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In the wake of the basketball brawl in Detroit and the harsh penalties meted out to three players, Kansas City Star sports columnist Jason Whitlock issued a shockingly broad denunciation of Black athletes’ “style of play and sportsmanship.” Whitlock’s November 22 column further attempts to present a critique of African American behavior and politics, in general:

We're witnessing a clash of cultures. A predominately white fan base is rejecting a predominately black style of play and sportsmanship.

Who is on the right side of this argument? The group that is always right in a capitalistic society. The customer….

We, black people, begged for integration. We demanded the right to play in the major leagues, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL. These leagues accommodate a white audience. As long as the customer base is white, the standard for appropriate sportsmanship, style of play and appearance should be set by white people.

Guest Commentator John Reynolds III, responds.

Jason Whitlock, who died and made you resident HNIC?  Better yet, what white benefactor’s message do you promote in his stead?  My mouth is still open in amazement after reading your column, “Black Players in Particular Should Heed Stern Warning.”  No doubt you thought you were being witty using “Stern warning” as a double entendre. You weren’t. Your column’s content is shocking and assaults my expectations. I expect Black columnists to be a voice of reason in a racist American wilderness. I expect Black columnists to support our Black athletes’ right to participate in their profession. I expect Black columnists not to lobby colleagues to echo a self-hating point of view. I expect Black people, columnists and otherwise, to support our right to exist without requiring us to whitewash ourselves, period.  As our “hip-hop” athletes say, “my bad.” I forgot about the valued role some of our people play in our continued oppression.

To use your language, “let’s cut through all the garbage and get to the real issue.” Okay. House Negroes such as yourself do not have a mind of your own. Like Clarence Thomas and similar conservative lawn jockeys, your message is rooted in a “how do we look to whites?” mentality. You are so happy to sit at the white boys’ table of oppression, you believe you have “arrived” because you are willing to express his views of you; yes, his views of the “flamboyant” athlete are his views of you.  How did you connect the dots from Ron Artest’s implosion (one man’s actions) to the “white fan base's” general dislike of black players’ showboating, flamboyance and the racists time-honored label, “attitude”?  If race is an “element” of white backlash, which I could care less about, how can one disconnect said backlash from racism?  Since we are also on opinion’s slippery slope, what percentage of race would be needed connect or disconnect it from racism? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Ninety percent?

“A clash of cultures,” you say. A white fan base rejects black play and sportsmanship. You are correct about the Negro Leagues of days past catering to a black fan base, but you fail to mention that the basis of white play and sportsmanship made the Negro Leagues necessary. The basis of white play and sportsmanship is exclusion. Exclusion of anything non-white. Special exclusion of anything Black. Also, a requirement of any token participant, when needed (Jessie Owens comes to mind), to accept white harassment from fans and players alike as an element of “sportsmanship”.

American racism’s vitriol and endurance do not surprise me.  American racism’s denial insults me. American racism’s House Negroes dismay me, but shouldn’t. The fuel of my dismay is the expectation that we will not delude ourselves regarding past, present and persistent American racism. White America, which you euphemistically refer to as “the customer,” has a dismal track record of addressing the interests of Black people as human beings. Perhaps you have read of The Missouri Compromise, 40 acres and a Mule (never received), Plessey v. Ferguson, and de facto segregation fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education?  Are you suggesting slavery endured because cotton buyers (customers) approved of it with their patronage? Are you suggesting a cotton boycott fueled the end of slavery? 

You have made several troubling assertions in your column with which I would disagree even if you had facts to support them. “Stern’s players must bow to the desires of their fan base”? We, Black people, “begged for integration”? “We demanded the right to play in the major leagues”? Stern’s players? I thought Stern worked for the league, as the players do. Begged? What did we promise in exchange for our begging? To speak only when spoken to, like a child? Demanded? What was our leverage? That we’ll take our flamboyance and showmanship and go home if we are not allowed to play? No. All of us (okay, most of us), including athletes, demanded to be accepted as human beings.  Participation in sports leagues is an appurtenance of acceptance, not a goal. That acceptance has been a moving target since our arrival in America. It is my sincere desire that Black athletes continue to reject the myth that a “standard for appropriate sportsmanship, style of play and appearance should be set by white people.” Anytime the words “standard” and “white” are used in a sentence, paragraph or vocabulary together, Blacks are assured of receiving short shrift whether the calendar reads Seventeen Hundred and Four or Two Thousand and Four.


December 2 2004
Issue 116

is published every Thursday.

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