A couple of weeks ago a member of the Philadelphia Eagles family put his foot in his mouth. He was incredibly drunk while attending a concert. When he wasn’t allowed on stage the athlete yelled racial epithets and threatened violence. Hugh Douglas really screwed up.
At a concert in Orlando, Douglas became irate over his disallowance on stage. A former captain of the Eagles and current co-host on ESPN’s Numbers Never Lie, Douglas flew off the handle at fellow ESPNer Michael Smith. He accosted and called Smith an “Uncle Tom” and a “House [N-word]” before being restrained by concertgoers and another ESPN representative. If you blinked, or if you only get sports news from ESPN, you probably had no idea this happened.
This summer has been a hotbed for racial tensions. From Paula Deen, to George Zimmerman, to Riley Cooper, tales of racism and intolerance have dominated the national headlines. Not since the Los Angeles riots and beating of Rodney King has race relations been so prominently on display. The most toxic skeleton in America’s closet has once again reared its head.
Racism is still prevalent in society. It just may not be overtly displayed like in the 1950s. There are no segregated water fountains, no whites-only restrooms, and certainly no seat restrictions on buses, but it still resides. The current racism moves through an undercurrent, ever-present but not overbearing.
One of the fundamental difficulties of racism is that it’s a hydra. There are too many moving pieces to ever tackle it. It’s not a black/white issue. It’s not a gay/straight issue. It involves every race, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation.
Further complicating matters are occurrences of intraracial intolerance. Here is where ESPN, and most of the national media, for that matter, have dropped the ball. By covering Riley Cooper and athletes’ reactions to the Zimmerman case, sports outlets chose to delve into the topic of racism. However, by ignoring Douglas’s drunken rage, these outlets have marginalized the nuances that make racism so omnipresent.
Riley Cooper’s tirade was vicious and immediately impactful. It was a white man yelling the forbidden word at a black man. Anyone with any hint of morality can understand the significance of his actions. His words were out of anger and they were meant to hurt his adversary. The word is hurtful enough; the vitriol behind it is even worse.
Hugh Douglas had the same intent as Cooper. He was belligerent, violent, and hurled the same racially insensitive word. However, he was a black man yelling the forbidden word at another black man. Through music and popular culture the word has been watered down and, erroneously, deemed socially acceptable as long as used between blacks. With the same anger and aggression behind his words as Cooper, Douglas is no different than his white counterpart.
In failing to discuss Douglas’s outburst, outlets have chosen to ignore a large plight of the black community. Though it has declined sharply in the past 20 years, black on black crime is still an epidemic in America. In 2011, nearly 91% of black homicides were at the hands of African Americans. The white/black dynamic is more easily recognizable due to its historical context. However, the black on black crime is currently more cancerous.
Douglas’s name calling is very perplexing. What exactly is he trying to attack Michael Smith for? For having an education? For working in the media? For being at the top of his profession? When you consider that Douglas has a college degree and co-hosts alongside Smith at the Worldwide Leader, the two men aren’t that different. The main difference is Smith had to claw his way up the journalistic totem, whereas Douglas, like many ex-athletes, had an easier route to the top based on his playing history.
By calling Smith an “Uncle Tom,” Douglas acted irresponsibly. Inner cities are littered with youths trapped within a crumbling system. To them, celebrity and athletics are the only ways to escape their daily hell. Douglas upheld antiquated notions of black machismo that education is beholden to the white man. That any African American working his or her way up through the white-collar world lacks a certain degree of blackness. Douglas’s remarks were ignorant and harmful to an entire community.
Racism is a hot-button issue. With so many platforms, it’s understandable why ESPN treads lightly on the topic. However, when a member of its talent pool performs the exact same acts as a trending news story, the network has a responsibility to address the issue. Hopefully Douglas realizes his misdeeds and, if anything positive comes from the situation, it’s that he has shed more light on the multifaceted nature of racism in America. After all, change comes through discourse.