If Robert Griffin III is a “cornball”, then clearly cornball is compatible with aptitude, proficiency, talent and intelligence. Frankly, I’d like every young black man in America to be defined that way.
While the recent commentary by ESPN reporter, Rob Parker regarding the young Washington Redskins phenomenon may have caught others off guard--I could see it coming from ten miles away.
As an educator, I have had the privilege to work with African
American male students in a number of capacities: as a teacher, principal, counselor, coach, and mentor. The level of raw potential that I have witnessed has been nothing less than astonishing. And what hurts so bad is so much of it goes to waste because so many young black men are trying hard not be labeled “cornballs” and are living down to the stereotype of what black men are supposed to be.
I have worked with students with natural academic proclivities in virtually every academic content area. I’ve seen the brilliant, yet undeveloped scientist; the astute, but unfocused mathematician; the prolific yet nonetheless intemperate writer. They all seemed tortured and tried to hide their natural, intrinsic interests in lieu of dumbing down, in order to “keep it real”. After all, being intelligent, respectful, funny, smart and well-spoken is still not a “black thing”.
All these young, aforementioned potential, groundbreaking, trailblazers, who I’ve known and taught, are now dead; two were shot, one was stabbed — all caught in the vortex of pre-determined behaviors that allegedly communicate what authentic blackness is supposed to look like. In the end, so many of our kids are convinced that they need to display disrespectful, oppositional attitudes towards any form of adult authority.
This reverse stereotyping has led to a wholesale march of our black boys to the cemetery and prison — sacrificing the futures of far too many of our sons.
“He’s not one of us,” Parker exclaimed.
Time and again, when African Americans don’t follow the prescribed behaviors laid down by self-appointed gurus of all things black, we inevitably get this level of vitriolic hate, jealousy and animosity. The loud, unsolicited, unqualified rant by Parker, a veteran journalist, speaks volumes about the divisions that still exist within the black community.
So what is so allegedly “cornball” about RGIII? Is it the fact that he is well spoken? Is it that he is excellent in his job? Is that he supports his team and demonstrates considerable leadership ability? Is it that he is a highly likeable and engaging personality? That he’s engaged to a white woman?
Since being drafted out of Baylor University and winning the 2011 Heisman Trophy, Griffin has become the franchise player for the Washington Redskins. He exemplifies that which we ought to praise in our sons — an excellent work ethic, respect for self and others, intelligence, character and humility.
What are we to make of a young man who graduated from college early with honors and actually wears his pants around his waist?
To suggest that somehow this positive image is more detrimental than the self-imposed shackles of believing that you are thug, gangster, pimp, and hustler is an outrageous farce.
Parker’s extremely sour note only adds to the off-beat chorus of those who would further hold the hopes and aspirations of African American boys hostage to the low expectations that continue to permeate a sense of nihilism throughout our entire community.
But true to form and being the class act he is, Griffin remained above the fray.
In a tweet the superstar said, “I’m thankful for a lot of things in life and one of those things is your support,” Griffin III wrote to more than 575,000 followers. “Thank you.”
It is refreshing to see a young black man who is self-actualized and knows who he is, where he is going, and how to get there.
“For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin,” Griffin told reporters. “You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I’ve tried to go out and do. I am an African-American in America. That will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.”
If that’s cornball, I say bring ‘em on. Please, with all deliberate haste.
Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
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