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Berg: Fox Sports’ ‘Super Mariota’ tribute is a great gesture, but something’s off

It sounded like an obvious nickname. Kids love video games and one of the most prominent Oregon quarterbacks in recent history just so happens to have “Mario” in his name. Thus, it’s only logical — even though No. 8 isn’t known for his jumping prowess — that the Ducks’ quarterback has earned the moniker Marcus “Super” Mariota.

And exploiting that celebrity is, of course, second nature to sports broadcasting. So it also makes sense that the “Super Mariota” name would lend itself to outstanding marketing gimmicks.

In a promotional video released Thursday, Fox Sports depict a Super Mario Bros.-style platformer set on the field of Autzen. An NES-era Mariota runs across the field, kicks a football like a Koopa shell, and charges through an onslaught of players to the endzone.

He’s also super-white. Like, vaguely albino white. White with a capital “W.” Mariota’s avatar isn’t even close to the genuine element. The Samoan force of nature that leads the Oregon Ducks’ offensive line has been transformed into a cookie-cutter quarterback, rushing against the charge of identically white 8-bit linemen.

But I get it, Fox Sports. You needed a bumper, and got to work without consulting any actual pictures, videos, articles or common sense as to what Marcus Mariota actually looks like. (Because when I hear “Mariota”, I think of an average-height white dude.)

So you whipped an intern a few times to slap together a Flash animation underscored by shouting announcers, and didn’t take the time to apply the same texture you used for the ground to Mariota’s face. Makes total sense how this little mistake happened.

The fact is, minority representation in games is already pretty damn low. We’re full up of countless different shooters about brown-haired white dudes gunning down soldiers of a vaguely brown ethnicity, and the slew of RPGs starring Asians with hairstyles that raise a middle finger to the laws of gravity.

Hispanics, African Americans and Samoans really only get realized in mainstream video games through sports titles, or in a Grand Theft Auto sequel. Even retro games in 1985 realized this — Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! might have depicted Indians as shamans, Russians as alcoholics, and Mike Tyson as an invincible demigod, but damn it if they weren’t all the right color.

Minority representation in games has been one of the biggest conversation starters in the industry these past few weeks (if you define a “conversation” as Twitter ramblings about conspiracy theories and death threats sent to critics of the status quo) — with the story spreading from smaller gaming blogs to mainstream sites like Time and Rolling Stone. But leave it to Fox Sports to be the accidental antithesis.

When given all the necessary tools, they failed in giving us an awesome visual representation of a potential Heisman winner. Instead, we get another example of the gaming industry’s current woes.

Follow Chris Berg on Twitter: @mushroomer25

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Chris Berg

Chris Berg