Hopkins, McNabb and Willful Ignorance

It's time to end the "house vs. field" debate among African Americans.

Here we go again. Just two months after ESPN’s The Fab Five documentary sparked a controversy involving Jalen Rose and Grant Hill, we’ve suffered another instance of black athletes sorting our dirty laundry in public. This time it’s boxer Bernard Hopkins, who claims in a recent Philadelphia Daily News article that Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb isn’t black enough.

“He’s got a suntan. That’s all,” said the boxer during press day at his gym. Hopkins further implied that McNabb’s privileged upbringing set him up for a rude awakening when the Philadelphia Eagles traded him to the Washington Redskins last year. “Why do you think McNabb felt he was betrayed? Because McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field. He’s the one who got the extra coat. The extra servings. ‘You’re our boy,’ ” Hopkins said, patting a reporter on the back to illustrate his point. “He thought he was one of them.”

We’ve gone from Rose calling Hill an Uncle Tom, to Hopkins calling McNabb a house slave. How long before someone brings Oreos and handkerchiefs into play?

Always viewed as a classy, consummate professional, McNabb hasn’t dignified the comments with a response. But in a statement, McNabb’s agent, Fletcher N. Smith III, called Hopkins’ remarks “ill informed,” “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” saying they perpetuate “a maliciously inaccurate stereotype that insinuates those African Americans who have access to a wider variety of resources are somehow culturally different than their brethren.”

Actually, McNabb and Hopkins are culturally different. The former was raised in Chicago’s suburbs, excelled at an all-boys Catholic school and went on to play football and basketball at Syracuse University. The latter was raised in a rough section of Philadelphia, turned to a life of crime at 13 and was a convicted felon by 17, leading him to spend nearly five years in prison.

But it’s not a problem that their backgrounds and formative experiences are starkly dissimilar, because plenty of blacks with unfavorable upbringings have overcome and worked toward enlightened views. The problem is Hopkins’ holding on to the mind-set that equates “blackness” with high levels of crime, poverty and dysfunction, and low levels of education, prosperity and normalcy.