Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Jim Brown's largely anonymous fight.....

Thought this article was interesting in many ways.....Jason Whitlock is my favorite sports columnist, and I think that he does a great job provoking thought about the intersection of American sports and the wider culture...thought others might find it interesting as we think about social change and the responsibilities it entails.

I figured out years ago it's a good thing everyone doesn't act like me.

Strip clubs would be overcrowded. You'd literally have to call ahead to reserve a champagne room.

Strip-club hostess: "We can get you in with Mercedes on Tuesday at 5 p.m. or there's a 2 a.m. slot on Sunday with Athena. Mr. Whitlock, what would you prefer?"

Selfishly, I'd prefer things stay exactly as they are. The hypocrites can secretly surf the Internet for porn, shop Craiglist for hookers and pretend their twice-a-year sex life with their spouse of five years is satisfying and a one-way ticket to Heaven's gates.

Jesus walked with prostitutes. Jason walks with strippers.

OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But the analogy came to mind as I watched Jim Brown slice into Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan about their alleged lack of social conscience on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

For too long, the media has ignored Jim Brown's social agenda.

Jim Brown is the most important athlete in American history. Everything we foolishly credit Muhammad Ali for standing for Jim Brown actually did and does. The reverence we shower on the self-serving, draft-dodging, Joe Frazier-is-a-monkey Muhammad Ali more appropriately belongs at Jim Brown's feet.

His work in Los Angeles and across the country with street gangs, felons and prison inmates is truly Christ-like. That sentence is not an exaggeration. Through his Amer-I-Can program, Jim has chosen to associate with America's underclass in hopes of changing a destructive culture.

My respect for Jim Brown couldn't be any higher. I consider him a good friend.

He's wrong about Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, though.

Brown wants Woods and Jordan to do what they're incapable of: duplicate their athletic courage in the social arena.

"(Tiger) is a killer, he will run over you, he will kick your ass," Brown said during his interview on Real Sports. "But as an individual for social change? Terrible. Terrible ... He can get away with teaching kids to play golf, and that's his contribution. In the real world, I can't teach kids to play golf and that's my contribution, if I've got that kind of power."

Translation: Brown wants Tiger and Michael to act like Jim Brown.

It's never going to happen. It's a naive request. It's the equivalent of asking Whoopi to be as seductive as Beyonce. Whoopi would make a fool out of herself trying.

The era of professional athletes being the leaders of social change has come and gone. Integration and money disconnected most modern athletes from the plight of the underclass four decades ago.

When you earn the kind of money Woods and Jordan rake in, you become a member of the establishment. It's difficult to fight the power when you are trying to hold onto it.

In my opinion, Woods and Jordan are not the problem. The media are.

We spent the better part of four decades convincing the public that Muhammad Ali was the ultimate black athlete, and now we wonder why Chad Johnson and a multitude of assclowns have perfected an Ali imitation.

Remember, I figured out years ago it's a good thing everyone doesn't act like me.

Think about it. Don Imus was vilified and demonized for uttering "nappy-headed hos" and Ali was celebrated for repeatedly calling Joe Frazier a gorilla as white reporters laughed and fought back tears of joy.

Ali was a pawn of the anti-Vietnam War movement, a cash cow for the Nation of Islam and a symbol of how bigots wanted high-profile black athletes to behave.

You've been hoodwinked, bamboozled and led astray.

Imagine if the media had spent 40 years extolling Brown's authentic commitment to and representation of the underclass rather than speculating about and interpreting domestic disputes. Imagine if Jim Brown had lit the Olympic torch in Atlanta rather than the Louisville Lip.

Imagine if Jim Brown was universally praised as the ultimate black athlete rather than as the angry black man in the funny hat.

Maybe then there would be fewer hey-look-at-me bojanglers and more Baron Davises trying to positively influence the communities that produced them.

This is America, home of capitalism. We're conditioned to follow the money. The media made Ali's buffoonery marketable and profitable. We made Brown's legitimate social conscience dangerous and scary.

There's no mystery as to why Woods and Jordan fall short of Brown's dedication to advancing social change. They've personally experienced little or no injustice. Beyond funding educational opportunities for the poor and carrying themselves in a dignified manner, they have no real clue how they can give back without being exploited.

And, more important, they realize they'd be treated as pariahs if they followed in Brown's footsteps.

When you choose to walk with prostitutes (as Jesus did) and strippers (as I have) and gang members (as Brown has), it's a very lonely stroll.

Jim Brown pretty much walked alone in the 1960s and 1970s. His courage dragged along a few tokens. Where are they now? They're not in the trenches with Jim. They're on the golf course with Tiger and Michael.

Nothing has really changed. Perhaps one day there will be a new Jim Brown. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. I've been waiting 40 years for the next Martin Luther King Jr.

The lesson is an old one: Jim Brown and everyone else just need to continue being the change they want to see. It's the best we can do.

No comments: