A Ridiculous and Irrelevant Question: Is RGIII Black Enough?

I had every intention of taking a break from posting over the holidays. However, that was before I saw an article about the comments made by Rob Parker on a recent episode of ESPN’s First Take. On the show, he and a few other analysts were discussing NFL rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American player out of Baylor whose electrifying play has taken the league by storm this season. But instead of talking about Griffin’s unprecedented success or the maturity he has displayed in the past months, Parker, an African American as well, decided to ask if RGIII was “black enough” or if he was “down with the cause”. Here are some of his comments from the show:

“I’ve talked to some people in Washington, D.C. Some people in [Griffin’s] press conferences. Some people I’ve known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is … is he a ‘brother,’ or is he a cornball ‘brother?’ He’s not really … he’s black, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the guy you’d want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don’t know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancé, people talking about that he’s a Republican … there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, ‘I have black skin, but don’t call me black.’ People wondered about Tiger Woods early on — about him.”

Robert Parker

Skip Bayless, Rob Parker’s partner on the show, then went on to ask: “What do RG3’s braids say to you?”

“To me, that’s very urban,” Parker continued. “It makes you feel like … I think he would have a clean cut if he were more straight-laced or not … wearing braids is … you’re a brother. You’re a brother. If you’ve got braids on.”

RGIII

To me, these comments are absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for. I don’t understand why Parker felt it was necessary to make comments not only about Griffin’s race, but whether he should truly be considered a part of that race. With all of the amazing things that Griffin has accomplished on the field, there should be no need for Parker to be discussing the fact that he is black. Even another African American analyst on the panel, Stephen A. Smith, commented after Parker’s comments, “Well, first of all, I’m uncomfortable with where we just went.” In today’s society, we shouldn’t have to refer to a player’s race in order to analyze their play on the field.

Not only did Parker violate this policy, but he also had the audacity to question if RGIII was even black to begin with. I simply don’t understand this line of thinking, or what Parker considers to be truly “black”. ESPN has since issued a statement deeming these comments “inappropriate” and will hopefully take further action in the coming days. This action couldn’t come fast enough, and in fact I wouldn’t be upset if Rob Parker didn’t have a job at ESPN next week.

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement Through Sports

To begin with, a comprehensive timeline of important dates and moments in sports and the civil rights movement-

* points that are bolded and italicized are those that occurred outside sports

1863- The Emancipation Proclamation is issued

1884- Moses Fleetwood Walker integrates professional baseball

1908- Jack Johnson becomes the 1st black heavyweight-boxing champion

1910- Jack Johnson defends his title and defeats Jim Jeffries, who had been deemed the “Great White Hope”

1919- Fritz Pollard begins pro football, goes on to form first all-black team

1923- Jack Trice, an African American Iowa State football player, is trampled to death on field against Minnesota

1936- Jesse Owens wins 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics

1938- Joe Louis defeats Max Schmeling

1947- Jackie Robinson integrates the MLB

1948- Armed forces integrated

1950- NBA integrated

1954- Brown vs. Board of Education dismisses “separate but equal”

1955- Montgomery bus boycott

1957- Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon

1957- the Little Rock Nine integrate Arkansas schools

1963- Martin Luther King Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream Speech”

1963- Mississippi State plays the integrated Loyola University in the NCAA tournament after having previously boycotting the tournament in protest of integration

1964- Civil Rights Act passed

1966- Muhammad Ali claims exemption from the Vietnam draft

1966- Bill Russell becomes first black NBA head coach

1966- Texas Western defeats all-white Kentucky in the NCAA basketball championship game with an all-black starting five

1967- Perry Wallace integrates SEC basketball

1968- Tommie Smith and John Carlos launch black power salute at the Mexico City Olympics

1970- USC defeats Alabama behind Sam Cunningham’s amazing game; the next year Alabama integrates its football team

1975- Frank Robinson becomes 1st black MLB manager

1975- Arthur Ashe wins Wimbledon

1989- Art Shell becomes the 1st black head coach in the NFL since Fritz Pollard

2008- Barack Obama becomes the first African American president of the United States

The Exploitation of Black Student Athletes

A common concern that has arisen in the past few decades is the role of black student athletes in collegiate sports. Typically, the NCAA promotes college athletic programs as opportunities for underprivileged minority youth to achieve a college education when they may not have previously had the capacity to do so. While athletic scholarships may allow athletes to attend university, their place on athletic teams often renders the college experience null and void as the emphasis is placed on athletics– team meetings, practices, games, press conferences, and more– as opposed to education– class, homework, studying, etc.

One of the main issues surrounding college athletes, particularly football and basketball players, is their lack of monetary compensation. College football is a multi-million dollar industry, with schools and their athletic conferences receiving an enormous economic payoff annually. These schools are, in essence, profiting from the athletic performance and labor of their student athletes. Yet do these athletes receive any compensation for their effort aside from annual scholarships, which can be retracted due to financial or personal matters? Of course not, and it is this problem that has caused many to compare college football to a modern day plantation system. There are some advocates who argue that a college education is worth thousands, if not millions, of dollars itself, and while this may be true, the weak graduation rate of African American student athletes, especially African American males, presents a problem to this argument.

Each spring, many talented male athletes leave school early to pursue a career in the NFL or NBA, thereby sacrificing a college degree for the uncertainty of life as a professional athlete. While this decision proves successful for many athletes, there are also many who don’t make it in the pros, and it is these athletes who the system of collegiate athletics is hurting. For their entire college career, student athletes have been taught to put their sport above everything else, even school, an attitude that is promoted by universities for their own monetary benefit, as opposed to that of the players. Then, when life as an athlete proves unsuccessful due to injury or personal reasons at either the professional or even collegiate level, the student athletes, a majority of whom are African American, no longer focus on their education and are forced to leave college, thus not graduating. While each instance arises from different circumstances, this pattern is proven by the low graduation rates of African American males, which is only 50.2%.

What is even more alarming, however, is the disparity between the graduation rates of black and white student athletes. In NCAA Division I men’s basketball, white athletes graduate at a rate that is 32 points higher than African American athletes. Indeed, 96.1% of Division I schools graduate black student athletes at a rate lower than that of student athletes overall. This difference is alarming, and it demonstrates that in the world of college sports, it is the black student athlete who is being neglected by the NCAA. In order to solve this problem, the NCAA must first realize the enormity of this issue. As an organization whose duty it is to protect the well being of all student athletes, black and white, the NCAA needs to acknowledge the damage that colleges have caused by exploiting their student athletes, especially their football and basketball players, for the monetary profit of the university. By working to place the emphasis back on education, as opposed to merely athletics, this organization came affect change in the lives of its athletes. Additionally, a greater focus must be placed on increasing the graduation rate of African American student athletes in order to decrease the racial gap that currently exists, so that all students may be given an opportunity to achieve a college decree as they move forward in their lives.

 

Works Cited:

Bowie, Courtney. “Graduation Gap Between NCAA Black and White Student Athletes.”American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.

“Weak Graduation Rates for Black Male College Athletes.” EBONY. EBONY Magazine, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.

Michael Vick and the Media Depiction of Black Athletes

Michael Vick began a promising career as an NFL quarterback in 2001 before a shocking fall from grace. Viewed as a young talent with incredible athletic ability and tremendous upside, Vick ultimately lost all favor with the public after a scandalous arrest for involvement in a gambling and dog-fighting ring. When he was arrested, the sports world was shocked. Here was one of football’s greatest talents, and now it had been revealed that he had become involved in shady, illegal, and ultimately cruel activity. Needless to say, he became ostracized from society and was deemed a villainous figure who, above all things, hated puppies. Vick would be convicted of his crime and spent two years in prison before finally returning to the game three years ago. He is now the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, and has executed play that has been good, if not great. The question that still shrouds this saga, however, is how he would have been received if he was white.

Following time spent in prison for his crime, Vick tried out for multiple teams and was eventually signed by the Eagles. In the years following his release, he was detested by the public and often appeared as number one on polls of the most hated players in the NFL. This sentiment shows that people were generally unable to forgive and forget, retaining grudges against him from several years ago. Some writers claim that this is only because his is black, although I feel that it must be remembered that he committed a heinous and cruel crime against animals, one that would cause a lot of people to dislike him. I don’t believe that his race is the reason he was disliked, although it may have played a part in his media depiction, as writers may have been more apt to present him as a thug and a brute in conjunction with common, and completely unjust, racial stereotypes against African Americans.

According to a statistic conducted in 2011, 97, 86, 86 and 90 percent, respectively, of sports editors, columnists, reporters and copy editors in the media world are white. The fact remains that although sports writers may not consciously discriminate based on race, they lack a connection to issues that are relevant with African Americans. This is true in the portrayal of many black athletes, and it also appears in the story of Michael Vick. Had sports media been more diverse, they would have been able to offer a balanced perspective that would have examined the issue from a diverse racial standpoint.

Vick has given many heartfelt and sincere apologies publicly, even appearing at high schools to talk to students about the crime of dogfighting. It’s no question that he is extremely remorseful for his actions and would take them back in a second if he could, not because he got caught, but because he knows they were wrong. Still, despite his every effort, the public still views him as “The Bad Guy”, a thug, a villain marring the face of football. The public has twisted him into a mold he no longer fits because everyone wants a bad guy they love to hate.  Now, despite his every effort to show sports fans his guilt, remorse, and ultimate enlightenment, Michael Vick remains the villain of the sport, a victim of the realization that one wrong choice can lead to seemingly permanent damage in public perception.

It is no question that Michael Vick committed a crime and that he was punished accordingly. Issues of race arise, however, when his situation is compared with that of another NFL quarterback, the white Ben Roethlisberger.  Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in 2008, and although he was never convicted, the scandal was covered extensively by the media. Today, both men are still starting quarterbacks, but the only one still haunted by his former brush with the law is Vick. Many writers have claimed that Roethlisberger has not been treated as harshly as Vick, with one article even stating that “Roethlisberger’s complexion has inherent perks that allows to him establish connections with the media that Vick cannot draw upon.”

I think that it is important to remember that Michael Vick was convicted of his crime and spent time in jail for it, whereas Ben Roethlisberger was never convicted of sexual assault and certainly never sentenced to prison. Additionally, media coverage of both incidents was extensive and critical, and I do not believe that Roethlisberger received more favorable treatment merely due to his race. That being said, I do find it possible that Vick could have been portrayed in a manner depicting him as a thug, hooligan, and delinquent because of racial stereotypes on behalf of an overwhelmingly white sports media, and that these sentiments may have lasted long after this issue has passed because of common social prejudices against black athletes. Hopefully, a more diverse sports media world could eliminate these racial stereotypes and allow for a more balanced and fair depiction of black athletes to the public.

 

Works Cited:

Rogers, Dexter. “Michael Vick: Was ESPN’s Portrayal of Vick Being White Fair?”Bleacher Report. N.p., 28 Aug. 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

It’s Official!

Ashley Hall is officially an affiliate member of the National Consortium of Academics and Sports. This news is very exciting, and I’m so happy that our school is now involved with this phenomenal organization. Hopefully, this partnership will allow our students, particularly our student athletes, to become more aware of issues in diversity and leadership and to partake in community outreach and service initiatives. In the coming months, I hope to use our new membership to bring various diversity and leadership programs to our campus. This is truly an exciting development, and I know that this partnership will give new depth and meaning to Ashley Hall’s athletic program!