Subtle racism and the “articulate” black athlete

I was enjoying a nice, peaceful round of golf the other afternoon when a waft of subtle racism caught my attention. I was mid-way through my round when I heard an older white gentleman in our group, whom I had only met hours prior, refer to a particular black athlete as “articulate.” It turns out racism is still alive and well in America.

Before you accuse me of being a flaming liberal – I’ve been called worse – this is not me being overly sensitive in a currently divided America. This is just me being observant.

Allow me to set the scene. A friend and I travelled to one of Walt Disney’s finer golf courses for a beautiful round in the Florida sun. The gentleman we were paired with that afternoon was a larger, Caucasian man from the Midwest, a seemingly cordial fellow as are most people who hail from region. He was in his early-to-mid 60s and judging by his waistline, probably had a well above average cholesterol level.  He sported a Packers visor, of which he I’m sure he owned several, and brought up his favorite football team every chance he got. He was ever so proud of his Green Bay Packers.

We shot the shit for about an hour or so when the conversation eventually drifted (thank goodness) to other currently competitive teams… and quarterbacks. Naturally, Lamar Jackson came up.

If you’re not privy to all things NFL in 2019, you should know that in only his second year, Lamar Jackson is doing things quarterbacks don’t normally do. He’s leading the league in quarterback rating and has accounted for 36 touchdowns, which is also tops in the league. He became only the second quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, shattering Michael Vick’s record. We’ve come to learn, however, that Jackson doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed as a running quarterback.

In Week One, Jackson came up with his now patented “not bad for a running quarterback” jab when asked about a spectacular game he had through the air. Later in the season, a San Francisco color commentator suggested Lamar Jackson was successful running the ball because his “dark skin” camouflaged the football. The following week, Jackson took the field wearing a white glove and white sleeve. He once again dominated.

He is unquestionably, undeniably this year’s Most Valuable Player. He is a reason to watch the sport. He is also a victim of the same thing every mobile, black quarterback in the history of the game has experienced.

Now, let’s get to this articulate comment.

Bill Burr has a brilliant skit in his latest Netflix comedy special. He talks about watching TV with his wife, who is black, and pokes fun at how differently they observe matters of race. Subtleties. That’s what I was doing on the golf course.

When you call someone like Lamar Jackson articulate, which is what this particular Packers fan did, as in “Yeah, Jackson’s a great player… and he’s articulate too,” you’re essentially implying that he has no reason for being so. Maybe this poor soul from the Midwest hasn’t met enough black people in his lifetime to realize that yes, they too can speak the King’s English.

Newsflash! Lamar Jackson is black. He is also athletic. And yes, he is articulate. These are not mutually exclusive characteristics.

No one goes around calling Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees articulate. You’ll never hear someone say that about Joe Burrow. Calling Jackson articulate, which is what this gentleman went out of his way to do, implies that he was genuinely surprised to hear Jackson speak in complete sentences. It might not be as perverse as dropping N-bombs but it sure as hell smacked of ignorance.

Oddly enough, this poor soul probably didn’t even realize what he was saying but I guarantee you, had he been paired with two golfers darker-skinned than my buddy and me, my guess is he wouldn’t have been so eager to drop a line like “that Lamar kid sure is articulate.”

His remark wasn’t inherently spiteful, just uneducated and misinformed. I didn’t pursue his comments, I had just met the guy. In retrospect, however, perhaps I should have, to see just how ‘articulate’ of a response he would have given in return.

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14 Replies to “Subtle racism and the “articulate” black athlete”

  1. Great post Chris! I found this post particularly interesting , simply because white people just don’t understand that when they hear black people speak in complete sentences, it’s not them wanting to sound white! It’s what they have been taught from there educated parents! So please stop acting surprised when you hear an intelligent black speak intelligently, not speaking like he or she is white! Great post Chris!

  2. E…

    The guy needs a trip to Memphis along with a revisit from Klan Master Sprague.

    I’m guessing the conversation would have gone a little differently had you and I been golfing with him.

    Speaking of golf, links soon, brother. Consecutive rounds of 90. I’m comin’ for ya’.

  3. It’s another great piece, Chris, I really love your writing style. You did make an assumption about what that guy was saying. He may have been commenting that he was surprised to hear any athlete being “articulate”, or it may have been specifically directed at a black athlete, but you don’t really know, unless he made other comments that you didn’t share.

    The overall point about those sorts of comments, and the racism of them, is spot on.

    Your article got me thinking about the whole subject of race, and how we fans evaluate skills vs. smarts. That’s what good journalism does. Keep it coming, Chris, and Happy New Year to you!

  4. Back at ya’, brother Bill.

    Needless to say, in an effort to make conversation early in the round, the three of us talked about his (and every other Packer fan’s) affinity for Aaron Rodgers. That quarterback’s ability to speak well (or not well) never came up. America loves themselves a white quarterback. Look no further than the hoopla surrounding Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield versus Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson.

    Brett Favre is a funny guy, good with the media but I certainly wouldn’t classify him as the smartest guy in the world. That never came up either. Nor would anyone ever say they’d be surprised at how well Favre speaks (or doesn’t.)

    It just seemed like an odd thing to say. I’m not sure where I’d put this guy on my Ranking the Racists scale (RIP Don Imus). His comments may even have been harmless. Again, it’s not like the guy was outwardly or overtly racist But there was definitely some underlying shit going on there.

    Just another day in America, I suppose.

  5. It must be tough to be that insecure as to resort to such passive aggresssive behaivor. There are many ways to describe this gentleman, but superior is not one of them.

  6. I probably would have made a comment about stereotypes or dumb jocks, or even how yeah it’s surprising he doesn’t have brain damage like most football players? But what do I know about sports, I’m just a girl?

  7. So, now paying the guy a compliment is now “subtle racism.” What utter bullshit, but at least it’s not as much of a load of crap as calling Jackson “articulate.” He’s clearly been being coached by somebody on his public persona, because coming out of college, this guy was so mush-mouthed he needed sub-titles.

    In fact, he reminds me of the growth of Kevin Garnett. When he got to Minnesota in the 90’s, not only was he a kid like Jackson, but he was also “articulately-challenged.” He clearly got some coaching, because within six months, you couldn’t help but notice the difference.

    By the way, this same observation can be made about Brett Favre, who was another ham-tongued southerner.

    Nice try on “this is not me being overly sensitive.”

  8. Consciously or unconsciously referring to a black person as “articulate” or well-spoken typically indicates that the opposite is expected. Expecting a black person to not speak English properly is undoubtedly racist. This type of reference has happened to me on a frequent basis beginning from the time I was in high school as well as to many, if not all, of my black friends, schoolmates, family members and work associates as well. It is almost entirely impossible to hear someone, especially a sportscaster, refer to a white athlete as articulate especially on a frequent basis. Not so difficult to hear a black athlete referred to in this way. Another one of those things that is ingrained in American society.

    BTW, Eric IS very articulate. And VERY VERY black. Midnight black.

  9. Oh how I love ruffling your feathers with posts like these, Dubs.

    Whether Favre is articulate is not the point. Whether Favre had the same, less or more opportunities growing up than Jackson, Garnett or anyone else is also not the point.

    The point is no one would ever say that about Favre or Rodgers or Burrow and act surprised when the kid was or was not articulate. Not the case for guys like Jackson.

    Read the Don Calvino’s comments. He said it far more articulate than I. Per usual.

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