An interesting conversation went down on ESPN’s ‘First Take‘ the other day around Robert Griffin III (RG3) and how he identifies with race and him being Black. Sports writer and panelist Rob Parker raised the question whether or not RG3 was a brother or a ‘cornball brother‘.
Parker took issue with the way RG3 answered some questions about race in a recent USA Today interview.
‘For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin’.. ‘You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I’ve tried to go out and do….I am an African-American in America. That will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.’
In response to those quotes Parker asserted; “Well, he’s black, he kind of does his thing. But he’s not really down with the cause, he’s not one of us….He’s kind of black. But he’s not really the guy you’d really want to hang out with because he’s off to do something else.”
When questioned as to what he meant by saying RG3 is not one of us, Parker noted that because the rookie quarterback has a white fiance and that there were rumors he might be a Republican his Blackness needed to be called into question.
When asked about his braided hair style, which often times has led to Black people being denied employment, Parker responded; ‘That’s different…wearing braids, you’re a brother’. But he didn’t move off his initial point that RG3 might be a cornball brother
Needless to say this conversation caused a lot of outrage especially among those who read RG3’s USA Today remarks and concluded that it was admirable he appeared to be trying to rise above the minefields that often occur when it comes to discussions about race. Parker’s cohorts Stephen A Smith and Skip Bayless attempted to rein him in and ESPN issued a statement saying Parker’s remarks were inappropriate.
Now on the surface all this can be seen as some BS with Parker arguably making controversial remarks as a way to get attention and boost ratings. After all, this is the same Parker who once wrote that baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was a coward for not showing up to see Barry Bonds break his home run record.
With all that’s going on in the world why should we be concerned about such discussions? On the other hand, there’s a lot to consider especially when it comes to the types of demands we have long put on athletes to be better role models and to speak out. It wasn’t too long ago that many of us decried athletes like Michael Jordan for playing it safe by remaining silent or taking apolitical stances on important issues that seemed to downplayed his Blackness.
Many got upset with Jordan when he refused to speak out about all the Black inner city youth killing each other over his high-priced basketball shoes. He was famously quoted as saying ‘Republicans buy sneakers too usually at full retail’, when asked to address the issue.
Jordan further enraged people when he refused to weigh in on two racially charged elections in which former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African-American, challenged long time far right conservative Senator Jesse Helms for his US Senate seat. A lot of attention was on Gantt who stood a good chance at becoming the second or third African-American win a Senate seat.
Gantt sought an endorsement from Jordan who refused.. He played it safe and many accused him of not being ‘down for the cause’. It wasn’t until Jordan met Helms and the Senator dismissively looked him up and down and called him ‘Fred’ that Jordan began to rethink his position. For those who don’t know calling a black man Fred was a long-standing ‘joke’ Helms had when dealing with African-Americans. He’d call them Fred no matter what their name was, because Fred was the generic name for ‘the Help‘. Jordan reflected on that incident after Helms died and admitted there was more to life than making money.. You can read about that encounter HERE.
All this is not to suggest that RG3 would ever be like Jordan. Perhaps RG3 is the type of guy who will proudly step up and support worthwhile candidates and speak out on issues of importance. He also may be conservative whose opinions stand in stark opposition of the ones held by the majority of Black folks. Time will tell if RG3 is ‘down for the cause’..
This leads to the next point..’What cause was panelist Rob Parker expecting RG3 to be down so he could avoid being classified as a cornball brother?
Did he want him to talk a certain way? Often times some Black folks who speak in a certain tone or are too articulate are accused of not being Black and acting white.
Did Parker want him to dress a certain way? Go to a particular church? Have a Black girlfriend?
Did Parker want RG3 speaking out about the recent killing of Jordan Davis, a teen shot to death by a white man in Florida who felt his music was too loud?
Or did he want RG3 to be ‘down for the cause‘ by weighing in on the controversy surrounding the firing of KTBS whether reporter Rhonda Lee? She was fired for responding to a racist Facebook comment where a viewer told her to get rid of her natural hair and wear a wig. Was this a cause for RG3 to be down for?
Would RG3 be less of a cornball brother if he said he was a fan of Chicago rapper Chief Keef and could kick the lyrics to all his controversial violent themed songs? Would that be an indication that he’s down for the cause?
Parker said he was just being honest and reflecting what folks say on street corners and in the barbershop. Perhaps..The irony is that in many of those barber shops, RG3 may carry himself in a way that they deem satisfactory, while calling Parker’s Blackness into question. For example, some might say Parker is a cornball brother for sitting on a panel, cheesing at white owned ESPN, a Disney company vs showcasing his talents on Black owned TV1.
Some might say Parker is a ‘cornball brother’ because he doesn’t speak out about the prison industrial complex or bring attention to the plight of political prisoners, like; Mumia Abu-Jamal, Herman Bell, Dr. Mutulu Shakur or Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald or Ed Poindexter to name a few.
Perhaps he’s a cornball for not speaking out about the plight of unions and how Black folks in Detroit, a city he once worked in, will be disproportionately hurt by recently passed anti-union right to work bill.
Some might call him a cornball for publicly blasting RG3 vs sitting him down and talking to him behind the scenes about his politics and ways in which he engages Black culture. Parker’s public condemnation of another Black man for something so personal is the type of behavior we often advise youngsters to avoid for fear of it leading to unnecessary beefs and violent confrontations. How is it ‘being down for the cause’ to call someone out like that? Was he trying to shame Mr Griffith into a particular way of being? Should RG3 upon hearing these remarks dump his girlfriend?
We could go on and on playing ‘I’m Blacker than thou games’ pointing out where and how someone falls short of some mythical mark. Someone can always claim they are ‘Blacker’. Perhaps we should be more concerned with the types of causes RG3 gets behind.. In short lets choose substance over style. It may have been a bit more instructive if Parker had noted that the folks in the barbershop were looking for RG3 to come hang out at the local youth centers, or speak out on some recent occurrence impacting Black folks who live in DC and the surrounding DMV. Even better would be if Parker himself could’ve invited the star quarterback to join him and others to an activity or be a part of cause that would enrich the community. To simply suggest he’s a cornball brother is in the words of James Brown, is talking loud and saying nothing.
written by Davey D