Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sherman, Smart, and Sam: America's Caging and Censoring of the Black American Athlete


     When Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman startled a white female sideline reporter, and the television viewing audience, with his verbal chastising of San Francisco Forty Niners’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree, I elected not to write nor publicly say anything.  The night amateur athlete and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart shoved a loyal Texas Tech fan after being verbally assaulted (be it a racial slur or not), I was so quiet you could hear a rat piss on cotton. Then, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam “came out” and proclaimed his homosexuality to the world in an interview, and I decided it was time that I say something.  Something needed to be written. I needed to write something.  I needed to compose something that illustrates what I believe is going on in this post-racial America courtesy of the almighty Obama’s election and reelection. There seems to be a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Black American male athlete, and this reconstruction may very well void the only positive stereotype that exists and persists in the American and international psyche as it pertains to the self-worth of the Black male.   

      Via extensive media coverage there is no need for me to intricately detail or do a play-by-play analysis of what occurred with Sherman or Smart, but I must state that, in my thirty-five years as a United States resident, the only African American stereotype that doesn’t wreak of inferiority, criminality, and minstrelsy is that of the Black male’s athletic/physical prowess, prominence, proficiency, and superiority.  Asians are smart.  White people are rich, powerful, and intelligent.  Latinos have a rich heritage and culture and are hard working.  Italians are Catholic and have a love of family and familial traditions (ok, yes, they have mafia connections). But, outside of the Black American being fast, coordinated, and can jump high, we have been inundated with the notion of Blacks being dumb, thuggish, absentee or neglectful parents, and are the face of poverty and welfare in the U.S.A.  Yet, Sherman, Smart, and Sam, or at least the media’s portrayal of them and the audience’s response to them, may be the undoing of the image of the Black athlete as a heroic figure in American folklore.

        I intend to do something within the next four-hundred to six hundred words or so that is something that is studied, analyzed, dissected, celebrated and commodified in the halls of America’s upper tier academic institutions, mainly private, white, and economically exclusive, is a claim for scholastic fame and intellectual adoration for Black scholars who have terminal degrees in African American Studies and anything “AfAm” and have extensive research experience and publications because of this—the “freestyle”.  Rappers have bars that are pertinent, poignant, and profound, and my bars are sentences.  I just want to construct a brief, cold-blooded rhetorical foray, without the fire (phi) beat, into the negative depiction of African Americans, specifically and explicitly athletes, by mass media once they roam outside the zoo of American sports entertainment. 

        Because Richard Sherman was animated and aggressive and braggadocios and insulting to his individual opponent, a wide-receiver, being that he is the defensive antithesis to the position of wide receiver in football, and startled the white female reporter in front of thousands in attendance and millions in the viewing audience, Sherman was labeled a thug, out of control, and “out of line” by many in the media after his alleged tirade. I always felt like the media was upset with his aggression even in the mere presence of the white female reporter whether or not his tirade and aggression was aimed at her or anyone else.  Sherman had the nerve to be hostile in the mere presence of a white woman.  He was no longer tamed.  The game was over.  The money was made.  The fans got their monies worth.  And this Black robo-animal should be able to hit the “stop” button and get a hold of himself and act with some sense.  Be seen and not heard.  And Sherman, Smart, and Sam are doing neither of the aforementioned.  These three talented Black athletes, who happen to be top tier in their respective fields or level of athletics, will be seen and heard as long as they maintain the skill level required to have an extensive career in the American sports workforce.  
       Marcus Smart violated the code of relieving himself of his duties as zoo animal and spectacle by putting his hands on a white customer, a white ticket buyer, when he responded to the verbal insult that was hurled at him.  Note to America—you are paying to be entertained not paying to verbally abuse the athletes who you vicariously and voyeuristically want to be like and salivate at their physical abilities and coordination.  Whatever sadistic thought is in the live and viewing crowd’s psyche should not be acted out upon these gladiators that perform for the viewer’s pleasure.  A “boo” here or there is fine, but, please, no name-calling.  Particularly in college.  They are amateur athletes.  They aren’t getting paid to endure your internal and malicious ire.  Oh, and Michael Sam should not have to be worried about whether or not his potential employment by an NFL franchise is predicated upon his sexual preference or orientation.  He has informed us that he is a homosexual male athlete months before the NFL draft, so that the league and its family of teams cannot blackball him because of a "secret" that has been known for months in collegiate football circles.

     Yet the media and residents in the universe of social networking outlets are condemning the actions, some warranted, of the aforementioned athletes.  Sherman should have more class and shut up.  Smart shouldn't have put his hands on that fan regardless of what kind of insult was hurled at him.  Sam shouldn't tell because we didn't ask.  The American media wants to tame if not destroy individualism and free speech and free think and harness the physical capabilities of the Black male athlete once he is done playing the game.  Be humble in an interview.  Be quiet about your sexuality. Don't put your hands on a white fan no matter what he or she says, or, I assume, does to you.  The mystique of the machismo connoted with the image of the Black male athlete is being deconstructed for the 21st century.  No longer is the superior athlete someone to admire.  He is now someone to revile and detest because he seems not to know his place like Cassius Clay changing his name, becoming a member of the Nation of Islam and refusing to be inducted into the U.S. military because of his anti-Vietnam War sentiments.  Lik John Carlos and Tommie Smith and their hoisting of the Black Power salute. Jim Brown's constant stance against discrimination in America and American sports, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's refusal to hold his hand over his heart and sing the national anthem during pre-game NBA rituals.  In essence, just run, nigger, run.

                                                                                                                   -Gee Joyner




  1. Very concise and well written. There seems to be much more concern about "not giving THEM and ammunition against US" than concern about personal autonomy and self respect. Your point about Smart being a college athlete is also very important. He is not a professional athlete being paid million's of dollars with PR training. He had a human response to inhumane treatment.More should be written about this topic. Good free style ;)

  2. well you nailed it accurately on most accounts, and clearly lined it out.... but here in New York, the press... the Media... has a way of denigrating all athletes as a matter of sport, and Ali used to get into the faces and in a lather towards interviewers, and so the point that is foremost is that the leverage promoted by Obama has raised both stereotypical attitudes.. on the players as well as the viewers... I have heard these arguments from both sides of my family for almost 57 years, and become immune to them, as in everyday life... and yet as you point out the raw bullshit endures for some... because of their upbringing, crowd they hang with and expression of such... and the media does not one effort to rectify any of it ... and I also interject both sides here.. roughly 60/40 w/b... none of which is right, only seems to be the degree of tension the team & media owners prefer to maintain... and we also now have other culture adepts in music , science and general education... but I see it in a better light, I feel a real slow healing, and I know that the athletes themselves for the most part respect each other more today ... for the sport, and for the abilities brought to the competition... since they all realize the opportunity of big cash.. which seems to drive the entire world today...

  3. Thanks, Gee--a good read. You captured much of thinking regarding both situations--well-written. Keep in mind that I am from another generation (and lifetime), I was startled that the white female reporter was startled--really. And, as far as the white ticket buyer is concerned, he now has a tale tell. How long has he waited for his time in the spotlight? I was more taken back the media's efforts to shame (and control) Dennis Rodman. When he played no one controlled him; he was "who he was", albeit foolish. But, he did what he was paid to do, and he had fun doing it. I did not consider him to be a role model for my son, nor did I think Dennis desired to be a role model. However, the recent efforts made to shame and embarrass him went beyond the ridiculous. Surely, no one thought Dennis Rodman was going to serve as a diplomat, nor was this his intent--he wanted to do what he does--play basketball. I remember the constant reminders given to me as a child, "White folks don't really like you; just remember to work hard, get a good education, and be the best you can be."

  4. Cold Blooded...Intelligently written good brother.

  5. Great piece Gee, I will definitely be re-posting. And in my opinion what’s even more dangerous is this element or fabric of thinking that’s being allowed to seep from within white America. This notion is one that assumes all blackfolk no matter who they are must have an underline danger and savagery about them. The white girl that was startled by Sherman’s remarks comes from the exact place that all these recent murderer’s thoughts came from. You see had she had a gun and if the setting was slightly different her misunderstanding of Sherman’s remarks and her failure to realize that they weren’t directed at her could’ve easily landed him in the morgue. And based on this somehow acceptable and updated whitefolk’s fear it is just as justifiable as the Gearge Zimmerman & Trayvon Martin trial (she had a reasonable fear).
    Let’s watch the next couple of trials that have the same ingredients (believe it or not) as the Sharman incident. There is Michael Dunn the Florida man accused of fatally shooting a black teenager during an argument over loud music. Then, there is Officer Randall Kerrick of Charlotte who shot a 24yr old former football player Jonathan A. Ferrell after he seeking help due to a car accident. In all these cases the common fabric is the fear of black men in general and that also includes the reaction of Sherman’s sideline reporter as well as the murderers I’ve mentioned above. But this fear was also present within the prosecutors, jury and Judges too. Don’t believe me, just read the comments after any story regarding the aforementioned people.
    How do they get away with this well just keep replaying Marcus Smart’s reaction, tie the Mizzou’s football star to forcing the NFL to draft him because he’s gay and no matter what they tell us about the past they’ll never forget their slave codes. (One of which is from 1724) "The slave who, having struck his master, his mistress, or the husband of his mistress, or their children, shall have produced a bruise, or the shedding of blood in the face, shall suffer capital punishment." j/s
    Sorry didn't mean for it to be this long....Jett