Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Most Colorful Game

A young man was killed in Hartford, Connecticut on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual occurrence, as Hartford doesn’t seem to be a place bereft of crime. What is truly unfortunate is that sometimes no matter how much a young Black man tries to do the right thing, he can still become the victim of random-bullshit-petty-violence that takes his life. It may sound cliché at this point, but most concepts become cliché because they are so ubiquitous as to become a rhetorically accepted fact. The concept I am talking about is that of the poor Black kid in the ghetto who has some athletic ability and tries to use it to pull himself and his family out of the endless cycle of violence that traps so many in America’s inner cities. It may be cliché, but it is a stone-cold fact for many kids in the ‘hood that Football or Basketball are their only perceived ways of being somebody in the world… well, that or hip-hop. The worst part is that even when these kids make it, achieve their dream and get scholarships to a big-time College, their past still haunts them. They leave the ‘hood, but the ‘hood never leaves them. Jasper Howard wasn’t even from Connecticut, he was from Miami, FL, and still the violence that has claimed the lives of so many young Black men claimed his as well. And, like I said, as far as we know he was trying to do the right thing. So what do we learn from this? No matter how hard or how fast someone runs between the lines, they can never escape what they are, their Color.

This season the NFL has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the AFL, what is now the AFC. In honor of that there have been a multitude of “Throwback” games when two AFC foes face each other, resulting in some rather colorful uniform displays. Starting with the Bright Orange stripes of the referees, I believe that I have seen every color in the visible Electromagnetic Spectrum, and some that aren’t (I’m pretty sure the Seahawks have used some Ultraviolet Colors in their alternate Uni’s). I, personally, have enjoyed the hell out of this season’s throwbacks, my favorites being the Oilers and Broncos (yes the Brown and Gold). Unfortunately my absolute favorite throwback Uni, the Tangerine of the Tampa Bay Bucs, will not be on display as they are a NFC team *sigh*. I guess I’ll live. Even with all the flashes of color one thing unfortunately seems to remain the same; the inescapable fact that the most important color on the field isn’t the green of the grass, or the hue of the uniform, but the tone of the skin of the player.

This has always been true, and it still is true. In 1958 the University of Buffalo football team was invited to it’s one and only Bowl game in its school history (before or since). It was the Tangerine Bowl, to be played in Orlando, FL against the Florida State Gators. Buffalo had two Black players on their team, and the school was informed that one of the stipulations of playing in the Bowl Game was that Buffalo’s Black players had to stay home; the Orlando High School Athletic Association did not allow Black players to play with White players. This was not an isolated rule either; it was a pretty common practice in The South for a long time. Common, of course, until the segregated schools realized that they could not beat teams that had Black players. Then the urge to win overcame racism, as it often does. This is why Sports so often overcomes racism, because even the most strident racist bastard can overlook his hatred for 4 quarters.

This being the case, sports have brought down a lot of racial divides, while simultaneously putting them on display for the world to see. There has long been a belief that Black’s could never successfully play the QB position because we just aren’t smart enough. This perception is still around; there are very few Black QB’s who aren’t also known for their running ability. Warren Moon, the only Black QB in the Football Hall of Fame, had to go to Canada to play when he graduated from college because no team in the NFL would draft him as a QB, despite being named MVP of the 1978 Rose Bowl. After passing for over 3000 yards for 4 straight years in the Canadian Football League, Moon finally was taken seriously as a QB, and after a sizeable bidding war signed with the Houston Oilers. To date, only one Black QB has started and won a Super Bowl, further adding to this perception. And then there was the Limbaugh/McNabb debacle…

Rush Limbaugh, briefly, worked for ESPN doing color commentary on the NFL. He genuinely has a love for football, and in my opinion was an interesting addition to the show. His football analysis was actually very good, and he did not seem that out of place for someone who had no real connection to the sport other than as a fan. But alas, eventually the real Rush came out when he said that the Media wanted Donovan McNabb to succeed only because he was a Black QB. Now at the time, and even today, I did not think what he said was really that terrible. In fact I may have even agreed a little. Regardless of the fact that I hate the Eagles, I thought that Limbaugh’s statement, in and of itself, was an observation and nothing more. The problem is in the context of everything Rush has said before and since regarding race, he cannot say things like that and expect it to be glossed over. He has said some things that quite frankly make him the world’s biggest asshole, and he cannot possibly be naïve enough to think that what he does for a living would have no bearing on whether he was allowed to be part of an industry as image-conscious as the NFL is. Add to that the target of most of his vitriol happens to be African-Americans, who obviously had a problem with him becoming an owner as well, and yes, Rush was Rushed out of the group trying to buy the St. Louis Rams.

I am an ardent believer in our First Amendment right to Free Speech, but what most people fail to realize is that when you say whatever the Hell you want to, there are consequences to those actions. Rush Limbaugh just experienced some of those consequences. In his world, he is never held accountable for his actions, but in the real world, people hate him and are angry about what he says. Sports are the great equalizer, where it’s about Colors, yes, but what rules above all is CAN YOU HELP US WIN. Because of that, over the decades racial barriers have been broken down both on the field and off. Ultimately, Rush was not going to help the Rams improve as an organization, as many players voiced that they would not play for a team that he was a part of, meaning that his presence would hurt the team in the WIN/LOSS column. Period. That’s why he was dropped from the group. I love my Colorful NFL World for just that reason. Now, where can I buy one of those Gold and Brown Broncos Unis?