Every professional gambler dreams of a chance to fix a professional football game, and this Sunday it finally happened. Jimmy the Greek put the fix in two weeks ago. And what we watched, all 105 million of us, was the Jimmy the Greek Memorial Superbowl. There was a lot that still needed to be put to rest.
It must be impossible for a white person, male or female, to know what it is like to grow up black in this society. White middle-class women have gotten a taste of discrimination, and the effect is devastating. Blacks get it from the day they are born. They live in a society where the norm, the standard of excellence, is white and everything else is different. And they know that no matter how well things might be going for them, somebody could jump up out of nowhere and call them boy.
Which is exactly what Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder did on Jan. 15, that fateful day at Duke Zeibert's, when, without benefit of formal education in these matters, he held forth on a mixture of American history and anthropology -- or was it biology? -- and started 1988 off with headline-making nouveau racism.
According to Snyder, blacks are superior athletes because they work harder than white athletes do. And: "The black is a better athlete to begin with, because he's been bred that way . . . . This all goes back to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that they would have a big black kid. That's where it all started."
And that's where it all ended for CBS' resident oddsmaker, but the damage had been done. In a single sickening mouthful, Snyder had once again asserted the white man's divine right to generalize and stereotype, to divide the races, to denigrate the black athlete and to stomp all over the most precious thing a person has: his dignity.
Blacks playing in the NFL know perfectly well why so few blacks have played quarterback in that league, and why no black quarterback had ever started on a Super Bowl team before Doug Williams started on Sunday. The prevailing wisdom in the league has always been that blacks aren't smart enough to play quarterback in the NFL. Simple as that.
Too, there have always been questions about blacks "quitting" when they are hurt. Also, there's the matter of leadership. Quarterbacks have to lead the team, you see. Can a black provide the kind of leadership an NFL team needs to get to the Super Bowl? Or, put in less spiritual terms, what NFL coach was willing to take the risk of handing over his owner's multimillion-dollar NFL franchise to a black quarterback?
Not very many. Williams didn't start a game for five years in the NFL -- the equivalent of a lot of players' entire careers -- before replacing the injured Jay Schroeder last September. By then Williams was 32 and hoping to be traded, looking for a final shot at starting for an NFL team.
In an interview with Washington Post staff writer Jane Leavey, Williams spoke bluntly about what it was like in the NFL. He described it as the "brawn over brain thing, it's why we don't have a black president and secretary of state and all that good stuff . . . . Not because we can't but because they don't think so." The knock on him -- that he threw too hard -- was a code for "we weren't smart enough. We didn't have touch."
"I am an invisible man," wrote Ralph Ellison. "No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me . . . .
"You wonder whether you aren't simply a phantom in other people's minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy. It's when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time."
During the third quarter of Sunday's game, the animated scoreboard in the stadium featured a film on the top quarterbacks of 1987. Williams, leading a team to a Super Bowl victory, didn't even get a call. After two years in the U.S. Football League, he had gotten only one call, and that was from the Redskins, the only team in the NFL that was interested in his services.
"The bottom line is opportunity," he told Leavey last September. "If you get the opportunity everything else will take care of itself no matter what it is."
Which is what happened in the Jimmy the Greek Memorial Super Bowl. Williams was a very visible man who had the opportunity to take care of a lot of stuff. And he did.