So because of this journey, the athlete’s place within society has always carried a deeper meaning for African Americans than for other ethnic groups in this country.
For those like Parker, this understanding of the past could have fueled the antipathy he initially displayed when he perhaps assumed that Griffin didn’t understand the racialized history of black athletes in America. And given that RGIII plays the prestigious position of quarterback, which has symbolized white male dominance since the advent of professional American football, Parker is not completely out of line for expecting the Redskins star to invoke James Brown and “say it loud — I’m black and I’m proud.” Parker may figure that when black fans cheer for RGIII, they’re rooting for him largely because he’s a black athlete, and less so because of his accurate passes against the blitz.
Other Notable Examples
It’s no coincidence that race was also brought up in relation to Carolina Panthers African-American quarterback Cam Newton. In October 2012, after black Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon came to his defense by pointing out that racial bias was playing a role in the criticism being levied against Newton this season, Newton himself shied away from the subject by rejecting Moon’s assertion altogether.
“I haven’t heard the remarks that he’s said,” Newton responded when asked by reporters. “But when it comes to race and this game, I don’t think there is none at all.”
This sort of unequivocal dismissal that any remnant of discrimination still exists in the way the sports world views black athletes is a survival mechanism that many of them are taught to adopt at a young age.
Michael Jordan, arguably the world’s most popular sports icon during the 1980s and ’90s, did this with incredible dexterity. Dark-skinned, tongue out, with baggy shorts and a street-ball swagger that’s been emulated by millions on every basketball court all over the world, he wouldn’t touch the topic with a 10-foot pole.
Jordan saw himself as a basketball player, and that was it. No more, no less. All the while, he collected the perks that being associated with black culture afforded someone of his stature. (Millions of black people have contributed to his unprecedented wealth by purchasing his signature Air Jordans.)
In an interview that aired on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 1997, Tiger Woods famously shunned the idea of being viewed as a black golfer with the famous line “I’m a Cablinasian,” which he claimed captured his Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian background.