Given the history realities of racism within sports culture, which we have discussed in the past, not to mention the deep and persistent racism of the DC football franchise, and given the longstanding barriers faced by the black quarterback his comments are instructive–up to a point. Griffin, as an African American athlete, as a black quarterback, will invariably face unfair criticism.
One has to look no further than the questions and media coverage afforded to Carolina rookie QB Cam Newton or the “low q ratings”endured by the modern black athlete, or even the distinct ways pundits characterize the play and potential of Andrew Luck and Griffin. In fact, “Q” ratings are very revealing in that, despite the visibility, cultural power, and athletic success of the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and others, the most popular black athletes also are the most hated.
Bayless’ comments demonstrate the ways in which sports function as a historic site for the validation of white masculinity. The quarterback position more than any position is the embodiment of this heroic white manhood. The arrival of Newton, and the potential superstardom of Griffin poses a threat to the meaning of whiteness, to its meaning to future generations of white male youth who no longer have white bodies, chiseled and physically dominant, to emulate and imitate but instead are finding role models amongst black superstars.
Questions about the racial demographics of women’s athletics, whether in that recent domination by the Williams sisters in tennis, or the racial make-up of the WNBA, rarely take on the level of interest or possess the same meaning as those regarding male athletics because the supposed loss of white male athlete isn’t just about sports, or even fans, but rather an imagined threat to self, community, and the nation.
In other words, white desire to cheer for and elevate white superstars is not a benign or natural process. Had Bayless simply said that that Griffin would likely face unfair criticism because of media and fan racism, a fact worsened by the allure and narrative appeal provided by his white counterparts at the position.
Yet, Bayless didn’t frame his analysis in those terms, instead imagining white desire for and identification with a white quarterback as natural. Arguing that racial recognition and connection is “part of human nature,” Bayless ostensibly advances a narrative of race as a natural fact, rooted in biology, while implying that racial preferences and even racism might be best understood as evolutionary adaptations.
In equalizing fan allegiance to racial identity, Bayless normalizes race, yet again erasing the ways that anti-black, anti-Latino, or anti-Asian racism animates sporting cultures (see here for more examples). In doing so, he erases the team’s own sordid racist history as well as the dehumanizing name “R*dskins.” The history of the franchise itself and sports as a whole illustrates that racism is neither natural nor omnipresence but reflected in the logics of white supremacy.