This is part of Pickens' blog series called "Political Flesh" in anticipation of her book New Body Politics.
by Therí A. Pickens
When I saw Magic Johnson on Jay Leno, I was not surprised but I was definitely perplexed. We see some of the qualities that make Magic a thoughtful and skillful athlete/commentator: he gives cogent clear explanations of game play and strategy. Yet, we see some of the qualities that made Magic an incredibly vexing figure as an HIV/AIDS activist.
When he discusses Rodman's trip to North Korea, he makes fun of Rodman's team saying, "Everybody over there is probably this high [raises his hand at about 4 feet] so of course you should win the game. [Laughter] They're not tall. [Laughter.] And they still lost! [Laughter.]"
As many of us know, height is often associated with great skill in basketball. However, that association isn't necessarily an apt one. Because, well, Tyrone Curtis "Muggsy" Bogues. And, well, Magic himself. Johnson's adept skills at ball-handling are actually unusual for someone his size. Height can also be a hindrance to maneuvering on the court. What an athlete needs is conditioning and strategy regardless of height. Because, well, Shaq.
Here, it becomes useful to retain the information we learned from watching Johnson do HIV/AIDS activism. Appearances can be deceiving. There's no way of know what a body can do (or have) based on looking. Thereâ€™s no way to judge appropriately the capability of the body based on somatic appearances alone.
I explore this in more depth in my work on Magic Johnson here.
Therí A. Pickens is an assistant professor of English at Bates College and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.