By now, most sports fans are aware that longtime sports columnist Rob Parker was recently fired by ESPN after his racial comments about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Parker, a Black sports reporter long known for his over-the-edge comments, questioned whether or not Griffin was a “cornball brother” during a segment on ESPN’s “First Take” show nearly a month ago, suggesting that he is Black, but may be uncomfortable in his skin.
He brought up the fact that the rookie signal caller is married to a White woman and even wondered if Griffin is a Republican party member during the ESPN sports debate segment. As soon as Parker made his controversial comments, he was immediately criticized by hundreds of thousands of viewers via Twitter, and was soon suspended by ESPN and later terminated by the network.
Parker admitted during the show that his comments weren’t exactly fit for national television and was part of a conversation that usually takes place in African-American barbershops. Obviously, he chose the wrong forum and, even more, the wrong set of words to convey his point. His comments amounted to an attack and was an embarrassment to African Americans.
But to be fair, the reasoning and meaning of Parker’s outrageous comments should be examined.
Parker’s comments had stemmed from a discussion over Griffin’s insistence on not being viewed as a great “Black quarterback.” Instead of being labeled as the best “Black quarterback” in football or being compared to other African-American passers of the past or present, RGIII told reporters he’d rather be viewed as a great quarterback, regardless of race. He had been asked about being a great “Black quarterback” multiple times during the past season, and each time he gave a similar reply.
But as a veteran Black sports columnist who is keenly aware of the history of Black quarterbacks in the National Football League, has witnessed much of the racial plight of the African-American quarterback throughout the long history of the NFL, Parker perhaps viewed Griffin’s comments as a dismissal of his own race and a disregard of the league’s history of discrimination.
He may have had the same questions I’ve often had when hearing RGIII respond to questions about his ethnicity: Is the young quarterback proud of being perhaps the best “Black quarterback” to ever play the game, or does he not care much about such a title? Maybe the phrase coined by the late soul singer, James Brown, “I’m Black and I’m proud” doesn’t come to mind when Griffin takes the football field. Maybe he just wants to go out and be the best at the sport, with no thought of race in mind. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that attitude.
But Parker’s irritation with Griffin’s lack of passion for being viewed as “the best Black quarterback.” is understandable, after all, there aren’t many African-American quarterbacks in the NFL to begin with, less alone great ones with the talent and abilities that Griffin possesses.
As of now, you can count on one hand the number of Black quarterbacks in the league who are starters, Griffin included. That’s a disturbing fact considering there are 32 teams in the NFL and a majority of the players (67%) in the league are African American. There’s Griffin, fellow rookie sensation Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
With so few Black quarterbacks in starring roles, it’s a rarity to see an African-American playing the position as well as Griffin. In a sense, seeing a great “Black quarterback” is as rare as hearing a great White hip-hop rapper. Black NFL quarterbacks are so few and far between that when one surfaces, it rubs you the wrong way when they tell you not to call them a “Black quarterback.” American professional football has been around for nearly a century, and Black quarterbacks are one of the rarest beings of its existence. In about 50 Super Bowls, only one Black man has won one as a quarterback. That one winner is, of course, former Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams.
Williams told me during an interview earlier this season that RGIII may end up becoming the best to ever play the position, Black or White. That made me think of who may have held that title before Griffin came along, and all signs led to Hall of Fame passer Warren Moon, now 56. Most people think of legends like Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino or this generation’s greats like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, when arguing the greatest passer of all time.
I, on the other hand, think of Moon, who managed to throw for 50,000 yards and 300 touchdowns, despite being blocked from the NFL for six of his prime years because of his skin color. Had Moon not come out of college during the racially discriminating era of the late 1970’s, he would have played his first six seasons in the NFL. Instead, he was forced to play some of his best years in the Canadian Football League (CFL).
He didn’t complain or quit on the sport; he simply went on to win an unprecedented five CFL Grey Cup championships while breaking several passing records, forcing the NFL to take notice and sign him into their league. He went on to put up Hall of Fame numbers in the NFL but who knows how much more his NFL productivity would have been had he spent those first six pro years in the NFL instead of the CFL? Without his sacrifice, the five current starting Black quarterbacks in the NFL wouldn’t be in the place they’re in now. To me, that epitomizes greatness. That’s the kind of greatness that every quarterback, of any race, should want to be compared to, even for the new generation’s best, RGIII.
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