Cornballs & Pigskins: What Rob Parker Got Right (And Wrong) About Race & RGIII


Although I don’t know him personally, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that it’s probably really hard not to like Robert Griffin III. I mean, what’s not to like? He’s a Heisman winning QB who has shattered rookie expectations and is returning a once storied franchise back to prominence. He’s smart, works hard and stays humble. What’s not to like?

ESPN analyst and Detroit sports writer Rob Parker (@RobParkerESPN) still had a concern or two while formulating his final opinion on RGIII. Last week on ESPN’S First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) while discussing RGIII, he made the comment that he wanted to know whether Griffin was a “real brother”, or “cornball brother”. This set off a pretty heated and tense debate, and it was clear that people were upset. So much so that ESPN decided to suspend Parker indefinitely and issue an apology via their website.

Clearly having a Black man in the highest office in the world has yet to make it any easier to have productive dialogue about race. One thing that seems to be lost in the situation is what prompted Parker to state his question. The show segment was centered on Griffin’s response at a news conference where he was asked how he felt about already being considered the best Black quarterback of all time. Griffin stated that he hoped to transcend race and be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, period.

On the surface this was the perfect answer. Griffin should not want to limit his success to a fragmented population that is only heralded in small segments of the population. Yet things get a little trickier when we try to examine the word transcend and what he meant by it. To be fair RGIII himself has not gone in depth about this, so everything going forward is speculation. Nonetheless, the term can be problematic for a number of reasons.

First, and Parker alluded to this, was the question of whether transcending the conversation of Black quarterbacks also meant wanting to disassociate himself from his Blackness. This is not an absurd thing to wonder as we saw Tiger Woods proclaim he wasn’t Black after people were amazed that a Black man had came to completely dominate one of the most segregated and exclusive sports in history. We seem to forget that Black people in this country do not receive the luxury of being an individual. Whoever is the Black person in the spotlight is the one who represents all of us and is the definitive voice for our community, for better or worse. RGIII, whether he accepts it or not, is the Black spokesman of the NFL. If he sees Black as being something that needs to be transcended, or is something that is inferior or lacking quality, then he confirms racist thought and ideology.

Secondly, we have to examine the equalizing effect that sports has had on this country. The fight for equality has been fought just as much on the hardwood and the gridiron as it has been in the courtrooms. Black athletes have proven the decency and humanity of their race by going out on the field and proving that just like they deserved to be at the same schools as whites, they deserved to be on the same team. They disproved the myths that they were too dumb to learn plays or too savage to play within the confines of the rules.

Probably nothing has done more to dispel that myth than the introduction of the Black quarterback. Once (really still) seen as too complex and too superior a task for a Black man to master, we now see Black men revolutionizing the way the most prestigious position of all of sports is being played. And while there are certainly still doubts and questions about the capabilities of Black QBs, no one may have a greater chance to reshape how we think about Black quarterbacks than Griffin. Griffin not only possesses the raw speed and elusiveness that defines most Black quarterbacks, he also has the arm and accuracy that most critics doubt that Black QBs have. Certainly there have been great Black players under center before and now, but none have been more universally accepted and praised as Griffin. No one questions whether he has the tools to carry the Washington Redskins. He is getting a pass that I doubt any Black quarterback has ever received. Yet if he does not acknowledge his role in dismantling the stigma of Black men playing quarterback than it creates the risk that Griffin becomes viewed as an exceptional anomaly, and the respect he has earned will not be granted to other Black players at the position.

All of these are valid arguments and I for one personally applaud Rob Parker for having the guts to talk about race on a national platform. However, he couldn’t have done a worse job of doing so if he tried.

Most obvious was Parker’s questioning of whether or not Griffin is a “real” brother. The problem with this question is that it is impossible to answer either way because race is a fictitious construct that has nothing to do with science or biology but has everything to do with the subjugation of people of color for the securing of social supremacy for White men. If you’re Black you’re Black, no matter who you date or who you vote for, things that made Parker question Griffin’s credentials.

Parker also went on to state that he had his ear to the streets, stating that he talked regularly to “real Black people, not ones who went to school and got degrees and their lives are good now.” It’s deeply disturbing that we still cannot connect upward mobility with Black authenticity. If we cannot see our people in a positive light, how do we expect anyone else to? Not every Black person that goes to school forgets where they came from. Not every Black person with a high paying job has disconnected from their roots. It’s also an odd stance for Parker to make, seeing as he holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in journalism.

He also didn’t do himself any favors by constantly prefacing his argument that his arguments where validated by his time in the barbershop. While I respect the diversity of opinion that is present in the Black barbershop, it is still not equipped to be the representing voice of the entire Black community. This goes back to my earlier point, the idea that we continually try and capture the entire Black voice through a single conduit. Black people are not monolithic in thought or action, we are way more nuanced than given credit for. Yet we still try and single out a single Black person and ask him or her to represent the entire Black population, which is as silly as it is racist.

Race, and it’s brother racism, are still the elephant in the room of America that continues to find ways to go unaddressed, even while it manages to play a pervasive yet significant role in our lives. No one is safe from its long reaching arms, whether it’s the brother on the street or the brother in the locker room. However, it’s going to take honest examination instead of surface conversations to eradicate. Props to you Rob Parker for having the courage to question convention, but next time take your time and come up with better questions.

  • Michael Lacey

    Great article, very engaging read. You made a lot of very interesting and valid points. It makes me feel like the solution to racism maybe the Lil Wayne effect. Where you get a seemingly unattractive blend of cultures that seems to breed ignorance. But atleast its seems like people get along that way.

  • I don’t agree with suspending Parker AT ALL. This is why I think we need to have a black sports show or talk show in general with men at the helm. Look, I don’t agree with Parkers line of questioning, the timing, or generally most of what he says. But 30 days suspension for that? Sounds off to me. We’re scared of race in this country, on both sides of the coin. White folks bring it up, they are being racist. Black folks bring it up, they are playing the race card. This was a BLACK man talking about BLACKNESS on TV…and because folks felt some kinda way he got suspended? Stephen A pretty much shut him down with his response, that was punishment and shame enough.

    And how the hell does the apology help? If this opinion was from the street and the barbershop, and he shares the opinion and question, what exactly is he apologizing for? For asking on TV because we know his opinion hasn’t changed. We need to be okay with a dialogue about race publicly.

    All that said, I agree with what you stated about his intended point, his lack of tact in questioning and essentially, err’thang you stated bruh.

  • Winner

    First Tiger didn’t say he wasnt black, he said he wasnt only black and what the hell is blackness, and why does that matter. I grew up in the same neighborhood as Eminem (10 years later) and I’m guessing thats rougher than the nieghborhood of Obama but who cares. As black people we’re not helping by calling out a guy for things like this I mean the Nba is driven by black stars and you think white people would be offended is Kevin Love wanted to be recognized as the best player, not just white player. Not everyone cares that racism exists and addressing things like this isnt helping anyone deal with it, and honestly us black people have been very hypocritcal when it comes to racial issues. No one owes us anything RGIII included.

    • Tiger Woods distanced himself from his blackness. Like I stated, race is a social construct, not biological. Even though it’s made up, that doesn’t negate it’s impact. You’re seen by your color first in this country, and just because someone White shakes your hand and doesn’t call you nigger doesn’t mean it’s not so. Race is the reason that minorities make only 70% of the income of their White counterparts when they possess the same level of education and experience. Race is why black and latino people are 3 times as likely to be suspected and detained for drug use while White people are 4 times as likely to be in possession. Race is why Black unemployment is at 17% when the national average is at 9%. You may not care about race because you don’t see how it affects you. And thats fine, and I won’t say that stance makes you any less Black. However, to say that no one owes us anything is absurd seeing that we shouldn’t be owed equality.

      • Winner

        You may be right about Tiger it does seem that way but I’m not sure thats fact, and I agree about the way people see you and if a white guy shakes your hand thing… But you assuming a white guy is racist is sorta like a white guy assuming your a crook because if your skin color. I know some better yet most people make judgement postive or negative because of skin color but thats irrelevant if it stays a thought. I mean people past judgement all the time based on height, sex, age etc. that doesnt make things right and racist thoughts arent the problem racist actions are. There is no doubt in the facts you stated we are behind economically and racial profiling does exist but questioning each others blackness isnt going to help. And I’m 6’0 dark skinned with cornrolls I’ve seen older black woman tuck their purses when I walk by and that hurts more than any racist comment… And incase you couldnt tell I really enjoyed your article and everyone deserves to be treated equally which leads me back to what the hell is blackness.