Race and sports are often intertwined especially in sports like football and basketball where a large portion of the “talent” looks quite different from the “fans.” And this often manifests itself in very interesting ways. Everything from players walking off the pitch in soccer when racial slurs are thrown at them, to athletes having to defend themselves against analysts who expect something more of them because of their race. The latter was the case in the story of ESPN’s Rob Parker and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
A while back, Parker, while appearing on ESPN’s First Take, decided to discuss what he claimed to be a pressing issue in the black community: RGIII’s standing in Black America. He basically stated that due to his having a white fiance and allegedly voting Republican that he wasn’t down for the cause. He claimed he’s “only kind of black” and “not one of us.” Not sure who that “us” is but if Rob is a part of it, I’m not!! After this quickly became an issue, ESPN then decided to put Parker on suspension. Sadly that wasn’t enough for Mr. Parker. Though he apologized after being sat down, he recently tried to explain himself and only made the problem worse by comparing RGIII to OJ Simpson, another “brother” he felt didn’t claim his blackness.
Don’t get me wrong, as a woman who received a degree in African-American Studies in college, and more specifically the effects of race in sports, I understand that many black athletes are expected to walk this very fine line of appreciating their position and reaching back to help others like themselves. The problem is as human beings they are also people who simply want to be looked at for being themselves, and not constantly expected to just be black. We expect athletes who may not have had the same experience of others to think and act like them. I admire RGIII for continuing to be himself in the face of people who would constantly expect him to be someone he is not.
One day, people like Rob Parker need to realize that they have no right to expect anyone to be anything other than themselves. And if that’s marrying whomever you love regardless of race, and wanting to vote how you feel because of your views on politics, then so be it. I would believe that is what M.L.K. Jr meant when he said not judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.