Yet, when a player is not only successful on the field, but also stays out of trouble, has not been arrested, has not fathered children all over the country, and took advantage of the college education he could earn by virtue of his athletic scholarship, he is accused of not being black or at least not Black enough.
That's right, Rob Parker a former ESPN analyst said on Thursday, December 13, 2012 that Washington Redskin's star rookie quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin, III is not black enough. Why? Because he is articulate? As any college graduate should be. Because he hasn't thrown his money away buying a fleet of cars and homes with bowling alley's and jewelry (bling-bling) he can't afford? Because he isn't out shooting up the club or "making it RAIN" at 2 AM or beating up his fiance or fathering children all over the D.C. metro area with different women?
It is one thing for White commentators to continue to be captivated by this African American man who projects a different image than the negative stereotype of the Black Athlete (e.g. Cromartie, Burress, Dez Bryant), but when African American commentators also seek to confine African American male athletes to a box that is characterized by illegal behavior and insist that they behave as "thugs" in order to hold on to their racial identity then something is very, very wrong.
Obviously R.G. III is new to the league and there is plenty of time for him to get into trouble, which I hope he doesn't. But from where I sit, what I see is a young man who is an ideal role model for all youngsters hoping to parlay athletic talent into a college scholarship and a professional career. R.G. III's message can be: get the education you deserve, strive for success on the field, stay out of trouble, invest your earnings wisely and you will be able to control your own destiny rather than being controlled by it.
I applaud R.G. III and other men like him and hope that one day African Americans will be able to broaden their own definitions of success and quit forcing other Blacks into the same old box that Whites built and have for so many centuries required that they live in.
It is very hard to sit, watch and listen as successful African Americans are misunderstood as if there is a penalty for being a successful African American male athlete.
It is doubly hard when the Black critics go after successful Black athletes who operate in one of few institutions--SportsWorld that provides the majority of the few opportunities that allow Blacks to be successful.
As a sociologist we call this labeling. Within the theory of labeling in our society today it has become the norm to place labels on those by what they wear, how they act, and of course their skin color.
From W. E. B. Du Bois to Lani Guiner, to Shirley Sherrod, to Barack Obama to Eric Holder, and most recently Susan Rice: all, one way or anther, have been mistreated by Whites and Blacks alike.
Earl Smith, PhD,
holds the Rubin Distinguished Professorship in American Ethnic Studies at Wake Forest University. He is also Professor of Sociology. Smith specializes in the areas of urban sociology, race and ethnic relations, sociology of sport and social stratification. He is the author of dozens of articles, book chapters and books, most recently Race, Sport and the American Dream (2007; 2009), Sociology of Sport and Social Theory (2010), African American Families Today: Myths & Reality (2012).
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