Race is a serious issue in sports, as in other parts of society. It absolutely should be discussed. It’s a tragic shame that sports journalists are often some of the worst people in the world at doing so. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder’s regrettable diatribe about black athletes and slavery happened almost two decades before Rush Limbaugh declared Donovan McNabb’s success a creation of the media. Rob Parker’s controversial comments about Robert Griffin III show how little some have learned in the time between.
It’s telling that ESPN, the same network that employed Limbaugh, picked up Parker. Before appearing on First Take, Parker earned fame for an unprofessional press conference question he asked then Detroit Lions Coach Rod Marinelli. The team’s defensive coordinator was Marinelli’s son-in-law. Parker asked the coach if he wished his daughter had married a better defensive coordinator. Everyone from journalists in attendance to Fox NFL Sunday’s Jimmy Johnson called for his firing, and he was gone from the Detroit News within a month’s time.
ESPN considered him a perfect fit for First Take, and even today the network is probably more right about that than it realizes. Exciting rookie RG3 could be the focal point for a million legitimate debates about football. Parker could have talked about the changing dynamic at the NFL’s quarterback position, or the possibility of reviving a long dormant Washington Redskins franchise. Instead, he chose to cite nameless sources who thought RG3 might be a “cornball brother.” Among the evidence he cited was Griffin’s white fiance and possible membership in the Republican Party. He had no evidence of Griffin’s political affiliation, and no real explanation for why him being a Republican makes him in any way less black.
In the Marinelli incident, Parker appeared to be using humor to address a real issue. There probably was a better coaching candidate than Marinelli’s son-in-law. Had Parker not gone the “Jim Rome” route of trying to anger the interview subject, some actual journalism might have occurred. I’m not sure where he was going on RG3, and it doesn’t seem he really did either. NFL players, black and white, are appearing in arrest reports on an almost daily basis. Griffin has been nothing but professional, respectful and one of an ever shrinking group of athletes I wouldn’t be ashamed to have my two sons emulate.
The quarterback should earn nothing but accolades for a season in which he left everything on the field, eventually suffering career threatening injury rather than sit out a game. If I’m picking ambassadors to represent our race in a positive light, I’m calling Griffin’s name long before I reach Parker’s. ESPN made the right move in not renewing his contract. I hope the network has learned a valuable lesson about employing the “shock jocks” of the sports talk world.