Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is there a different standard of conduct for elite African American athletes and successful people of color in general?

No, this is not another Tiger Woods post. I’m too through with Tiger and his foolishness. However, this post does deal with elite African American athletes and their treatment in the media and by American culture in particular, and in the end, I extend the argument to include successful people of color.

This conversation grows out of one I began several days ago with Symphony of the blog Essential Presence about the Billy Corben directed documentary The U (a promotional clip is embedded above) which chronicles the rise and fall of the University of Miami football program during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

According to the documentary, prior to the 1980’s the University of Miami was a lily white campus in the sleepy, lily white Miami suburb of Coral Gables with a failing football program. However, this all changed with the acquisition of Coach Howard Schnellenberger who was given the charge of rebuilding the program.

Coach Schnellenberger had the genius idea of rebuilding the program by going into the inner-city and ethnic neighborhoods of Miami and stocking the Miami football program with the best players, the vast majority of whom were black, which resulted in the University of Miami football team absolutely dominating college football for more than a decade.

And this domination was thorough and complete. However, they became more notorious for their on-field antics and off-field exploits than their football prowess. On the field, they danced, they clowned, they acted a complete and utter fool even as they were completely obliterating opponents. For this the team was labeled pompously arrogant.

Off the field they conducted themselves in an even more egregious manner; over the years, several players were arrested on charges ranging for assault to dealing drugs. For this the team got the reputation of a roster of criminals funded by rapper Luke Campbell.

But for all their on- and off-field exploits, during this period, the football team not only made a ton of money for the university, but they brought the university unprecedented exposure and prestige. Every game was a sellout, not to mention the millions for bowl appearances, and because of the success of the football program, the student body population grew by leaps and bounds.

Perhaps it would not be an overstatement to say that the University of Miami is what it is today because of the success of its football program. However, the football team’s reputation as a gang of lawless, arrogant thugs prevails.

This is my question to you, and I really hate to deal in hypotheticals, but I can only wonder how America would have treated, would have labeled, the University of Miami football team if that dominant team had been anything other than a group of predominately inner-city black kids? Would the terms have been different for Notre Dame? This brings us to our favorite foil as of late, Tiger Woods.

Every since he turned pro, Tiger Woods has absolutely dominated the sport of golf. And not only has he dominated the game; he has transformed the game as no golfer has before him. But even as he cut a wide swath through his competition, he has always been seen and labeled as arrogant.

And with this latest faux pas, the media and the golf establishment appeared only too eager to pounce. The golf establishment even characterized his actions as somehow outside some unwritten moral code of the pro golfing community. But I’m willing to bet my dollar to your dime that if there was some golf groupie sex to be had, Tiger was not the only one having it.

The common dominator here is money; money has the capacity to buy access to people and pleasures not available to those without it. And I am sure that for those who have it, those people and pleasures are hard to say no to.

Furthermore, what about the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena? This is another example of athletes who have absolutely dominated their sport, yet in seemingly every move they make, in every utterance, they been defined as ungraciously arrogant.

But I have not noted any such arrogance. Instead, I see their on the court posture as extremely competitive, extremely passionate, perhaps to a fault, but not arrogant. Most competitors, most people who reach the very pinnacle of their field seem to display many of the same behaviors. So why must they downplay their ability and accomplishments for their conduct to be deemed acceptable by some undefined, ever-changing standard?

And we can extend this argument far beyond the milieu of sports. I may be wrong; sometimes I feel that perhaps I am wrong more than I am right. From the limited purview of my subject position, I may simply be inserting inequities and inconsistencies where none exist. But it seems to me that standards of conduct differ for successful people of color.

While others may be given the latitude to celebrate their victories, to indulge in the excess allowed by the access that money and power provide, people of color are required to be humble, almost obsequious, in their success perhaps so as to be as non-threatening as possible.

But again, perhaps I may be wrong. What do you think?


underOvr (aka The U) said...

Brother Max,

I do believe there is a different standard used; it is not something which can be conclusively proven because the standard is subjective.

Josh Hamilton wasted his athletic talent for years in lieu of drug addiction but his name is in the collective consciousness of many because he overcame his taste for drugs. If we were to just use the media portrayal of athletes and guns, you would believe that Black athletes are the problem and that no White athletes carry guns.

I watched the U.S Open finals this year and just listening to the media, one would have to think that Serena Williams physically assaulted the line judge who ruled a foot fault. Her anger was judged much harsher than tennis players who were found guilty of being involved in throwing matches as part of a gambling enterprise.

Having said all that, I think it's naive for any Black athlete to think that their performance trumps their color.

What golfer has done more harm to the sport and their personal life than John Daly? Yet John Daly rarely gets mentioned in the sports section while Tiger Woods continues to be front page fodder.


Max Reddick said...

It is good you bring up John Daly. Pictures have emerged in the media which show a drunken John Daly cavorting with naked hookers/strippers. But where is the outrage. And John Daly's behavior has been such for years.

Anonymous said...

There is a double standard - at both ends of the deal. Tiger Woods got higher praise than he'd yet earned when he was chosen as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year before he'd even turned professional. I.e. he was praised for potential, for hope, etc.

Just like Obama who, as a very inexperienced politician, got an easy ride before the elections, and a Nobel prize in the hope that he'll deserve it one day. This is a kind of affirmative action - giving the minority guy a special, easy path. I'm not saying this happens for all minority people, obviously - just those that folks choose to manifest all their hopes. It's experienced by all concerned as just and progressive.

But when they screw up they are heaped upon. It's as though the thinking goes, 'But we made special allowances for us and this is how you behave!?'

Prediction, Obama is not going to live up to expectations (who could?) and his reputation is going to end up being worse than Bush's. (The unspoken implication is going to be something about his being black.)

Moral: special treatment is not the answer - it leads to unjust treatment deeper disillusioned racism at the end of the day.

msladydeborah said...


I hope that you watched The U. It is a really good documentary film. I find that many of the players who were on the team during those years still feel that they were justified for their behavior. Many of these men were drafted into the NFL.

I am from Columbus-I can tell you that there is no way in the hell that any OSU players would get that nonsense off. There have been players who have had problems and the hammer of public opinion comes down so fast and so hard on them. I cannot imagine any of them pulling those type of antics and remaining on the team. The Big Ten tends to be a lot more conservative about how the game is played.

I do think that there is a prevailing attitude that many Black athletes have about what they can do. It always amazes me how many of them end up crashing out totally over poor choices.

12kyle said...

Great post, man!

I watched the documentary on The U and I found it very compelling. I'm not a fan of The U (Florida State, baby!) but I respect what they have done and what they are doing. The suggestion that they had thugs who got into trouble is nonsense. Did kids get in trouble? Yes! But you can't show me ONE program where kids don't get into trouble!

Remember, years ago when teams like Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Penn State were getting blown out by teams like Miami, Florida, and Florida State? They said that they had to "get fast...get better athletes." Then, you started seeing black kids from LA going to schools like Nebraska and Colorado. You started seeing black kids from the south going to Notre Dame. It's all about winning. You can't show me one school that REALLY cares about these kids. They want them to stay eligible. Graduation is secondary.

As for the notion about Tiger and the Williams Sisters being arrogant, I think that's par for the course. If you're competitive, you're gonna be extremely confident...borderline arrogant.

Max Reddick said...


I will give you the first point. However, I think that is part of parcel of prejudice. What was that phrase the president used during the campaign? The soft prejudice of low expectations. It is the notion but because the person is a minority, they are not able or up to the job, so they should be coddled. It is a two-edged sword.

And you are right in stating that too many have too much invested in Obama; the perception was he would fix all with the wave of his hand. But that is falling down. But he does have a chance to prove himself competent if he begins to get out front instead of trying to lead from the rear.


Let me remind you of an OSU player whose foolishness went unchecked before it became plain. Do you remember one Maurice Clarett? Seemingly the coaches knew of his misdeeds, but only moved to stop him when it became public knowledge. I bring that case up as an example of how the schools turn their head to bad behavior until they must address it. Then the onus falls not on those who allowed the behavior to continue but the young person who did only as young people do when given the keys to the kingdom in exchange for their talent.


Yeah, young people will be young people. They will push the envelop as far as you let them. And those athletes did open the doors for other inner city youths when other universities tried to emulate them.

And I remember a coach one time saying that all the good players are arrogant. They believe that their ability surpasses all others and when the game is one the line, they believe that only they can perform as is required.

uglyblackjohn said...

The onus of being first.

Think of everything Jackie Robinson had to deal with.
As time went by (and more Blacks came to play the game), Blacks could relax and be themselves.

Obama, Venus and Serena, Tiger, and anyone else who is breaking new social gound, must alway be better than the best of anyone else.

As more barriers are broken, the even flow of acculturation will take place (There will be a Black influence on "white" sports, jobs, environments.).
Think; Music.

These IS a different standard - but only for now.

Justice58 said...

Merry Christmas from!

Have a wonderful Christmas!


Reggie said...

You know, they're obviously a different stand for athletes. If I or you or anyone online did half of the stuff many of them end up doing we'd have been in jail and pretty damned quick. They're pampered at an early age, given a free pass in our schools; and unfortunately a free pass from our police and legal systems often enough too. Coach Schnellenberger seemed to be about championships, rather than mentorships. Discipline just didn't seem to be his thing. He seemed like he let the team do their thing off the field, just like they did their thing on the field.

The Tiger thing is tired. People are acting as if no man in the history of mankind had gone out and gotten some strange. This is nothing new, this type of thing has gone on for thousands of years. Love should have had him at home last night; but a blowjob had him out in the streets. She's supposed to be saving all of her sweet love for her husband; but while he's at work, she and the unemployed dude from across the street are doing it like two wild dogs. Athletes, actors, bakers, Indian chiefs, engineers, archaeologists, accountants, housewives, teachers, drafters, politicians, bankers, lawyers, cops, military men and women, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, Jews........and any type of holy man or woman that you could imagine.

All kinds of people are getting their freak on.

Citizen Ojo said...

I watched the Documentary and amazed at some of the things that I never knew that went on off the field. I expect an athlete to be arrogant. Particularly if they are the masters of their profession. You have all these people telling you how great you are. Sooner or later you will believe the Hype too. The boxer Jack Johnson was always made to look like a monster. They did that with Ali too. That's what they do. So the arrogance doesn't disturb me. But what was distrubing about the "U" was that everyone seemed to have an excuse for their bad behavior (i.e. off the field criminal behavior). You never heard any remorse. Sounds like todays black males to me. History repeating itself.

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