Rob Parker: ESPN Is Mishandling Suspension for Comments on Race and RGIII

Alex MussoFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2012

Photo Courtesy ESPN
Photo Courtesy ESPN

By now, I'm sure most sports fans have heard what Rob Parker said on ESPN's First Take on Thursday, December 13, 2012. In case you haven't, read this article from The Washington Post. Parker was suspended indefinitely for his comments in response to an interview conducted by Comcast SportsNet’s Chick Hernandez, where Robert Griffin II addressed issues of race.

Parker's suspension is unfortunate, and shows a clear over-sensitivity to controversial topics on the part of ESPN.

Race and the quarterback position have been controversial for some time. Just this year, Warren Moon accused the media of racism for their collective criticism of Cam Newton, especially the comparisons made between Newton and Vince Young.  

I myself wrote an article critical of Griffin's running the football as often as he does. I argued that because of his running, he was putting himself in danger of injury and he would not succeed long term in the NFL if he kept putting himself in position to get injured. Perhaps you disagree with that analysis. But I was called racist for criticizing a style of play. I made the same comments about Tim Tebow in the same article, but was not accused of being a self-hating white man.

What's the point? It sure seems clear that there is a double standard when it comes to black quarterbacks. And unfortunately for Rob Parker, he's likely to lose his job over his opinion.  

What's worse is that what Parker said is not even terribly unusual. In fact, Steven A. Smith, another ESPN First Take commentator, was on Geraldo at Large with Juan Williams, essentially saying the exact same things about Tiger Woods. ESPN did not suspend Steven A Smith over these comments. 


So why the harsh punishment for Rob Parker? After all, he was asked his opinion and he gave it. If you didn't read the article from The Washington Post that I posted earlier, please do, and compare that to what was said in the Geraldo clip. Not much difference, is there?

Here's where the discussion gets tough. Race is an unresolved issue in America. Our Attorney General, Eric Holder, called Americans "a nation of cowards" due to our reluctance to broach the subject, and he's absolutely right. We can't bring up race without people "freaking out." And that's sad, because we need to talk about the race-related issues to move on.  

I think, to a certain extent, sports media is overly protective of minority star athletes. Take the "chink in the armor" remarks written by an ESPN editor. He was fired, and the anchor that simply read his line was suspended 30 days. That was at the height of "Lin-Sanity." The editor did not even realize that what he was saying was a racial slur, yet he lost his job anyways.

Is it possible that Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that the media wanted black quarterbacks to succeed, was right? To some extent, yes.

No one rushes to defend Jay Cutler when his negative attitude makes headlines. But when Cam Newton behaves similarly, and receives similar criticism, analysts rush to Newton's defense. The same can be said about Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and other black quarterbacks who have had personal or professional issues.  Criticism of their play or their personalities often leads to accusations of racism.  

Heck, ESPN held a televised Town Hall meeting to discuss dog fighting and it's cultural link to the black community.  I have never once seen an ESPN Town Hall conducted to discuss any other player in NFL history.  Perhaps Limbaugh had a point about the media and their sensitivities to criticism of black quarterbacks.

I know I've bombarded you with a lot of video, but it's important to see that what Rob Parker said is nothing unusual. He merely gave his honest, unfiltered opinion after he was asked to respond to remarks made by Robert Griffin III about his role as a quarterback, and as a black quarterback in a community with many black residents. 

Why can Steven A. Smith call Washington D.C. "Chocolate City"? Why is Fred Davis, a teammate of RGIII, allowed to call RGIII "Black Jesus"? And then why isn't Rob Parker allowed to give an honest assessment of his experiences and conversations with members of his own community?  

It's disingenuous for us to believe that many in the black community don't feel the exact same way as Rob Parker.  As a 25-year-old white man who grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood, I don't have the same cultural experiences as middle aged black men who grew up in a time when the black community was forced to stick together to fight for their rights.

Yet I can easily understand why many older black men would be upset with black celebrities and athletes who don't seem interested in preserving their culture and identity, especially since many black activists gave their lives to give these younger black celebrities and athletes the chance at the opportunities they now have. And for those who try and dismiss those sentiments, you are simply denying reality.

All Parker did was express a very real and emotional opinion, and now he's been suspended indefinitely. You may disagree with Parker, you may hate him with every fiber of your being. But he does not deserve to be punished for expressing his opinion, especially after he was specifically asked to give it.  

If we can't have open and honest conversations about race in sports without hauling out the guillotine and demanding someone's head, then perhaps we really are a nation of cowards.