Can We Please Stop Listening to Athletes Who Talk About Race?

Dez Bryant (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

My mother is blind in both eyes. When she was 19 years old, she received a cornea transplant, which restored her eyesight ... kinda. Although she is still legally blind, she stubbornly refuses to allow her disability to affect her life because she doesn’t consider the small amount of eyesight she now has to be true blindness.

If that sounds brave, let me tell you about real courage: Imagine riding in the back seat of a car with a mother who can’t make out what’s printed on street signs and can’t really see the lines in the road. Imagine wearing clothes chosen or, even worse, sewn by a mother who can barely see. When we look back, my sisters and I laugh at the mismatched colors in our childhood pictures. Our entire family finds it hilarious how we trusted her input on our fashion choices. When she tried to play matchmaker and told me she knew a girl who’s “really pretty,” I’d actually believe her.


On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (who really did make that catch against the Packers two years ago. I even talked to God about it. He told me, “I thought it was a catch, too”), in a series of Instagram posts, shared his thoughts on race relations:


OK, Dez, first of all, if you have to preface any statement with “I try to mind my own business, but ... ,” you’re probably about to say something stupid—especially when it’s about a Charles Barkley quote. Barkley—a Republican and Blue Lives Matter advocate—has gained a reputation as an “unfiltered voice” for his decades of serving as a psychic medium channeling the subconscious thoughts of white people who want to say “nigger” but are afraid of being punched in the mouth. Ruminating on a Barkley quote is like writing a dissertation on the beauty of the viscosity of toilet diarrhea.


Where, Dez? Where? Where have you ever been “profiled,” but when the profilers got a closer look, they didn’t realize you were a superstar athlete of their favorite team? When you were the NFL-bound, college All-American in Stillwater, Okla.? When you were driving your $200,000 car in Cowboys-crazy Dallas?


Pop your collar. Good for you. I’m sure that guy had a genetic gift, passed up numerous educational opportunities and lucrative job offers, and said, “Nah. I wanna see where this crack career will take me.”


I hate the “persecuted because I was smart and/or good” argument because it is a false narrative that has been perpetuated for years. If you grew up in poor, black America, then you know this is some baloney made up by mediocre people from the suburbs to make people believe they’re exceptional or from “the hood.” Anthony Anderson talks about it often, and I experienced it growing up as a straight-laced nerd in those rough spaces. “The hood” protects and wants people to make it out.

Other than that, Bryant is right. Why do we focus so much on racism instead of “creating our own realities”? When New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked the life out of Eric Garner in 2014, why didn’t we ignore it and just believe in justice? When black children attend unequal schools, why can’t they just manifest better textbooks and more funding with their feeble minds?


After Bryant’s statement was criticized, most notably by Fox Sports 1 analyst Shannon Sharpe (a man who needs all of our prayers because he has to sit across from Skip Bayless every day), he tweeted this:

@DezBryant via Twitter

Look, white people; can we please stop taking athletes’ commentary on race seriously? I say “white people” because black people have context for Bryant’s comments. We put them in the same box as the guy at the barbershop who says Beyoncé is really having triplets but has to give one to the Illuminati as a human sacrifice (and oh, how I wish I were making up that last statement).

Bryant’s race theory rolls off our shoulders with the same fluidity as the advice from white people telling us how to act when we’re stopped by the police. We navigate daily through a world of people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. But apparently there are producers at FS1 who think it’s newsworthy because Bryant is rich and famous.


There are people who hold what Barkley and police-fellating Shaquille O’Neal believe to be indicative of a truth to which black people should adhere. To them, the voices of Barkley, Bryant, O’Neal, Richard Sherman, et al., must be important because they are rich, successful black men—even though their main contribution to society is that they can run fast and jump high.

This is not to say that all athletes should be ignored—there are people like the aforementioned Sharpe, Colin Kaepernick and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins (who is a relentless advocate for criminal-justice reform) who actually study the issues of which they speak before they open their mouths. This also doesn’t mean that we should disregard any athlete with an opposing or unpopular view, but whenever the “Don’t blame white people” chorus comes from a black athlete, it is never from anyone who you’d bet on in an episode of Jeopardy! It’s always a black baller who couldn’t solve the first puzzle in Wheel of Fortune.


I don’t like the insinuation that anyone who calls him- or herself black but doesn’t share a particular point of view isn’t “black enough” (even Rachel Dolezal—who is just crazy. And not black at all). Barkley is black. Bryant is black. But we shouldn’t act as if multimillionaires who were born with the privilege of a genetic gift that has elevated them their entire lives are adequate representatives of a people who face systematic oppression daily. We should understand that their blackness alone doesn’t give them any particular insight into race relations, just as we don’t give any credence to Kyrie Irving’s thoughts about planetary physics—even though he’s lived on earth for more than 20 years.

Following Barkley’s political theories is the same as riding shotgun with my mother. Bryant’s views on the intricacies of race are the same as my mama’s fashion sense. When I laugh at the pictures of my sisters wearing the sailor dresses my mom made, at least I know they had no other choice. But it is still both funny and scary to see people patiently following someone we all know is blind.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.