No matter how we try to downplay it, cover it up, smooth it over or seek to put it in the context of what hopefully will one day be ancient history, there is simply no denying a tragic fact.
We are a civilization that uses racial differences as a weapon.
American sport and our very history is riddled with examples, most of which have become the core of our sensitivity to race and the need to treat everyone equally.
Jackie Robinson endured torrents of verbal rage and emerged an early champion of civil rights. Jack Johnson refused to “know his place” as a black man and was later jailed for preferring white female partners. His pardon waited almost a century. Countless athletes from varied walks of racial life can still remember being treated to their own water fountain, dining counter or rest room.
We are certainly not alone in fighting these stigmas. Players of color are routinely mocked with monkey chants in European soccer. One star player made no attempt to hide his use of the Nazi salute to honor his despicable brethren in the stands. A former star rugby player and current broadcaster speaks to a team and allegedly calls an opposing player a “black c***”.
Despite all this, people of intelligence, honor, wisdom and patience soldier on to stem this fetid tide of racial bile. Secure in the knowledge these are the most useful weapons one can use in fighting what remains a raging battle not only on our fields of play, but certainly in our daily existence as well.
But then, just when you think a time has come for an athlete to be judged on the merits what was earned working in that uniform instead of the skin shade underneath it, comes the one person, the one comment, the one action, that restarts the pinwheel of hate, misunderstanding, and disgusting racial examples that we are better off diligently erasing from our memory.
Jesse Jackson has in one verbal swoop inundated the fires of racism with more than enough fuel to reignite the mud-dwelling mores of those who revel in continually joking and mocking the tragic and insulting slavery of African-Americans.
“His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality,” Jackson said in a statement released Sunday responding to the angry post-Lebron signing statements from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. “(He) sees LeBron as a runaway slave.”
No one will argue, at least successfully, that Gilbert didn’t shoot his mouth off and take a chunk of foot with the blast. Following James’ departure, Gilbert became the shining example of not merely being a boorish sports baron, but of mixing in a heavy dose of petulant adolescent child to create a sad and, at the same time, laughable mutation.
Gilbert roared that James was a coward for leaving Cleveland. He quit during a handful of Cavs playoff games. And compared the holding of James accountable for his actions to that of dealing with a spoiled child. And even while being fined $100,000 by the NBA for his words, he remains adamant there was no racial connection whatsoever.
Emotional? Certainly. Insulting? Not in the least when players such as James have dealt with much worse on a nightly basis during an 82 game season. Words that mask racism? Go ahead and read them for yourself. I’ll dare you to find something even remotely connected.
But racist? Taking race into consideration as a basis for dropping the hometown hammer on this once-favored son? Considering James little more than an indentured servant who should be using a scythe to clear fields when he’s not nailing double-doubles? And taking to task the very sports league that has become the model for race relations?
While I was taught at a very young age to never use this word in describing anyone, there is no better fit for anyone making this connection.
Stupid. Moronically stupid.
But let’s add a few more necessary syllables.
Insulting. Not just to Gilbert, but to LeBron James and every other athlete of color who slips on a jersey every game and has conquered the notion of being deemed first as a “great black athlete”. Instead, he is a once in a lifetime athletic magician you will be able to fondly reminisce about many years from now. Love him or hate him in light of recent events, James transcends color. To those with even a modicum of intelligence and lacking in racial disdain, which is where I am optimistic we are heading, they have never seen LBJ as a great black athlete. On the contrary, he is an exceptional and perhaps legendary talent. To suggest he would allow himself to be a “runaway slave” is a roundhouse to Lebron’s temple. And to that of every hard working person of color.
Hateful. Venom spewed at a man who, while foolish to a degree few others in his position would ever reach, has not once shown any history of racially motivated decisions. Cavs owner Gilbert put his mouth in motion before his brain was in gear. They were, as Jackson stated, “mean, arrogant and presumptuous”. But Jackson’s comment would indicate there is something racially sinister in Gilbert’s ranting. There is no evidence whatsoever. Jackson stirs hate where there is no proof. And he leaves behind the minor taste of suggesting fans of James and the franchise would give their tacit monetary approval to a form of slavery. Only a man filled with his own frightful brand of enmity would do something so despicable.
Demeaning. To every hard working African-American who has ever pulled themselves out of a tough situation and turned their lives around with the inherent talent they were awarded. Who has fought and railed against intemperate social mores to emerge victorious. Invoking a reminder of the most despicable time in their American history and intimating that even one of their most talented would allow himself to be treated as cattle sends a wretched signal that Jackson most certainly does not have their best interests at heart. He apparently still believes that African-Americans remain objects owned by rich white people. One can only hope there are much smarter people of every color who understand that even the mention of this era remains an open wound that time is still attempting to heal.
Race-baiting. Jackson finds himself at a time in his life where there are little more accolades and titles than that of a failed politician, and a former spokesman for his race who has become mostly impotent. And one who has taken an organization meant for the cultivation of peace and harmony between all races, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and perverted it for his personal desperation to remain relevant and square in the camera lens. Stated as part of the mission for the Coalition is to “promote peace and justice around the world”. In one purposeful stroke, Jackson has shown a marked disdain for both.
One would be laughingly naive to suggest we have solved the racial divide in this Nation. Or on this planet. There is a long and difficult road to get there, and it is a pilgrimage we all must undertake with serious intent.
But the worst thing one can do to keep us from getting there sooner is to pour old images of human bondage, torture and murder onto the scene and light a match that returns us to a state of nightmarish conflagration.
Jesse Jackson owes Dan Gilbert an apology. The same for LeBron James. The fans of Cleveland.
More so the African-American community and everyone struggling to put aside a dark past we work every day to insure never happens again.