Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Duke and Michigan Renew Rivalry Amidst 'Uncle Tom' Controversy

Oh the irony.

The Duke Blue Devils are set to square off against the Michigan Wolverines today for a trip to the Sweet 16.

No matter the outcome of the game a storyline that will not be avoided is the Fab Five’s (Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson, and Juwan Howard) recent documentary which aired on ESPN recently.

Controversy swirls around both teams resulting from controversial statements made by former Fab Five standout and current ESPN Analyst Jalen Rose.

While the entire piece was rather telling it was Rose’s statement suggesting Duke largely recruited African-American players who were “Uncle Toms” that raised many eyebrows.

Does Rose’s statement have credence?

Being called an Uncle Tom is arguably the most damaging slur one can hurl at another African-American.
Whether or not you agree with Rose’s statement at least he had the stones to say exactly what he felt.

To put Rose’s assessment into perspective it’s important to define what an Uncle Tom is.

An Uncle Tom is defined as an African-American who turns on the community while they seek admittance into the white community.

He or she doesn’t associate with African-Americans to any substantial degree.  Furthermore, they rarely speak up on controversial topics that affect African-Americans in the mainstream, such as racism.

In short, it’s someone who is African-American by race but white by heart.

In my opinion, the preeminent example of an athlete being an Uncle Tom can be found by studying the institution of slavery: There you had house slaves and field slaves.

House slaves are the modern-day Uncle Toms.  They lived close to the master’s house and in some instances they lived in the house.  They dressed better than field slaves and ate better food.

House slaves were spies. They utilized to report back to the master of any slaves who were planning to escape or not working hard enough in the fields.

Field slaves were just that – they worked in the field.  They slept away from the slave-masters quarters and were treated like dirt.

They wore the worst clothes, ate the worst food and were watched with a keen eye by the master, the plantation overseer and the Uncle Toms house slaves.

The master treating the field slaves worse than the house slaves created a division between them: Simply put house slaves were led to believe they were better those who worked in the field.

Field slaves disliked the house slaves because they were selling them.  They were making a racist master happy who really didn’t care about them.

During the Civil Rights Movement, there were African-American leaders and citizens who were willing to accept white-rule.  Many feared the wrath of white oppression so much they simply did not act.

Due to their unwillingness to fight oppression while simultaneously trying to live white they were often characterized as Uncle Toms.

There were groups like the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam who did not bow down to racism.  There were leaders like Malcolm X who would not embrace oppression-they fought it with all their might.

Such activists were characterized as militants who didn’t accept racism.

Today in sports perhaps the classic example of an Uncle Tom would be Tiger Woods.  Woods has never embraced being African-American.  He felt so strongly about being associated with African-Americans he made up his own race called “Cablinasian.”

Woods has never taken any controversial stands or aligned himself with the African-American community.  He has done all he could to evade controversial issues and remains silent on hot-button topics, such as race.

Myself and others were quick to blast Woods for not speaking up when Golf Channel announcer suggested other golfers on tour should take Tiger in a “back alley and lynch him” to curtail his dominance on tour.

Uncle Tiger did all he could to sweep the situation under the rug.  On January 18, 2008 I issued the following: “I’m disappointed in Tiger.  Oh, I’m sorry, ‘Uncle Tiger.’  I know he doesn’t want to be, but Tiger is an African-American male living in white America”

Let’s not forget the media.  FOX sports writer Jason Whitlock has sometimes produced commentary that doesn’t bode well in the African-American community.

Most notably in 2007, Whitlock made rather ludicrous comments when radio personality Don Imus referred to several Rutgers female basketball players as “nappy headed hos.”

Whitlock suggested Imus was not the problem.  He made anti-African-American comments by issuing the following: “Imus is not the real bad guy.”

Whitlock continues, “I am sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dog’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy headed pimps and hos.”

Now there’s hopefully a better understanding of what an Uncle Tom is and who it has been associated with let’s address Rose’s assessment.

Isn’t true Coach K goes after African-American players that are raised in affluent homes?

Apparently he doesn’t want to worry about his players taking money under the table, corresponding with agents, or having their parents brokering deals on the side.

Translation, Coach K doesn’t recruit in the hood.

Case and point: Duke’s top recruit for next year is Jeremiah Rivers, the son of the Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers is African-American, comes from a well-to-do home, and plays great basketball.
Is the latter right or wrong?

Even though Coach K has historically recruited African-American players with a distinct background does, that doesn’t mean the African-American players themselves are clearly Uncle Toms?

Perhaps if we look beyond Rose’s comments we’d realize his choice of words and line of reasoning indeed has credence.

Bottom line: Rose ignited a discussion that was needed.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Jalen Rose: Fab Five Documentary on ESPN a Job Well Done...

The ESPN 30 for 30 special on the Fab Five is a must see.  It was an excellent depiction of how five freshman basketball players at the University of Michigan changed the landscape of college basketball with their confidence and style.

The piece was a job well done.

Even more telling I was extremely surprised at some of the brute honesty that came from the likes of Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King.

Chris Webber declined to participate in the documentary. 

I have more on Webber a bit later.

Rose suggested the type of African-American players Duke recruited were “Uncle Toms.” He suggested Duke rarely recruited so players from the hood from poverty stricken circumstances.

Jimmy King referred to Christian Laettner as an overrated “bitch” that over-hyped by the media.

Ray Jackson said he simply “hated Duke” and all they stood for.

The latter statements were very powerful points of view: As those of you who follow my commentary such points of view are right up my alley. 

Why not keep it real?

The Fab Five ushered in an era that embodied the Hip-Hop revolution that was transpiring in the early 1990’s. 

The Fab Five wore baggy shorts with black socks.  They sported tattoos with bald heads to add to their undeniable mystique as being great basketball players who were changing college basketball.

As a group the Fab-Five realized they were more than college basketball players.  During their freshmen year they student-athletes but as sophomores they realized they were professional athletes who were treated as amateurs.

While Rose has the utmost respect for then Michigan head coach Steve Fisher he pointed out he was getting mega-paid while they suffered financially.

Rose pointed out Fisher was making money from his coaching contract, endorsement deals, and radio shows.  But the fans were not coming to watch Fisher coach: They were coming to see five young men usher in a brand of basketball that reflected their up-bringing and Hip-Hop.

The Fab Five witnessed first hand the hypocrisy in 1991 that still exists in 2011.  Student-athletes, particularly the African-American athlete, are being taken advantage of. 

For instance, Nike made tons of dough off selling Fab Five jerseys and shoes.  The coaching staff sported Nike gear as well.  

When Michigan won the National Championship in 1989 the school reportedly grossed just over 1 million.  While the Fab Five was there the figure rose to 10 million.

How can the most important cog on the wheel—while generating a lot of press—were not recipients of some of the revenue they produced?

While they were at the apex of their celebrity at Michigan the Fab-Five were the recipients of a depth of racism that largely went undocumented.  The documentary showcased letters boosters and fans wrote to the coaching staff and the players that were littered with racial slurs.

They were often referred to as “niggers” and uncivilized “coons” wearing “baggy shorts” that listened to ghetto music.

They were characterized miscreants who were menaces to society because they played a brand of basketball that reflected their reality—which by most accounts then and now—is in direct opposition to what a segment of white America embraces.

This phenomenon has long existed before the Fab Five.  Those whites—in the mainstream media and otherwise—who harbor negative sentiment towards African-Americans do so out of a combination of fear and ignorance. 

The media contingent that covered the Fab Five twenty years ago reflects the whiteness that now exists in mainstream media.  Currently 94, 88, 89 of the Sports Editors, Columnists, and Reporters at mainstream newspapers, magazines and online entities are white: Therefore it would not be a stretch to suggest the numbers slightly worse two-decades ago.

Imagine a group of young African-Americans playing a brand of basketball that captured the sports world by storm yet their every move is being chronicled by a vastly white media contingent.  They were labeled in a negative fashion because they were largely misunderstood.  

As mentioned earlier Webber declined to participate in the program. I didn’t concur with his decision but it’s not for me to decide what he does or doesn’t do.  But I am free to speculate.

After Webber bolted to the NBA and investigation was launched into the Michigan program.  Webber lied to a grand jury about taking money from Ed Martin.  Other members of the Fab Five took money but they kept it real and told the truth and Webber didn’t.

Martin helped many urban youths by providing monetary assistance to those who needed whether they were blue-chip athletes or not.

Michigan officials want an apology from Webber but he won’t oblige.  This I totally agree with Webber. 

If I were Webber I would grant Michigan a through apology via press conference on ESPN.  I will call it the “Apology.”

So long as the Michigan administration would cut a check in proportion to the revenue Webber helped to generate and apologize for exploiting him I’d be good with that.

I do think Webber should apologize to Michigan at all: If he hasn’t already he should apologize to his Fab Five brothers and Martin’s family for dragging his name through the mud.

Lastly, I must give ESPN some kudos.  They allowed this production to have a level of realism that is needed.  Networks must allow those who have voices in the sports world to be covered by those who they feel comfortable with.   

We have a long ways to go before we reach a level of diversity in the media that not only allows but embraces varying vantage points. 

The Fab Five documentary was a job well done.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Jim Tressel Keeps His Job at Ohio State, but Should He?

Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel just got smacked with a two-game suspension and a $250,000 fine for not notifying the NCAA that he knew two of his players were under investigation by the FBI. The players in question were also receiving improper benefits for selling property they owned.

In an email sent to Tressel by a lawyer dated April 2, 2010, Tressel was made fully aware of the infractions. Oddly, he opted to plead the fifth and not notify Ohio State officials or the NCAA. That means

Tressel kept the information to himself for nine months.

Tressel did his best to live up to the code of keeping your mouth shut and not ratting anyone out, but the cat is out of the bag now.

All of this over five guys who sold items they owned for a few extra bucks.

Tressel issued the following at his weak press conference yesterday regarding the "E-Gate" scandal, saying, "I take responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously. Obviously I plan to grow from this. I'm sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down and that I didn't do some things as well as I could possibly do."

Tressel has a clause in his contract that mandates he reports infractions he's aware of to the proper channels, and failure to do so could result in his termination.

This information should have been reported directly to athletic director Gene Smith, and the ball should have rolled from there. But based on Smith's comments at the press conference, whether Tressel had gone to Smith or not, Tressel's job is safe.

"Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach," Smith said. "He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly."

How you can you "trust" a coach who knowingly withheld information?

How can you "trust" a coach who allowed his players to get bashed in the media as he played dumb and remained silent?

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit had no problems blasting Terrelle Pryor and his four teammates for their unacceptable behavior.

After the players were suspended, Herbstreit said, "This is a selfish act by Pryor and the other players."
Herbstreit was vocal about the players being "selfish," but why is Mr. Ohio State silent now?

While the likes of Herbstreit and the rest of the media were busy blistering the five suspended players, Tressel faked amnesia for nine months and allowed his players to be scrutinized because he didn't have the stones to tell the truth.

Despite the vote of confidence from Smith, I believe Tressel should be fired.

The time has come for athletic programs and the NCAA to stop engaging in blatant hypocritical behavior. College coaches who earn millions of dollars continue to incur minor punishments for major infractions compared to the athletes.

Cam Newton has been consistently shellacked by the media for what he did as a freshman at Florida and for his father allegedly brokering a deal with Mississippi State prior to his junior year.

The media created an atmosphere for Dez Bryant to get suspended by the NCAA for the final 10 games of his junior year at Oklahoma State—all because he lied about having a meal with Deion Sanders.

Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended four games for selling a game jersey he owned for extra cash.

Pryor and four teammates were suspended five games starting next season, yet they were allowed to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl game.

The NCAA must make that loot for the sponsors, right?

Bottom line, Tressel should be fired.

But since the program doesn't have the guts to do the right thing, at least administer a legit suspension and fine.

If the Ohio State players must miss nearly half of next season, then Tressel should be disciplined in a similar fashion, plus forego half his annual salary.

What's good for the goose (players) is good for the gander (coaches), right?

Sadly, it is not about equitable administration of justice.

Tennessee Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators, was suspended by the SEC for eight games and got his contract reworked.

After Pearl gave a tearful apology at a press conference in early September, it was alleged two weeks ago that he committed more NCAA infractions just four days afterward.

That Pearl is a piece of work, isn't he?

Louisville Cardinals head basketball coach Rick Pitino was in court last year. Pitino was the victim of extortion, yet it was revealed he was having an extramarital affair. His poor personal choices brought shame to the university, but he was not subject to any discipline from Louisville or the NCAA.

Seemingly everywhere current Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari goes trouble follows him.  Facts indicate Calipari has forfeited two Final Fours (1996 and 2007) because of NCAA infractions that transpired on his watch. Still, he continues to coach without truly facing the wrath of the media like the athletes do.

Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun just got hit with a three-game suspension commencing next season for violating NCAA rules.

If the players are penalized harshly and bashed by the media, why aren't the coaches?

Furthermore, is it merely a coincidence the players largely victimized are African-American, and the coaches who escape legit punishments are largely white?

Hey, I'm just making an observation.

At day's end, this isn't about players selling their own property—which is legal in society—or coaches getting off easy.

It's about truly legitimizing the NCAA to properly govern instead of haphazardly enforcing rules that are truly idiotic and favor those in authority.

It's about the NCAA running a mafia-like operation that has cleverly exempted itself from being regulated.
Millionaire coaches—who are supposed to provide leadership and serve as role models for athletes—continually engage in unacceptable behavior, yet the NCAA and athletic programs protect their coaches like referees protect quarterbacks in the NFL.

What's the solution here?

Many of the problems that hamper collegiate athletics rest squarely on the shoulders of the NCAA, their ridiculous rules and blatant hypocrisy. These nameless, faceless people simply hold too much indiscriminate power.

They create legislation that is utterly ridiculous where the athletes—who are the most vital part of the athletic equation—consistently get dumped on.

Pryor and his teammates were suspended for engaging in an activity that is legal in society.  Last time I checked, if someone owns a piece of property, they have a right to sell it. Yet, they are made examples of.
Players like Pryor—who aid in raking in millions of dollars for the institution, the Big Ten and the NCAA—deserve to be paid a stipend over and above what they get in scholarship money.

In short, pay the athletes and some of the senseless, spineless coaches like Tressel won't have to lie, and institutions like Ohio State won't look so foolish.

All of this over a few players who needed a few extra bucks.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ali & Frazier: Was ‘The Fight of the Century’ the Greatest Sporting Event of All-Time?

March 8, 1971 was arguably the most magical evening in sports history.  On this date 40-years ago two undefeated heavyweight champions squared off at the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden, in what was billed the “Fight of the Century.”

Muhammad Ali entered the fight with a 31-0 record with 25 KO’s while “Smokin” Joe Frazier was 26-0 with 23 KO’s.

Frazier held the belts but Ali was still the peoples’ champion.  Ali was seeking to reclaim that which was stripped by the United States government and the boxing authorities. 

His championship belts.

In 1967 Ali refused to military induction.  His controversial stance led to his forced 42 month exile from boxing.

Despite being rusty from the long layoff Ali won two tune-up fights before climbing into the ring with Frazier: He cut Jerry Quarry to shreds in winning by a TKO in the third round and he knocked out Italian brawler Oscar Bonavena in the final round of their fight.

Ali looked surprisingly sharp against Quarry but he was rather lethargic against Bonavena.

Meanwhile Frazier was a primed and ready fighting machine.  Frazier was methodically dismantling his opponents with his famous Philadelphia left-hook.

Before Ali was stripped of his livelihood he was clearly the best fighter in the world.  He was so great he literally ran out of worthy opponents to fight. 

The competition was so scarce Ali even contemplated fighting 7-foot tall giant Wilt Chamberlain prior to his being stripped of his title.

Leading up to the “Fight of the Century” Ali was in rare from with his mouth: He was blasting Frazier with a ferocious barrage of verbal abuse.  Due to Ali’s sharp tongue and the societal conditions the fight had racial and political undertones.

Ali was a giant figure who was against the Vietnam War; he stood up against the United States government and prevailed.   

Ali labeled himself as the spokesperson for African-Americans.  He portrayed himself as the poster-boy of blackness. 

Ali embraced the Nation of Islam, changed his name, and freely told white America how he felt.  He consistently boated of his beauty while simultaneously declaring Frazier as being “ugly.”

In the African-American community Ali represented those who had no platform or voice.  In short, he was adored by African-Americans and hated by a large segment of white America.

Ali characterized Frazier as an “Uncle Tom” who embraced Christianity who supported the war.  Frazier, though African-American, was adopted by working class whites who wanted him to close Ali’s big mouth.

Frazier often refused to acknowledge Ali’s new name.  He continued to call him Cassius Clay.  The latter infuriated Ali yet Frazier continued to call him out of his name. 

The media portrayed Ali as the loud-mouth Muslim who denounced the war while Frazier was depicted as the God-fearing Christian who represented American values.

Between Ali’s ranting and Frazier’s unwillingness to call Ali by his name created obvious friction between the two fighters thus creating tremendous energy before they would ultimately come to blows.

The stage was set for one of the most anticipated fights spectacles in all of sports.  The crowd was electric and loud.  The crowd was so noisy most at ring side couldn’t hear the introduction of the fighters.

Everybody who was anybody was in attendance.  Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Ted Kennedy, Walt Frazier and Woody Allen were there just to name a few.

Now it was time to brawl.

In the early rounds Ali was on his toes dancing and blistering jabs to Frazier’s forehead along with right-hand leads. 

Frazier kept coming forward as usual by bobbing and weaving his head as he looked to land that lethal left hook.

As the fight got to the middle rounds the fight was fairly even.  Ali—who coined the phrase “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”—was still stinging but his floating had subsided.

Frazier began landing his left hooks to the body and Ali’s right jaw.  Ali fought from the ropes to conserve energy. 

Midway through the 11th round Frazier landed a bodacious left-hook to Ali’s head which sent him reeling against the ropes.  Ali was clearly rubbery-legged but Frazier surprisingly failed to move in for the kill.  He allowed Ali to regain his senses going into the 12th round.

Ali remarkably resumed pummeling Frazier with jabs and right-hand leads in shellacking Frazier for the next two rounds.

Frazier was slightly ahead on all three scorecards entering the 15th round.  In my opinion it was an even fight.  I did not attend the fight-I was not old enough to remember the bout but I own the DVD.  I’ve watched it enough times to formulate a solid opinion.

In any event, as the 15th round started Ali was circling to his left when he nailed Frazier with a left upper-cut.  As they broke from a brief clinch Ali sought to throw a right-hand lead but Frazier landed a left hook that could have knocked down the side of a brick building.

Ali fell only to the canvas only get up within three seconds to finish the round strong.

Frazier won in a unanimous decision.

When the final bell rang the fight exceeded everyone’s expectations. 

Frazier went to the hospital for an extended stay while Ali sported only a swollen right jaw.

After the fight there were rumors Frazier had died because of the severe beating he took from Ali: Both eyes were nearly shut and his forehead was swollen with lumps from Ali’s jabs. 

“The Fight of the Century” reminds me of what boxing use to be and how horrible the game is today.  Boxing is a sport that’s currently in shambles.  Today there are very few great rivalries to speak of let alone great fighters. 

Therefore I easily declare the “Fight of the Century” to be the greatest fight and sporting event of all-time.

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