It's been several months since I wrote a FanPost here, and it was probably some lighthearted pre-free agency title like "The Best Shooting Guards on the Market" or something. But this morning, as I was eating breakfast, I saw something on TV that disturbed me so greatly that I feel compelled to share it with my fellow sports fans.
I like watching ESPN First Take. Don't ask me why, because I can't provide any rational reason for it. It's probably the same reason liberals feel compelled to sneak in a few minutes of Fox News or conservatives do the same with MSNBC. Just a small dose to get your blood boiling watching idiotic pundits (cough, Skip Bayless) make bold, unsubstantiated claims and stir up drama, often with a few exciting segments with guest personalities, the best of which involve expletive-laden rants from Terrell Suggs. Most of the time, the topics First Take covers are very minor and stupid, but they have the audacity to think and claim, quite laughably, they tackle tough topics with true journalistic spirit. Regardless, they succeed by virtue of covering football and basketball extensively (I'm not much of a baseball guy) and offering a few ridiculous Bayless-Stephen A. Smith debate moments and chuckle-fests every day.
But this morning they chose to cover Washington Redskins' QB Robert Griffin III's recent comments, to an ESPN reporter, on the subject of his race.
"For me, you don't ever want to be identified by the color of your skin." Griffin said. "You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That's what I strive [for]. I am an African-American, in America, and that will never change. But I don't have to be defined by that."
"I am [aware] of how race is relevant to [some fans]. I don't ignore it," Griffin said Wednesday. "I try not to be defined by it, but I understand different perspectives and how people view different things. So I understand they're excited their quarterback is an African-American. I play with a lot of pride, a lot of character, a lot of heart. So I understand that and I appreciate them for being fans."
To me, these quotes seemed extremely un-newsworthy, and were actually very well-stated by a 22-year-old NFL rookie answering a question designed to trip you up. Griffin expresses his own perspective intelligently, but also acknowledges others' diplomatically.
Now contrast that with the commentary offered by the mothership's own Rob Parker.
"This is an interesting topic," Parker said. "For me, personally, just me, this throws up a red flag, what I keep hearing. And I don't know who's asking the questions, but we've heard a couple of times now of a black guy kind of distancing himself away from black people.
"I understand the whole story of I just want to be the best," Parker continued. "Nobody's out on the field saying to themselves, I want to be the best black quarterback. You're just playing football, right? You want to be the best, you want to throw the most touchdowns and have the most yards and win the most games. Nobody is [thinking] that.
"But time and time we keep hearing this, so it just makes me wonder deeper about him," Parker went on. "And I've talked to some people down in Washington D.C., friends of mine, who are around and at some of the press conferences, people I've known for a long time. But my question, which is just a straight honest question. Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?"
"Well, [that] he's black, he kind of does his thing, but he's not really down with the cause, he's not one of us," Parker explained. "He's kind of black, but he's not really the guy you'd really want to hang out with, because he's off to do something else."
"Well, because I want to find out about him," Parker said. "I don't know, because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about he's a Republican, which, there's no information [about that] at all. I'm just trying to dig deeper as to why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like I've got black skin but don't call me black. So people got to wondering about Tiger Woods early on."
"Now that's different," Parker said. "To me, that's very urban and makes you feel like..wearing braids, you're a brother. You're a brother if you've got braids on."
"I didn't mean it like that," he said. "We could sit here and be honest, or we can be dishonest. And you can't tell me that people in the barbershops or people that talk, they look at who your spouse is. They do. And they look at how you present yourself. People will say all the time, you're not gonna get a job in corporate America wearing those braids. It happens all the time. Let's not act like it doesn't, because it does."
Whoa. It's just staggering to see a 48-year-old veteran black sports journalist, who presumably cares about his community and people, recklessly spewing racial stereotypes and ignorance on national television. He might have just as easily come out and screamed to the world "RGIII ain't a real nigga!" and his speech would have only been marginally more inappropriate. And the most ironic thing about this whole episode is that, of all the black anchors, analysts, and commentators on ESPN, Parker is probably the least "brotha" of them all by his own definition, considering his relatively straight-laced attire and almost comically "white-sounding" thick New York accent.
What is so troubling to me is not necessarily that people like Parker have their viewpoints, because let's face it - that's inevitable - but that it was accepted so nonchalantly as a legitimate "debate" on the program. In fact, it was surreal to see Cari Champion, the moderator, perplexedly asking Parker where he was going with his statements and why exactly he "wanted to know more" about RGIII. Bayless, being the ass that he is, brought up the inevitable braids line of conversation, while the usually bombastic Stephen A. Smith looked rather stunned at the entire thing, and Christian Fauria, the hopeless guest debater, seemed shell-shocked himself.
The bottom line, though, is that Parker is wrong. Just like Jalen Rose was wrong in making his comments about Duke basketball players being "Uncle Toms."
Believe it or not, there is no one definition, no all-encompassing notion of what it means to be "black" in America these days. It's not just the people who speak "hood," wear braids, grew up in the projects with a single mother, or don't have a college education who are eligible to be "brothers." There are "real black people" in the rough, crime-infested urban neighborhoods of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, in barbershops and on basketball courts across the country, sure, but they're also in the elite colleges and universities, the well-to-do suburbs, the military, the corporate workforce, and even the frickin' Oval Office. And that's not just true of black people, but all people. Being black or being American or being anything meaningful isn't about conforming to a rigid set of characteristics or beliefs -- talking, thinking, behaving in only a certain way. It's about sharing that group's collective interests and concerns, bleeding with them and rejoicing with them in spite of any individual differences.
It's obvious from watching Robert Griffin III that he's an incredibly likable, well-spoken, intelligent young man. In many ways he differs from the stereotypical jock athlete: his parents are both U.S. Army Sergeants, his girlfriend is white, and he served as president of his high school class. He also happens to be a Heisman Trophy winner, and an exciting, fresh superstar quarterback for one of the NFL's most popular franchises. For him to be inexplicably insulted and questioned by a black journalist on a "blackness" witch hunt on live national television, and on the preeminent sports network in the world no less (which has billion-dollar TV contracts with the NFL), is an utter embarrassment to ESPN and its management.
I hope that the network decides to fine, sanction, or, preferably, fire Parker immediately to send a message about this kind of offensive, destructive rhetoric. Sometimes what's politically correct is just what's correct period.