White Silence

“It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America — white kids getting beat up on school buses now. I mean, you put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety, but in Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yeah, right on, right on, right on!”

— Rush Limbaugh

Over a week has gone by since the news broke that Rush Limbaugh is part of a bid to purchase the St. Louis Rams, and the reactions are in. NFL player Mathias Kiwanuka immediately condemned Limbaugh’s many statements as “flat out racist”. A few other players joined in and The New York Daily News headline began with a race qualifier:

“Black NFL players crush prospect of playing for a Rush Limbaugh-owned St. Louis Rams”

The story, and the qualifier, were repeated in many more articles, TV spots, and blogs which soon morphed into a new debate:

“Will Black Players Refuse to Play for Limbaugh?”

And if the discussion focus wasn’t black enough, soon came this one from ESPN via AP:

“Sharpton Seeks Rejection of Limbaugh” (plus thousands of bigoted comments)

Meanwhile almost all of the harsh criticism and columns have come via African-American journalists none more consistent than SOMM’s D.K. Wilson in leading that charge. TV pundit Michael Wilbon would add of Limbaugh:

“He is universally reviled by black people in this country – and justifiably so”.

So now that we have heard sentiments about “black people”, columns from black journalists, and reactions from many current and retired “black NFL players”, a serious question need to be asked:

How did opposition to Rush Limbaugh ownership become exclusively “a black thing”?

Where do “white people” stand on this?

Where are the direct denunciations from white sports writers? (Besides Dave Zirin!). And what do white NFL players think? Do we even know?… Have we even asked? …And if not, why not? …Are admirable character traits like “community responsibility” and “anti-racism” only to be demanded from African-American athletes?

While this deafening white silence [1] has Howard Cosell howling in his grave, DeMaurice Smith — the NFL Players Association’s Executive Director –is doing their job for them by encouraging NFL players to speak out “with candor and blunt honesty about how they feel.” Mr. Smith made no qualifier of the player’s race. Taking Smith’s lead, wouldn’t sports writers seek out those voices that carry the greatest influence? There is simply no greater social standing in sports than the great white quarterback, and Donovan McNabb can only nail two of the three criteria. So the question becomes:

What does Brett Favre think?

Favre’s voice could have a social impact like no other sports figure. He is football’s most iconic active player, and is also a country-boy born and raised in Mississippi — a state whose ugly racial history is well-documented. Would Favre use his voice to “reduce the hate” at a time where mass racial hatred is as publicly visible as any time since the 1960s? Or would he be more concerned that “racists buy Wranglers too”?

What does Tom Brady think?

As a member of the Republican Party, he is in a prime position to throw his greatest pass. By denouncing Limbaugh’s ownership bid, Brady can prove that Rush does not own him — unlike the congressman in his party. Brady can make an incredibly powerful statement that racism and Republicanism do not have to share the same bed, and that hatred and bigotry should never be reduced to a “political issue” alongside alternate viewpoints on deficit reduction or campaign finance reform.

What does Kurt Warner think?

Warner — who once led the St. Louis Cardinals to its only Super Bowl — is also a well-known devout Christian committed to spreading the principles. Does Rush Limbaugh reflect those principles? Warner’s words could send a much-needed message to fellow Christians that Limbaugh’s racism is an anti- Christian perversion of his religion.

Peyton Manning? Ben Roethlisberger? Tony Romo?

Will they use their special clout (okay — maybe not Romo!) to oppose the ownership bid of a man who says: “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There — I said it.”? …There — he said it. …So what’s the response Mr. Manning? Despite the uniform blue, the guess is that Rush was not referring to you as a Crip. Do YOU also see gang members when you return to the huddle? I doubt that you do, but your silence just might help confirm that Rush was correct when he also said: ”They are 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?”

It’s an important question worth exploring.

Many African-American writers and players have publicly taken the lead, but few whites are following. This white complacency is especially dangerous in a climate of racial backlash that has included a clearly noticeable rise of a media, message boards, and protest rally signs that are all, well — “flat-out racist”. That guns and assassination threats accompany these rallies while a well-documented militia movement makes a Warner-esque comeback just emphasizes that these are not times to sit on fences. Check this title out from a white supremacist website:

“Black NFL Players Won’t Play For A Rush Limbaugh Rams Team Because He’s White”

“Because He’s White”… Hmmm. Given the paucity of white backlash, the confusion is not as shocking as it should be. When white people choose to stay warm on the sidelines instead of block in the trenches, then messages get mixed, racists get rewarded, and those who fight racism somehow become the racists themselves. White silence is and has always been racism’s best friend. Just pick up an American history book.

As has often been the case, sports can still lead society. One way is for white writers – including myself – to end the “role-model” double-standard, and never spend another second over Michael’s meekness, Tiger’s timidity, or Lebron’s greater interest in dinero than Darfur [2]. Such energy is better focused on the role-model influence ALL athletes, and helping white players to better understand the power of their greatness, and the privilege of their whiteness. The latter assumes that white writers understand the privilege of our own.

There is a reason why most sports fans could probably name at least 5-10 African-American athletes who have used their standing, money, time, and activism to change our society before a single white American athlete comes to mind? (Note: Steve Nash is Canadian!). One general reason is that white journalists and white society, never request off-the-field greatness from them. Simply put, the great white athlete suffers from “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”


What if Brett Favre said: “If making my final comeback meant playing for Rush Limbaugh, I would have stayed retired.”

What if Tom Brady said: “Politics are to be debated, but racism is to be condemned. Rush Limbaugh does not speak for me, and he has no place in the NFL.”

To his credit Kurt Warner recently said:

“I believe that the Lord has a plan for each of us that’s better than anything we can imagine–even if that plan isn’t obvious to us at every stage… “Whether I’m a Super Bowl Champion or a regular guy stocking groceries at the Hy-Vee, sharing my faith and glorifying Jesus is the central focus of my time on this earth. And the fact that I now have a podium, I believe, is no coincidence. I want to be a role model for Christ in everything that I do. Living my life for Him and showing people the beauty of that reality is my mission in life.”

Kurt, you still have the podium, and Rush Limbaugh wants to purchase your old franchise.

What Would Jesus Do?

Maybe one day a sports writer might even ask you that question.

CHARLES MODIANO is a sports writer for Sports On My Mind and can be reached at modi@cosellout.com