Washington quarterback Robert Griffith III. Courtesy: The Grio/ESPN.
Racism Ain’t Natural
By Guest Contributors David J. Leonard and C. Richard King
The Washington R*dskins (given the history and meaning of this term, we have decided to disidentify with its accepted name) sparked a minor controversy with their selection of two quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft. The franchise had given multiple draft picks to move up in the first round to select Robert Griffin III and then surprised many fans and pundits by picking Kirk Cousins, suggesting the latter was a developmental project, who would be groomed with an eye toward a future trade.
For a team hurting at almost every position, this move struck many as imprudent at best. Simply, the R*dskins decided to draft Griffin, a.k.a, “RG3,” last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, for being the best college football player in America. Despite their weakness at virtually every position, the selection of Cousins, who was less vaunted and certainly less heralded at Michigan State, raised eyebrows because some saw him as someone with tremendous upside and potential to start one day. This decision undercut Griffin as leader, as franchise player, and as the future from day one.
Enter ESPN pundits Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, who have emerged as the sports version of the old CNN show Crossfire.Without a quarterback controversy to speak of, Bayless has created one. As our combustible elements, and avatars of the sports punditry industry, Bayless and Smith are often a bigger story than the athletes himself.
It is fair to say Smith is known for bringing a type of “blackness” to his commentary while Bayless paints himself as being “traditional” despite his unfair and unbalanced sports commentary. Bayless, long castigated for his unrelenting criticism of LeBron James and Terrell Owens as well as a fascination with media darling Tim Tebow, embodies the reactionary racial politics of today’s mainstream sports media.
Bayless, in signature over-the-top style, pushed the supposed controversy between the franchise quarterback and his probable back-up. Not content to limit his comments to talent, performance, or potential, Bayless reduced the debate to racial identification, transforming the quarterback controversy into a simplistic conversation about race:
Even though we’ve come a long long way, with black quarterbacks, and they have been consistently been taken high in the draft over the last 15 years, I’m not sure we’ve come all that far in protecting said black quarterback, publicly protecting. So now you’ve drafted another rookie who’s not a black quarterback, and it sets up wrong for RGIII on a racial component level. I’m sorry. It just does.
Smith responded by noting the racial demographics of Washington D.C. In his estimation, Griffin has little to worry about because he is playing in “Chocolate City.”