Sunday, November 30, 2008

What's Wrong with the Black Athlete?

Plaxico Burress shoots himself in the leg.

Seriously. When will it end? Now, of course, it's only getting worse. He was in a New York nightclub when he did this, his gun apparently was not registered in New York and Mayor Bloomberg looks down on that kind of thing mightily. To the tune of a mandatory sentence of THREE AND A HALF YEARS. Are African-Americans about to lose another sports "role model" to idiocy? I mean, the law is stupid but it is in place. According to Michael Strahan the Giants players were aware of the law. Why would Burress put everything at risk so that he could carry an unregistered gun in New York? Another Black athlete gets in trouble with the law. At what point do we, as a community, start to demand a little more of the people who represent Black people? I am not at all concerned with anyone else. How 'other' people act is their problem. Maybe I should explain myself.

As a citizen of a nation I look at it like this: if a white guy commits a crime I'm just going to say he's a jerk, punish him according to the law. If an Asian guy commits a crime, same thing, Native American, whatever. If a Hispanic guy sports star commits a crime I'm going to have a problem with it because I'm half-Mexican. If a Black guy commits a crime I'm going to have a problem with it because I'm half-Black. It's about family. If dude down the street does something stupid you look and you "Oh, he was stupid." If your brother or your cousin does that you grab them and you shake them and you yell in their face "What are you doing? I know you know better! We were raised better than that! You're throwing your life away! Our kids are watching you! You're killing me!" Was it Chris Rock who said the first thing African-Americans thought when watching the news of a horrible crime on TV was "Please, don't let it be a Black guy!" I mean, seriously. It's easy for us --and habitual-- to get mad about the way we are portrayed in the white media. This is a valid concern. The flipside of course is that we have to be just as concerned about how we portray ourselves in the media, don't we?

Michael Vick, how could you be so goddamn stupid? Yes, I thought the outcry was immensely hypocritical and out of control. Yes, I thought your punishment was way above and beyond what it should have been. But what were you doing having dog fights??? You can make excuses for it but you cannot defend it on any grounds. I know people do it in the backwoods. I know people of every race and in every state have dog fights. But you knew it was wrong. That's why the house where you kept them had blacked out windows. That's why it was a secret until you got busted. You don't just need to start hanging around a better class of people Mike, you need to be a better person. If you never give them the opportunity the media never has a chance to do what they did to you. You were living the dream, Mike! You could have re-defined the quarterback position in a way no other athlete could have, you were a Black quarterback in Atlanta, you had defeated the hallowed Brett Favre on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in the playoffs, the world was yours. If you'd applied yourself with a little discipline, become good at the things you weren't good at before the way Jordan did, gotten more touch on your passes (you had the strongest arm in the NFL!), and more consistency to your game you could have been a god. If you'd applied more of your time to football as opposed to some savage stupidity like dog fighting, you'd be a great hero for African-Americans. Instead, you've become a cautionary tale. These years are going to cost you Mike. The specific kind of athlete you are doesn't necessarily get better with age and you will have lost three years of valuable experience by the time you come back. You betrayed Atlanta, the Black community and yourself for dog fighting of all things. Nice work.

Adam "Pacman" Jones, what the hell is wrong with you? When you got kicked out for a year and your mother was crying "It's so unfair" I felt like I had some inkling. Now the Cowboys have foolishly given you an opportunity and you have, even more foolishly, messed it up. Somehow, someway, Roger Goodell saw fit to let you back on the football field and Jerry Jones saw fit to let you back on his team. Apparently, you'll have to kill somebody. Honestly, in a lot of ways I feel like you're the worst of all the athletes who have gotten in trouble in the last few years. You've gotten more opportunities than anyone, and every chance you get you seem out to prove that you're a petty and mean-spirited little man at heart. You're a professional football player! Other people envy your life. I know you were way over-rated by Jerry Jones but he doesn't. Don't you feel any responsibility to us out here on the streets who want to see you succeed?

Ugh. Why bother going through them all? Tank Johnson. Mike Tyson. Ron Artest. J. R. Rider. Allen Iverson. Milton Bradley. The list goes on and on. I know, if you grow up a star athlete you never have a chance to grow up with any kind of maturity (though colleges are supposed to help with that!), I know if you come from an impoverished background the ability to handle the prosperity that comes your way is not what you learn on the streets. I know you're just an individual and can't shoulder the worries and concerns of an entire race of people. But you are not on your own. We do look up to you. We do worry about you. We do want you to succeed and achieve. We celebrate you to no end when you achieve greatness. Why must you destroy it? Never mind what other people think what do you think about yourself? Like it or not, whether its fair or not, your actions do affect the rest of us.

I've gotten in trouble before. The only people to whom I really felt beholden to were my parents and I was ashamed in front of them because I knew they had given me more, they had raised me to be more, because they saw so much potential in me. Are we in the wrong to expect just that much respect from our athletes of color? I felt the same way about Marion Barry back in '90. I don't care if white politicians get away with that crap. They shouldn't. We shouldn't use their bad behavior as an excuse to be guilty of our own. Unless of course, you feel that we actually all are on an equal plane.

I am not a fan of Burress. I don't like the Giants and I don't like the Steelers, Burress's former team. I appreciate his talent and ability from a distance. His prima donna attitude and childish antics seem to be par for the course for a star wide receiver nowadays. It's not about that. I'm also not someone who feels that athletes should be seen and not heard. I don't think every athlete has to be Barry Sanders or Jason Witten. I like when players are demonstrative or god forbid, funny. When Terrell Owens pulled out his sharpie it was funny (now, when he wrecked his teams at San Francisco and Philadelphia that was not). When Joe Horn pulled out the cell phone it was funny. When Chad Johnson did his riverdance in the endzone, it was funny. But when on or off the field a professional athlete gets involved in criminal acts it blows my mind. What more do you want?

If not for our sake than for your own, Plaxico, Pacman, Vick, ________________ (fill in name). We have a Black president now. We have made it clear that we are a force to be reckoned with and are as fully invested in this nation as anyone. Our burdens, our baggage are not the other guys' baggage. We just have to pull our own weight. So pull with us. Don't just get your money. It's hard to believe sometimes I know, especially when you're a young man but there's more to life than that. To be a professional athlete -- and a star -- you obviously have to be talented, driven, willing to work. Why betray all that and your role as -- like it or not -- a role model for something cheap, tawdry, criminal and pathetic? Does that make any sense to anyone?