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Est. April 5, 2002
February 11, 2016 - Issue 640

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Racing On the Gridiron

"Shamelessly, analysts and commentators refer to
pocket passers as 'pure,' 'disciplined' and 'smart'
weekend after weekend, while they reserve
adjectives like, wild, hairy-Carey, unpredictable
and scramblers for Black men."

As American history goes, the ugly head of racism showing up never surprises me. At this stage 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 is 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, invoke daily reminders of the utter contrasts that are ripe for the knife of dividing the proverbial 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 a scene that movies are 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” and “smart” weekend after weekend, while they reserve adjectives like, wild, hairy-Carey, unpredictable and scramblers for Black men.

When a white Quarterback scrambles in an NFL game, he’s treated as if he’s been stricken with horrific temporary insanity, and conversely, when a Black man roves out of the pocket, sports commentators—who’re overwhelmingly white— quickly “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 but doesn’t.

Years later, here I am; I’m observing the recurring themes of undercover racists, along with the herd-mentality of fans who have collectively subscribed to this compartmentalizing of athlete slaves. Dog whistling just didn’t sit well with me.

Super Bowl 50’s Carolina Panther Quarterback Cam Newton knows he’s a Black man that white America opposes. Describing himself as a “hybrid player,” he went on to explain that he possesses all of the qualities that many single-talented players have: smarts, quickness, strength, pizzazz…the total package means that he refuses to be pigeon-holed. He mentioned that he is a “Black man first,” which sparked a firestorm in this country.

The criticisms of Cam Newton’s propensity to animatedly celebrate a touchdown drew the ire of white people across the country. He elected to respond—by dismissing his critics. I only wish more Black men, in the past, had proudly embraced and dignified their Black heritage in the past. Did history forbid such outspokenness, even if Black athletes wanted to speak out? I wonder what former greats, such as Kordell Stewart and Tee Martin, for example, think today about their decisions to either voice or remain silent about the dog-whistle themes that characterized their athletic agility and skill?

A country that watches racial disparity reign daily—from police shootings, to education test scores, from unemployment rates to #OscarsSoWhite nominations—in no way can any citizen with a heartbeat say that race isn’t alive and divisive. I don’t care about the divisions. I am resolved that racial segregation must be an acceptable anomaly in this country.

Just like the racist divisive rhetoric that openly courses through the veins of Republican US Presidential nominees—namely, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz—I am wholly convinced that people who hate my existence must not be considered, validated nor negotiated with. Their blatant contradictions with this country’s US Constitutional promise should have invalidated them from any serious contention for President. Instead, they weren’t dismissed but emboldened in their racist ideology.

This country is so infiltrated with racist demagogues (like David Duke), separatists and sentiment, one’s hope for a homogeneous America is mere fiction. In retrospect, I am acutely reminded of the dog-whistle racism of professional basketball of the 1980s: The arrival of Boston Celtics Larry Bird and Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson 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 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 exhibit. I prefer Bird over Johnson as a player, even to this day!

America, its media, the owners and even the fans, produced and perpetuated the cancer of racial differences in sports, even its translation into a scientific basis for Black athletic superiority and white intellectual superiority. The fans in Boston carried their anti-busing racism of the 1970s into the Boston Garden arena of the 1980s. It carries over into today’s New England Patriots, with star Quarterback Tom Brady.

Predominantly white hockey fans are shameless in their attacks on Black hockey players who send favorite white 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 miseducation of racists.

This blood-thirst for racial drama is no different from that experienced by Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Muhammad Ali or Serena Williams. (I’m eagerly awaiting the release on February 19 of Race, the drama about Jesse Owens.) 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 in everyday life.

If you watched or listened to Super Bowl 50, you heard the howling of dog whistles as equally matched superstar Quarterbacks “raced” on the gridiron for the title of professional football’s reigning superior. Columnist, Perry Redd, longtime activist & organizer, is the Executive Director of the workers rights advocacy, Sincere
that currently owns the FCC license for WOOK-LP 103.1FM/ His latest book,
Perry NoName: A Journal From A Federal Prison-book 1, chronicles his ‘behind bars’ activism that extricated him from a 42-year sentence and is now case law. He is also the author of As A Condition of Your Freedom: A Guide to Self-Redemption From Societal Oppression, Mr. Redd also hosts a radio show, Socially Speaking, from his Washington, DC studio. Contact Mr. Redd and BC.

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