Many people sweep racism in sports under the rug. Controversy surrounding Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli is making that harder to do in the European world. Balotelli has been the subject of countless taunts from his own team’s fans in regard to his race. He was the first black man to ever wear the Italian soccer jersey and, judging by the way he has been treated, fans want him to be the last. In America, the racist undertones of European football are lost. Now, a relatively new form of racism has developed in American football. According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, it could be believed in the Seattle Seahawks locker room that quarterback Russell Wilson “isn’t black enough,” causing animosity between players.
These accusations led former National Basketball Association All-Star and current TNT basketball commentator Charles Barkley to give a very candid monologue about this state of mind in the African-American community.
“We as black people … we’re never going to be successful as a whole … when you’re black, you have to deal with so much crap in your life from other black people,” Barkley said.
The “crap” that Barkley is referring to is the anti-Uncle Tom mentality in the black community. An Uncle Tom—an insult coming from Harriet Beacher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin—can be defined as a black person being overly eager to please white people.
“For some reason we are brainwashed to think, if you’re not a thug or an idiot, you’re not black enough,” Barkley said. “If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent and don’t break the law, you’re not a good black person … it’s a dirty, dark secret.”
Historically, professional quarterbacks are more frequently white. Wilson was just the second black quarterback to win the Super Bowl when the Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos last February. Wilson is a clean-cut guy. He does national television ads with kids and, other than being a self-proclaimed bully as a child, has never gotten in trouble on or off the field.
Most black quarterbacks are at some point labeled “thugs.” Players like New York Jets quarterback Mike Vick and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton have both found themselves embroiled in controversy, living up to prejudicial expectations certain people have of black athletes.
The stereotype of the “black athlete” is exemplified in a Kanye West lyric: “You know white people get money, don’t spend it/… I'd rather buy 80 gold chains and go ig’nant.” People expect rich black people, especially athletes, to blow their money on material things, while their white counterparts are believed to save their money and stay out of debt despite retiring at age 40.
It is hard to say how anyone could go about a paradigm shift in the black community, but the problem might be solved by fair portrayals of athletes in the media.
When the domestic violence saga surrounding former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice unfolded, people around the nation were rightfully outraged about how he could go nearly unpunished for such a horrific crime. In the summer of 2001, then Phoenix Suns point guard Jason Kidd—a white athlete—pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault of his then-wife, Joumana. He continued to play professional basketball until 2013.
Although the situations are 13 years apart, the differential treatment of athletes based on their race is disturbing. If sports media giants like ESPN want to truly make a difference, they can start by treating everyone the same, regardless of race.