The majority population members in this society are
in a constant state of denial: about the war, about the intelligence
of their President, about their role in the perpetuation of racial
segregation. The success of sports as a leisure activity is supposed
to be a way to allow them to get their minds off of everyday necessities
and realities. But since sports is becoming increasingly black and
brown, these people must think about “race” even as they work to
get their minds off of it.
Few people want to write or talk about “the politics
of the pigskin and of pigment” in professional football. And why
not? The whole society is afraid to talk about race and most of
the pundits sit around wondering why. Here’s why: to talk about
race in America would be an indictment of the people who are in
the majority, that’s why! Look at how they ducked and dodged the
obvious conclusions of the Katrina evacuees: what that incident
showed the world was what we have been trying to tell them for two
centuries. This avoidance of reality extends to every institution
that these people have created to support their system: law, health,
labor, education, religion and so on.
So why should those involved in sports be any braver
or honest than those who sign their paychecks, build their stadiums,
manage their League office or write about their sport? All are involved
in segregationist realities, stereotyped thinking, and eurocentric
value systems inevitably resulting in avoidance and a refusal
to deal with the politics of pigmentation.One newspaper airs
a commercial featuring a black man and a white man sitting in the
football stands arguing over a statistic. Up comes a man who represents
the newspaper, and he corrects them both. He is then joined by other
writers from the sports department of this same newspaper. In an
attempt to promote how “accurate” this newspaper is supposed to
be, this team of people actually proves an even greater point: an
all-white staff writing about and sharing their views on sports
that are dominated by non-white people. But in the newspaper’s collective
eyes, this is the sign of “greatness.” Again, the power of pigmentation.
Let’s explore a related phenomenon and the arena of
professional football, and gain a better understanding of the psychology
of race relations in this nation, from the real side. Much
of what you are about to read is excerpted from my manuscript, “We
Must Protect This House: Professional Football, Black Men – and
About Terrell Owens
If you think slavery ended, then just look at the
Terrell Owens situation and you will see the plantation mentality,
the master-slave relationship, the manhunt tradition and modern
day “nightriders” in action, no doubt about it.
It is clear that the plantation still exists. And
for the first time, there are “slaves” among black folks. In those
ante bellum days, those were not slaves, but captives. As LaRue
Nedd pointed out in his pamphlet, Why We Shouldn’t Call Our Foreparents
Slaves, we fought back during those times. Marshall Taylor of
Omaha’s Aframerican Bookstore confirms that there were more than
1,500 recorded uprisings back in the day. Black people resisted.
How could we have been “slaves”? We were, in fact, prisoners
of war. Today we are slaves because we have options that we are
too cowardly and assimilated to consider. That’s what makes a slave:
the refusal to consider all options.
The master-slave tradition is therefore evident, not
only in terms of the NFL’s control of these powerful black men,
but look again at Owens’ situation. While slated to apologize for
dogging out another black man, Donovan McNabb (the QB, no less),
Owens had his pitiful attempts dampened even further by his big
mouth agent, Drew Rosenhaus. It was Rosenhaus who convinced Owens
to ask for a new contract, Rosenhaus who stood by and instigated
Owens’ antics and then when the heat came, in typical fashion, Rosenhaus
ran for the hills crying “no comment, no comment.” Remember: whatever
amount of money Terrell earns dodging huge men, getting hit and busting
up his body, Rosenhaus gets a huge percentage for merely sitting
behind a desk and talking on the telephone.
Manhunt tradition – that’s what Oliver C. Cox called
it in his classic, Caste, Class and Race. Those folks were
out to get Terrell to make an example of him. To them, he was an
“uppity n------,” just like the NBA’s Littrell Sprewell who wouldn’t
let a coach verbally abuse him, and just like wideout Keyshawn Johnson
in 2003 – traded to another team when the coach couldn’t “control”
him. The media helps stigmatize Owens even more; almost every picture
is one with a scowl, or Owens smelling his top lip. This is the
same thing Time magazine did to O.J. Simpson and local newspapers
do to black youth who are arrested. The worse they can make them
look, the more physically menacing they can make them appear, the
less empathy they’ll get from society.
Indeed, others had done far worse: Ray Lewis, a member
of the Baltimore Ravens football team, literally got away with murder
– but was found “not guilty” so that he could
continue playing ball (the O.J. Simpson syndrome). Bill Romanowski
was and remains a racist who not only spit in Owens’ face
while with the 49ers, but used the N-word – then, when busted,
kowtowed and whimpered, claiming in essence, “some of my best
friends are black” (akin to Howard Cosell calling Art Monk
“a little monkey” and then later claiming he didn’t
see anything wrong with it).
And there’s more atrocities taking place that never
make the news. Why? Because sports reporters can be bought, that’s
why. This is why the ESPN series, “Playmakers” was cancelled. When
that show dealt with homosexuality in the NFL, dealt with players
going to bed with their teammates’ wives, and the drugs and gambling
– it hit too close to home.
The Issue of Black “Attitude”
“He has an attitude.”
Black Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers has said
many times that a black man with an attitude is probably one that
has been raised correctly. He is a black man who is not going to
be called “boy” or made fun of by some coach who wants to make him
an example. When that individual gets a reputation for speaking
up, he becomes someone with “an attitude.” Even in graduate school,
cowardly professors expect students to kowtow and say nothing when
they attempt to pass on some lie or myth they’ve heard from some
negro who wanted a good grade. When you correct that person and
document how wrong they are, you get the reputation for having “an
attitude.” This is the 21st century version of “an educated
black man is a good field hand, spoiled.”
Even the most ignorant and lowly of majority group
members feel they have the right to comment on what black people
should say or how they should act. They all seem to have an opinion
on O.J. Simpson and no matter what the courts say, white folks say
he did it and should die. Not only do they have an opinion but,
more importantly, they have the system behind them. That’s why the
issue still persists: jokes by Leno and Letterman, bumper stickers
and even trivia questions. This is how they act when they feel they
have been affronted.
But when we bring up Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys,
the maltreatment of Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King or Malcolm,
many whites want to make it appear as if all of these were acts
of someone who was deranged and acting alone. They never want to
see that most of what whites have achieved was accomplished when
black people were in various states of servitude. This includes
the NFL and its attempts to control “black attitudes.”
The fact is, when many of the records were set, there
were no black defensive backs to deflect those passes, no black
linebackers to bury those slow running backs into the turf. And
when black people did get in, we did the same thing that
we do in every other sport: we rewrote those record books and dominated
the sport, and became so good that the people in charge had to rewrite
or “modify” the rules. And as long as white people make up the bulk
of the sportswriters, broadcasters, sports historians and the like,
the politics of pigmentation will always be overlooked. In their
view, somebody woke up one morning and said, “Let’s integrate. And
so it was done.”
The fact is, white folks have different frames of
reference than we have. Their version of “guts” and “bravado” is
the brother who runs the slant – across the middle of the field,
risking maiming and pain to please that white man. To them getting
clocked at full speed by somebody 70 pounds heavier than you is
a sign of “heart.” (Athletes who play hurt get played up by the
white media). And those white QBs send brothers into the jaws of
the defense with no regard for what’s going to happen. Brett Favre
was notorious for doing this to his wideouts, and no one in the
Wisconsin media says anything about it. “The slant” can kill
folks – ask Antonio Freeman!
Speaking of Favre, it was Brett whom Owens complimented
while putting down his own brother, five-time pro bowler, Donovan
McNabb. According to Owens’ “wisdom,” the Eagles would be undefeated
with Green Bay’s Favre at quarterback. How could he make such an
I was in Wisconsin when Favre got his big break. Everybody
knew Favre was a drunk. It was the offense that was making him a
star, and the acrobatic black receivers that were bailing him out
time and time again. When his best pal got kicked out of the League
because he felt up a young girl at a party, the brothers stepped
in and made Favre look invincible. Then, he claims he quit drinking.
Maybe he did – for a season or two. But I know a drunk
quarterback when I see one! This guy throws every pass as if he’s
trying to perform kidney surgery on his receivers! These white announcers
brag and laugh about it. They call it the “Favre X” – he threw so
hard in practice that the little “x” at the end of the football
would be engraved in the chests of his receivers! Seriously! How
else to explain somebody who throws off the wrong foot, throws a
ball to a receiver who is covered by three men and then, after all
that, still gets praised for being a “gunslinger”?
Then these broadcasters instigate and point out the
brothers who are smart enough to avoid getting hit, or to watch
out for their health no matter where the ball is at. They are called
“soft,” and this could impact on their money and their future with
that team. So it becomes “run the slant and get clocked” or else.
If I’m not mistaken, Daryl Stingley was running a slant when he
got hit by Jack Tatum. Stingley was paralyzed on that play and never
played another down. But the New England fans, to this day, celebrate
him and remember him for his “heart.” Stingley sits in the stands
and cheers with them – from his wheelchair.
The fact is, fans celebrating touchdowns are celebrating
black athletic performance. Who else is getting in the end zone?
Terrell Owens pointed this out and reporters got quiet. If you penalize
the people who are getting in the end zone and who celebrate by
dancing or some other antic, then you are penalizing black folks,
simple as that! It’s all about white folks still wanting to keep
black people “in their place.” It’s about “showing who’s in charge.”
Look who’s in charge of the NBA; look who’s in charge of pro baseball.
And look who’s in charge of the NFL. All three are white men from
the same ethnic background. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Why
isn’t anybody writing about that?
Another way to control people is through sexual coercion.
It starts when the black athlete steps on campus and encounters
those “hostesses.” Very seldom are any black coeds among this group.
And once that athlete has established himself as a “star” (translation:
someone who can play pro ball), the ranks of those women grows exponentially.
And it continues once in the pros.
Cheerleaders in professional football. Why? What purpose?
I can understand, to an extent, the NBA: closed setting, better
proximity to the action and so on. But why football, when you can
barely see the field, let alone cleavage? I’ll tell you why: because
somebody’s watching. And the skimpier the “uniforms” on these women,
the more binoculars in the stands, watching. Glorified, high paid
I’ve got a friend, Carolyn “Kay Kay” Howard, who used
to be a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders back in the late ‘80s.
She used to tell us about what they have to do, and she let us know
some of those players flirt and offer money for certain favors (like
the fathers of some of those “Husker Hostesses” probably do). Even
if some of the girls are married, their husbands will allow men
to fondle them in the name of being “a fan”! I ask again, what functional
purpose do cheerleaders serve? Cheering is the function of the fans!
“Kay Kay” also said that there is a racial quota in
the cheerleading ranks. That explains why there are so many white
women cheering, even when the fans are predominantly black or the
players are predominantly black. There is an unspoken code, she
told me, that there should be no more than three black cheerleaders
on a squad of ten, no more than four on a squad of twelve.
The reason I believe her is that on at least two major
college campuses I have been on, there are regular “cheerleader
controversies” that involve the Black Students’ Union, where some
talented sister is “cut” from tryouts by an all-white selection
committee. In the meantime, some blonde, blue eyed selection with
no rhythm, makes the squad because her parents are alumni or her
mother used to be a cheerleader.
But cheerleading is a reflection of the role that
sexuality plays in the politics of pigmentation. The trip is long,
but it’s not a difficult stretch to see that it’s a journey from
cheerleading to suburbia. And don’t you think for a minute that
these women are victims. Look at the front rows of football games
at the collegiate and pro ranks; look at the first rows of professional
basketball games. These women know what they’re doing. And what
few pro athletes Nebraska has will tell you about these “groupies”
as well. But some are in it for more serious game – ask Shawn Kemp,
stuck with paternity suits from nine different women.
Let’s take a look at football life in suburbia. The
brothers will understand where I’m coming from.
Ah, football life in suburbia. The black athlete marries,
usually not a woman of his race, and moves to suburbia. He then
gives birth to child after child and in doing so, becomes further
entrenched in the system. This “love" for his family has not
only taken him away from his own community, but has endeared him
to the community of his spouse. He ends up doing more for HER parents
– the same parents who called him “n-----r” before they got a chance
to know him and even now, may believe, “he’s married to our daughter.
He’s not like the rest of them.”
He is accepted into this community because of what
he does: he’s an entertainer. He is “controlled” because he reports
to his coach and to others who keep his activities in line. It is
like living in the same neighborhood with a circus clown. Sure,
he’s big, but he’s “humble” and, therefore, “acceptable.”
This is the alien version of “integration.” In reality,
it is “one-way integration.” The fact is, this man has paid
his way to get into the neighborhoods, minds and hearts of people
who accept him because he has “paid.” If his wife gets a scratch
on her arm, it’s in the newspapers and the myth of the black rapist
is plastered all over the media. In a society where sex and race
sell, nobody brings that home more than the black athlete. What
did “Desperate Housewives” do when they wanted publicity? They stuck
Nicole Sheridan in a locker room with Terrell Owens and had him say,
“The team’s gonna have to do without me,” implying that he and Sheridan
– clad only in a towel – were going to be having sex.
Who made the decision to air that commercial? How
long did it take to put it together? How long was Sheridan standing
in a room with a towel on, alongside Owens, as cameramen, producers,
and cable-carrying flunkies stood and gawked?
“We Must Protect This House!”
The commercial concludes that, “If you don’t get motivated
when you put on the armor, then you don’t got a pulse, man.” Really?
These huge, muscular black men don’t protect any house
that lives in the black community. They will fight each other during
practice, argue with one another (instigated by the white media),
talk trash on the field, and make commercials promoting “protecting
the house” of the people who make the football gear. But what do
they do off the field?
They give all their time and attention to certain
charities that spend the athlete’s money any way they want to. These
black men don’t designate specific contributions to the black community.
Therefore, the charities take their money and give it to people
who, in turn, give it to groups that don’t even cater to blacks,
such as recreation centers and Christian associations that were
as segregated as anywhere else in society before having to be forced
to integrate. In every city, there is a YMCA – and then the “Black
YMCA.” There is the “Boys Club,” and then the “Boys Club in the
hood.” Why do you think that is?
These millionaire footballers don’t just stop with
financial donations. They donate their time to causes that help,
on the individual level. They help this group of kids or
that individual homeless person. They are shown helping Habitat
for Humanity build a (one) house. Why don’t they do what
Roger Troutman and Zapp did two decades ago: take your money and
build low-income affordable housing? Why don’t they build apartment
buildings “for single sisters only”? Why don’t they construct hospitals
the way Houston Rockets backup center Dikembe Mutombo and Manute
They spend more money on diamond earrings, bracelets
and other effeminate accouterments than they do helping their homeless
cousins, their impoverished grandparents, or their down and out
aunts and uncles. And almost every single one of them has an agent
or “manager” who is not black.
Protecting our “House” begins with protecting our
families and communities. Without that, all the t-shirts, matching
draws and helmets in the world don’t mean squat.
Quarterbacks Credited with Black Achievements
When you hear the announcer say, “fantastic catch,”
or “great grab,” you can bet that means that the quarterback has
thrown a ball that is too low or too high, and some acrobatic black
wide receiver has managed to catch the ball anyway. In fact, the
white QB gets credit for all of the yards that the black man makes
after he receives the ball. For instance, just recently the NFL
has been recording “yards after catch.” But before that, even now,
those yards are also given to the quarterback. So if a QB throws
a 4 yard screen pass, and the black running back or receiver or
tight end takes off and dodges defenders for 50 more yards, the
QB gets credit for those yards as well.
Sure, black quarterbacks can benefit from this as
well. But it was just recently that the NFL began letting black
men play quarterback. In the past, the tendency was to convert a
black athlete from his QB slot to wide receiver or defensive back.
Furthermore, a black quarterback can get yards on his own; you don’t
see them just standing around, stationary, waiting for something
to happen. That is what Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Dan
Fouts, and most of their all-time white QBs did. Just stood there.
Today, you still have some who play as if they have two feet
in a bucket of cement: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joey Harrington,
Vinnie Testaverde, and several others. The fact is, seeing what
black QBs have done with their running, most white QBs now emulate
it – but not with the same success.
I’ve seen two NFL playbooks in my lifetime. One of
them looked like a telephone book. The other one had to be at least
100 pages. The point is, because of the duality and inequality of
the school system, brothers who do make it to the NFL should
be commended. Imagine this: mis-educated throughout elementary school,
shunned during middle school, passed on in high school because of
your size and lazy teachers, able to get to college because of your
accomplishments and again, size, and then four years of college
where tutors, the girls in the dorm, and others around campus do
your papers for you.
By the time you’re drafted, you’re an imbecile!
Then, they hand you this playbook. Did you ever stop to think why
so many great college players don’t make it, or why they are passed
around the League? These black men have never been given the kind
of attention that they needed. As Senator Chambers has pointed out
time and time again, they were exploited. They had it good all that
time and now it’s time to think. And they don’t know how.
The ones that do make it are but a small percentage of those
who would make it had they not been victims of an uncaring
And that’s the general story. So you can imagine
what a quarterback, the thinking man on the team, must have to go
through. And in addition to the issue of the playbook, there is
also the culture and image of the QB. Does this particular college
want a black man at the helm? What will the alumni say? Do any of
the backers or supporters or boosters have a son or close friend
that they want to see in that position? These are the “politics”
that the black recruit has to go through. You see what Nebraska
did to Joe Daly, don’t you? They strung him up and then left him
to blow game after game. Then they abandoned him and talked about
him like a dog. Then they went out and recruited a slew of white
boys to make sure they don’t make that mistake again.
Praise of White QBs
From the days of referring to John Elway as “a genetic
marvel” up to today, when these broadcasters praise Brett Favre
no matter how drunk he gets, no matter how many times he gets back
on the wagon, no matter how many interceptions he throws, the fact
remains: the white QB always gets his praise from the announcers.
There is rarely any hesitation (for instance, in regard to Peyton
Manning. “This guy could run for president if he wanted to.”)
Flashing back to Elway for a moment: even when Black
quarterback Doug Williams destroyed Elways’ team in Super Bowl XXII,
the white reporters wouldn’t give Williams a break. When Denver
got a 10-0 lead on Washington, the commentators were showering Elway
with hosannas of praise; but then Doug and the Redskins ran off
35 unanswered points, and almost right away, these racists started
making excuses for the Broncos.
And when black quarterback Rodney Peete destroyed
Troy Aikman’s UCLA Bruins a decade or so ago, it was Aikman who
was drafted ahead of the black QB, and Rodney’s own father, who
was an assistant coach for the Packers, learned about racism when
the coach wouldn’t even consider bringing Rodney to Green Bay.
When the elder Peete learned how racist his “pals”
were, he got angry and lashed out. I wrote a column about the incident
in The Milwaukee Courier the following week, with the headline,
“Peete the Packer Peeved About a Pick By Pecks.”
No matter what, the white QB is going to be made out
to be a brain or a prophet. The announcers tell us, “he’s a cerebral
player,” meaning that he is so intelligent. When it comes to black
footballers, the most that is said is that they have a “natural”
gift at what they do. There is always the subtle insinuation that
the white man, no matter what position he plays, is the one with
the “brains,” “the know how” and the “experience.” Black athletes
on the field, meanwhile, are said to “rely on instinct” or are “just
And these quarterbacks have a lot of power off the
field. I just learned during the Colts-Texans contest that Peyton
Manning, QB for the Colts, “lobbied” to keep a third wide receiver
on the team. So in other words, this guy – white – was about to
get cut from the squad and Peyton enabled him to not only stay on
the team, but to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars and as a
result, feed his family and live a comfortable life. But that also
means that this guy took a slot that could have gone to a black
man who may have been of equal talent but who surely had
a greater need. These are the “politics of the pigskin and of pigment”
that no one wants to talk or write about.
What if black men worked tirelessly in black communities,
before, during and after their stints in the NFL? What if they endured
broken legs, sprained ankles and torn cartilage in order to build
a community center, attend a development meeting or speak at an
Urban League or NAACP function? These same men who will play despite
having had major surgery or debilitating injuries, will forego commitments
to the community, claiming they have a headache or a tooth is bugging
What if the majority of pro football team cheerleaders
were black women? Why shouldn’t that be the case? Who does the choreography
for these teams? White women do. Who selects the cheerleaders? White
women and white men. Why do even the most predominantly black of
cities and teams still have white women waving pom-poms, doing scissor
kicks and shaking various parts of their body like there’s no tomorrow?
Discussions of pigmentation scare much of white America,
so it is hypothesized here that they sublimate such discussions
with talks and views of professional sports and athletes. How they
react in public may differ from the way majority population members
act in private. How can they cheer and idolize black athletes, allow
their daughters and sons to have huge posters in the classrooms
and then, in real life, promote racist policies, practices and procedures?
And even if they don’t actively promote racist practices, by staying
out of it, being low key or not getting involved, they aid and abet
the active racists in their crimes against black folks.
Even now, white folks are spray painting themselves
orange and brown in order to get color. They appear to not be satisfied
with their pale skin. But even those who seek tans or crave color
have a negative feeling about black skin color. What makes them
act so hypocritical? It’s almost the inverse of that saying that
the young people use. Instead of “don’t hate the player, hate the
game,” in this case it’s, “Don’t hate the game, hate the player.”
Matthew C. Stelly is Director of the Uhuru Sasa
Research Institute. We’re certain you recognize that he is based
in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be reached at [email protected]