Ralph Wiley — my friend, mentor and hero — wrote a book years ago that, through a collection of essays, attempted to explain Why Black People Tend to Shout.
The explanation is rather simple: It’s been difficult for America to hear us unless we’re loud, obnoxious and rebellious. Reasonable claims of injustice and unfairness are dismissed as excuse-making by people who allegedly don’t have the necessary integrity and resolve to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Our shouts are heard, but they often go unaddressed until similar injustices impact the majority community.
Johnny Manziel is the latest example of this phenomenon.
The Heisman Trophy winner is a rule bender like Cam Newton, a rock-star partier like JaMarcus Russell and an improvisational playmaker like Michael Vick.
Somehow, America loves Johnny Football. We love him so much that we’re now ready to overthrow the NCAA and the stupid rule book that might deny us the privilege of watching Manziel attempt to duplicate his improbable freshman season. We love this rich, pampered, Justin Bieber-wannabe so much that we’re now apparently ready to deal with the fraudulence of amateurism.
Yep. This is why black people tend to shout.
Reggie Bush was an immoral, greedy punk who deserved to have his Heisman Trophy stripped from him because a potential agent rented his parents a new house. Cam Newton got called everything but a child of God because his father allegedly asked for extra money in his collection plate. Few outside of the Buckeye state cried when Terrelle Pryor got run out of college football because of free tattoos.
But Johnny Football and his autographs are game-changers when it comes to public perception of NCAA rules. Why?
For the same reason the Hippie Movement of the 1960s changed America’s perception of marijuana laws. White kids were suddenly impacted by our country’s draconian, mandatory-sentencing laws regarding marijuana. The Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 stipulated that first offenders receive two-to-10 years for marijuana possession. A decade of white Hippie weed smoke caused Congress to repeal the mandatory sentencing in 1970. It took The Grateful Dead and kids like Bill Walton to awaken America to the stupidity of throwing a young person’s life away over grass.
Maybe Johnny Football can teach us to quit throwing athletic careers away over shamateurism.
Fairness, to me, would not be Manziel being treated the way the NCAA and its media collaborators have treated poor, rule-bending black athletes for years. The NCAA and its volunteer media police force have used black athletes for financial gain and career advancement for too long.
I stand in defense of Manziel with the same conviction I stood in defense of Reggie Bush. In this era of TV-money-saturated college football and basketball, the NCAA rule book is outdated, immoral and ripe for abolishment.
Once again, let me remind you of the words written by the white, conservative architect of the modern NCAA, the organization’s former, longtime president, Walter Byers:
“Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”
Maybe Johnny Football will help America deal with the reality Byers spelled out in stark terms in 1997.
I’m not going to demonize Manziel. Yes, he’s spoiled and out of control. But he’s a product of a sports culture we have allowed to rot by not dealing with the complications brought on by television, fame and money. Kids don’t remotely respect NCAA rules because the rules are not remotely rooted in fairness.
It’s our fault. We, the media, fought harder for the expansion of the college football season and a playoff format than we did to end the sham of amateurism. We fought for our own pleasure rather than what’s right for the kids who sacrifice their bodies. Many greedy and cowardly millionaire coaches have been reluctant to speak a truth they know firsthand out of fear they might have to share their wealth.
Maybe that will change now that a good-looking white kid is in the crosshairs.
Unfortunately, it takes a victim who looks like Manziel for the masses to fully grasp unfairness. It took Manziel’s autographs for the masses to understand a point Jay Bilas has been making relentlessly on Twitter for at least the last two years. The NCAA can profit off Manziel’s name and fame, but Manziel can’t? Really?
It’s way past time for a new NCAA rule book and policies that make football and basketball players feel less financially exploited. Most people — regardless of color, family background or economic status — respect rules based in fairness. Manziel is no different from Newton or Bush. The only difference is America’s largely sympathetic reaction to Manziel’s NCAA problems.
If you read my column regularly, you know I don’t condone all of the shouting we do. But I know why black people tend to shout. Sometimes it feels like America has one ear and two mouths when we’re talking politely.