There was a time when the actual athletics was the story…
I am resisting the temptation to write a column about you know who. As with Charles Barkley, I am sick of hearing about him; I am sick of the celebration and the double standards; I am tired of “the national nightmare” and am ready to wake up to talk about something else within the sports world.
As both men are playing this weekend, I thought I would wish the best of luck to Joe Flacco and Alex Smith. Yes, Flacco was recently described as “mediocre” on Around the Horn and described as one of the “worst quarterbacks on a good team” by The Bleacher Report. Sure Alex Smith is routinely ridiculed, called a bust, and otherwise doubted. What’s not to like about Flacco and Smith
In 2011, Flacco saw a slight dip in his numbers, with a quarterback rating of 80.9 and a completion percentage of almost 58%. Statistically, Smith finished with a higher quarterback rating of 90.7, having completed 61% of his passes. Most importantly, Flacco led his team to a 12-4 record, with Smith taking the 49ers into the playoffs with an impressive 13-3. Of course, you can focus on their struggles and their uneven performances, but “they just win”; all they do is win.” Isn’t that the only thing that matters? I think I heard that sometime before.
As we are in the midst of the NFL playoffs, it is important to remember those great performances. Remember Timmy Smith who ran for 204 yards, leading the Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXII. So what if he last one more year in the league, and that some call him the one-hit wonder of the NFL, does a great playoff game make a career? I mean Larry Brown and David Tyree also had amazing performances during Super Bowl victories and didn’t they get elevated to national heroes, on the cover of every sports magazine, and the key endorsement for those running for president?
I also want to pay homage to those quarterbacks, who despite having OK or not so good careers were given little opportunity to even be a backup in the NFL. Remember Akili Smith, Dennis Dixon (third string in Pittsburgh), and JaMarcus Russell. Where are they now? You would think a team like the Colts or the Broncos could have used one of them as a backup.
With the King holiday on Monday, I have found myself thinking about politics off-the-field and the history of resistance in sports.
Toni Smith, a graduate of Manhatanville College, used her platform as a collegiate basketball player, to protest the injustices and inequalities of society. Prior to each game, as the National Anthem played, she turned away from the flag, bowing her head toward the floor. She described her motivation as follows: “For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government’s priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag.” Not surprisingly, her courage and her desire to express her political views were met with condemnation. Told “to leave our country, called “disgraceful,” and other demonized, Smith remains a powerful example of a person who challenged the status quo, who refused to cow-tow to the dominant expectations of her as an athlete, as a women of color, and student. She stood tall and said with her actions that progressive politics have a place in sports.
Of course, I cannot forget Craig Hodges. You know Craig Hodges, the former Chicago Bulls 3-point specialist, whose political views and his outspokenness led him quickly out of the league. Jamilah King recently highlighted his story:
In 1996, NBA basketball player Craig Hodges sued the league, claiming that it blackballed him for his political activism. After Hodges helped the Chicago Bulls win the 1992 NBA Championship, he showed up to the team’s visit to the White House in a dashiki and delivered a hand written letter to then-president George H.W. Bush expressing his critical views of the administration’s policies toward poor and African Americans. That same year, he criticized mega star Michael Jordan for not being more politically active. The team waived him after the ‘92 season and he didn’t receive a single offer try out for another team.
While a great player, a valuable member of a championship team, he was sent packing because of his politics and his refusal to “shut up and play.”
Then there was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who at the age of 41 was still playing basketball in Japan. Muslin, Abdul-Rauf faced widespread condemnation for refusing to stand for “the star-spangled banner.” Abdul-Rauf sought to express his political and religious beliefs; yet, he was exiled: “It was close to impossible to play in the U.S. after that. The doors were shut, but I said the N.B.A. wasn’t the only show in town and I was going to make use of my God-given talent even if it meant playing in Timbuktu.” For his actions, he was booed, jeered and even suspended by the league. I guess all politics and religion are not welcome in American sports.
I should take this opportunity to congratulate Kobe Bryant and Aaron Rodgers who were voted as the second and third most popular athletes in America. Yeah, they only received 2 percent and 1.9 percent of the vote ahead of Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent). Although they didn’t receive the top number of votes (3 percent) and even though ESPN didn’t celebrate their accomplishment by noting, “This is an exciting finding and one that reflects the sentiment of all sports fans, not just the online or social media world,” it shows how much love there is for these athletes.
I assume by now, you realize that this is my commentary on the Tebow spectacle – the media fanaticism especially in comparison to so much else. In each case, whether looking at who is celebrated as a winner, whose numbers are worthy of additional opportunities (Tebow’s 2nd year numbers are worse than the 2nd year numbers of JaMarcus Russell), or whose politics are valued and tolerated, we can see how race, religion and politics operate in this context. I know Tebow is a national treasure and the most popular athlete in America, having been pick by 3% of those polled; the love isn’t coming from me. I am too busy cheering for Hodges and Abdul-Rauf, Smith and Carlos Delgado, not to mention Kobe Bryant and Etan Thomas. In politics, and game, they are worthy celebrating.