One of my favorite NBAers, Josh Howard, got into another scrape with the media in a summer of disfavor for him. In a moment of YouTube candor, one that he will not soon forget, Howard jokes about the National Anthem saying “I don’t even celebrate this sh*t. I’m black.” Just as many Blacks understood, and even sympathized with Reverend Jeremiah Wrights curdling invective against American misdeeds, Howard expressed a sentiment perhaps only known as a private complaint among us. Obviously, Howard should be much more aware of how young fans (of all races) perceive his words, avoiding expletives when he can. The real story, however, is the reactionary media’s want to throttle Josh Howard for being himself.
The public neglects athlete opinion because the players have only sport to be concerned with for 98% of their year. But, in doing so, so many sports columnists want to muzzle their sports heroes for fear that they will say or do the same shocking, and frightening things associated with Black manhood. In that sense, Howard has aroused a backlash typical of sporting press: he is too rich to talk about the Black condition. Or, even better, he has no right to speak from his envious position. The presumption here is that wealth somehow eradicates racism, which shows just how little some journalists know about walking a mile in the next man’s high tops. Black athletes are in the fishbowl of criticism, waiting anxiously until their moment of judgment comes. Some handle it well. LeBron James has carefully deflected questions that would lead anyone down the road of personal beliefs. Ray Allen has also been the media’s beloved for his willingness to give the thoughtfully safe answer. Josh Howard, Baron Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson and others have taken the opposite tack. They know how much their privilege puts them in league with the most staunch Republican’s income brackets, but they choose express dissent from the American values that thrash the people who look like they do. The Josh Howard controversy will soon pass but some other Black athlete will have to negotiate the hazard of speaking his mind, and refuting the accusations of being ungrateful and unappreciative. Since those arguments only rehash trite notions of “knowing your place” I have devised a response mechanism for the Josh Howards of the world:
The Black Athlete Response Plan In Free Speech Terms
Josh Howard was blessed by being surrounded by people who loved him. He was blessed with basketball skills that allowed him a four-year education at Wake Forest. He turned that into a professional career that over the course of a decade or so will pay him $10 million a year.
He has loved ones and he owns fine homes and he owns all the automobiles he could ever dream of buying and he’s been given/earned financial security for his children and their grandchildren and their grandchildren and their grandchildren. And their grandchildren.
Mike Fisher should have a conversation with Danny Glover, a wealthy renowned black actor who can neither catch a cab, nor find an American studio to produce his Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic. Mike Fisher should talk to the Black men of Sacramento, who are stopped by highway patrols at a much higher rate, despite living in one of the most affluent sections of the Sunshine State. Wealth and opportunity do not change the ugly biases people demonstrate based on skin color. To many a Texan racist, Howard is nothing but a 6-foot-7 black man, who affirms some of their most deep-seated fears with just his physical stature. Fisher means to say that Josh Howard does not count his blessings because he’s willing to question his country’s racial issues, as if the two could not be mutually exclusive. It’s that kind of circular logic that disables dialogue between groups of people. If racism could be bought off, Oprah, Jay-Z, Tiger Woods, Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan would have stakes in its elimination, or at least have looked into it.
Charley Rosen of Fox Sports writes:
However, racism in America remains a serious and sensitive subject — one that has to be dealt with in a serious and sensitive fashion. It says here that Howard easily could have found a better, more fruitful way to voice his feeling about this.
As it is, his foul-mouthed rant contributes nothing positive, creates unnecessary antagonisms, obscures the basic issue and demonstrates that he’s sorely in need of a crash course in anger management.
Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell formed one of the strongest social coalitions imaginable in their quest to balance their privilege with the incredible disparities in human rights they had witnessed. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar was an outspoken athlete, rife with contradictions, poised to articulate his views no matter the cost to his athletic career. Josh Howard and Ron Artest are not as versed in sociopolitical discourse as the aforementioned greats, but you can bet they have been influenced by those conversations that came before them. Charley Rosen is an elder statesman of sporting history himself so he should know that no voice can be shut out of the conversation. For him to define what is “unnecessary antagonism” or supposedly angry is using stubbornness and rigidity to indicate what goes in a conversation about race. The above clip shows that Howard is joking but there is a double meaning. He knows intuitively that the freedom of this country allows him to criticize its still wayward tendencies. He also knows that humor can hide the eminent pain of knowing this paradox. Rosen would do better checking his censorious comments at the door.