two white basketball players wearing home uniforms underneath whose image is written “This is Michigan” -- the current slogan adopted by the University sports programs.

The two white players are flanked by two back basketball players, wearing the away uniforms, suspended in action and one-third the size of the white players. Beneath the slogan is a pictorial roster of the full team, the majority of which are black. I found the poster misleading, unsettling and offensive.

Rather than just accepting the discomfort viewing this poster created, I decided to go to the source to try to understand the motivation behind the way the images are presented. Thus, I contacted the U of M Athletic Department and was able to speak with the poster designer.

I explained the purpose of my call was to express concerns aroused by the poster and to try to understand the thought process that went into designing the poster. After a brief conversation, I was told the two white ball players were team captains and the decision for the design had come from the coaching, marketing and media department staffs. It was then suggested my inquiries should move up the administrative chain and I found myself leaving a message with the media department.

I got a call back from a media department representative with this explanation: the decision to go with team captain design was made by the basketball coaching staff. Further, I was told that I was looking at this matter too closely, as if my discomfort/disease was unreal. His tone became more clipped and dismissive as I pressed the issue and was told I was “trying to create a story.”

As if by way of explanation I was told that the “This is Michigan “slogan was used by all the sports teams and the football poster was cited as an example.

When I asked if the football team was predominately Black, the answer was yes. When I asked if the football team has black team captains, the answer again was yes.

Yet on the football teams’ poster, the decision was to go with a photo of a team helmet not the team captains. The representative seemed oblivious to the disparity.

I informed the media representative, as I had the designer, these decisions had not been fully thought through and failed to reflect an understanding and/or appreciation of the black community.

Even for me, a person who does not follow sports, the inequities here are blatantly evident.

This is Michigan! Really?

Charles A. Lewis
Ann Arbor



Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

"We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers. " ? Martin Luther King Jr.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

It reminds me of the posters of alll white students spread all over Detroit promoting "I am True EMU"...


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 2:50 a.m. put this out just for the shock value and to get people to blog. Obviously this person has serious issues with race


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:41 a.m.

Why does the UofM football poster only have the helmet on it? Because there are over 100 players on the UofM football roster, and the most recognizable helmet in football covers their heads. The men's basketball team has 16 players with Novak and Douglass as captains and nothing covering their faces. Also, I don't find it all that strange that a university would want to highlight student-athletes that spend four years going to college.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:53 a.m.

Very funny, I am glad you brought back your satirical posts. It is nice to have a good laugh.

Robert Granville

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:27 a.m.

Wow.... I have to wonder if this guy watches Michigan basketball... or football. Wonder if he'll be around to write another worthless article when Denard is chosen by his teammates as a captain next year.... I can't stand to see overly sensitive guys like this get press, especially regarding racial issues. Everyone who had the misfortune of reading this will pay less attention to legitimate situations where racism and/or white privilege is at play. This hurts everyone. ... but hey... what do I know... I'm just one Black Michigan sports fan...


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

This is the best you could do Charles to get your 1 minutes of fame?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

I think alot of the commenters that have attacked Mr. Lewis for his views need to seriously investigate the history behind the historically dismal treatment of black student athletes on the UM Basketball team, and that the 30 for 30 special on the Fab Five which aired last a good place to start.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:27 p.m.

Can we just stop this desperate search for racism?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:04 p.m.

2 whites are team captains. Captains are chosen to represent the team. Michigan puts white captains on basketball poster. University is obviously racist.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10:58 p.m.

I agree! Where were the Chinese students that attend UM in large numbers on the poster? If it is really representative of Michigan they'd have somebody from every race in equal proportion to their % of the student body. Yeeesh.....


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

I understand the gist of the article. I disagree vehemently. The problem that is pointed out is not just a University of Michigan problem (if it is), it is an American problem. I don't think the University of Michigan was overtly trying to be biased. Either we are completely oblivious to any bias or we point out things that are not there because we perceive a pattern. I'd like to live in a world where bias of any kind is gone. Where accomplishment and merit is based on character, talent and hardwork. As a fan of Michigan sports teams I don't care who scores or who the star or captain is. I do care about Michigan prevailing over its opponents and rivals. Michigan's basketball team has two white captains. Michigan's football team is all about the team. Michigan has attempted to be the leaders and best in many arenas of society, not just sports. Most of the Michigan Nation has represented the University pretty well. Articles like these may not be the best vehicle for discussion, because of the wedge that is being driven where there be no wedge. I hope we can move on as free, progressive Americans and Wolverines to Go Blue, not black or white. Slavery is over, racism is not far behind!!! Oh yeah, "This is Michigan" means we don't lose often.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10:22 p.m.

Charles Lewis' article is blatantly misleading and offensive. Only in the alternate reality that is Ann Arbor would something like this be thought of, and only in Ann Arbor would something like this be even remotely considered "newsworthy".


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10:02 p.m.

I appreciate that Mr. Lewis feels offended. However, his demand that his offense become gospel truth is not reasonable. He is entitled to his opinion, which does not make it correct. It is correct to raise the issue with the school, however, unless someone else comes forward from the team with a similar position, then his offense is simply his own to live with. The explanations offered by the school seem quite reasonable and there seems to be no reason to take them other than at face value. Is Mr. Lewis aware of some other acts of discrimination within the sports program that would make his complaints more credible? Otherwise, I think he must also allow for the position that he may also be mistaken.

Brian M.

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:45 p.m.

I have a hard time believing something this ignorant actually made it onto this site. Nonsense like this is counter-productive and drowns out the numerous legitimate criticisms ethnic minorities have in this country. Absolutely shameful and borderline upsetting.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:42 p.m.

Pure Baloney!


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

Another frustrating example of how some people decide to read into every piece of imagery and attribute it to white people trying to discriminate against them. I feel like racism towards white people is completely acceptable and even funny, (white people problems, etc.) but a school can not make a sports poster featuring the team captains without being accused of racism and lack of regard/appreciation for the black community. I wish we could all just appreciate each other for our accomplishments and strength of character instead of looking critically at a person's race and deciding that there is more going on.

Bob Dively

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:35 p.m.

I don't read the "black community" comment that way. I can talk about the "black community" all day long and, as you can guess from my avatar, I am white. (Note that I'm not arguing that the author not white or black or whatever, just that the reader can't tell from what he's written.)


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

Well, Bob, he speaks of the "black community" as if he is a spokesmen for it. One would then infer that he is a part of said community.

Bob Dively

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

What makes you think that the author isn't white?

out of area

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

Mr. Lewis said the majority of the basketball players are black. I find his statement stereotypical and offensive.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

We live in a society where everything we do and say is about thinking twice. It is very sad. Maybe Charles should have asked how the players on the basketball feel. I would bet none of then are offended. The football team has no barriers, just ask any of them. Too much scrutiny. A mountain made from a molehill mentality.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

The mental inequity here is blatantly evident.

Jacob Bodnar

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

This article is incredibly ignorant of how this process works and the way a football team and basketball team works. It is not uncommon at all for the captains of a basketball team to be predominately displayed on a promotional poster, that's pretty par for that course, it's either that or the entire team. I've seen both, not unusual. The captain are voted on by the team, it's not like the athletic department said, "let's vote the white kids captains and make them the larger images on the poster." The captains are always voted on by the team members. Football team posters, on the other hand, are usually always the entire team, but I've seen certainly players selected to be more obvious within the design. But again, the design decision seems to be up to the coaches, and I'm sure they also consulted the team. This is a non-story and honestly a waste of your time.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

I actually see Charles point...the UM basketball team has gone above and beyond to market Zack Novak as the "FACE" of the team, and downplayed the accomplishments of the other contributors...guys like Hardaway, and last year, Darius Morris. I think the intent is not as sinister as it first appears: Novak is marketed strongly because he had stayed with the team all 4 years...meanwhile, the other "faces" of UM basketball...Darius Morris, Hardaway, and a few years back, Manny Harris...have had NBA "might leave early" written all over them since they were drafted. The pet peeve and great fear of the UM basketball team is that their best players will (and do!) leave early. Hence, the poster has two guys who will probably never make it in the NBA.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

"its foolish to think that Novak isn't the face of this team." Yes it is very unusual for the CAPTAIN to be the face of any team!


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 4:57 a.m.

You fellows just made my point for me: they are marketing Zack Novak. He's featured on Big Ten network? Check. They are not marketing anyone else (Trey Burke?) as hard. Check. Everyone else they could market either left early (Morris) or could leave early (Hardaway). Check. I'm not in on the conspiracy that there's racism involved, but its foolish to think that Novak isn't the face of this team.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:34 p.m.

No, they are not "marketing" Zack Novak. He is on the poster because he's a captain. Really, did you want them to market Morris? He barely played his freshman year, blew up his sophomore and left? how could they market him?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Get real I wasn't even close to saying Novak would be in the NBA! Have they down played Trey Burke this season? Novak will be featured on the Big Ten network tonight. I suppose that is discrimination too? But wait what about all the times the Fab Five story has been on? Years after they were long gone! There is no controversy here! Move along!


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:25 p.m.

or in the NBA...


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

Is that all you got, or do you seriously expect to see Zack Novak starting in the NBA next year? Ask Manny Harris how that goes...oh wait, he wasn't on the poster either.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:40 p.m.

Hey Goofus! HOG WASH!!!

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

Think of the children


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:47 p.m.

This is ridiculous. There are so many instances where RACE really is an issue. This is petty and weakens the over all cause of identifying and correcting issues of inequity and discrimination. The two "white" players are the captains! Who would you recommend they put on the football poster? Fred Jackson because he is a black? Or Brady Hoke because he is the head coach? Not sure if you've been to Schembeclor (sp?) Hall, but Desmond and Woodson are prominently displayed all over that place. BOTH BLACK! They are displayed because it just so happens they are among the best football players to play in the history of Michigan football. NOY because they are black and the football program felt it needed more black faces on the walls. We will never get passed the race issues we really have when people make baseless claims like this. GO BLUE! Notice I didn't say GO BLACK or GO WHITE?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

I think Charles Lewis has identified legitimate concerns about how University of Michigan athletic teams and the University as a whole are portrayed in the "This is Michigan" posters. It is unfortunate that those who have chosen to comment on Mr. Lewis' observations generally have failed to recognize the benefit of greater reflection on the messages communicated by the "This is Michigan" advertising campaign. I suspect that, while initially responding defensively, those who decide how to portray Michigan will take greater care in the future to consider the perspectives of their various target audiences. After all, this is what advertisers do, and I, for one, as a loyal alum and devoted fan of Michigan athletics, am grateful that Mr. Lewis brought his concerns to the attention of the Athletic Department.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

I think you have failed to realize the foolishness you and Mr. Lewis have exhibited. UM basketball HAS used black athletes on their posters in the past. So the concerns of Mr. Lewis and yourself are without merit. What Mr. Lewis' letter and your response tells me is that you have a bias towards white people.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

So is your position that the two SENIOR captains (as voted by their teamates) should not be featured int he front? I took a quick glance at the UM football site. The two pictures on the front are of Denard Robinson (a black man) and JT Floyd (another black man). On the article about the Sugar Bowl victory there are images of the white kicker and a black receiver. I will also point out that there has been exactly ONE player int he history of UM Football named as Michigan Legend. It was not the FIRST Heisman winner (Thom Harmon). It went to number 21, a black man named Desmond Howard. The honorary number was worn by, wait or it A BLACK MAN. If you have been around campus for any length of time, there were posters back in the early 90's that showed FIVE black men front and center with their arms extended upwards in a huddle. They were the Fab Five. I remember posters with Lavell Blanchard front and center. When Tim Hardaway Jr and Jordan Morgan and Trey Burke become captains and leaders of the team, they will have their images front and center. The fact that THIS is what you notice tells me more about YOU than it does the UM .


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:09 p.m.

I feel if university were forced to even the race problem within college sports, maybe an even number of all races would be seen on all teams. The overwhelming majority of black athletes that go on to make millions of dollars is one sided and racist. Maybe posting the white captains is a form of evening the problem, giving the few white players a little, otherwise overlooked, recognition.

Usual Suspect

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:56 p.m.

In other words, the athletes on the poster were chosen by athletes based on their athletic abilities; race was completely ignored. What is this world coming to when we don't consider race in selecting people for something?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

Mr. Lewis, Did you by chance ask the representative why 66 percent of the seniors on the basketball team were white?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

this is a lot of to do over nothing! I guess you can invent all sorts of bias if you look hard enough. But I would say that this whole article reflects your level of ignorance about the subject matter at hand and you basically blew it out of proportion. That's probably why the media department representative became dismissive, because of your insipid attempt to create a bias out of thin air. As aareader and josh both pointed out; these guys are seniors and the captains of their team. And just because the basketball coaches decided to put their team captains on the poster, doesn't automatically mean the football coach is obligated to follow suite. Your expectations there are unrealistic. Your reasoning; flawed. It is exactly because you don't follow sports that you imagine blatantly evident inequities. Shenanigans.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

could not have said it bette myself perfect well constructed response!!!

Jim Clarkson

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

Wow, really? Seriously?

Stephen Landes

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

Wow, Charles. You need to get a life. Michigan teams have captains and they are selected by the players and coaches. I am sure the players don't care what race/religion/other irrelevant factor can be used to describe their captains. What they are most likely concerned about is who can LEAD and INSPIRE the team to achieve success. Yes, this IS Michigan, where we are concerned about leadership regardless of race or gender. When I see Michigan teams play and learn who the captains are and WHY they were selected I am proud to be a Michigan man. I don't check to see if there is racial balance or some other unrelated criteria was met. Maybe you should focus on the content of the captains' character instead of the color of their skin.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

Anyone that has really watched the team has realized the 2 guys are seniors, played well for 4 years, and indeed are the leaders of that team. They have demonstrated their ability to involve all players and are getting them to perform at their best. The team picks it captains and their wisdom of the selections has been proved. Stephen is absolutely correct with is comments about the "Opinion Piece"