No Excuses!! Black Athletes Have To Use Better Judgement

Jaimeis Winton, the Heisman Trophy Award winning quarterback of the National Champion Florida State Seminoles was recently (09/17/14) suspended. Not for his alleged involvement in a sexual assault last year. Not for his subsequent nationally televised theft of crab legs from a local market. This time, he is being disciplined for repeatedly yelling “Fuck Her Right In The Pussy” while standing on a table in the student union.

Jameis WinstonJameis Winston, Florida State University

Interim Florida St. president Garnett Stokes and athletics director Stan Wilcox said in a statement. “Student-athletes are expected to act in a way that reflects dignity and respect for others… As a result of his comments yesterday, which were offensive and vulgar, [he] will undergo internal discipline and will be withheld from competition for the first half of the Clemson game.” Internal discipline….Ya think? The consequence should be more than half a game… This latest Winston episode highlights a far-reaching and, seemingly, expanding problem among Black male athletes.

Remember, this isn’t just an average everyday run of the mill college athlete. Winston is a tremendously gifted quarterback with all of the requisite football skills. He has great size, a very strong arm, and an incredible will to win. Based on his athletic ability and football skills, he should be in line for an NFL contract on par with the 4 year $22.025 million deal Cam Newton received and the 4 year $22.1 million package awarded to Andrew Luck. Except, there a major problem. For some reason, Winston seems incapable of exercising sound judgement for a sustained period of time. Quite frankly, he appears to be socially stupid.

He is not alone. This era has, unfortunately, witnessed an onslaught of tremendously gifted young Black men acting like they have absolutely no “home training.”  They bring loaded guns into locker rooms.  They beat 4 year old boys with “switches” and hit ’em on the scrotum.  They punch their women upside the head.  They assault fans in the stands.  They force themselves upon females.  They do all sorts of real stupid shit!  I know Big Momma and Pop Pop taught them better.

Clearly, the time has come for an honest and frank discussion about this serious and pervasive problem among contemporary Black male athletes. Far too many exhibit a persistent refusal to comply with rules or expectations in the home, school or community. I’m talking about multimillion dollar professionals, JUCO bench warmers and everything in between.

adrian-petersonAdrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Dominating current headlines are stories centering on cruel or violent behaviors toward children and women by NFL stars Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. The list NBA stars that have failed to fully consider the consequences of their actions and take inappropriate risks is also very long. A few of the more prominent names are Michael Beasley, Chris Washburn, Roy Tarpley, Richard Dumas, Gilbert Arenas, Delonte West, Javaris Crittendon and Ron Artest. Additionally, over the past few years, scores of young Black collegiate athletes have also been involved in array of gun charges. sexual assaults, burglaries, thefts and physical assaults that have led to disciplinary sanctions.

While there can be no denying America’s long standing uneasiness with Black masculinity, it is obvious that these young men have no idea how fortunate they are to play collegiate and/or professional sports. They take their positions as scholarship and/or professional athletes for granted.  Of course the media sensationalizes the incidents.  That’s a given.  My concern is that many Black athletes appear to have very little or no awareness of the sacrifices made by their predecessors that paved the way for them to be on the main stage.  Adopting their lingo, it seems they just don’t “give a fuck.”  This essay is intended to help some Mommas, Daddies, Uncles, Aunties, Grandmothers, Grandfathers and “Oldheads” understand just how far we have come.   If a few young Black male athletes take heed, that’s a real bonus.

No real understanding of the problematic nature of contemporary behavior is possible without an analysis of Black America’s tremendous struggle for mere participation in American collegiate athletics.  Put simply, we’ve come too far to act a fool now.  As it was with virtually everything else, in most states, Blacks were forbidden by law from participating in college sports.

The establishment of educational institutions serving African-Americans in the South following the the Civil War (1861-1865) was a tremendous accomplishment. Unfortunately, the nascent African-American college experiment coincided with the emergence of intercollegiate athletics and the rise of Jim Crow. Jim Crow law were Apartheid-like racial segregation laws enacted between 1876 and 1965 in the United States, primarily at the state and local level.

Four years after the end of the Civil War, Rutgers University and Princeton, played the first game of intercollegiate football on Nov. 6, 1869. Over the next three decades, a few northeastern colleges like Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Tufts, Harvard and Rutgers would challenge one another in “football” games.

By the early part of the 20th Century, major college sports were emerging. College football, in particular, was transitioning from an extracurricular activity to a highly commercialized and profitable sport. By this time there were around 250 or so college football teams. During this era, the unregulated sport was exceedingly violent. During the 1904 season, 18 players died from injuries on the field. “Every day one hears of broken heads, fractured skulls, broken necks, wrenched legs, disclosed shoulders, broken noses, and many other accidents,” the New York Times wrote after the 1893 season. Nonetheless, college football experienced exponential growth in popularity.

Black BoyBlack Boy in Jim Crow South

From the outset, Black Americans were systematically excluded from participation in collegiate sports. Simultaneous to the rise of college athletics was the disfranchisement of the African-American in the South. The last thirty years of the 19th century witnessed the ascendancy of American Apartheid in the former Confederacy. Brutally enforced racial Apartheid was the emerging norm. Laws were rapidly passed that forbade the intermarriage of the races in every Southern state in United States. African-Americans and Whites were formally and legally separated in virtually every aspect of public life. State legislative bodies banned African-Americans from White hotels, restaurants, theaters, and barbershops. As of 1885, most Southern states required that African-American and European American children be educated in separate schools. In 1896, with the sanctioning of the US Supreme Court, African-Americans were formally relegated to an second class citizenship.

By 1900, Jim Crow segregation was firmly entrenched throughout the American South. Apartheid-like separation of the races was rigidly enforced in public parks, buildings, recreational spaces, hospitals, prisons and even cemeteries. Of course, college athletics was not exempt from this dynamic. Like the rest of Southern society, Southern universities were segregated along stringent racial lines. This segregation was enforced through all available legal means and the extralegal practice of lynching. During the period spanning 1884 to 1900, there were more that 2,500 lynchings. The last decade of the 19th century saw an average of 187 lynchings per year in the United States. Needless to say, there would be no integrated college football games in the American South during the Jim Crow era.

lynchingsLynching of Four Black Men in Jim Crow America

The advent of “separate but equal” accommodations following Plessy v. Ferguson combined with sustained a terrorist campaign orchestrated by domestic terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan to produce a social climate of fear and intimidation across much of the American South.

In other parts of the country, there would be isolated attempts at limited integration in some college football programs. Among the early African-American collegiate players were George Jewett (Michigan), George Flippin (Nebraska), Matthew Bullock (Dartmouth), Fritz Pollard (Brown), Paul Robeson (Rutgers), Duke Slater (Iowa), Joe Lillard (Oregon), Bobby Marshall (Minnesota), Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (Syracuse), Brice Taylor (Southern California), Jerome “Brud” Holland (Cornell), Marion Motley (Nevada) and Levi Jackson (Yale). While they were allowed to compete on the gridiron, these early players were subjected to extensive physical abuse at the hands of teammates and opponents. Their on field performances were not recognized as there were no African-American first-team All-Americans during the period between 1918 and 1937.

Duke SlaterDuke Slater, Iowa University

One has to wonder what these pioneers would think of the antics of the elite Black athletes dominating today’s headlines. Unquestionably, Black players of the modern era owe a tremendous debt to the steadfast and brave student-athletes that endured brutally racist conditions while breaking down barriers. I guess the question becomes: Are things like honesty, compliance with rules, sensitivity to the feelings and rights of others and control over impulses too much to ask?  Should the Black community expect Black athletes to comport themselves in dignified manner?  Is it fair to expect the athletes to model positive behaviors for younger impressionable kids? After all, the opportunities they are blessed to have did not come easily.

Whites vehemently fought Black participation at every turn.  As the years passed by, the popularity of college football grew exponentially. Eventually, the pressure to field the best possible teams, win games and attract a large fan base would strain the ability of Jim Crow adherents to maintain their racist Apartheid-like tradition of excluding African-Americans from inter-collegiate athletics in the American South. Winning football games became increasingly important. Moreover, money began to talk.  University Presidents, Athletic Directors and coaches recognized that game attendance correlated positively with the quality of play.

Nonetheless, it would be a long hard struggle for African-American inclusion. Plainly stated, Southern Universities did not accept African-Americans as students. Building upon the foundation laid by Plessy v. Ferguson, for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, Southern states operated dual – separate and unequal – systems of higher education.

segregationWhite Males Opposing Integrated Schools

With zero (0) Blacks in the universities, there were zero (0) Blacks on their athletic teams. Nonetheless, it is important to note that African-Americans were present within several athletic departments. Most southern football programs had beloved, non-threatening black figures who served as the male counterpart to the “Mammy.” These Black men served as janitors, equipment managers, waterboys, masseurs, trainers, etc. for southern college football programs.

In accordance with America’s patently racist traditions dating back to the colonial era, Southern White colleges refused to suit up African-American players. Moreover, throughout the 1920s and 1930s they demanded that integrated teams bench African-Americans during games held outside of the former Confederacy. During this period, it was commonplace for northern coaches and university administrators to acquiesce to the demands of rigid southern segregationists. As time passed, the hardline segregationist position would be compromised in some parts of the south. The rapidity and depth of compromise varied considerably across regions of the Jim Crow south.

Over time, the financial incentives were too strong to resist and southern segregationist bowl committees relaxed their apartheid-like ban on African-American participation in Bowl games. There was just too much money to be made with Black players participating.  There was recognition of the fact that revenues could be increased through integrated intersectional bowl games. Between 1947 and 1956, they would allow Northern teams with Black players to play in the segregated South.

This adaptation was driven solely financial gain. If these changes had been fueled by racial enlightenment there would have been a gradual inclusion of Blacks in regional south versus south regular season games. There was none. The games and the teams remained rigidly segregated during this period. However, northern universities during the post-war era began integrating in large numbers.

The Texas Western College basketball team is widely credited with fueling the movement to desegregate college athletics in the south. In 1966, Texas Western faced perennial national championship contender and number-one ranked Kentucky for the NCAA title. For the first time, there were five White starters playing against five Black starters for the championship. Texas Western’s victory clearly demonstrated that southern schools would have to integrate to compete with non-segregated teams. It is worth noting that while Texas Western began integrating southern college basketball in 1956, they refused to integrate the dormitories and the Black players were required to live off campus.

Texas WesternTexas Western University, 1966 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions immediately after defeating Kentucky

The most significant football game during the long slow march toward desegregation of college athletics in the south occurred when the University of Southern California visited the still segregated University of Alabama in 1970. Led by an all-black backfield of quarterback Jimmy Jones, running back Clarence Davis, and fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham, USC trounced Alabama 42-21. Alabama assistant coach Jerry Claiborne succinctly noted, “Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes that night than Martin Luther King had accomplished in 20 years.”

Sam CunninghamSam Cunningham, USC, running over, through and around Alabama defenders

It is worth noting that during this period of “Athletic Apartheid” spanning 1906 through the 1970s there was very little research regarding student-athlete academic performance. During the 70 pus years, when the student-athletes were predominantly white, there were no significant NCAA sponsored academic reforms. At the institutional and Conference level, there was some minor analysis of the 1.6 minimum grade point average rule. However, the NCAA during this period of extensive racial exclusion did not use research in any systematic way to formulate policy or establish eligibility requirements.

Since the early 1980’s, when Blacks males became a majority of scholarship athletes in the revenue producing sports – football and basketball – there has been a series of increasingly stringent Academic reforms.  This timing of these reforms has led some to question the actual motives of the NCAA.  Hall of Fame Basketball Coach John Chaney fought the reform measures throughout his illustrious career.  In January of 1989, Coach Chaney declared, “The NCAA is a racist organization of the highest order… On this day, it instituted a new punishment on black kids who have already been punished because they are poor. Any time the NCAA, which is 90 percent white, considers the youngsters in Division I basketball and football, it discriminates, because 89 percent of the kids are black… I wonder what message they are sending. It’s another hardship for black kids made by white folk.”
NCAA Men's Basketball - Temple vs Army - November 15, 2005

John Chaney and Mark Tyndale, Temple University

The self-inflicted wounds of contemporary Black athletes make no sense when viewed in historical context.  Too many were forced to play on the “chitlin’ circuit”…. Too many were denied opportunities their abilities warranted… Too many never got a fair shot… Too many watched inferior white players win awards and receive accolades… No excuses!! Black male athletes have to use better judgement…

 

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