It was a truly peculiar moment that remained in my mind for many reasons. The image was no more shocking and stupefying than the message board responses that followed it; the alluded to responses hinted at my being one of the few, if not the only, viewer who deciphered the contemptuous message that not only left me in a state of disbelief, but also caused me to search for ways to either discount or dispute my interpretation of the image; however, doing so called for me to lie to myself. I knew the message the image conveyed, even if no one else noticed. That message was that America’s gang culture had arrived, brashly and with no apologies I might add, onto center stage of this nation’s collegiate sports scene and there was not a damn thing we could do about it.
As a proud alumnus of THE Ohio State University, I make it my business to stay abreast of developments concerning the recruitment of the next generation of gridiron warriors who will don Scarlet and Grey jerseys. I am not alone in this obsession, the ‘Buckeye Nation’ includes millions of fanatics that cheer the Buckeyes onto victory every Saturday; an obsession that appears cultish to outsiders in late November when THE Ohio State University delivers an annual drubbing to the hated Wolverines from that School Up North; in honor of the beloved Woody Hayes, I refuse to even speak that state’s forbidden name.
So, it was not unusual for me to visit my favorite recruiting site in search of information regarding my alma mater’s football program. It was during one of my daily check-ins that I witnessed a photo of Demetrius Knox, a highly sought after Offensive Lineman who carried the moniker of ‘Big Meech’; a title that may very well have been a play upon this young man’s stature and name or quite possibly a means of paying homage to ‘Big Meech’ a leader of the Detroit based Black Mafia Family. A who’s who of college football programs, desperately pursued ‘Big Meech’s’ signature on a National Letter of Intent for his athletic prowess; most project that this young man would at worst be a significant contributor the moment he arrived on some major college campus in the Fall. ‘Big Meech’ is apparently any college football coaches dream; at least in regards to his athletic ability.
My heart tried to deny that the photo taken of ‘Big Meech’, and another recruit, dressed in Ohio State’s signature Scarlet and Grey uniform at the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility during a recruiting trip captured the young man brazenly displaying a gang sign denoting his affiliation/association with the violent street gang the Bloods. The average fan’s ignorance of gang culture, a subculture that many of today’s athletes were exposed to on a daily basis during their upbringing, is the primary reason that ‘Big Meech’s’ photo went unnoticed. I laughed aloud at one OSU football fans response to the photo, he responded with ‘Peek-a-boo, I see you’; as if ‘Big Meech’ were playing a childhood game of ‘Peek-a-boo’ when he transformed his hand into a “b” and placed it over his eye.
********* It is solely out of a desire to prove my point regarding this matter that I include photos of several individuals, some of them that you may know, throwing up the same sign as ‘Big Meech’; hopefully, this drives home the point that the Black community is in crisis. **********
My mind searched for an answer to the piercing question of what does ‘Big Meech’ displaying a gang sign while being shown the bountiful cache of opportunities a major institution like THE Ohio State University has to offer, say about the values that many African-American youth harbor today. In the midst of finally “making it”, this young man took it upon himself to communicate with what should be termed the dregs of the African-American community; however, within “the hood”, such individuals are lauded for their immorality, criminality, and nihilism. Apparently in ‘Big Meech’s’ mind, not even the unprecedented opportunities that flowed from his prodigious athletic abilities would facilitate his disassociation from ‘the hood’ or its inhabitants. ‘Big Meech’ is not alone in his inability to not be governed by a flawed value system that calls for loyalty under all circumstances, ‘the hood’ is never to betrayed, regardless of individual opportunity. Inexplicably, for many contemporary African-American athletes, their million dollar contracts are merely a tool to access ‘street credibility’. For many it appears that concerns regarding “street credibility” heavily outweighs all other concerns, including remaining in good standing with the NCAA, NFL, or NBA.
Social media provides unprecedented access to the lives of today’s athletes, leading many fans to erroneously believe that they intimately know these individuals. The alluded to fan base would be shocked to learn that gang culture has always existed on the periphery of collegiate and professional athletics. This glaring blind spot in the vision of most sports fans is attributable to the fact that those who can most afford to attend games are completely unaware, except for anecdotal evidence, of the socialization and values that motivate many of today’s athletes.
The dilemma posed by Demetrius Knox, and by extension many of today’s athletes is peculiar. Despite African-Americans desperate desire to avoid the characterization of any segment of their population as thuggish, meaning immoral, illogical, and criminal-minded, the truth is that there is a significant portion of our population that has adopted anti-social behavior and flawed priorities as a lifestyle. Most troubling of all is that the opportunities afforded individuals such as Demetrius Knox, and a host of contemporary athletes/entertainers, should be a way out from impoverished communities that have historically stifled the hopes and dreams of generations of African-Americans. Mr. Knox’s decision to flash gang signs while on the cusp of unprecedented opportunities is not only revealing in regards to skewed priorities among African-American youth, but also a clear sign that they have absolutely no comprehension of whom they are or from whence they came; realities that will continue to doom this population until they are corrected through relevant education, mentoring, and a cleansing of the soul.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III