Saturday, April 19, 2014

Love and Basketball, Character Assassination and Football

What do Colin Kaepernick and DeSean Jackson have in common? Oh, just a little character assassination that will color the public perception of both men for the foreseeable future.

By now you've heard that CK, along with fellow 49er Quitton Patton and Seahawk player (and former 49er) Ricardo Lockette are being investigated for a "suspicious incident" in Miami that involved a young woman partying with the players, possibly getting high and drunk, supposedly making out with Kaepernick and waking up in the hospital with no recollection of how she got there. Scary and serious stuff to be sure. While there still isn't a complete picture of what happened, new reports show that Lockette called police twice because the woman refused to leave and that CK probably wasn't there when all this confusing craziness went down. Furthermore, the woman maintained in her incident report that she did NOT have sex with Kaepernick.

Unfortunately this little fact didn't stop the sleaziness that is TMZ (no, I’m not linking to their mess for obvious reasons) and other media outlets, including ESPN, from running with a sexual assault angle in the initial reporting. When I first heard about story, I cringed because I didn't want a player that I liked to be another Big Ben or Darren Sharper, football players who have been accused of and/or charged with sexual misconduct and sexually assaulting multiple women. However, I waited before jumping to conclusions, and I'm glad I did. As more information starts to trickle out, it looks like no sexual assault took place and that CK, in particular, did nothing wrong.

While this is good news and all, I'm still annoyed. Thanks to the interwebs, from now on whenever you google Colin Kaepernick this story will come up or be mentioned in other stories. This is remarkably unfair given how connected we all are by social media, a sticky web where a whisper can blow up in a matter of minutes and destroy livelihoods and reputations, whether deserved or not. This is especially true in the case of rape or sexual assault, because once it's out there, true or false, you can't unring that bell. Case in point: Just the idea that CK was involved in something suspect is messing with his money.

Now let's talk about DeSean Jackson. Even though Jackson had one of his best seasons statistically in 2013, the Eagles cut him in March, and he subsequently signed with Washington. In fact, Jackson was cut less than an hour after a story revealing his association with gang members and the LAPD’s efforts to reach out to him about gang-related murders since 2010. Jackson was never a suspect or person of interest, police said, but he was connected to people involved and police wanted to interview him. The Eagles were all too happy to let their concerns about Jackson’s “gang ties” bleed into the gang banger media narrative, and the rest is history. Bell rung.  While some have speculated that he was cut because of friction with the new coach Chip Kelly and a diva-like attitude in the locker room, it’s not hard to see the gang story having an impact.   

So, why is Jackson hanging with gang bangers? Because he grew with some of those guys and they were there for him after the death of his father. Whether right or wrong, he considers some of these people his friends, and it’s hard for some folks to cut people loose even after they’ve “made it.” DeSean is not in a gang and has said he distances himself from people doing “negative things.” He hasn’t been charged, arrested or accused of anything normally associated with gang culture. However, in the court of public opinion, he’s guilty solely because of association, and that association most likely cost him his job with the Eagles and earned him unwarranted infamy.

What's my point? If you haven't already realized it, I'm a Black woman and see some things through a racial lens, and I make no apology for that. Through this lens I see the criminalization of Black male athletes because they dare to be young, gifted and Black. You can also see this play out in attempts to paint Colin as the swaggering bad boy Negro to Russell Wilson’s choir boy good Negro, offensive ideas that do a disservice to both men. For Jackson, it's the assumption of criminal activity based only on association rather than evidence. It’s unfair, maddening and totally racial.

Would media outlets and others have been so quick to jump to conclusions if CK and DJ were white? Would people have been so quick to call Richard Sherman a thug if he were a white Stanford grad instead of a Black dreadlocked one? I think we all know the answers to these questions. Welcome to post-racial America.

Media, a word of advice: Not all Black people, including athletes, are criminals. Next time try a little less character assassination and click baiting and a little more reporting next time, OK? Thanks.  

Stay random,

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