Let's not feed only off controversy

Published in the Asbury Park Press 10/29/00

Long live sports -- the reality check for modern-day American history as we've come to know it -- in black and white.

In 1947 Jackie Robinson breaks through the color line of Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers and revolutionizes sports for the black athlete in America.

In 1997 Mike Tyson stoops to claim the bad boy title of boxing instead of the heavyweight title when he takes a bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear during a match.

And recently, at the 2000 Olympic Games, the USA produces a gold-medal winning men's 4 x 100 relay team consisting of Maurice Green, Brian Lewis, Bernard Williams III and Jonathan Drummond, whose celebratory antics in the words of film director Spike Lee played out like a "21st century minstrel show."

Lee initially made this statement on WTXF-TV about "The Answer" in Philadelphia -- 76ers basketball phenom Allen Iverson, whose recent faux pas mired with controversy has helped to perpetuate his raw, thug-like demeanor in the media.

Although he admitted to loving Iverson's game, Lee commented that when it comes to mastering lyrical content as a rookie rap artist, Iverson "messed up on this one," with the release of his CD due to drop in February.

In Iverson's defense, he has said he was merely artistically expressing the realities of his life experience -- promoting violence and debasing women, black people and gays on a track entitled "40 Bars."

Yes, long live sports to help us purge and define what's good and bad in society -- a theater of drama, comedy and tragedy.

Jon Entine, author of "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sport and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It," points to the comedy of stereotype.

"Today, despite decades of progress and the remarkable accomplishments of black athletes, sports remains a haven for some of our most virulent stereotypes."

During the 1999-2000 NBA season, a white sports announcer paying Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett a back-handed compliment, described him as being "articulate." This, of course, raises the question: When was the last time you heard a white athlete described as being articulate?

You're still probably out on that one, because white athletes (a microcosm of white society) are expected to be articulate while blacks are not.

As the country basks in ethereal economic bliss, there are hordes of underprivileged children hoopin' it up who relate to Iverson's lyrics because they live them daily. And this juxtaposition is tragic at best.

But University of California at Berkeley sociologist, Harry Edwards, who has been at the forefront of black and white sports dramatization as it relates to society, clearly states an answer to the ensuing drama in his autobiography, "The Struggle That Must Be."

It would appear then, that not only the history and contemporary circumstances, but the future prospects of the black athlete and black masses, are inextricably intertwined and interdependent . . . for as in the past, some of the most critical battles facing black people in the future will be won or lost in the home. We do call America "the home of the brave."

Then maybe we ought to be brave enough, black and white alike, to really look at what causes an athlete such as Iverson to resort to what appears to be the ugly truth slapped in our face.

It's time to recognize the root of the problem and arrive at some solutions in fixing the nation in which we live, instead of relying on meaningless controversy as the sport in life.

Then there's the individual home where the fundamental lessons in character ought to be taught. But when you view world-class athletes acting out in aplomb buffoonery, one is left to wonder about the brave, black, oppressed athletes of yesterday, who were not afraid to take a stand for the betterment of mankind.

And today those values that compelled Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Arthur Ashe to usher in the freedom that black athletes marvel in now, have been replaced by fortune and fame.

Long live sports.

Gilda Rogers is a freelance writer.

Published on October 29, 2000

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