DeShone Kizer, Kevin Durant and the myth of the wayward black athlete

African American can be everything: grand slam champions, Olympic medalists, explosive, magical. Everything, that is, except benign

What’s a brother gotta do to catch a break in sports? Asking not for myself, a black sportswriter, but for a friend. OK , not for a friend. For DeShone Kizer, the beleaguered rookie quarterback of the terrible Cleveland Browns.

Early one Saturday morning last month Kizer ducked into a downtown bar for a infringe, a little bit of release. The pressure on him at the time surely pinched, what with the Browns being 0-6 and his passer rating at a league-worst 27.3. He is of legal drinking age, didn’t infringe any laws and didn’t violate any sacrosanct policies held by the team. But a Zapruder-grade Snapchat video emerged of Kizer at the bar- although he appears less like a starting NFL quarterback than a rebel prep-schoolboy as he attempts dialogue on the fringe of a loud and mobbed dance floor.

A local Tv station went on to cover the tale like it was the Paradise Papers. Naturally, these findings speedily discovered their style into a press conference with the Browns coach, Hue Jackson, who was sympathetic to Kizer at first.” A guy’s personal time is his personal period ,” he said.” I’d be surprised if that happened. I don’t think DeShone has that various kinds of character or personality that route .”

But when a reporter from the station that scored the video insisted to Jackson that, yes , not only did this night out happen, but” to a guy trying to learn the playbook”, the coach changed support. “You’re right,” he told the reporter.” I appreciate you guys sharing that with me .”

You’d think that Jackson, a man who makes a living breaking down videotape, could see the Kizer video for the gotcha moment that it is. You’d is considered that Jackson, a black coach-and-four, could appreciate how often black athletes feature in such gotcha moments. But , no. Confirmation bias against black athletes is so permeating that it’s practically conventional wisdom. Even when they don’t do anything wrong, they must be guilty of something.

It’s a pretzeled logic that springs from decades of media conditioning- or so reasons Dr Cynthia Frisby, the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism professor behind a 2016 examine that examines how black male athletes are portrayed in the media. After investigating a decade’s worth of clippings, she found that black athletes received” significantly more negative coverage”- hard news tales about domestic and sexual violence, in other words. Meanwhile, their white counterparts- the minority group in the landscape of big-time sports, ironically- get the opposite: softball features about drive and commitment.

What’s more, the sisters can’t catch a break either. In the last four months alone we’ve seen Serena Williams caricatured in antiquated style, as a big ol’ brute- this time in a recent memoir by Maria Sharapova, an oft-vanquished peer who happens to be five inches taller than the American. And we’ve seen Simone Biles dishonor for having the boldnes to go on holiday after dominating the gymnastics at the Rio Olympics. We’ve been reminded that black athletes can be everything: grand slam champions, Olympic gold medalists, explosive, magic. Everything, that is, except benign.

Kevin Durant knows. Last month the forward was expelled from a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies, and heckled by fans on his way out. To silence them, he created his ring finger, a nod to the championship he led the Warriors to last season, and was immediately accused of flipping off the crowd. The verification bias was obvious, so much that Durant had to laugh about it afterward:” I’m sure everyone thinks I’m the angry black athlete ,” he said.

How could he not be when we’ve been conditioned to believe that the angry black athlete can literally be every one. They can be Curt Flood or Muhammad Ali or Colin Kaepernick, entitled to their rage. They can be Latrell Sprewell or Terrell Owens or Floyd Mayweather, hot-blooded. They can be Durant, the “mamas boy” who delivered one of the all-time Hallmark moments in sports with his league MVP acceptance speech three years ago. Ultimately it won’t matter since they are all appear the same- like” inmates running the prison “.

Those, of course, were the immortal terms Houston Texans owned Bob McNair used in reference to NFL players utilizing the national anthem as a platform to protest a justice system that’s equally demonizing of black men. Frisby’s study underscored this point in her survey, which quotes research that arrived at three dominant media images of black humen: entertainers, athletes and felons. Donald Trump also underscored this phase when he dismissed genuflecting players as sons of bitches. Kizer, among those protesters, was quick to respond.” I’m no son of a bitch ,” he said.

‘ I’m sure everyone supposes I’m the angry black athlete ,’ joked Kevin Durant after his expulsion earlier this season. Photo: Jack Dempsey/ AP

Both McNair and Trump clearly spoke for the legion of white Americans that have tuned out NFL football in reaction- an ESPN survey find most whites disagree with the protests and TV ratings are down. The entire pretext of that closed-door NFL proprietors fulfilling where McNair spoke those words was about the desire for control, the urgent and evergreen agenda item yoked to seemingly every dialogue about black athletes.

One can hardly imagine white athletes being so infantilized. Rob Gronkowski prospers on his party animal reputation( although much of that may be artful self-promotion: he does not drink alcohol during the season) while his fellow NFL tight aim Travis Kelce is known for his hot temper and brash persona. Joe Namath owned a piece of a New York nightclub while on the Jets roster. When they talk about burning the candle at both ends , no one calls them immature. They don’t have to keep winning to justify their night-owling the route Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor, the New York Giants’ Hall of Fame linebacker, had to. They get grace. Richie Incognito can leave a voicemail for his Miami Dolphins team-mate calling him” a half-nigger piece of shit “~ ATAGEND, and get another job with the Buffalo Bills after the scandal succumbs down. Tony Stewart’s career as a Nascar star and squad co-owner can cruise along, with minimal interruption, even after he operates over and kills someone during an amateur event( the death was later ruled road traffic accidents ). Johnny Manziel, the Heisman trophy winner turned NFL flameout, get grace- get called a good child who only needs to grow up.

Kizer? He’s the irresponsible quarterback. Never mind if his jaunt, late as it was, was likely the first night off he’d earnestly taken for himself since being drafted by the Browns last April.( Kizer is a triple threat: he can run, he can pass and he’s harder on himself than any coach .) Never mind that he can’t run go looking for difficulty , not with a bailiff for a mother and a police officer for a parent. Never mind that Kizer” was at the facility the next day, preparing for the[ Titans] game “.

His sweat equity is starting to pay off. On the road against the Detroit Lions last Sunday, Kizer posted a career day( 232 yards pas, 57 more rushing and a pair of touchdowns through the air and on the ground) and had the Browns trending toward a win before he was briefly knocked out of late in the third quarter with a rib trauma.

Cleveland eventually fell 38 -2 4 but the game showed that the Browns can be competitive if their receivers don’t drop Kizer’s passes, a chemistry problem that has plagued the team all season. Kizer’s prime target is Kenny Britt, a dazzling if mischievous talent who for whatever reason( maybe a knee injury) hasn’t been able to connect with his quarterback all season. Britt and the other misfit receiver, an injured second-year human named Corey Coleman, were out with Kizer on the night the Snapchat video was filmed. Rounding out their party were linebacker Christian Kirksey and two native Ohioans who play for the Kansas City Chiefs: running back Kareem Hunt and Kelce, the aforementioned party animal. So this wasn’t a true night out for Kizer. This was maybe a team-building exercising, or a chance to talk shop outside of store walls.

Kizer, and black athletes like him, deserve the benefit of the doubt. I can’t wait to see the day that they eventually get it.

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