Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Race in the football trenches

It's not possible to watch football on TV and avoid thinking about race. When broadcasts begin by showing head shots of the starters on each team, I always count. Usually, the defense is mostly or all Black. So are most receivers and running backs. You get some white guys on the offensive line, maybe at tight end, and disproportionately at quarterback.

When this racial division isn't what I see, I watch the guys who are the anomalies -- a white cornerback or a black quarterback. Few of them are merely mediocre; most are really good at their positions. In 2007, 70 percent of NFL players were Black. Doug Williams was the first Black quarterback in the Super Bowl in 1988; I remember that. It was exciting.

Rush Limbaugh's expressed interest in buying a piece of one of the most pathetic teams in the current NFL, the St. Louis Rams, has lots of people talking about race in football. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton jumped in today, but I'm more interested in what players had say.

Retired wide receiver Keenan McCardell pointed out that players are not ignorant about insults past.

If I were a free agent it would be really hard for me to want to play for him. He'd have to show me that he's a different person. The coach would also have to convince me that this was about football and not politics. All the players would remember what he said about Donovan McNabb -- what got him fired from ESPN.

Washington Post blog "The League"

In 2003, Limbaugh had said the media over-praised McNabb because he was a Black quarterback.

And Mathias Kiwanuka, the New York Giants defensive end pictured above, was even more blunt:

"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."

"I am not going to draw a conclusion from a person off of one comment, but when it is time after time after time and there's a consistent pattern of disrespect and just a complete misunderstanding of an entire culture that I am a part of, I can't respect him as a man."

New York Daily News

What's somewhat novel about all this is that people are naming what everyone sees and usually conspires not to mention. If you are intrigued by the tangled intricacies of the racial (and sexual) dynamics of U.S. sport, I'd recommend David Shields' 2007 book, Body Politic: the great American sports machine. This strange little book goes where we don't tread. It's not research or history; it's a somewhat messy, more suggestive than comprehensive, personal interaction with sports enthusiasms. Here's a snippet, just to share the flavor.

...It's impossible to overstate the degree to which the broadcast of major spectator sports -- football, baseball, basketball -- is shadowed by the homosexual panic implicit in the fact that it consists for the most part of a bunch of out-of-shape white men sitting around talking about black men's buff bodies.

How many taboos did Shields break there? Check it out.


sfmike said...

Pretty much says it all, not only about sports commentators but political commentators too. Remember Chris Matthews fawning over the masculinity of Dubya and his flight suit? What a ghastly crew.

edwin sanchez said...

No one is really a fan of Rush especially in one of the most integrated American pastimes.

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