If you hear a little Noise…It’s Barack and the Boys!
As I watched President Obama aka “Chilly B Knowledge” rapping with the Seattle Seahawks at the White house, I reflected on the magnificence of the moment. Given the history of race relations in the USA, none of them should have been there. It is a moment I never thought I would see in my lifetime: an Afro-American President congratulating an Afro-American quarterback who had just won the superbow, and it is without question irrefutable evidence that the status of Afro-Americans has undergone a paradigm shift since I fled Florida in 1960.
What it means, among myriad of other things, is that most white children and youth have a black hero that they idolize, and many of their parents do too. Considering the fact that Rush Limbaugh’s audience averages 67 years of age – the geriatric crew that grew up in the golden age of white supremacy and are so bewildered by the radical changes in race relations they no longer recognize the America they grew up in, thus they roam about like disoriented zombies chanting “we want our country back!”
I am now convinced that the amazing success on black athletes paved the way for other changes in race relations, beginning with Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson. However I did not always recognize the critical role of sport in promoting social change. During the height of my revolutionary days, when everything that wasn’t about the revolution was cast aside, I stopped watching sports. And I became so self-righteous about it that I began to bug my friends who remained sports fans.
One day when I had become a particular pain in the ass, my main boon coon Booker T. Quattlebaum, who taught writing on the college level, pointed out that the greatest writers in history were sports fans and produced a volume from his shelf that had selections on sports which began with the ancient Greeks. He also pointed out that the revolutionary socialist countries that I so admired was all sports fanatics; in fact they used sports as a measure of their social development.
I eventually saw his point and began to look at sports through new eyes. The mere fact that in the ancient world the largest buildings were temples to the Gods, but in modern societies they are often sports stadiums, is eloquent testimony to the importance of sports in human affairs. For one thing it is an alternative to war in supplying an outlet for male aggression – especially sports like football!
However in the context of American society, a society based on “white male supremacy” black success in sports gave birth to a crude counter-argument. Once it was obvious that white men were not physically superior to black men then the argument became…”well they can play sports but we are intellectually superior.”
The response of many well-meaning folks in the black community is to disparage sports as unimportant and only intellectual achievement matters. This is a false dichotomy, and it reflects a retrograde way of thinking – despite the self-righteous claims of those who hold this point of view. When I was a boy growing up in racist apartheid Florida, our elders used the brilliant exploits of Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, etc to point out that just as whites folks claimed we were not good enough to compete with white men in professional sports was a god damned lie….their claim to intellectual superiority was an even bigger lie.
Lieutenant Jackie Robinson: Calvary Officer
The example of Jackie Robinson – a handsome, eloquent, ebony black UCLA graduate, US Army Calvary Officer, four sport college athlete, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers, eloquent gentleman, corporate Vice President upon his retirement from Major League baseball – as irrefutable proof that achievement was a matter of preparation and opportunity.
They went on to point out that given the education and opportunity to compete we could beat white men at anything just like Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson were kicking their ass in the sports arena. The lesson for us was not that we could only be great athletes, but that the athletes were setting a standard of excellence that we should emulate in all of our endeavors.
The great Paul Robeson was held up as the gold standard. A super athlete – who made All-American in football and starred in basketball, baseball, and track- Robeson also graduated first in his class at Rutgers, while working as a tutor to his white class mates in Greek and Latin, and singing in the Glee Club. Robeson was the greatest example of human perfection in his time. He went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University, became an internationally acclaimed Shakespearean actor and concertized as a singer world-wide. He was so widely revered in Russia that they named a mountain after him.
Paul Robeson: The Greek Ideal of Mind Body Perfection
He would have made a better President than his white Contemporaries
Robeson of Rutgers: All American
The Greatest Football Player of his Time
This is the message that contemporary black critics of athletic achievement fail to understand. Instead they have embarked on a silly, self-destructive, self-righteous denunciation of black achievement in sports – an arena that has brought us more wealth and glory on the world stage than any other field. Among those who have offered vociferous critiques of this wrongheaded argument is Dr. Nathan Hare, a former professional boxer who holds two Ph.Ds.
This false dichotomy of sports vs. intellectual achievement was thoroughly critiqued by a distinguished group of black scholars in a conference at New York University hosted by Dr. Jeffery Sammons, a history professor and author of “Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society,” which is hands down the most important book ever written on boxing in America.
The conference was called to respond to Darwin’s Athletes,” a book written by a Dr. John Hoberman, a German American history professor at the University of Texas, that promotes the Athletic vs. Intellectual achievement argument; he attributes the disparity between black athletic and intellectual achievement to socio/cultural rather than biological factors.
I have written an extensive essay that is both a report on the conference and a critique of Hoberman’s spurious thesis. See: “On Race Culture and Sports,” which exposes Hoberman’s argument for the pompous misguided prattle that it is. There are examples all around us that black men are quite capable of outstanding athletic and intellectual achievement.
They are everywhere, from Hall of Fame NFL tackle Allan Paige, who became Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, to Tampa Bay linebacker Dewey Selmon, who took a Ph.D in ancient philosophy at University of Oklahoma, to John Wideman, All-American basketball star at the University of Pennsylvania, who turned down an NBA career to pursue study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and became one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.
I believe it is in recognition of the extraordinary achievement of the scholar/athlete that president Obama gave such props to Richard Sherman, who has been mercilessly maligned by white racist for being to vocally assertive for a young black man and tried their best to unjustly hang the “thug” label on him. Just as they have done to President Obama himself – who has been called a Chicago thug more than once by these deranged creeps.
But the love the President showed Sherman as he recounted his remarkable achievements has obliterated the chatter of the haters and raised Sherm up where he belongs. Thus when I sat and watched the world champion Seattle Seahawks, the reigning Super Bowl champions, hangin out in the White House, it was a very beautiful moment to me.
Barack Reaches out to Richard Sherman
In a Single Gesture Barack Raised Sherman to Worldwide Celebrity
Sherman Studies the Master Rapper at Work
Looking Beyond football?
In the Huddle
An Image of real black male power: Physically and Intellectually!
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 22, 2014