The Black Star Double Standard

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 28, 2005
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After the latest clueless attack on the character and ability of Donovan McNabb, two things have become abundantly clear: Intelligence, class and talent are all it takes to become the victim of jealous attacks, and that minority athletes are still being held to a higher standard than their white colleagues. Oftentimes by members of their own race.

When J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, attacked McNabb in a column concerning his ability, and calling into question whether his play was a positive reflection on African Americans, he joined the chorus of those who feel it is their obligation to press beliefs onto others.

In earlier days, critics said blacks could not play quarterback or Latin ballplayers lacked the language skills to lead teams. Now that those beliefs have been proven wrong, the agitators have moved on to other topics. It’s no longer enough to act with class, work behind the scenes or simply be a good sportsman and role model. Now it seems that everyone with athletic ability is expected to become a ball, swatting Malcolm X or Cesar Chavez.

Recently on Costars Now, Charles Barkley criticized two of his best friends, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, for not doing enough to help advance social issues that are important in black communities. Barkley has never been one to shy away from difficult topics and feels it’s his duty to use his fame to help lift up black Americans. Good for him. More should emulate his passion. But unfortunately we’re not all born to carry the flag. Some have to lead. Some have to follow and others just need to write the checks.

Tiger Woods is one of the world’s most important athletes, and part of his influence has nothing to do with the spectacular and everything to do with mundane. In a world dominated by highlight real antics and just overall bad behavior, Woods stands out because of what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t get arrested for drunk driving, he hasn’t been charged with spousal abuse and his most anger-filled tirade was the phrase, “You think you got enough frikin’ pictures?” Hard-working and respectful of his sport and those who came before him alone should be enough for Woods to be looked at in a positive light. Add to that a foundation that has donated huge amounts of money to underprivileged youth and you got one hell of an element of change.

MJ has done basically the same. Even though Jordan is the walking symbol of Madison Avenue and once reportedly said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” when asked about not endorsing a black Senate candidate for North Carolina, Harvey Grantt, over controversial incumbent Jesse Helms, he has had a positive impact even though he will never take the pulpit in an effort for social change.

Would it be nice if Jordan, Woods or other minorities in positions of influence got more involved? Of course. It would be better if we all got more involved. But is it fair that these people of color should be mandated to do what white athletes are allowed to embrace or completely ignore?

For as much as Barkley and others want from these stars, it should be acknowledged that some of the most effective efforts for change are coming from those who operate below the radar. From future hall of famer David Robinson’s Carver Academy to journeyman Manute Bol’s efforts to help southern Sudanese children, work is going on to better the lives of those with less.

Change is a two-pronged attack. There need to be soldiers and supporters. Rabble-rousers like Barkley talk for those without a voice and are able to reach people whose only exposure to social and economic problems come from the evening news. And there are the quiet types. For reasons of personality or even business they decide not to rattle sabers but to do things out of the spotlight. There’s enough work to be done for everyone, no matter their method.

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