ESPN's Laughable Arbitration of RG3's Blackness Is Predictable

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RG3 said the following in an interview with USA Today:

Griffin acknowledged his appreciation for black Washington Redskins fans proud of his transformative debut season -- and noted how he hopes to erase lingering stereotypes concerning African-American quarterbacks. 

"For me, you don't ever want to be defined by the color of your skin,'' Griffin said at the end of Wednesday's post-practice news conference in reference to a question about Martin Luther King, Jr. "You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That's what I've tried to go out and do. 

 "I am an African-American in America. That will never change. But I don't have to be defined by that.'' 

The sports world is atwitter with Rob Parker's asinine reply:

"My question is, and it's just a straight, honest question: Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother," Parker said. "He's not really. He's black, he does his thing, but he's not really down with the cause. He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with." 

Parker said he wants to know more about Griffin's personal life before he can accept Griffin as authentically black. "I want to find about him," Parker said. "I don't know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancee. Then there was all this talk about he's a Republican, which there's no information at all. I'm just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like, 'I've got black skin, but don't call me black.' So people wondered about Tiger Woods." 

Asked by fellow panelist Skip Bayless about the fact that Griffin braids his hair, Parker said that's an aspect of Griffin that he approves of. "That's different, because, to me, that's very urban," Parker said. "Wearing braids is, you're a brother. You're a brother if you've got braids."

Expect Parker to be somehow censured by ESPN. But as stupid as Parker's comments were, what he will be punished for isn't so much stupidity, as a lack of savvy. First Take is an interesting animal. It baits outrage, and often over the minor decontexualized quotes. (We have no idea, for instance, what RG3 was actually asked, or how the subject even came up.) The point is to get as close to the line as you can without crossing it. Parker didn't get the memo.

He also didn't quite get his lines straight.  Toward the end, you got the vague sense that Parker knew he'd played himself. There's that befuddled look on his face and the notion that braids can rescue you from the ranks of "cornball brothers," and the notion that having a "clean cut" (like Nas?) somehow makes you less black. The whole thing is ridiculous. But it's a kind of ridiculousness that will happen given First Take's formula.
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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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