Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to keep his rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, in Sunday’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks has resulted in the coach being labeled with several new and dubious titles. But none is more confounding than the one bestowed by radio talk-show host Tom Joyner on Monday. Apparently, according to Joyner, Shanahan is a slave master.
On his nationally syndicated program, Joyner likened the coach to the notorious, villainous slave trader Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the recently released blockbuster movie “Django Unchained.”
“I’m comparing Shanahan to the character played by DiCaprio in the movie,” Joyner said. “He is just as bad as that white slave master. He
put these young men out there and tells them to keep fighting, keep fighting without regard to their safety. The team doctor said he was not ready. but the coach threw him in anyway. just like when they put the mandingos against each other to fight to the death.
(As Washington Post sports columnist Dan Steinberg pointed out, Joyner slightly bungled the story. According to USA Today, doctor James Andrews had not examined Griffin before he reentered last month’s game against the Ravens. There have been no indications that doctors wanted Griffin out against the Seahawks.)
The movie, starring Jamie Foxx and set just prior to the Civil War, illustrates the heinous, traumatic, dehumanizing treatment endured by black people. Django was a former-slave-turned-bounty-hunter attempting to save his wife from the tyranny of Candie.
For the typically affable, gregarious Joyner, the attempt to draw parallels between football and slavery is disturbing and falls completely flat.
Championship athletes, particularly football players, understand the enormous personal risks every time they take the field. Fans expect a hard-hitting contest, as football is a full contact sport.
Injuries are part of the game. And although the prudence of Shanahan’s decision can be honestly debated, injecting the most inflammatory analogy into what are complicated decisions insults the intelligence of everyone involved.
Anyone who watches football knows that the sport is full of jarring hits. In fact, for many, the chance to see someone on the other team get his “bell rung” is one of the game’s major draws.
There are multiple players injured every weekend. For instance, leading into last week’s wild card matchups, 98 were listed as injured, including Griffin. Some played; others did not.
Griffin is a leader who refused to let his team down when it counted. That level of commitment and dedication should be admired. Conversely, had he chose not to play and the Redskins lost, inevitably folks like Joyner would have questioned his heart, called him soft.
Many black people consider Joyner to be a leader in our community. However, his inability to distinguish leadership from involuntary servitude should cause us to pause and reflect on whom we choose to listen to and why we listen to them.
Not only are Joyner’s suppositions confusing, they are hypocritical.
White quarterbacks, like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Rothlesberger and Cincinnati Bengals’ Carson Palmer, are among the many other players who often take to the field while hurt for their black coaches. Can we surmise that the black coach is a slave master as well?
I continue to be disappointed by what could be teachable moments for our students, many of whom do not have a relationship with the horrific sacrifices of our ancestry outside of the cursory, pathetic lesson plans glossed over in schools. Instead of advancing a constructive conversation about strength, commitment, resilience and hard work, Joyner appealed to our most base instincts.
If the game of football could realistically, in any way, be compared with the ravages of slavery, why would any black man watch it? Why would any black man participate?
Deep, rich, meaningful conversations with our children about who they are is sorely needed at this critical moment. The silly, unsubstantiated assertions of racism and bigotry have no place in that dialogue.
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.
More from The Root DC