Monday, December 24, 2012

The Great American Blackout: Why it doesn’t PAY for the Black Athlete to be BLACK

I’ve always thought that sports are the world’s greatest reality TV-show. It’s unscripted and unpredictable. Sports are equal and fair. (Save for some funky refereeing every now and again.) You roll a ball onto a field, or a court, you throw away your differences, all the talking ends, the game is played and the better men, or women, win. It’s simple. You’re completely at the mercy of your and your teammates’ ability to overcome the other team’s desire to win. Sports has always been the place where it’s about the team you’re on, the color of your jersey and NOT the color of your skin. They (Sports) provide an easy way for White America to accept a black man as “one of their own”. People have a vested interest in their team, so why wouldn’t they have a vested interest in the players, even if some of those players were Black. That’s why sports stars of color had an easier time being accepted than they would at any other job. 

Earlier this year, I had the honor of speaking with a retired Black police officer from Jackson, Mississippi. He was an older gentleman that served as one of the first Black police officers in Jackson’s history. We talked about the struggles he and his fellow Black officers had to endure. When the Black officers tried to arrest White suspects, they were sometimes “vetoed” by White officers. If they did arrest White suspects, the Black officers had to speak to them (the White Suspects) like they would any other law abiding White citizen; like a child speaking to an elder. “I always found it humiliating to have to watch my words when speaking to a criminal" the gentleman said. "With the White officers around, we were always on eggshells. It’d always be “Boy what da hell you just say to him” or “Boy he’s a White man and you’re still just a nigger. That badge only gets you so far”. What we got from the community was bad, but the treatment from our fellow White officers was far worse.”

Sports are nothing like that. Teams were usually isolated from that level of hatred. When your livelihood depends on someone else’s actions, or non-actions, you tend to bond with them regardless of who they are. (When I was in the US Army, a White superior once told me about an old Army saying. "When the bullets are flying, I've never seen a nigger, or spik, or a kike in a foxhole. Just someone in the same uniform that I got on, who could save my ass.")That “us against the world” mentality always helps a team grow closer together. Teams are like families and what's the best thing about family? Family accepts you no matter what. In Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama, places where Blacks aren’t "too popular with the locals", there are plenty of White people in those same stands that cheer like crazy for Black athletes all day that wouldn’t stop for five minutes to help me fix a flat tire.

Somethings need not be said on TV. Even if you are on First Take. Rob Parker knows that now.
About a week or so, ESPN First Take contributor Rob Parker questioned if Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was a “real brother” or a "cornball brother". Whether or not he was “down with the cause”. (Parker was subsequently suspended for 30 days by ESPN and forced to issue a public apology.) I’m not going to lie, I’ve had conversations like that about some black athletes, not RG3, and none of those conversations took place on national TV, nor should they. Questioning something like THAT about a Black person shouldn’t be discussed outside of the barbershop. Your barbershop, with people you know and people who know you. It's like calling a Black person an “Uncle Tom”. (Put it this way, I’d rather be called a “nigger” by Rush Limbaugh than be called an “Uncle Tom” by a random Black person on the street. I’m going to go out on a limb and say a lot of black people feel that way.)
Does this make you uncomfortable America?
In sports nowadays, it’s almost career suicide to be too “Black”. It’s good to be a "little Black" because being Black/Urban is seen as being “cool” or “hip”, but it’s a very fine line to walk. Only a few Blacks have the same "pull" in the Black community as they do in the White community. (Only White person I can think of that does this, Eminem.) Hip-Hop provides the perfect example of this theory. Jay-Z can go into any "hood" in America and get just as much love as he would in any suburb in America. Nas is equally, if not more talented in some people’s eyes, as Jay-Z but he doesn’t have nearly the same level of overall appeal. Nas crosses the line of what makes White people "comfortable" and he doesn’t care. Jay-Z doesn’t touch on the same social issues plaguing the Black community that Nas willingly addresses.  (That clearly keeps Jay-Z “cool” in the eyes of White America. Jay-Z's Black but not Nas "free my people" Black or Kanye "Bush hates Black people" Black.) Black athletes are forced to walk that line. It’s why Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson didn’t want Cam Newton to get any tattoos. It’s why the NBA implemented a dress code. It's why Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade don't have any visible tattoos. Being too black hurts the bottom-line. The leagues know it, the owners know it and the players know it. (The tattoo thing doesn't hurt LeBron James because he's so freaking talented he could come out on the court wearing a blonde wig and he'd still be loved.)
Things like this don't happen anymore.
 We’ll never see athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Russell again. Mostly because we don’t need them anymore. In the 1960’s, for real change to happen, we needed the best and brightest Black stars to stand up and be heard. The biggest Black stars back then were the athletes. (For the reasons I mentioned above.) When things in America “changed”, White people stopped wanting to hear about “Black problems”.  They felt/feel like things are fixed. Like racism is dead because we all use the same bathrooms and water fountains. (Now that we have a Black President, that narrative has gotten a million times louder. RACISM ISN’T DEAD JUST BECAUSE “YOU GUYS” VOTED FOR AND ELECTED A BLACK PRESIDENT... AND I DON’T CARE IF “YOU” DID DO IT TWICE.) White People don’t like to talk about racism the same way your friend doesn’t want to talk about the fat chick he nailed when he was drunk. Like your friend, America didn’t “know any better” at the time and they’re totally ashamed of what they did. Your friend and America don’t want to be reminded of the horrible mistakes they made. The only real social issue left for athletes to tackle is gay rights. (I really doubt an active Black athlete will “champion” this one first, only because being gay still isn’t widely accepted in the Black community, AKA "Da Hood". Which is bull, because WE OF ALL PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE TREATED UNEQUAL.)

Who RG3 decides to marry doesn't say
anything more or less about him as a Black man.
So yeah, RG3 has a White girlfriend and he may very well be a Republican, but that’s not why Rob Parker and other Black people are questioning his “blackness”. RG3 just said he didn't want to be the best BLACK quarterback. He even said he didn't want to be labeled as a Black quarterback. Some Black people, like Parker, think HE SHOULD. (Want to be the best Black QB that is.) If he doesn't, that somehow makes him less "black"? He didn’t/doesn't want to limit himself. He just wants to be seen as the best at what he does, regardless of the color of his skin. Professional athletes are like that though. Ali wasn’t in the ring screaming, “I’m the greatest Black boxer in the world!”. Those guys aren’t wired that way. I’m a screenwriter. I have Black friends that are screenwriters and we often talk about wanting to be the best black screenwriter. The level of competition in screenwriting is nothing like it is in professional sports. (It's definitely competitive, but lets just say there's more testosterone at Girl Scout meetings than there is at screenwriter meetings.)

A lot of things come to mind before you get to
"Black man" when you're thinking about Michael Jordan.
One last story to leave you with. When I was younger, a White friend and I were trading basketball cards. I had an extra Kareem Abdul-Jabbar card and I wanted to trade for a John Stockton card. (Not a smart trade, but it was a rookie Stockton card and my extra Kareem card was a “final years, I shouldn’t be playing anymore” Kareem card.) He wouldn’t do it. I jokingly said, “It’s because he's Black huh?” I laughed but my friend stayed quiet. I asked “Really? I bet if this was a Michael Jordan card you’d do it.” "Yes" my friend said. “But Kareem was a better player than Stockton is. Besides, Michael Jordan is Black too” I said. “No he’s not”, he replied. “Whoa, you’re saying Michael Jordan isn’t black?” I said shocked. “No, he’s black but... I don’t know. Michael Jordan isn’t black, he’s just Michael Jordan, you know?” Right then and there, on that bus, I learned of the power sports can have. The power to transcend a person beyond their race. That there's a whole other level of famous a Black person could be. But you know who else use to be talked about like that... OJ.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe and share the blog. Join in the discussion by leaving a comment below. Follow me on twitter @ParisLay. Until next time... Enjoy the View!


  1. Very well written. I've always wondered what it was about sports and music that allows an individual to transcend their skin color and just be seen for their talent... how nice it would be if it were the norm to see the person and not their race, religion, or sexual preference.. Great work Paris

  2. Just a question: do tattoos, like that of Mello and LeBron, mean "Black"?

  3. Well said Paris. Racism is an issue that will never be resolved. The truth could not be more evident, the area in which black people are seen for their talent and accomplishments and not just the color of their skin, is....sad to say, sports. The power of competition!!!

  4. Being that I am/was a black athlete and contributing member of the armed forces (Marine Corps) I can definitely say without a doubt that you are 100% correct in this analysis of the black man in the community, sports, and the armed forces. Being too black is also something that is very possible in the streets and in business. Once you do or say something categorized as too black you are pretty much closed off almost forever to the opportunites a "white washed black" would have. Popularity to me is much like the devil and I believe that a lot of black men especially would agree with me that you almost have to sell your soul and be someone at times you are not in order to be accepted in the social circles that mostly include white America. We seen this first hand by going to a predominately white high school. I remember when I graduated high school one of the white girls that I was slightly interested in had came to me and told me, "I always thought you were sexy and wanted to mess around with you but I couldn't." I replied, "Why you never said anything?" She said, "You know, because your black." I was disgusted because there were accepted black men in their circle that were easily messing around with these white girls. Then and there I realized that there was a such thing as being too black. Great work Paris, you vocalized what we black men talk about in our own circles daily. Now, hopefully, the rest of the world will see, understand, and do better.

  5. No news here, really. Well written and keen observations but,black, white, gay,having long hair a beard, having a tattoo, it doesn't pay to be anything that doesn't appeal to the masses when there is money to be made. Whether it's viewed as selling out or any other label you want to put on it, this game has been played since the dawn of time. PR is the game. Deception, putting on a good show, sales. Studios back in the day had Rock Hudson marry an actress to hide the fact he was gay. Politicians have been doing it since they could speak. Whatever ugly side a pr firm or adviser says you have, it has to be concealed. We are programmed to certain symbols ideals signals that keep us comfortable.

    I had a boss once tell me, it's about programming. Why are minds react to certain things(this is in a sales meeting mind you, all about reading and reacting to the buyer to make them feel comfortable with you) He explained it this way. Two men standing on a street corner at a busy intersection. One man in plain clothes the other in a business suit. The crosswalk sign says DON'T WALK. If the business man walks across the street the crowd standing there will follow him. If the plain clothes man does few if nobody will follow him. Why? He asks us. Men in suits are a symbol of our leadership a CEO, boss, President, and we are programmed to follow them. The plain clothes man we see as an equal or worse and question his judgement. That's what it's all about.

    I do not see race as a white guy as you may think. Sure, certain programming as our culture has shaped all of our minds are there, but I am blind to judgement of people based on skin. I have met too many people of all races and creeds and see them as individuals. It is what they do as individuals that determine my like or dislike of them. However I still know people or observe people with their racists behavior white and black. I love what RGIII said about being the best QB period, not the best black qb. Race should not be an issue in any of these topics.I'm sure anyone reading your article has seen or experienced the same. Of coarse the media loves a good black v white story, it sells, if it didn't it would be a dead issue. It sells because as Nordia Morrison put it, " Racism is an issue that will never be resolved.", and I truley believe that, but, it has shrunk and will continue to shrink.

    I ask do they(white people) not want to talk about because of shame for something they never contributed too or because they are moving on? You said it yourself what black athletes achieved, and like that black police officers story, Marion Motley had several other first black athletes, businessmen had to overcome or adapt to there part in society and it's rules at the time. It is because of their leadership, and professionalism and class that it blazed a trail, one with no ceiling for athletes to follow, ie Jordon part owner. Jordon isn't playing white, he is playing business, and I feel if you want to succeed you have know how to play the game, and Jordon as well all can concede is the best.

  6. Good post. I wish people can finally look past such things as skin color. However, I don't see the stigma of "being black" being eradicated anytime soon. To certain people, it has its own marketability, so while it appears to be beneficial initially, the aura dissipates after a while once you start to see the person behind it all. People need to be recognized as people, and I've always believed that.

  7. This was a good article. I see some good points here as you explained some history on great athletes as well as sharing your own experiences. Explaining why Jay-Z is more successful than Nas is a great point. I think the key is that folks want you to transcend color - Be Black but don't lean on your Blackness in certain ways. It's been the American way since the 80's and as a result, we've seen great opportunities but fewer folks who use their platform for other issues. I don't necessarily want to hear 100% Pro-Black talk because there's more to life than that, but I don't ever want people to forget there are differences and to understand those differences makes it better.

    I would've loved for you to go deeper and talk about Michael Jordan/OJ became the new model for Black athletes to follow. You def. did great mentioning the dress code and Cam Newton's GM but I'd love to know if you think that Black athletes know what's acceptable. I only say it cause I think that's the deeper layers that makes this argument so prevalent off the record among us. But excellent job my man.

  8. I am not a sports fan at all. I think the last time I tried to get into sports was when Shaquille O’Neal played for the Orlando Magic. Wow! how long ago was that! My knowledge of sports is limited to hanging out with family and friends watching them cheer on their favorite teams.

    With that being said, I have many personal views as it pertains to race that you have touched on in this post. I’ve sat in local sports bars with friends while getting my grub on …it doesn’t take an avid sports fan to notice how 98% of the players on these teams are black. I’d love to know what percentages of these teams are minority owned. And I mean any minority not just black. If I had to guess it’s probably less then 1 percent. This is what concerns me. Please correct me if I’m wrong because like I mentioned I do not know all there is to know about the business side of sports. I also know that I cannot place all the blame on White America for this. I understand many of today’s top athletes have got to come to a place where they see the importance of ownership. It is not all about just throwing a ball in a hoop or running down the field.

    When is the future of those coming after them going to become more important than getting all the money NOW! the fame NOW!. Wealth and power can be passed down for future generations to flourish not only for sports….but for anyone who wants to start their own businesses or who needs the money to pay for an education in order to become doctors, lawyers etc. I wish many of these athletes would recognize this. It is extremely difficult to do this as one single athlete but they can come together as a whole and make this a reality.

    I’ve also always found it fascinating how so many white people love these black athletes but how many of these CEO’s and entrepreneurs who watch, support and purchase all of this sports memorabilia would give the “average” black person a job in upper management positions. Okay, I’m sure the argument could be made that in some instances the minority applicants aren’t as qualified or experienced but If your company has over a 1000 employees and no minority of any kind in these high paying positions ever!…then I would have to wholeheartedly disagree with that statement.

    I love that you mentioned Hip-Hop. I know I’m going to date myself but I remember back in the 80’s when hip-hop was not widely accepted by any self respecting adult. Hip-hop at that time seemed to be all about survival. Many wanted to be prosperous and get out of “Da Hood” These artists had a voice and they spoke about the injustices and the inequality they witnessed or experienced in their day to day life. Nowadays there are so many mainstream artists trying to get their “piece of the pie” that they don’t really have to stand for anything! So their voice means nothing. NOT ALL but many of today’s artists are made up characters not interested in fostering an understanding of the struggle many Black Americans are still experiencing. As you put it many white people don’t want to hear about “black problems”. This has spiraled into a chain effect where in order to be politically correct it is unpopular to talk about many of the issues that still plague black America. After all, there are so many rich famous blacks i.e. Beyonce’, Jay-Z, Oprah, Will Smith etc. that Black Americans couldn’t possibly still be facing some of the same prejudiced beliefs systems that both my mom and her mom faced.

    Folks that believe this have forgotten that (because of slavery) whites have had over 200 years to establish wealth in this country. So now blacks are playing catch up. I do believe we have come a long way (President Barack Obama) but we still have a long, long way to go.