I was Robert Griffin III.
I am RG III.
That’s because I’ve faced questions, too—always will. I faced them when returning home from college. I faced them when I first went to an NABJ conference as a young, ambitious cub reporter. I faced them recently when trying to convince the editors of The Shadow League that I wasn’t too old-school to resonate with their readers.
We are black men. This is what we do. We challenge each other. It will never stop, nor should it.
When I came back to the neighborhood in New York after starting college in Connecticut, I got ribbed and poked at by some. They claimed I sounded white. They questioned if I was still down. They scoffed at the realization that my circle of friends was more diverse than when I left.
But the talk wasn’t fueled by racism or hate, simply pride.
Those dudes were happy I was making moves, chasing my dream. But they also didn’t want to lose me, have me move up and out. You know, forget where I came from.
Any guy from Black America that has had success in education, or within corporate America, has been there, too. They have heard the talk, been a part of the dialogue.
Sorry to break it to all of those who thought I made it up or exposed something, but this isn’t a new or outrageous conversation.
In no way did I mean to do any harm to Griffin III, the Redskins’ starting quarterback. By all accounts, he’s a good guy and had a tremendous rookie season.
When brothers talk to and about each other, it’s usually not intended with ill will. And that certainly wasn’t the goal of ESPN’s First Take, a show I proudly worked on for six years. I say ‘proudly’ not because it was regular loot, but because the show honestly gave black men a real, strong voice on a national platform.
No wonder it connected with so many brothers who have had to put up with all-white, sports-talk radio stations in a town near you. Yep, we didn’t have a voice there, but had one on First Take.
That was my goal: bring that voice to the forefront; give it an audience, some airplay. Stop just agreeing with the other guys at the table because it is easier, safer.
Nope. Not me. Never will be me.
You can’t be afraid of dialogue, talking about things that some people just might not know about. That’s how we learn, get educated and grow. Muting differing voices is hardly what America was built on. You don’t have to agree.
During the Griffin III debacle, many also saw that black men don’t always agree with everything other black men have to say. Some of my harshest critics during that time were brothers. And that’s a good thing. Yes, we are free thinkers. Not every black person voted for Barack Obama.
All you have to do is go to any barbershop in Black America. The talk is real. That was Skip Bayless’ vision of First Take–barbershop talk on TV.
I loved it. And with good reason. I own a popular barbershop in Detroit. It’s called Sporty Cutz. It’s not some fancy place downtown. It’s in the hood, on W. 7 Mile Road.
The only thing better than the haircuts, are the debates about sports and life. Folks not only have opinions, but aren’t afraid to share them. Being a co-owner, I spend time in the shop and learn so much. It’s unlike anywhere else you’ll go. That’s because the discussions are no holds barred. Just recently, after the Super Bowl, the debate got hot in the barbershop over whether or not 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh changed his gameplan by not running QB Colin Kaepernick to score the game-winning TD in the final seconds, so that his brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh could win the championship. Can you imagine? And dudes were serious. It’s the ultimate skepticism.
The thing that will get you the most respect is simply keeping it real–even if we have to call to task or question one of our own.
I have been known to do that throughout the years. For instance, here’s the lede of a column I once wrote: “Hank Aaron is a coward.” At the time, I was disappointed that Aaron didn’t take a stand and either denounce Barry Bond’s pursuit of his home run record or embrace it. I don’t pull punches.
When I first started writing a column at The Detroit News, an editor, who happened to be white, said to me that I was the black Dick Young.
It was the ultimate compliment. Being from NYC, I knew Young’s work well. He was the ultimate hard ball columnist. You hated him, but you had to read him.
The black part of the compliment didn’t bother me. Why not? Because I am black. And this is partly why it troubles me that some of our gifted young black men that play quarterback seem diligent about distancing themselves from the “black quarterback” tag. What’s wrong with being a black quarterback? Doug Williams was a black quarterback and he won the Super Bowl. Warren Moon was a black quarterback and one of the finest passers ever to wear an NFL jersey.
I am proud to be the first African-American to cover the Cincinnati Reds on a daily basis. Next month, it will be 20 years since I became the first black sports columnist at the Detroit Free Press. At the time, the paper was 161 years old. In 1995, I was the first African-American sports columnist at Newsday in New York.
Through the years, I have remained pretty consistent with my approach: be honest and fair. The Shadow League is getting the hard-hitting, thorough me.
I’ve learned something from the Griffin III situation. I learned, even more, that when you talk about race you need to be especially careful. However, it hasn't changed me. And, I definitely won’t be muzzled here at The Shadow League. Trust me, those guys from the neighborhood will know it’s still me, still Rob from Jamaica, Queens.