The Culture, as it is so commonly called today, is an American gumbo of thoughts, social norms, belief systems, and creative artforms that make up the way we live.
The Black contributions to this mix have been postulated upon by greater minds than I, so I will dispense with telling you what you already know.
Suffice it to say, our contributions are legion.
Sports, Culture and The Minds of Black Folk
And among the many, sports is a form of cultural expression that Americans of African descent, as well as throughout the Black Diaspora, have excelled at, and even dominated, whenever fair, unbiased competition is allowed to go unfettered.
Indeed, the connection between Black integration and our dominance on the field of play shared a tremendous amount of synergy amongst them.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Heroes of the gridiron, the hardwood, the diamond and the Olympics Games warmed the American public to an idea that was once punishable by death; that being the integration of Black Americans into the greater society.
Additionally, athletics has served as a catapult for young Black men and women into academia for over 100 years. Though, the number of those who attended college for their intellectual aptitude dwarfed the number of those who did not, the cultural implications of physically gifted descendants of African slaves expressing themselves on the myriad fields of play was juxtaposed against the backdrop of a white society still steaming with ignorance regarding Black anatomy, as well as Black humanity.
Many believed we were more animal than man.
So,historians would argue, the ascendance of the Black athlete as an extension of Black pride did serve to also further stereotypes regarding Black athleticism that find their origins in long since refuted lies within social Darwinism, phrenology and eugenics.
Indeed, though there was great resistance to the integration of collegiate and professional American sports, African American dominance in baseball, football, track & field and basketball did further the establishment’s “scientific” belief in fast-twitch fibers and selective slave breeding being the reason we were jumping higher, running faster and throwing further.
Real Heroes Aren’t Losers
With each record-breaking performance by Wilma Rudolph, with each Satchel Paige strikeout, with each Lawrence Taylor sack, Allen Iverson crossover and LeBron James dunk, the near mythological stature of the Black athlete within the Black Diaspora and the American mainstream is continuously conceived, birthed, and nourished into the fully realized ebony effigies of Atalanta, Mercury, and Hercules we celebrate today.
We place them on our fandom pedestals, building altars in our hearts forevermore. The cultural implications, both positive and negative, cannot be overstated. The impact and legacy of the Black athlete in America is massive.
And it is because of this massive legacy that I cannot abide by individuals in journalism and elsewhere who expect individuals to cheer for, coddle and otherwise support an athlete of African descent for the sake that he is Black.
The mainstream held them up as examples of Black excellence while simultaneously ridiculing smart Black kids as nerds and outcasts.
Perhaps because Black culture and athletics are so intertwined or because sports are traditionally seen as a pure meritocracy, but we inextricably link our fate with theirs.
Well, of course, that latter part is what fandom is all about. However, if we look back to a time when Black athletes saw themselves as representative of excellence indicative of the greater community, that overture was readily reciprocated.
But now, not so much.
Keep It a Buck!
Yes, you have your LeBron James, the venerable Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Muhammad Ali and the recent sacrifice of Colin Kaepernick, but most dudes are NOT rolling like that. Not even close.They do little to nothing for the greater community but want folks to treat them like the second coming just because they are who they are.
Two things we like; winners and those who speak and behave in ways that endear them to the average man and woman on the corner, the stoop, the farm and in the projects.
The range of individuals who fit into this gulf are innumerable and at every level of competition. But their actions, thoughts and experiences become magnified by the bright lights, television cameras and social media accounts that today’s top athletes frequently use.
In my opinion, ever-changing societal norms, and the always encroaching specter of cultural irrelevance, has given new meaning to the term cause célèbre when Black athletes are in the limelight for things that occur away from the field of play.
No, this is not a diatribe overture meant to advise Black athletes to “shut up and dribble” but a reminder of the magnificence and dignity said athletes once embodied in mass a lifetime ago.
We Lower the Bar When Mediocrity is Celebrated
In that void of vaunted magnificence and glory has stepped the media savvy, promotion hungry, privileged Black athlete who has grown fat with adulation that many of them receive simply for existing.
This phenomenon creates within some athletes the belief that they’re automatically deserving of praise for the sake of being a professional athlete, and not because they’re winners, or all-stars, or even good people.
In the minds of many, the fact they are of African descent or achieved at a high level is reason enough for them to expect automatic support from the average Black sports fan at large.
And when that automatic support doesn’t materialize the word “hate” gets thrown around.
When Deontay Wilder was knocking out tomato cans on his way to a heavyweight championship it was clear to many that he was not a very good boxer, he didn’t punch in bunches and his best defense was a powerful straight right hand. But when he fought Tyson Fury it was expected that Black Americans should flock to support him due to the color of his skin and, perhaps, his nationality as well.
He was exposed by Tyson Fury as a poor boxer with heavy hands. Wilder would blame the loss on the heavy outfit he used to enter the ring. I, of course, call bullsh*t. Now it would seem that he is avoiding fighting contenders altogether.
What part of that can I cheer for in good conscience?
Jameis Winston, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback who led the NFL in passing yards and threw for 33 touchdowns, started this season on the Saints as the third quarterback behind Taysom Hill.
This is likely because, though his arm strength has never been in question, his decision making has. He threw 30 interceptions last year, leading the league. He currently has 88 interceptions for his career, which has only been five years.
That ties him with Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who has been in the NFL for 15 years.
So, what happens when the New Orleans Saints decided that they’re going to start QB Taysom Hill, an option QB they’d been grooming under Brees for three years, to start over Winston?
The clarion call of race allegiance went out and in came a deluge of articles claiming Jameis deserved to start over Taysom Hill, many were not successful in hiding the fact that they really preferred Winston over Hill simply because he was Black.
Currently, the Saints are 3-0 with Hill as the starter, yet some still feel that Winston is the better choice. Go figure.
Lastly, the undoing of Nate Robinson at the hands of Instagram influencer turned boxer Jake Paul. The former NBA player is the only three-time Slam Dunk Champion in NBA history and was once a standout in football at the University of Washington.
An incredible athlete, to be certain.
The Black Celebration Of Mediocrity
But he called out a boxer who was larger, younger and more skilled, and it would seem he didn’t take his training seriously judging by the way he moved in the ring as well as his lack of defense.
So, after talking all kinds of crap, he gets put down. Now I’m supposed to say “Good job, Nate! You’re brave!” Hell-to-the-no! When you step into the square circle it’s combat time. You’re supposed to be a warrior with the mentality of such.
Brother you had enough heart to make that leap into the ring. The fight game is dangerous and it's a warriors sport. I respect the heart and effort it took to get there.
— Preston Baker (@pbakernyc) November 29, 2020
Now, here come all the “pro-Black” dudes telling us that we’re wrong for laughing at the antics of a clown and not celebrating the fact that he at least “tried”. I just can’t shout out a dude who basically asked for an ass-whoopin’. He got just what he asked for. If that makes me “not down for the cause” then so be it.
The Black celebration of mediocrity extends far past the boundaries of sports, but into our everyday lives. This is just the example that we’re examining today.
When it comes to Black athletes, most of them making millions of dollars a year, why should anybody step outside of themselves to cheer for the undeserving, unexceptional, the coddled, and those who would blow the average man’s annual salary on a weekend bender at a strip club? Because they’re Black? Are we that hard up for Black role models of substance in the modern age?
Thus, I cannot celebrate Black mediocrity or any type of lowering the bar of excellence so many fought and even died to maintain.