NFL truth: Hip-hop culture hurting NFL
You get one NFL Truth today. Watching Chad Johnson and Larry Johnson undermine their respective head coaches, Marvin Lewis and Herm Edwards, on Sunday gave me a singular focus, forced me to contemplate an uncomfortable truth.
African-American football players caught up in the rebellion and buffoonery of hip hop culture have given NFL owners and coaches a justifiable reason to whiten their rosters. That will be the legacy left by Chad, Larry and Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, Terrell Owens, Michael Vick and all the other football bojanglers.
In terms of opportunity for American-born black athletes, they're going to leave the game in far worse shape than they found it.
It's already starting to happen. A little-publicized fact is that the Colts and the Patriots — the league's model franchises — are two of the whitest teams in the NFL. If you count rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts opened the season with an NFL-high 24 white players on their 53-man roster. Toss in linebacker Naivote Taulawakeiaho "Freddie" Keiaho and 47 percent of Tony Dungy's defending Super Bowl-champion roster is non-African-American. Bill Belichick's Patriots are nearly as white, boasting a 23-man non-African-American roster, counting linebacker Tiaina "Junior" Seau and backup quarterback Matt Gutierrez.
For some reason, these facts are being ignored by the mainstream media. Could you imagine what would be written and discussed by the media if the Yankees and the Red Sox were chasing World Series titles with 11 African-Americans on their 25-man rosters (45 percent)?
We would be inundated with information and analysis on the social significance. Well, trust me, what is happening with the roster of the Patriots and the Colts and with Roger Goodell's disciplinary crackdown are all socially significant.
Hip hop athletes are being rejected because they're not good for business and, most important, because they don't contribute to a consistent winning environment. Herm Edwards said it best: You play to win the game.
I'm sure when we look up 10 years from now and 50 percent — rather than 70 percent — of NFL rosters are African-American, some Al Sharpton wannabe is going to blame the decline on a white-racist plot.
That bogus charge will ignore our role in our football demise. We are in the process of mishandling the opportunity and freedom earned for us by Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Doug Williams, Mike Singletary, Gale Sayers, Willie Lanier and countless others. And those of us in the media who have rationalized, minimized and racialized every misstep by Vick, Pacman and T.O. have played an equal role in blowing it.
By failing to confront and annihilate the abhorrent cultural norms we have allowed to grab our youth, we have in the grand American scheme sentenced many of them to hell on earth (incarceration), and in the sports/entertainment world we've left them to define us as unreliable, selfish and buffoonish.
I take you to Arrowhead Stadium this past Sunday when two competent and respected black head coaches led the Chiefs and the Bengals in battle, and their efforts were periodically sabotaged by Chad and Larry Johnson, the two players Lewis and Edwards have defended the most.
Football fans are aware of Lewis' love affair with Chad Johnson, the Flavor Flav of the gridiron. Johnson's insistence on conducting a minstrel show during games has long been reluctantly tolerated by Lewis. Johnson, I guess, is just too talented, productive and well-compensated for Lewis to discipline. So Lewis has chosen to enable, going as far as making excuses when Johnson's selfish behavior extended to an alleged locker-room shoving match with coaches (including a swing at Lewis) at halftime of the Bengals' Jan. 8, 2006 playoff loss to the Steelers.
Coming off an 11-5 regular season and having been crowned the toast of Cincinnati, Lewis responded to that Johnson meltdown by vowing to cut the player who leaked the fight information to the media.
Since then, the Bengals have been one of the league's biggest disappointments, finishing 8-8 last season and starting 1-4 this season. Injuries have played a significant role in Cincy's troubles, but so has a lack of on- and off-field discipline and focus. Lewis' coddling of Chad Johnson has destroyed the chemistry that made the Bengals a playoff team in 2005.
On Sunday, with the Bengals trying to rally out of a two-score deficit, Johnson failed to finish a pass route, which contributed to Carson Palmer throwing an interception.
Not to be outdone, Larry Johnson continued his season-long pattern of immature behavior, spiking the football in frustration with 4 minutes to play and the Chiefs attempting to run out the clock. The Bengals were out of timeouts and the spike stopped the clock, giving Cincy one last chance to make a comeback.
Johnson, despite receiving a new $45-million contract, has brooded, pouted and complained all season. He spent the off-season promising to be a leader and has spent the first six weeks of the season spreading locker-room cancer. Edwards-coached teams have traditionally been the least-penalized squads in the NFL. This year's Chiefs are one of the most-penalized squads. Nickel back Benny Sapp drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Sunday, had to be dragged off the field by Donnie Edwards, and was spotted on the sideline arguing with players and coaches.
Race is not the determining factor when it comes to having a good or bad attitude. Culture is.
Hip hop is the dominant culture for black youth. In general, music, especially hip hop music, is rebellious for no good reason other than to make money. Rappers and rockers are not trying to fix problems. They create problems for attention.
That philosophy, attitude and behavior go against everything football coaches stand for. They're in a constant battle to squash rebellion, dissent and second opinions from their players.
You know why Muhammad Ali is/was an icon? Because he rebelled against something meaningful and because he excelled in an individual sport. His rebellion didn't interfere with winning. Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc. rebelled with dignity and purpose.
What we're witnessing today are purposeless, selfish acts of buffoonery. Sensible people have grown tired of it. Football people are recognizing it doesn't contribute to a winning environment.
Whether calculated or not, the Patriots and the Colts have created settings in which Brady and Manning can lead and feel comfortable. I remember back in the 1980s when some black sports fans accused the Celtics of being racist for having a predominantly-white roster when Larry Bird was the star. No one remembered that Red Auerbach occasionally fielded an all-black starting lineup during Bill Russell's heyday.
My point is that it makes sense to cater to your stars. And it makes even more sense to fill your roster with players who don't mind being led, even if you sacrifice a little 40-yard dash speed.
If things don't change quickly, we're going to learn this lesson the hard way.