Dear Marcus Smart

Dear Marcus Smart,

To the world-at-large, you are a 6’5” 230 pound, athletic specimen that is bound for a big time NBA payday.  But you’re not a machine. You’re a person with feelings and emotions that perhaps run far deeper than anyone could possibly imagine. 

Though I’ve never been anywhere near as athletically gifted as you, as a young black man growing up in America, like you, I too made a bunch of snap decisions that I would inevitability live to regret. But being young is all about making mistakes and learning from them. You've seen this. Tabbed to be a sure shot NBA lottery pick at the draft last year, you decided to return for sophomore season at Oklahoma State University. To some, this was a good decision, with analysts believing you went back simply to work on your game. While others believed you returned because you 5th seeded the 12th seeded Oregon Ducks in the First Round of the NCAA tournament eliminated Cowboys squad.

Things were going great to start the year off.  The Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team stormed out of the gates to a 14-1 start through December 31, 2013 and you were leading the way. Concerns about your scoring ability were allayed when you exploded for 39-points against the Memphis Tigers. 

But in 2014, the wins have been falling off. They say you’ve been frustrated. They want to mention personal family business like the death of your older brother, Todd. They want to say something is wrong inside, when all you really want to do is play basketball. I know you don’t know me. But Lil Bro', your recent situation is indicative of something a young man might do when he loses his cool.

With 1 minute left in the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, you ran down the court and committed a hard foul before tumbling into the photographer’s section behind the Red Raiders’ basket.  Then, seemingly unprovoked when the video is seen at full speed, you stormed into the audience to confront a fan. Your take is that he called you a racially derogatory term. He denies it. From the outside wide angle, unaware of what was happening close up, I sat there staring at my television screen in horror as you gave a two-handed shove to Texas Tech’s so-called super fan Jeff Orr.  As he collapsed, his gelatinous frame jiggling as he tumbled backwards on his self-righteous rear end.

The idea of the out of control, narcissistic black man is very old.  In some instances it simply manifests itself as racial stereotype. Whether you are aware of it or not, Mr. Smart, the very idea of a young black man being, as you and I would see it, self-assured, proud and boisterous is at the very heart of many racially motivated fears in America and has been for 400 years. The scary black bogey man stereotype is almost as old as America itself. There have been many instances throughout this nation’s history where the thing that goes “bump in the night” was thought to be a crazed black man more often than not.  This racial lie was often the reason given for the reprehensible lynchings of a century ago and the bloated prison industrial complex of modern times. It's why black boys can be gunned down and those who scream "self-defense" often go free. Society simply does not believe that you or me, brothas of African descent, have the ability to control ourselves.

I bet some young black men who are reading this now might be rolling their eyes and huffing at the very idea of bringing race into this circumstance. But it is hard to avoid the sway of race and class in a country that has a long history as far as skin color and economics are concerned.

When you were in those stands, shoving Jeff Orr, I could have sworn I saw your career flash before my eyes.  The horror I felt briefly was not for any injury done to him, but to your career. And I did overreact.  Your three game suspension is warranted based upon the scope of your actions. Honestly, I was a little surprised that people were putting much of the onus on Mr. Orr as well. He is notorious for his actions operating within his "privilege" to say whatever he wishes. I am not used to seeing young black men win in such circumstances.

But it appears you’re about to come out none-the-worse for wear.  Pardon my old school, Marcus. And I have seen an unfortunate number of sad, slow endings based on rash decisions. I just knew all this was going to be thrust back into your face. I could have sworn a bigger deal would have been made of it. Somehow, I feel that this could have been worse.

I suppose I am a little sensitive when it comes to the idea of a young black man squandering his opportunities. In the immediate aftermath that followed this situation there were many prognosticators who defended your actions. While others advised sports fans to reserve judgment until what Jeff Orr said was brought to light. Some say he said, “Go back to Africa." You even had amateur lip-reading radio analyst John Holcomb say he thought he heard you mention that Mr. Orr used the N-word. But of course, that crazy fan only admits to calling you a piece of crap. 

Under normal circumstances I would be elated that a group of ESPN’s middle-aged, gray-haired, white male college basketball pundits, like Jay Bilas, would be so quick to raise an argument in support of a young black man.  I appreciated seeing it, especially in light of the sheer unprecedented nature of what you had done. 

Racism in the new millennium is just as prevalent as it has ever been. However, it has gone submarine in many instances these days, becoming considerably more dangerous than a battleship, quietly sneaking up, full arsenal, and kicking you in the ass. Right now, in 2014, somewhere in the shadows lurks a self-righteous submarine racist who is ever more stubborn in his views because of your actions. Submarine racism is seldom obvious. It passively lurks beneath some seemingly benign or nebulous societal norm. Circumstances that seem routine become arenas where racism and bigotry flourish.  That’s what makes it so dangerous.

 Look at it this way, you are a large black man who approached a middle-aged white man and aggressively shoved him.  I’m not sure how much you watch the news as a 20-year-old college sophomore, but the George Zimmerman trial, the Affluenza trial and the death of 24-year-old former Florida A&M football player Jonathan A. Ferrell in North Carolina, are all cases of submarine racism.  

Jonathan A. Ferrell was an unarmed man seeking help after a car crash.   He was shot 10 times by Randall Kerrick, a Charlotte police officer who's now being charged with involuntary manslaughter in his death.

George Zimmerman’s trial lawyers were able to successfully argue that Trayvon Martin’s location and not his race was the reason he was pursued and ultimately killed in February of 2012. The Affluenza kid, also known as Ethan Couch, received no jail time in the drunk driving deaths of four people. He’s so rich, so white and so spoiled, experts gave his condition a name: Affluenza.  Prosecutors were trying to give him 20 years. He gets to go to rehab instead. How many 20-year sentences do you think you could have avoided in a similar situation? 

Prior to your press conference on Monday, speculation ran rampant as to the reason you could have jumped up and approached Mr. Orr in such a manner.  I initially thought the only thing that a middle-aged white man could possibly say to set you off like that was…well…the infamous N-word.  Blacksportsonline, and Lostlettermen each reported the offending individual told you to, “Go back to Africa.” While radio analyst John Holcomb says he overhead you explain to the OSU coaching staff that Mr. Orr called you the dreaded N-word. But Orr himself says he called you, “A piece of crap. " What’s the truth?

You apologized to the Texas Tech basketball program, fans, Mr. Orr specifically, and graciously accepted responsibility for your behavior. Orr has gone on record to say that he will not be attending any more Red Raiders games this year as a self-imposed punishment for his actions. You, on the other hand, have been lucky to only be suspended for three games. Because as an athlete and mature adult, you can’t run around putting your hands on people based on what they say. Especially not if you’re a black man. Especially not in America.

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