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When Athletes and Fans Play the Race Card

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When Athletes and Fans Play the Race Card

When Athletes and Fans Play the Race Card

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Turning now from college sports to professional sports with commentator Frank Deford, who sees a pattern in some recent stories.

FRANK DEFORD: Oh, my. This summer has not only seen a return of the race card in sports, unfortunately, it seems as if the whole race deck has been dealt.

Most recently, of course, Donovan McNabb, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, declared that African-American quarterbacks suffer much more scrutiny than their white brethren.

It was a particularly interesting observation coming from McNabb, because, if you recall, Rush Limbaugh resigned from ESPN four years ago for saying that the very same McNabb was overrated, inasmuch as the oh-so-sweet white media desperately wanted a black quarterback to succeed.

All this, though, comes on the heels of the following: About three times as many black fans as white fans rooted for Barry Bonds to pass Henry Aaron's record. Of course, Aaron is African-American, too. But so many blacks believe that whites were singling out Bonds to demonize him alone as a steroid user, that it became a race issue.

Likewise, black supporters of Michael Vick claimed that white critics were piling on Vick for running dog fights and killing and torturing dogs simply because he was an African-American star.

Gary Sheffield of the Detroit Tigers alleged that the reason there were so many more Hispanics in baseball than African-Americans was because baseball executives thought Latinos were more malleable.

If you will excuse me, of all the overblown racial issues in this country, the sturm und drang wasted on the declining numbers of African-Americans playing baseball is surely number one. We are supposed to get exercised because black kids now choose basketball and football over baseball? This is baseball's fault? As long as children are playing sports instead of playing video games, fine. Whether they prefer soccer, skateboarding or sprinting, who cares?

As for McNabb, he has not found a lot of support for his contentions, including a couple of other African-American quarterbacks, who have said, essentially, hey, Donovan. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the huddle.

Listen, quarterback is the most scrutinized position in American sport. There's even a truism that the best job in football is backup quarterback, because everybody who thinks you must be great until you become the starting quarterback, and then you're a bum.

And yes, it is very tricky for someone like me, a white man, to tell a black man that he could be wrong about what he feels where race is involved. No, I can't possibly know what it's like to be a minority. I'm so through-and-through majority that the only minority in me is I'm a Huguenot, and truth to be told, I haven't really suffered a whole lot of discrimination on that score.

But if, no, if I haven't walked in Donovan McNabb's shoes, I think I'm capable of being a fair observer. I'm reminded of how Red Smith responded when he was told that he had no business writing about sports because he hadn't played the game. If that were true, Red said, then only dead men could write obituaries.

I'm sorry, Donovan. I think black quarterbacks are nowadays treated altogether like white quarterbacks. If you win, we love you. If you don't, we love your backup.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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