Political Correctness- It’s All Greek to Me
Any of you happen to remember Jimmy the Greek? Now not much more than a footnote in the annals of sports history, James Snyder was once a legendary sports broadcaster best known for his work on the CBS Sunday morning show NFL Today where he would provide prognostications on the day’s football games relative to the betting point spread. He was basically your Uncle Tony who spent way too much time down at the racetrack and wore suits that made Herb Tarlek jealous. Then in 1988 he was subsequently fired for racist remarks regarding the emerging dominance of African-Americans in the world of sports. Though he recanted his remarks and offered a heart-felt apology, he was unceremoniously dismissed and his career relegated to the scrap heap of ignominy. The problem is that Jimmy the Greek’s comments weren’t racist. In fact, they were remarkably accurate.
So just what was it that got Jimmy the Greek fired way back in 1988? His comments were made in an ad hoc interview with Washington DC television reporter Ed Hotaling who asked Jimmy to comment on the possible reason for the preponderance of black athletes in the four major professional sports leagues while Jimmy was eating at a local restaurant. Snyder suggested, “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade … the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.” Now I will wholeheartedly acknowledge that anytime you start a sentence with the word “the” followed by an ethnic or cultural group (as in, “I have nothing personally against the gays per se, but….”), that shit is going to sound pretty damn racist. But let’s truly examine the content of Jimmy’s comments. In essence, Snyder was deemed a racist because he was theorizing that African-Americans were genetically predisposed to greater athletic prowess due to manipulated breeding practices that were instituted within the slave community generations before.
Let’s be clear: Snyder’s comment in no way suggests any moral tolerance for the practice of forced breeding. He is simply accepting it for the historical fact that it unfortunately was. We all know the horrible truth about this, so why is it racist to acknowledge it? Before this country finally woke up and abolished the despicable slave trade, blacks were bred by their owners in order to capitalize on preferred physical traits, particularly strength and endurance which would make for a more productive worker from their progeny. We don’t have to like it, but that truth ain’t going away. The conclusion Snyder then formulated from that historical truth, that this breeding led blacks to be able to run faster and jump higher because their ancestors had been selected for exactly these characteristics, is again not rooted in racism. Rather, it is based upon a central understanding of the science that lies behind Mendelian genetics. Dog breeders use this basic scientific knowledge in order to select for certain desirable characteristics they want their dogs to have. We all know that it is inhumane to even conceive of forced selective breeding like this in our fellow human beings, and to be honest, I’m not sure that the dogs like it either, but that does not negate the fact that the principle still persists in the awful circumstances in which it has taken place. Jimmy wasn’t saying that blacks should have been bred for better strength and speed, he was just pointing out the historical truth that they were.
Still think Jimmy the Greek’s comments somehow just smack of the taste of racism? Well, explain to me then why Chris Rock faced no such controversy when he made similar comments while doing stand-up comedy during his tour in 2004. In his act, Chris Rock suggested that the reason blacks dominated modern sports was because selective breeding during slavery had created “superslaves” that still perpetuated an athletically-gifted gene pool. The result, according to Rock, is that today blacks are “10 percent of the population and 90 percent of the Final Four.” This joke is based on the exact same reasoning that Jimmy the Greek used in his 1988 remarks, yet nary a word was said when Chris Rock went from city to city telling this joke over and over to audiences across the country. In fact, I just heard this bit played the other day on the local comedy radio station, and it made me wonder how Rock was so clearly given a pass while Jimmy the Greek was not. So where’s your outrage now?
I’m pretty sure we all know the answer to this one. It’s not like we were more racially enlightened and tolerant in 1988. No, the reason Rock could get away with saying what Snyder could not all comes down to the fact that Rock is black while Jimmy the Greek was, well, Greek. We have all heard the chatter regarding the permitted use of the “N” word by African-Americans, as compared to whites for whom that is just understood to be taboo. To be honest, the “N” word always makes me queasy regardless of who uses it, but if African-Americans feel that taking back the “N” word empowers their language choice, I get it. As a member of the socially privileged group that debased an entire people, I have to know that there are some lines I simply can’t cross that others can. But that same understandable double standard cannot be permitted to exist when it comes to the entire discussion of race itself. We cannot allow one group to talk plainly about the role race plays in our society while another cowers in fear of the repercussions for doing so. It limits the potential for the open dialogue we really need to have if we are ever going to finally put this thing in the rear view mirror and move together as a single community.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com