On 13 December 2012, Robert Parker, a sports columnist and panelist made racially motivated comments about Robert Griffin III; a Washington Redkins rookie quarterback during an ESPN sports panel show. Parker, an African American himself, questioned whether Griffin was a true African American due to some of his characteristics and behaviors; both physical and social, which seemed to be deviant from those of the “conventional” or “typical” black individual. Parker referred to Griffin as a “cornball brother”, something that his fellow panelists had no idea about and that consequently left them bewildered. Parker then went into a lengthy explanation of what he r meant with his ‘cornball brother” comment. The Parker vs. Griffin story generated heated debate in the American society especially in regards to matters of racism in the society and sports and the various points of view that society members adopt towards this issue. Many of the major national newspapers including L.A. Times, The Washington Post and the New York Times published lengthy editorials and articles on the incident and over the next couple of weeks, there was a seemingly unending debate on the issue. Parker was forced to apologize for his comments, but this was not enough as many sports experts and enthusiasts alike called for his resignation or immediate firing by the ESPN network. Many referred to Parker as a disgrace to American sports journalism and as an obstacle to the humongous steps that American sports have made in terms of racial equality. In light of the public’s persuasion and insistence, ESPN decided not to renew Parker’s contract, which was to expire at the end of the year (Associated Press, ESPN's Rob Parker fired for remarks against Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III).
Robert Parker comments were a revelation of the existence of racist stereotypes that not only exists in American sport, but also in the society, in general. Racism has been an ever-present feature in the society. From the days of slavery, racism has hogged all the social institutions of the societies across all corners of the globe. Racism led to a seemingly stagnant state in the society in terms of social development. Social and cultural bonds failed to be broken as different races throughout the years treated each other with extreme suspicion and animosity. The main culprits of the institution of racism were people of darker skin who throughout the years found themselves as subjects of racially motivated acts, with the most tragic one being the institution of slavery where millions of black people were forced to works as slaves for white masters. Racism was evident across all social institutions and activities. For instance, in countries where there existed a mixture of different races, some races were not allowed to participate in certain activities, for example sports, carrying of weapons amongst others. In Australia, for example, the Aborigines were outlawed from engaging in many social activities. The situation was similar for the blacks in places like the American colonies and European countries such as France. Some sporting activities were purely reserved for members of the dominant race, which was in most cases the Caucasian race. There were, however, some revolutionary minded individuals in the society who called for the abolishment of racism and who called for all members of society to socially integrate to realize overall development of the human race.
During the 20th Century, several humongous steps were made towards racial equality. The relatively improvement of race relations in the 20th Century was catalyzed by an incident that took place in the 19th Century. This was the abolishment of slavery. This important event was starting point of a long journey towards racial equality in the American nation. As mentioned, the 20th Century was a period that saw significant improvement in terms of race relations in the American land. In sports particularly, there were significant improvements. Black people were given more chances to participate in sporting activities previously reserved for members of the Caucasian race. New professional sporting organizations emerged and unlike the previous ones, which were hugely discriminatory, the new associations gave equal chances to members of all races. The National Football League (NFL) is one sports organization that has managed to achieve relative racial equality where everyone has an equal chance of participating. This explains why the NFL is, in fact, the most racially diverse professional league in the United States.
Such developments have made race matters to be a non-issue when it comes to sports. This is perhaps why Griffin in a previous interview stated that he did want his sporting achievements to be defined by the color of his skin. He stated that many sports writers and fans tended to put many other players in a race box with other players who had achieved similar milestones. However, Griffin wanted to be remembered as a ‘great football player’ and not a “great black football player’’. Consequently, the NFL is depicted as a sporting organization, which has been at the forefront of bringing about social change. This social change is brought about by adopting a view of sports as an entity that knows no racial boundaries and limitations and that everyone can participate in and be successful regardless of the color of their skin. The NFL has been at the forefront of this social movement given its no-nonsense approach on all matters related to race. Racism has zero implications when it comes to NFL arenas and all race stereotypes are completely abandoned when players get on the pitch.
In spite of this new value and belief system in sport organizations such as the NFL, the society, however, seems to lag behind and is indeed portrayed as one, which has not fully come to terms with the new race social movement. The irony is that it is actually the black community, which seems to lag behind by not recognizing the boundaries that have broken by sports where all racial matters have been eliminated. This society still expects some of its members who have excelled in the discipline to still abide by some traditional African American behaviors that to some extent not only seem to be racially backwards but also barbaric, and, in fact, detrimental to the achievement of racial equality. As will be shown below, Robert Parker’s comments are a clear depiction of this fact.
Griffin was a fast rising star in his Washington Redskins team and was gaining many fans in spite of the fact that he was playing his first full year for the Redskins in the NFL. Both fans and panelists alike had acclaimed his performances on the pitch, and he was branded as one of the finest prospects in the NFL in the years to come. In fact, he was often the center of discussion in many sports after any Redksins game, given his impeccable performances. This was the case in the ESPN panel where Robert Parker made the controversial remarks. In responding to Griffin’s remarks about not being wanting his sporting achievements not to be defined by the color of his skin, Parker wondered whether Griffin was a true African American or to quote him, a “true brother”. His particular words were “My question, which is just a straight honest question: is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother”? (Chase, ESPN's Rob Parker on RGIII).
Parker clearly seemed to insinuate that Griffin was not a true African American because his behavior and tendencies were seemingly deviant to what would be expected of a typical black male, regardless of the field of his profession. To support his insinuation, Parker referred to several Griffin attributes and behaviors. To begin with, Parker made it clear that Griffin was outwardly black, the best exemplification of this being the color of his skin, He claimed that “Well, [that] he's black, he kind of does his thing, but he's not really down with the cause, he's not one of us He's kind of black, but he is not really the guy you'd really want to hang out with, because he's off to do something else” (Smith, ESPN commentator Rob Parker calls Robert Griffin III a "cornball brother). He then went on to talk about the fact that Griffin had a white fiancee, something that typical back individuals would not do as most would prefer to have black partners. Parker then went on to talk about the fact that Griffin is a Republican. Historically, many black people have supported the Democratic Party, particularly in the current age whereby the sitting American President, Barrack Obama, is both African American and a Democrat. The next thing that Parker talked about was Griffins’ braided hair, something that many other black people would not dare wear. By referring to all these aspects, Parker as seemingly insinuating that Griffin was not ‘African American enough”
Parker comments enraged a lot of sports lovers, both black and white. Although his comments were not in the best light, they did, however, reveal one hidden premonition and belief that still mildly exists within the black community, whereby members are supposed to follow a certain “code”.
Papers such as the L.A Times and the Washington Post published not only some expert editorials, but also some sports fan’s letters who openly criticized Parker’s comments and called for his immediate firing or resignation. Many were of the opinion that Griffin being a product of a dominantly stereotype free society had the right to made life decisions without being led by social or racial inclinations. He had the right to choose whom to marry, whether black or white, the political stand and even the hairstyle that he wished to have.
Parker comments showed that huge differences that exist the values of sports organizations and those of society. It would be unfair to blame Parker fully for his comments. This is because Parker may have simply been stating the beliefs that had been inculcated into him by his social upbringing about the physical and social behavior of every black male. Consequently, Parker may also have been stating an opinion openly shared by many other people who felt that one of their own was deviating. The national newspapers tried to include both sides of the arguments in their editorials. Audio and video broadcasters also tried to explore both sides of the argument and the debate became even more heated than ever.
The final outcome was, however, not in Parker’s favor as calls for his firing or resignation rose to stupendous levels. Parker tried to redeem himself by giving an apology and claiming that his sentiments were hugely misconstrued, but the damage had already been done. ESPN, the network that he worked for eventually listened to the increased calls for Parker’s firing and decided not to renew his contract.
The above scenario brings into light an issue that in modern days seemed to have been forgotten. Although the sporting has been at the forefront of exemplifying social change, in terms of gender equality and in this case racial equality, the society, however, acts as an impediment to this social movement. Some stereotypes still exist as to how members of certain communities are supposed to behave and unless this impediment is eliminated, it will be very difficult to achieve true social change in terms of racial equality. The Parker vs. Griffin story is the perfect embodiment of this. After this incident, Parker credibility as an expert sports columnist and panelist hugely suffered. Many were not willingly to hire a man who made such controversial remarks. Although the story slowly faded in the coming months, the comments had already served their purpose, and this was the exposure of existing stereotypes within the general society.
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