Racing On the Gridiron
As American history goes, the ugly head of racism showing up never surprises me. At this stage of.my life, I wait for it to enter. The 50th Super Bowl is as good a place as any. The old character of these United States are as in play today as it was when I was born 50 years ago. In the words of my dear friend and sportswriter Dave Zirin, sports and politics collide; the dog whistles are blowing loudly. The Carolina Panthers versus the Denver Broncos is synonymous with black versus white.
The sportswriters, like the GOP candidates running in the 2016 race for the White House, make daily reminders of the utter contrasts that are ripe for knife of dividing the American pie. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Cam Newton are as opposite as opposite can be. Peyton, the pocket passer versus Newton, the wildcard scrambler set he scene that movies re made of, that advertisers dream of…and that America invests in.
When the term “pocket passer” is bandied about, we know that the speaker is referring to a white quarterback. “Scrambler” is reserved for Black men. Other dog whistle terms pepper the airwaves of America every weekend during football season. Nothing flies “under the radar.” Shamelessly, analysts and commentators refer to pocket passers as “pure,” disciplined” or “smart” weekend after weekend, while adjectives like, wild, “hairy-Carey” or “unpredictable” are reserved for scramblers—black men.
When a white quarterback scrambles in an NFL game, he’s treated as if he’s acquired some horrific temporary insanity; and adversely, when a black man roves out of the pocket, you’ll hear sports commentators advise coaches to “take him aside” and change his style. Over my 40 years of football watching, I’ve seen many a black quarterback’s NFL career squashed by the stereotyping of what his style is supposed to look like.
All of these years later, I see the recurring themes of undercover racists and herd-mentality fans that have collectively subscribed to this compartmentalizing of athlete slaves. As a young man, I that dog-whistling just didn’t sit right with me. I watched Cordell Stewart, Tee Martin,
Even Cam Newton knows that he’s a Black man that white America is opposed to. He referred to himself as a “hybrid player,” meaning that he possesses all of the qualities that many single-talented players had: smarts, quickness, strength, pizzazz…the total package means that he refuses to be pigeon-holed. He mentioned that he was a “Black man first,” which sparked a firestorm in this country. The criticisms of his propensity to animatedly celebrate a touchdown drew the ire of white people across the country. He elected to respond—by dismissing those critics. I only wish more Black men had done likewise in the past. History dictated that they couldn’t even if they wanted to.
A country that watches racial disparity reign daily—from police shootings, to education test scores, from unemployment rates to Oscar nominations—there is no way any citizen with a heartbeat can say that race isn’t alive and dividing; and for me, I could care less about the divisions. I am resolved that segregation is an acceptable anomaly in America.
Just like the racist divisionists running for the Republican nomination for president (namely, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz), I am wholly convinced that people that hate my existence are not to be considered, validated nor negotiated with. The blatant contradictions with this country’s constitutional promise should have them dismissed from any collective validation, but this country is so infiltrated with divisionists (and separatists) that hope for a homogeneous nation is no more than fiction.
I am acutely reminded of the dog-whistle racism of professional basketball of the 1980’s. The arrival of Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers tore the emperor’s clothes off. The NBA made us face the reality that hope was lost and racism would forever be with us. I, as a teen, was an anomaly, for I clung to Larry Bird, the slow, methodical white sharpshooter, as my favorite player. My friends ridiculed me and called me “white boy” for my choice, over the flamboyant, ultra-cool court general, Magic Johnson. It was always a Black versus white cloud hanging over any conversational debate about the two winners. I loved Bird (no matter how racist even he proved to be) as a player that exemplified the style I aspired to play. I prefer Bird over Johnson as a player, even to this day!
America, it’s media, the owners and even the fans, produced and perpetuated the cancer of racial differences in sports, even transitioning into white superiority. The fans in Boston carried their anti-busing racism of the 70’s into the Boston Garden arena of the 80’s. It shows itself with the New England Patriots of today—and their star quarterback Tom Brady. Their hockey fans are shameless in their attacks on Black hockey players who send their teams into defeat. I often lament having to play with white America, but refuse to withdraw, for the promise that America holds, is greater than the fear, hatred and mis-education of racists.
This hedonistic thirst for racial drama is no different from that experienced by Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Muhammad Ali or Serena Williams. What I know is that when white men fail to win the game, they attack the man. I saw it with O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick and now Cam Newton. Of course, I pray that Newton gives no reason for attack, but as America goes, a Black man need not give a reason to be attacked by white America…whether on the field or on the street.
Listen to the Super Bowl on Sunday, you’ll hear the dog whistles blowing loud as these equally matched superstars of professional football are racing on the gridiron.