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Bojangling for Bigots

An Open Letter to Jason Whitlock

by DAVE ZIRIN

(Note to Reader: Over the last decade, Jason Whitlock has been one of the most prominent African American sports columnists in the United States. He writes for the Kansas City Star and AOL Sports. For reasons unclear, he often refers to himself as "Big Sexy")

Dear Jason,

I start with long overdue thanks. Thanks for inspiring me to be a sportswriter. Thanks for showing all of us that the sports page could be more than blather and box scores. For that you have my sincere gratitude.

But the sad truth is that in recent months you’ve changed. You’ve been acting like the love child of Clarence Thomas and Haystacks Calhoun. It’s time for an intervention. It’s actually long overdue.

I didn’t speak out when you called the great Scoop Jackson a "bojangling fake ghetto posturing clown." I didn’t say anything when you wrote that there needed to be a "new civil rights movement" directed at "black idiots." I didn’t type a word as week after week you provided African American cover for white sportswriters to rip Pro Basketball for being too "gangsta," too "violent," and too "hip hop" with all the subtlety of Strom Thurmond. Shame on me.

But your recent work on the NBA’s All Star weekend in Vegas is just beyond the pale. When you have the unholy arrogance to compare your crusade against "ghetto acting" black people to the actions of Rosa Parks, when you call young African American kids "the Black KKK", and when you liken walking the Vegas strip to being in "the yard at a maximum security prison", it’s simply time to say, "enough."

In your own words, "Instead of wearing white robes and white hoods, the new KKK has now taken to wearing white Ts and calling themselves gangsta rappers, gangbangers and posse members. Just like the White KKK of the 1940s and ’50s, we fear them, keep our eyes lowered, shut our mouths and pray they don’t bother us."

Please, please, please take a moment to listen to yourself. The Klan at its peak had 4.5 million members. They organized campaigns of lynching and terror to keep people of color from voting, holding jobs, or even existing in peace. To compare an NBA player’s entourage with this bloody nightmare makes you sound scared, small, and simple.

But we’re all aware you are anything but simple. You know there are far more fights in hockey and football than basketball with nowhere near the hysteria. You know there are more brawls at NASCAR events than at Madison Square Garden. You must realize that there is zero proof the friends and family of NBA players are any more violent than anyone else. But you bleat redundantly for "a new civil rights movement" to drive them out.

You actually write, "This must be the way Rosa Parks felt on that bus. She was just tired of eating white racist (spit). I’m tired of eating black racist (spit)."

Wow. You, Jason Whitlock. The new Rosa Parks. I suppose it is Black History Month, the one time we hear a great deal about Ms. Parks and her contribution to building a better world. I don’t quite recall her droning on about strip clubs and lap dances the way you do (maybe I just missed it). I don’t remember her reveling in the excess that seems to define your personal life. I’m not positive but I don’t think she ever referred to herself as "Big Sexy". I do know she cared more about fighting for the less fortunate than cozying up to power. Maybe she was just "bojangling."

Jason: it’s time for you and your sports writing brethren, all hot and bothered over All Star Weekend, to take a long overdue reality check. You rail against the violence of NBA "posses" yet turn your back to the fact that this is one of the most violent nations on earth. This is a country that imprisons 2 million of its citizens. This is a nation that spends 1.7 billion dollars a day on the military. This is the country that started an unnecessary war in Iraq that’s killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than 3,000 troops. Surely a fan of Rosa Parks like yourself is familiar with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government."

As you heroically churn out columns in between trips to the local gentleman’s club, a very real world beats with injustice. Black unemployment is three times that of whites. Unemployment today for young Black men aged sixteen to nineteen tops out at more than 30 percent, double that of young whites. And the latest Bush budget will mean all of this will get worse.

By devoting your column to the amplification of the worst racial stereotypes, you actually divert attention from the real issues Black America faces. In this post-Katrina world, it should be all too clear that the problem is institutionalized racism and poverty, not a kid in baggy jeans.

And I’m sorry Jason, but one last comment on comparing yourself to Rosa Parks. Rosa stood up to the Klan, the Southern Police, and three centuries of violence and hate. Rosa risked her life. You are making bank by "bojangling" for bigots.

There is certainly a new civil rights movement to be built. But it won’t be based on the sanctimonious spew you’re selling. Instead, it will need to involve the very people you shower with scorn.

Sincerely,

DAVE ZIRIN
www.edgeofsports.com

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of the forthcoming book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com