Questioning Donovan McNabb’s Blackness Is Just Plain Stupid

I'm talking to you, Bernard Hopkins

If we ever needed a reason to ignore many of the non-sports comments uttered by professional athletes, Bernard Hopkins provided us with one last week.

The boxing champ used an interview in advance of his May 21st title fight with Jean Pascal to deliver another sucker punch to the jaw of Donovan McNabb. This time, the pugilist questioned the quarterback’s qualifications as a black man, actually saying, “He’s got a suntan. That’s all.”

Before I dive into that and the rest of the asinine comments Hopkins made, know that I support fully Hopkins’ right to speak freely. This is America, after all, and every citizen has the opportunity to express him or herself. The important thing to remember is that we don’t have to listen to everybody who opens his or her mouth. And when a 46-year old boxer tries sadly to generate interest for his fading sport, waning career and upcoming bout by trying to denigrate another man in a manner that goes well beyond the usual pre-fight prattle, we should especially keep our ears closed. [SIGNUP]

Hopkins has taken aim at McNabb before, but he has usually reserved his comments for the QB’s on-field successes and failures. Last Tuesday, Hopkins decided to assail McNabb’s upbringing and the ease with which he moved among the Eagles’ brass and other business community leaders. To Hopkins, McNabb’s middle-class Chicago childhood was offensive, since it featured a private-school education, a stable, two-parent household and an absence of the unfortunate violence that dominates the lives of many African-American youth. For that, Hopkins considers McNabb less of a man, specifically, less of a black man. It also implies that McNabb encountered little of the racism that other blacks have.

Further, Hopkins expressed disdain for how McNabb has been able to move smoothly within the corridors of power and influence, especially within the Eagles organization. And when the team traded him to Washington, Hopkins said McNabb’s anger was not due to the team’s opinion of the quarterback’s play, rather a sense of betrayal by people he thought had welcomed him as one of their own.

“Why do you think McNabb felt he was betrayed?” Hopkins asked. “Because McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field. He’s the one who got the extra coat. The extra servings. You’re our boy. He thought he was one of them.”

That one sampling of Hopkins’ vitriolic approach to McNabb is sufficiently compelling to make us move on to something else in the sports section. Hopkins is all but calling McNabb the “slave in the house,” as Daily News reporter Marcus Hayes wrote. That viewpoint not only perpetuates a crippling stereotype of educated blacks as disloyal to their race; it also sends a message that attempting to establish a toehold among the power brokers of American society -– be they white, black or otherwise -– is wrong.

McNabb holds a degree from Syracuse in speech communication. He is a member of the board of trustees at his alma mater. His foundation has directed considerable sums of money to local and national charities. And, no matter what Eagles fans think of his performance, he spent several seasons at the top of his profession. He is, in short, everything a young African-American (or any other American, for that matter) should aspire to be: successful, educated, generous, prosperous, well spoken and respected. Hopkins’ insinuation that McNabb is less black -– ergo the ridiculous “suntan” comment -– because of his achievements sends the message that those who aspire to accomplishments similar to the quarterback’s are selling out. That view is more damaging than any punch Hopkins has ever delivered in the ring.

African-Americans need people like McNabb to get into the boardroom and understand how important decisions are made, so that they can then participate in the decision-making process and create policies and opportunities for the next generation(s). Ridiculing someone for making inroads in an area that previously was off-limits to African-Americans is short sighted. And lest you think McNabb is welcomed by all in the gilded halls of power, remember that plenty of white people still harbor racist views, no matter how welcoming they may seem. McNabb is fighting institutional bias when he tightens the knot on his cravat and walks into a corporate meeting. That may not be the same as waging daily battles for respect and dignity on the streets, but it is a vital struggle that will benefit American society on the whole by giving more citizens a voice. His participation in the process will benefit African-Americans of every class far more than some street-tough attitude Hopkins considers appropriate.

Say what you want about McNabb’s on-field performance. (Although it should be noted he holds a 5-1 advantage over all other Eagle signal-callers in NFC title game appearances over the past 41 seasons.) That argument has been made and re-made. But do not diminish his attempts -– and successes -– to reach the upper strata of business and education. On the scorecard of life, McNabb is piling up a big lead.

By all means, root for Hopkins when he fights for the title Saturday night. Cheer on the latest in the long lineage of championship Philadelphia fighters. But when he berates someone for achieving great things, change the channel, turn the page or click on the next item, because in that arena, Hopkins loses by a first-round KO.

* Great job by the Phillies’ bats in Atlanta, eh? The Phils are now 3-3 in their big May test, and their margin for error has shrunk against teams that don’t cower in front of their exceptional starting pitching. No moves should be made until we see what Chase Utley can do -– and for how long –- and Domonic Brown deserves a big-league shot. But it sure looks like this team needs hitting help.

* Sixers fans hoping the draft will provide a needed piece to the puzzle had better think again. According to one NBA GM, “It’s an awful draft.” Another was a little more diplomatic: “With the number of high-profile kids who decided to go back to school, that took away some of the strong top from this draft. That may elevate some kids who weren’t going to be lottery picks into the lottery. It doesn’t say they’re not solid players. They’re just not impact players.” By the time the Sixers pick, at number 16, there won’t be a whole lot left.

* Great job by the Bulls Sunday night. Let’s see if they have what it takes to go the distance against the Heat. If Chicago wants to keep playing great defense, it’s in great shape. If not, Miami could win the next four.