ESPN's 'First Take' and Manufactured Dissent


As dumb as Rob Parker's comments were, I think it's important to look at the "substantive" charge that Parker made: that RG3 consciously distances himself from African-Americans. If you check out the video, Stephen A. Smith pretty much accepts the substance, while rejecting Parker's ham-fisted classification system of brothers and "cornball brothers." 

But even that "substantive" charge is manufactured. Dan Steinberg points out that Griffin "has been asked about his race repeatedly this season. He has not, to my knowledge, ever brought the subject up himself." He also does the justice of pointing two of those responses. Here is a response that RG3 gave last week:

"Whenever you can relate to the population of the team that you play for, I think it makes it that much more special," Griffin said. "I don't play too much into the color game, because I don't want to be the best African American quarterback, I want to be the best quarterback. 

"But to the fans, and to the fans who think that way and look at me as an African American, it's important that I succeed, not only for this team, but for them," he continued. "Because it gives them that motivation, that hey, you know, an African American went out and played quarterback for my Washington Redskins. So I appreciate that; I don't ever downplay anything like that. Whoever I can go out every week and motivate to do better and to try to go after their dreams, I'm up for that."

Here is the response that led to Rob Parker inveighing against "cornball brothers":

"For me, you don't ever want to be defined by the color of your skin," Griffin said. "You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That's what I strive [for]. I am an African American, in America, and that will never change. But I don't have to be defined by that."

"I am [aware] of how race is relevant to [some fans]. I don't ignore it," Griffin said Wednesday. "I try not to be defined by it, but I understand different perspectives and how people view different things. So I understand they're excited their quarterback is an African American. I play with a lot of pride, a lot of character, a lot of heart. So I understand that, and I appreciate them for being fans." 

Griffin also addressed the persistent stereotyping of African American quarterbacks, saying he hopes his passing ability will set him apart. "They're always going to try to put you in a box with other African American quarterbacks: [Michael] Vick, [Cam] Newton, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon," Griffin said. "But there are guys like... Warren Moon and Doug Williams who really didn't run that much. I think that's the negative stereotype when it comes to African American quarterbacks, that [all they do is] run. But those guys threw it around, and I like to think I can throw it around a little bit. And that's the goal -- not to go out and prove anybody wrong, but just to let your talent speak for itself."

These answers are different, but they really aren't contradictory. They are the kind of answers you give when you are repeatedly asked the same question over and over. Whatever differences there are between these two answers they are mostly important if you are, as First Take is, in the business of professional disagreement. The evidence of RG3 distancing himself from black people (however you define that) is really thin. But if you are looking for it, as opposed to trying to fairly ascertain how another human feels, you can find it.

Whatever First Take does, actual reporters should stop asking the question. It's embarrassing and demeaning. For them. 

For Griffin it's a trap. If he declines to talk about race than that is evidence of "distancing." If he talks about it, he will eventually say something that will leave him subject to the rantings of someone like Parker.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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