The Professional Sports Paradox

I have watched America fall in love with my dad ever since I can remember going to his first basketball game. I can't pinpoint the exact day I realized his job was different, but through the pictures taken and autographs signed, watching my dad treated differently in public slowly became the norm. What I wasn't prepared for was to one day learn about the other side of 'different' that my dad experiences as a black man in America.

There is a good chance the cops had at some point cheered for or against my dad's team in a stadium or from their couches. On that particular day, however, in a predominantly white neighborhood in Florida, he wasn't an NBA coach or former player. He was a black man in a white t-shirt riding his bike past cops who had just received a call about a robbery.

The cops approached my father and asked him to stop. Because he was out on what he presumed to be a quick errand, he did not think to take his I.D. The cops questioned him and because he failed to produce his identification yet claimed to have an apartment in this wealthy, white neighborhood, the cops said, "Would it be alright if we just followed you back to that apartment and you can grab that I.D." It was not a question. My father calmly walked back towards the apartment, bike and cops in tow. He brought them upstairs and showed them his ID. They thanked him and exited the apartment.

What happened to my father could easily be something which gets brushed under the rug or stored away in the annals of family history. In light of the recent discussions around Trayvon Martin's case however, it deserves to be told. Just as Barack Obama could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, my dad could have been Trayvon Martin five years ago. As a professional athlete my father experiences the ultimate paradox almost on a daily basis. When he is seen in the context of sports, he is a hero. When the wrong people see him as simply a black man in America, he is a suspect.

My dad has been lucky in that for most of his life he has had the shield of professional sports -- seemingly the only armor aside from acting which protects the few black men who are in its thralls. This paradox again lays bare just how complex America's view on race really is.