As children playing sports, one of the first things we are taught is that race doesn’t matter, only one’s ability to contribute to team success. Phrases like ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team’ have become more than a cliché. But time after time, we see that the importance of these team-oriented utterances is lost on a great number of participants who believe otherwise.
The state of Iowa isn’t exactly the Harlem of the Midwest. However, there are a significant number of Black people who call the Hawkeye State home, and that population continuously produces great athletes in a multitude of sporting endeavors.
Recently, Creston/Orient-Macksburg High School junior quarterback Kylan Smallwood was visited with a situation that proved yet again that some people don’t care about the grand meritocracy that team sports supposedly represent.
Smallwood, a star football and basketball player in the mostly white town of Creston has likely been praised and celebrated by a significant number of the town’s occupants over the course of his stellar career.
Scott Vicker, Creston News Advertiser, captures Kylan Smallwood's 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Panther to a 61-60 OT win over Harlan (12/13/16)
Oftentimes, star athletes are insulated from society’s realities. This lack of perspective comes to light when professional athletes are asked to comment on issues outside of the field of play, and bungle their commentary in spectacular fashion.
Some of them have gone to the greatest institutions of higher education in the United States. So, it’s not as if they’re stupid. They just don’t have any perspective upon which to elaborate. This is a byproduct of the “team first” mantra that any adult who has ever participated in sports can attest to. In these instances, everything that isn’t directly related to winning games is considered “a distraction”.
We’ve witnessed this “distraction” storyline visited upon the protest action of Colin Kaepernick this offseason, as well as his current attempt at garnering a job in the NFL.
Perspective and insight could cause well-intended but, quite frankly, ignorant individual to mislabel or otherwise blaspheme efforts of education, reconciliation and change that NFL players such as Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Martellus Bennett are engaging in this season.
Everybody who doesn’t agree with protest isn’t a racist or a white supremacist. However, in light of the current national political atmosphere and less than a month since a virtual race riot occurred in Charlottesville, VA, one wonders what these well-meaning members of the mainstream, the ones that believe racism is a disease of the old and bitter who bristle in the face of change, would have to say about five of Smallwood’s fellow teammates adorning themselves in white hoods, burning a cross and waving the Confederate flag?
High School QB Kylan Smallwood was shocked the teens seen in the photo where some of the same teens he played with on the field.
What would talking heads from the major sports networks, the same ones that feel Kaepernick was wrong to bring politics into sports, have to say about these instances?
Of course they’ll say its heinous or doesn’t represent the core values of America. However, the mindset illustrated by these young men is the very same one that has permeated society since the inception of our country’s Constitution. It blatantly alludes to white men being the only true Americans, and the kin of Black men being three-fifths of a man.
Here we are centuries later, and this mindset flares up whenever there is societal tumult centered on change and reconciliation. Haters gonna hate, in earnest.
According to USA Today, these individuals weren’t obscure outcasts but individuals who the young signal caller believed were his friends. The five players have been suspended from the football team, but some residents feel they should be expelled from the school altogether.
However, parents of the affected students are filing legal action to have them reinstated. America is overly litigious seemingly by design.
But the fact that the parents of these would-be white supremacist neophytes are actually trying to get them back on the team, an opportunity and not a right, shows that they don’t believe their kids did anything wrong.
In a society that continually downplays the shooting of black people by police, that wages endless wars in foreign countries under the false veil of freedom and elected a poorly disguised white nationalist to the White House, I see the five young men as simply having internalized what they’re being taught by current events and likely within their respective family dynamics as well.
That message is that white males are better than everyone else. The quarterback position is one of the most widely recognized leadership positions in American team sports, as well as its most glamorous.
Indeed, simple teen jealousy can turn into something else entirely when race is injected. What happened at Creston/Orient-Macksburg to Smallwood is an eye-opener to him and the small town he calls home.
But it’s far less of an anomaly than people would like to pretend. Like the sad, sordid sexual assault that was visited upon a mentally-disabled, black football player at Dietrich High School in Idaho, this incident will likely fade into the ether in a matter of weeks.
But the hate, disdain and apathy that spawned it will remain only to manifest anew at a later date.