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Dwight Howard and the 'Soft' Narrative

Is Dwight Howard soft? What qualifies as soft? Is his personality out of alignment with the NBA or even society at large? When looking, objectively, at the context of the critiques of Howard's character we see something much uglier than Howard's lack of "edge."

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Long time no chat, TDS. I know the topic has slowly become less relevant since the Nets/Rockets game is now nearly a week old but it's better late than never, no? Yes, it's worth discussing and it's worth putting in perspective whether or not Dwight Howard is "soft" or not. The national media does its posturing and its speculation about what a man needs to do to be "hard." The hitch on the whole issue being that, as an audience, we either, by instinct, refute or accept conjecture without much support.

In kind, I wanted to take an opportunity to levy the criticism back at the pundits offering it. In a broader social context, confrontational behavior has gotten to the point where it's deemed less about strength of character and more about strength of insecurity, labeling those that fail to capitulate to be labeled "bullies" or transgressors. In a modern society where the fear of merely offending an individual is enough to cause people to equivocate and wane from conversation lest they be judged monsters, are we willing to critique Dwight? Merely because Howard smiles and refuses to physically assault another human being he is considered soft.

Read that again. A man who plays a sport for a living where you put a ball in a hoop is less of a strong willed man because he refuses to shoot his mouth off or commit simple assault. Last I checked, this is the NBA, not the NHL. The NHL had the opportunity to join the international community and ban fighting but refused to do so because that's not part of the way it's played in the League. They let men settle their differences with their fists. The NBA, on the other hand isn't that.

David Stern had two challenges when he ascended to the commissioner position of the NBA. First, grow the brand nationally. He can check that off of his list. Second, was to scrub the NBA clean of its reputation as a league full of thugs. He pursued that with the dress code and harsher punishments for altercations. Through all of that, however, we had the Malice at the Palace (Pacers-Pistons brawl), and the Knicks Nuggets brawl comes to mind immediately. What was the response? Heavy suspensions, fines, and general media outrage flowed from those fights.

Let's place it in the broader context of the everyday society we live in. Generally speaking, we are terrified of offending other individuals with our speech, let alone our actions. Behavioral modification and politically correct sensibilities have overridden our outright honesty to the point that blunt truth-telling has become shocking to the conscience. Defamation, slander, and libel entered the everyday lexicon without any understanding of just what's necessary to effectuate those types of legal claims.

And people want to call Dwight Howard soft because he won't throw a punch?

Donald Sterling lost a team for racist comments made behind closed doors, illegally taped, and the NBA would not tolerate such an offensive man from playing a part in their Congressionally exempt trust. Danny Ferry's internal scouting report comments that trended towards "super racist" helped catalyze the sale of the entire team rather than the purging of the individual internally. Pay close attention here: no one is advocating that hate speech is ok, merely that we're ok with depriving someone of property for it.

So I ask, when words are so crippling to our ability to function and it's worth stripping someone of a lucrative investment or their job security, what right do pundits have to level at Dwight Howard for failing to throw a punch? No, in a modern NBA where words can cost you everything and diminishing altercations has been a primary focus of the game, Dwight's failure to swing is precisely what the NBA needs to glorify. False tough guys like Kevin Garnett, who no longer have the talent to be relevant so they seek other means to do so, are a relic of the NBA's past. That doesn't mean, by exclusion, that Dwight is the future of the NBA but you rarely see a player like a James Harden or Anthony Davis show an explosive temper or assault anyone else, either.

Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal, two main critics of Dwight's demeanor and lack of willingness to commit simple assault, have not yet come to grips with the fact that the NBA changed. They played in an era where the Bad Boys in Detroit and McHale could clothesline Rambis. Those days don't exist anymore because the commissioner determined that it was detrimental to the proliferation of the game. Right or wrong, that's the current direction and belief. The idea that one should be hardened and a tough guy in a sport runs in direct contradiction to the society the sport sits in today and, in a sense, only reinforces the worst stereotypes the league has faced historically. Ironically, those are stereotypes that Barkley has advocated in favor of the league managing to eschew.

No, Dwight Howard is not soft. The man bangs and collides with behemoths on a nightly basis, shows incredible strength on his finish, does not back down when aggressors confront him, and the most retaliation he has ever presented was a casual swing back at the man who decided to scream and headbutt him. Society is soft, the NBA is soft, but Dwight Howard, in the broader context of all these things, is perfectly fine. Arguably his strength of will is above both the NBA and society at large, is greater because he not only refuses to back down, he fails to help or hinder the increasing passivity of both. Instead, he holds his ground to those who are belligerent and smiles to lift the spirits of those around him. Maybe if we had more people willing and able to stand up to belligerence rather than observe while passivity creates helplessness we'd be in a better spot.


On an unrelated note, this is my last write up for TDS. I wanted to give y'all something thought out and a bit broader in scope than what I usually did. I'm sure you've seen I haven't contributed in a while and it's for a variety of reasons that range from the personal to the creative. Specifically, I'm studying for the bar exam and that's going to consume a great deal of my time in addition to my job but there's also some differences in blogging I've yet to reconcile. In consideration of that, I'm saying goodbye. It's been great to write for you guys (Yes, even Bobby and CDH) and I'm grateful for the regular commenters and some of you I've come to acknowledge as fans (Looking specifically at you, Chrive and Mitmil).  I want to thank Tom Martin (Not sure if you read anymore) for giving me a chance and pulling me up from the comments section all those years ago. Hat tip to Pat for dealing with my crap and letting me take the reigns on some projects. Special thanks to guys like Xiane, Mike K., and ak2themax for being fantastic guys and friends. I've enjoyed getting to work with y'all. To the founders of TDS, thank you for your original vision and creation of this site, it was beautiful. If you want to keep up with whatever material I still put out, feel free to follow me on Twitter: @QuestionablyBD