Let me go on the record: Adam “Pacman” Jones is a disgrace. Once again, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive back has been suspended because of his off-field conduct.
Once again, he dishonors the legacy of sports pioneers like Jim Brown and Ernie Davis, who had to endure a lot more challenges than Jones or other contemporary black athletes.
Jones, who began his stellar career with the Tennessee Titans, only lasted five games with the Dallas Cowboys before imploding. This time, he got into a scuffle in an upscale hotel in downtown Dallas-despite having four bodyguards the Cowboys hired as part of the security detail assigned to be with him at all times, due to his troublesome history!
After watching the film The Express, which details Davis’ story as the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner, just one example of the racial mountain many non-white athletes have been forced to climb, the mention of Jones, who has been arrested six times and involved in 13 incidents requiring police intervention, sickens me.
Jones’s actions are indicative of a generation of athletes who have forgotten-or have chosen to ignore-the legacy of pride and purpose demonstrated by the likes of Davis, Brown, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, and others. These people struggled with dignity on playing fields that were often tilted against them, which left scant room for ridiculous off-field antics like the kind that Jones has made a habit.
Those athletes did not only use sports as a means to advance their own career goals, but as a platform from which to force American society to acknowledge and alter racial bias.
Of course, the idea of America being a post-racial society certainly complicates the victories of the past and the continuing legacy of racism, especially alongside antics by athletes like Pacman.
In an interview in the New York Times Sports Magazine, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown remarks that the political apathy of many contemporary athletes exists because: “They don’t study and read.” And when asked about the prevalence of racism today, he explains that, “The one thing that hasn’t changed is the belief in the Caucasian world that there is a slight superiority because of the color of their skin.”
Brown is correct. Racism’s history and legacy cannot be ignored. However, Pacman’s poor judgment makes it difficult to argue, even if it’s true that there are times he is unfairly singled out.
By contrast race was indisputably front and center the incident in Houston a few weeks ago when D.C. United goalkeeper Louis Crayton, who is Liberian, was told by a fan after a game, “You’re a monkey, go back to the jungle.”
Crayton, who spent the majority of his career in Switzerland, where such incidents are not uncommon, reportedly leapt over a barrier to confront the man before security restrained him. Although Crayton was surprised to have heard such comments in the American Major League Soccer, the incident speaks to the ongoing racial tensions too many contemporary athletes ignore, or refuse to publicly address.
The truth is that, despite the growing number of mega-millionaire black superstars in the major sports, America is not as post-race as it would like to believe.
Earlier this year in MLS, a Columbus fan shouted a racial epithet at New England’s Kheli Dube from Zimbabwe who is black. Similar incidents have occurred at NFL games, in Major League Baseball, and even the NBA. (Shall I remind you of Ron Artest or Vernon Maxwell incidents involving racist hecklers in the stands?).
So what is to be done to clean the bad stain of racism that refuses to go away in a post-race era?
More contemporary athletes should follow the lead of European soccer star Thierry Henry. A few years ago, irked by Spain coach Luis Aragones’ racist slur, Henry enlisted Nike and leading players around Europe (black and white) to help him launch the Europe-wide anti-racism campaign, ‘Stand Up Speak Up,’ which resulted in the sales of thousands of black and white interlocked wristbands for charity.
Henry says that while his campaign is not the answer, “doing nothing will certainly not change anything.” I agree. His campaign is a much-needed reminder that the fight against racism can only be won with action from everyone, superstar NFL cornerbacks included.
Unfortunately, the actions of society-changing role models-from pioneers like Jim Brown and Ernie Davis to their contemporary counterparts like Thierry Henry-get less media attention than those of fools like Pacman Jones.
The former use their fame on the field to draw attention to real issues. The latter’s antics off the field have drawn a swarm of police cruisers and will probably cost him the entire game.
Watch a video of Stand Up, Speak Up here:
Thabiti Lewis is the author of the forthcoming, Ballers of the New School (Third World Press) and teaches English at Washington State University Vancouver.
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