some of the sharpest minds in the Sportsworld converged at historic
Morehouse College in Atlanta for a forum on the State of the Black
Athlete. There was Spike Lee, Rutgers basketball coach Vivian
Stringer, New York Times scribe William Rhoden, NBA stars Etan
Thomas and Alonzo Mourning, and the great Jim Brown.
greats, in the shadow of the campus Dr. King once called home,
was "Big Sexy" himself, Jason Whitlock.
We have now
officially entered Bizarro World: that upside-down Universe from
Superman comics where up was down, right was left, and white magically
months, Whitlock has gone from solid sports columnist to unhinged
culture warrior calling for a "new civil rights movement" directed
at "black idiots" and comparing himself to Rosa Parks. He
slammed Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as "domestic terrorists."
(That would be the 21st century version of "dirty commies" or
at those calling for Don Imus's job, writing, "Imus isn't the
real bad guy." The real bad guys in Whitlock's world are, of course,
Jackson, Sharpton, and the other "black idiots."
have been farcical and frightening: our own Joe McCarthy of the
sports page. And like McCarthy, another gassy, Midwestern bully,
Whitlock hardly lives the kind of monastic life to justify this
level of sanctimony.
to be a crusader against sexism in "hip hop/prison culture", but
revels in tales of strip clubs and lap dances.
for black women to speak up and be heard, but slammed Rutgers
coach Vivian Stringer's stand against bigotry as a "shameless"
grab for headlines. He described her press conference, where she
called on people to "take their country back" as a "pity party/recruiting
rally" where Stringer "rambled on for 30 minutes" to "tell her
sob story." (Whitlock seems to have equal contempt for both sexism
in hip-hop and women who use their voices to say things other
than "That's $1,000 for the Champagne Room.")
And, in the
classic Whitlock/Bizarro World moment, the great dragon slayer
of "hip hop/prison culture," recently produced a rap single for
the Kansas City Chiefs that included artists like Rich the Factor
and Tech N9ne, two men who have written anthems of uplift such
as "Bitch," "Drug Team," and "My Wife, My Bitch, My Girl." (We
need to call his "hiphoprisy.")
has no regrets about calling those in thrall to hip-hop culture
"the black KKK," describing his catchphrase as "genius" because
"it started a discussion." Well, my two-year-old daughter also
"started a discussion" last week by taking off her used diaper
and putting it on the kitchen table. That doesn't mean she should
be invited to Morehouse.
words, this is not a serious person worthy of being taken seriously.
And yet he's now on Oprah's speed dial, and working the college
general manager Keith T. Clinkscales had his own explanation for
the rise of Whitlock, writing in an open letter, "The mainstream
media thanks you, Jason because by attacking Sharpton and Jackson
you are doing the dirty work that no white person can credibly
do. It is such an annoying chore to find enough black journalists
around to credibly disseminate the type of disinformation that
helps people look away from the real problems and focus on the
irrelevant... You are not agitation. You are flowing with the
currents... You are breaking no new journalistic ground by speaking
your version of truth about black men. Your apocalyptic notion
of young black men as the 'new KKK' again fuels fear, confusion
couldn't be more correct. These are dire times in the "other America."
The past few years have seen a serious spike in the African American
infant mortality rate. More Black men are in jail than college.
The unemployment rate for Black men from 16-20 tops out at more
than 30 per cent. Yet if we all agree there is a sickness in our
cities, debate rages over the cure. On one side are people who
see it as an issue of structural racism: broken schools, slashed
health care, McJobs, and swelling prisons. Fix those, and you
go a long way toward fixing the problem.
Magazine general manager
Keith T. Clinkscales had his own
explanation for the rise of Whitlock,
writing in an open letter,
"The mainstream media thanks you,
Jason because by attacking
Sharpton and Jackson you are
doing the dirty work that no
white person can credibly do.
It is such an annoying chore to find
enough black journalists around
to credibly disseminate the type of
disinformation that helps
people look away from the
real problems and focus on the irrelevant... You are not agitation.
You are flowing with the currents...
You are breaking no new
journalistic ground by speaking
your version of truth about
black men. Your apocalyptic notion
of young black men as the
'new KKK' again fuels fear,
confusion and hatred."
side sees it as an issue of personal pathology. It's the "urban
culture of failure" that's at fault, the "new KKK." On this side,
we see the usual suspects like Newt Gingrich who in April called
Spanish "the language of the ghetto."
But in recent
years, a new cadre of wealthy blacks from Bill Cosby to Juan Williams
to Whitlock have embraced this argument. Others from Oprah to
Obama accept a version of this. They represent a generation of
African Americans who - as a direct result of the civil rights
movement - have achieved a level of economic mobility unknown
to their parent's generation. But with mobility comes a change
in perspectives. The hood looks far different depending on whether
you live and work there or just drive through on the way to the
sell the idea that Snoop Dogg is the root of all evil, the U.S.
prison population stands at 2.2 million, 25 per cent of all those
jailed in the world. It's not hip-hop that's doing that. It wasn't
Lil Jon building the fancy new Supermax prison in the middle of
Baltimore City. Music and culture are reflections - sometimes
very ugly reflections - of these harsh realities. But at the risk
of shocking Jason Whitlock, violence and "moral decay" actually
predate hip-hop. Blaming hip-hop for our current state is like
blaming the pan-flute and zither for the crusades.
is not a serious person. But it is a tragic statement on our times
that his ideas must be taken seriously.
wanting to challenge racism, Coach Stringer and the Rutgers women,
as well as the tens of thousands who took to the streets when
Sean Bell was executed by the NYPD, are forging the way forward.
The Whitlock way - blame the poor for poverty, blame the incarcerated
for "prison culture" - will work only in Bizarro World. One thing's
for sure: ain't nobody organizing "a new civil rights movement"
from the Champagne Room.
Dave Zirin is the author of "The Muhammad Ali Handbook" (MQ Publications)
and "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise
of Sports", forthcoming from Haymarket. Dave has also gotten himself
a new blog site, www.myspace.com/edgeofsports,
which he invites you to visit. His book, "What's My Name Fool?
Sports and Resistance in the United States," is now in stores.
You can receive his column, Edge of Sports, every week by emailing
firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com
Other articles by Dave Zirin:
No Scapegoats: The Other Side Of Hip-Hop
(co-written with Jeff Chang)
The Greatest Anti-War Protestor
Pimping Mike Tyson
Pat Tillman's Brother Breaks His Silence
The Passing Of Peter Norman
When Fists Are Frozen
Why Today I Wear My Zidane Jersey
Hey Guys, It's Not A War
Using Soccer To Kick Iran
Why Did Pat Tillman Die?
Why Pat Tillman's Parents Are No Longer Silent