One does not have to enter into an in-depth analysis to realize that the average white sports fan can simultaneously cheer for and celebrate black male athletes while remaining indifferent to their well-known struggles in American society. If we learn nothing else from the Colin Kaepernick fiasco, it is that your average white sports fan wants their sports entertainment devoid of political commentary involving racial matters. I am confident that the refrain, “Just play the game, Goddamn it!!!!!!” has dropped off the lips of more than a few sports fanatics.
As a proud alumnus of THE Ohio State University, I am not surprised that the above sentiments represent the viewpoints of a vocal section of BUCKEYE NATION. Verification of this point is offered by my fellow members of BUCKEYE NATION reacting so tersely to a little T-shirt worn by football recruit Tyreke Smith. Mr. Smith, a 6’4” 255 lbs. “can’t miss defensive end prospect” from Cleveland Heights High School arrived at Ohio State’s most recent football camp wearing a T-shirt adorned with a poignant message regarding an omnipresent fear harbored by so many young African-Americans. The alluded to message is a succinct representation of young African-Americans perception of how outsiders, many of them black, consider their presence and worth. The message that has angered significant parts of Buckeye Nation to demand that Head Coach Urban Meyer rescind a scholarship offer to Tyreke Smith reads as follows: “I hope that I don’t get killed for being black today.”
The response to Mr. Smith by a very vocal segment of Buckeye Nation on Ohio State football message boards has been filled with unconscionable condemnation that relates the posters belief that this young man is unworthy of representing THE Ohio State University in any form. When viewed from an emotional position, it is evident that the alluded to fans are offering Smith a quid pro quo arrangement, meaning that if he ceases his attempts to provide commentary on America’s obvious racial problems, they will welcome him into Buckeye Nation with open arms.
To the chagrin of this segment of Buckeye Nation, it appears that Smith has no interest in such a Faustian Deal. According to the Buckeye recruit, “I felt I should wear it because I’m big on the African American culture and know the struggles that our race goes through…Being the individual I am and the spotlight I have, I felt that people would get the message if I wore the shirt.”
White sports fans have historically failed to realize that the athletic feats black male athletes perform in sold-out arenas and stadiums are only a minuscule part of their daily existence. In all honesty, playing the game is the easiest part of their day as the sports arena is one of the most race-neutral places in American society; that is if they can be so focused on the game that they do not hear the racial barbs being hurled at them by white fans. The problems begin once they take off their uniform and have to emerge from packed arenas as relatively unknown black males. Even racial apologists such as Charles Barkley and clueless sportswriters such as Jason Whitlock realize that they are only a moment away from a racial incident with either a law enforcement officer, an average white citizen, or a hate-filled fellow black man that could end in lethal violence for reasons that have little to do with them.
When you think about it, the constant trials-and-tribulations of black people in America is a subject that whites of various political leanings and socioeconomic status have little understanding or consideration. It is safe to say that the average white citizen equates the raising of racial bias issues with a routine attempt by blacks to escape personal responsibility for their station in life. And why should whites feel otherwise? Anyone with even a superficial understanding of racial prejudice and institutional racism will tell you that even the most non-racist white person invariably benefits from racism during their daily existence.
So I am neither surprised nor amused by rabid white sports fans ability to check sports websites for information regarding the health status and availability of their favorite black athletes while never relinquishing blasé feelings relating to the fragility of black male lives. The above contradictions are nothing new and will most certainly never disappear in a nation whose midwife was the labor of stolen Africans, and economic might bolstered by King Cotton. Despite our collective hesitation to admit it, that is who we are as a nation.
Unfortunately, I think that young Tyreke Smith is going to learn that in America, Race is a subject “where fools rush in, and Angels fear to tread.” These lessons will be learned regardless of the institution that he chooses to attend because when it comes to racial matters, Martha and the Vandellas said it best, you have “Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.”
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017