Skip Bayless, the ESPN pundit, gets paid to say outrageous things, but his flip comment about Robert Griffin III Monday crossed the line. The polarizing sports writer fully completed his transformation to carnival barker when discussing the Redskins and their new quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
On ESPN’s “First Take” program Monday, Bayless and his foil Stephen A. Smith, another infamously outspoken columnist, had a discussion about the burgundy and gold’s quarterback situation.
RGIII, who’s been named the starter, did not do particularly well in the team’s last preseason game against the Bears. Kirk Cousins, his backup, who is white, played a pretty good game.
Bayless said, in an apparent attempt to gin up a quarterback controversy in the District based on race, said: “You also have the black/white dynamic, and the majority of Redskins fans are white, and it’s just human nature if you’re white to root for the white guy. It just happens in sports. Just like the black community will root for the black quarterback.”
To be fair, I don’t entirely disagree with him on the notion that people of one color are inclined to root for players who look like them. But what he said next was absolutely outrageous.
“I’m for the black guy,” Bayless added. The. Black. Guy.
In 2012, on a nationally televised morning television program, Bayless coolly degraded Robert Griffin III’s entire existence as something only to be described by the color of his skin. Skip, that’s totally unacceptable.
Why? Because the black guy has a name. Robert Griffin III was the Heisman trophy winner at Baylor University last season. He was also a track athlete who reached the Olympic trials in 2008. He’s an accomplished athlete, the son of a military family and a political science major who finished his course work with a 3.67 GPA, to say the least.
While race in sports are obviously an issue we’ll deal with our entire lives, in the NFL, it’s particularly evident. To this day, black players, specifically ones playing quarterback, are scrutinized at a level unlike their white counterparts. The archetypal “black quarterback” is one with speed, a strong arm and what many patronizing sportswriters may call questionable decision-making abilities.
Fighting to make one’s way out of that characterization alone is one many quarterbacks spend their entire careers trying to do, nevermind being respectfully recognized as actual human beings with unique qualities from the outset.
Smith went on to say that if RGIII doesn’t succeed in Washington, then, because of the pattern of Jason Campbell and then Donovan McNabb not working out, we can reasonably infer that head coach Mike Shanahan has an issue with black quarterbacks.
“If it doesn’t work out with RGIII either, Mike Shanahan, I guess all that I would try to say to you, as a brother, what’s up? I would have a problem. Because I’m like, ‘Wait a minute here!’ There’s just a little pattern going on here that I wouldn’t like,” Smith said.
Maybe Smith is forgetting the days when the Redskins refused to field black players at all. Or maybe he got dragged into an unnecessary race-baiting discussion by a guy who seems to think that categorizing people and players solely on race is a smart thing to do. After all, Rex Grossman and John Beck haven’t exactly worked out either.
Either way, there is no race-based quarterback competition happening in Ashburn. The history of race and the Redskins, including the name of the team, obviously, is a complicated one. Bayless and Smith’s irresponsible comments are an example of how off-base many still are when it comes to the intersection of race and sports.
Indeed, what Bayless doesn’t seem to understand is that, in a world that is controlled for the most part by white men from ownership to coaching, his attempt to apparently keep it real is nothing but a reinforcement of the debasing insults that black players have dealt with for eons.
I can’t imagine that Bayless would ever refer to Tim Tebow, the popular New York Jets quarterback as just “the white guy” if comparing him to teammate Mark Sanchez, an American of Mexican descent. Being “for the black guy,” doesn’t preclude that comment from being bigoted in nature.
The problem with insipid and institutionalized racism is that nobody seems to want to understand that many racist acts don’t have to come from people who are so-called full-blown racists. And the level of condescension displayed by Bayless with that comment was stunning.
The perverse notion that, somehow, Skip Bayless thinks he’s nobly crossing some racial barrier of human nature by rooting for a black player disgusts me. Rooting for a player with a skin tone similar to one’s own is an entirely different matter than applauding yourself for rooting for a player who doesn’t look like you. The latter is an insult.
Yates is a regular contributor to TheRootDC.
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