Jalen Rose, Grant Hill & The “Uncle Tom” Debate

23 Mar

                                                        ESPN’s Jalen Rose

Two of the best things about ESPN are the “30 for 30” documentary films produced by the network and the First And Ten morning program, aired weekday mornings and featuring a debate desk segment where sportswriter Skip Bayless engages in lively arguments with guest debaters on timely sports topics. Recently, one of the films, about the early ’90s Michigan college basketball team that featured five starting freshmen dubbed the “Fab Five”, stirred some controversy and was debated in at least 2 segments on First And Ten. In the documentary, one of the freshmen players, Jalen Rose, ridiculed the black players from Duke University as “Uncle Toms”, verbalizing the feelings of many black inner city athletes at the time who felt that well-to-do, two-parent  black families who sent their kids to an elitist school like Duke were “selling out their race”. Rose, who went on to have a successful NBA career, is now an NBA analyst for ESPN, and in my opinion one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining ex-athletes working in the media today. He is frequently a guest debater on the First And Ten show, and gives Bayless all he can handle in arguments about not just basketball but all sports. Rose was invited on to explain/defend his comments from the documentary, and wasn’t proud of them, saying that he hopes people who see the film realize they were made by “a seventeen year old inner city kid with absolutely no filter between his brain and his mouth”.  Frankly, I believe Rose, and if you see the film and realize how much Michigan administators used the “Fab Five” to sell merchandise and make tons of money off of their notoriety at the time, while the players saw none of the money, you come to realize why those players developed attitudes toward “The Man”.

The next day, the subject was debated again, this time between Bayless and African American NBA writer Chris Broussard, another highly respected journalist. Bayless pretty much conceded his time to Broussard to make his case, and ESPN’s resident NBA insider made an eloquent argument. He exonerated Rose, who had been criticized in an op-ed column written by NBA player Grant Hill, son of former Dallas Cowboy Calvin Hill, who played at Duke during the Fab Five era. He said he understood Hill’s criticism also, and that it was good for the “Uncle Tom” reference to be discussed, since it has become a subject hotly debated in the African American community. He said he was disgusted by the way that even today, young blacks with no clue about the history of that term among blacks, were using it to denigrate affluent blacks in two-parent families. He criticized the hip hop community for promoting the idea in their songs that affluent black men who man up and parent their children were “Uncle Toms who sell out their race”, and offered the thought that the real sellouts to their race were the black men who joined gangs, ignored their children, sold drugs, brandished weapons and wound up in prison, thus propogating long-held stereotypes of the African American race. It was a powerful argument, and included stories of how some in the black community once criticized Bill Cosby’s television show as “an unrealistic portrayal of a black family.” It was a powerful argument, and was another example of what I see all the time in the world of sports – that sometimes sports shows that are generally considered “light entertainment” can do more good and shed more light on the real human condition than some of those pompous Sunday morning political programs.

                                           NBA Insider Chris Broussard


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