Forget who’s “black enough,” it’s time to address the big black elephant in the room — and acknowledge what we really mean when we talk about the NFL, violence and race.
by Carl Banks
On Wednesday, a report surfaced that a rift has developed inside the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks’ locker room — purportedly due to a certain segment of the team’s players being of the belief that quarterback Russell Wilson is not “black enough” for their liking.
In a society as race-crazy as ours, this sort of news is equal parts shocking and unsurprising. And — rumor or genuine story — it’s not worth anyone’s time or consideration.
In my 12 seasons as an NFL player, no one ever accused me of not being black enough. No one ever questioned my blackness because I had attained my undergraduate degree in communications from Michigan State University. No one accused me of being a sellout when I chose to invest my intellectual capital wisely, laying the business groundwork for my successful transition to life after football. And though there were undoubtedly those in my locker rooms who felt that way about me — players who occupied the same real estate as Percy Harvin and Marshawn Lynch, if they, in fact, do question Wilson’s blackness — no one dared say it to my face, or leak it to the media.
There is no litmus test for racial “legitimacy.” The only thing these “tests” reveal is a window into the foolish psyche of whomever applies them.
Unfortunately, discussions about race and the NFL are rarely nuanced and are usually counterproductive. Fans, pundits, and even players themselves regularly squander the chance to discuss race in meaningful ways. We are trained to talk around race, rather than about it, so we end up talking about “racial legitimacy” instead of deeper, real issues — like why the league’s perceived crime issues are viewed heavily through the lens of race.
Think about some of the NFL’s recent race “discussions.” Is RG3 a brother or a cornball brother? Is Michael Vick inhumane to animals, or is he just doing what black people do? And now, is Russell Wilson black enough to command the respect of his teammates?
Yes. Russell Wilson is black, black enough, and legitimately black.Society long ago placed that marker on him, regardless of the apparently flimsy logic of some of Wilson’s teammates. Black authenticity is a tired, outdated, and destructive idea. It is undeserving of serious analysis.
As far as authentic, legitimate and worthwhile discourse on race and football goes, there’s this: roughly 66 percent of today’s NFL players are African-American, and a good number of them have stories about the incarcerations, physical abuse, drug abuse and other dysfunction that compromised their family structure growing up. Even now, sports remains the great escape — in many cases, the only escape — from our poorest cities and neighborhoods. Through athletics, those who excel are afforded an opportunity to mend broken families, and re-chart lives that would otherwise be destined for society’s scrapheap.