#RacismEndedWhen: College Football in Alabama? (Participation)

#RacismEndedWhen: College Football in Alabama?

Dave Zirin on December 2, 2013 – 10:16 AM ET

The main difference between a big-time Division I college football game and an NFL contest – other than the unpaid labor on the field – is the crowds. Aesthetically, side-by-side, they are like one of those before-and-after pictures. The crowd at the college games tends to be young and fresh-faced: the people who show up early to the club ready to rage. People NFL games look like those same people at the party except it’s 4 AM and in those last six hours they’ve been living hard.

I get why the young people at the college games look as caffeinated as they do. The adrenaline, the excitement the lunacy, and the wide-open nature of it all produces a narcotic that few sporting events can match. This is not an activity that promotes introspection. But lasts weekend’s Iron Bowl demands it. For the uninitiated, The Iron Bowl is the annual game between two of college football’s most intense interstate rivals, Auburn and Alabama. This past year’s game was like nothing we have ever seen, arguably the most exciting college football game ever played, as Auburn withstood a 99-yard touchdown pass and came away with a 34-28 victory. Auburn beat the number one team in the country and did so on a 108 yard missed field goal return for a touchdown with no time left.

But this was more than just a football game. The broadcast registered an 82 share in Birmingham, Alabama. That means 82% of all of Birmingham’s televisions that were in use were watching this game. That is bonkers. This is not 1960. We have more than two channels now. In our divided entertainment culture with 500 options, video games that are realer than real life, and all kinds of diversions on social media, the idea that 82% of any city was doing anything is frankly mind-boggling. The introspection part is demanded because this gravitational national pull toward football in Alabama took place 58 years to the day (give or take a day) that Rosa Parks entered history and would not be moved from her bus seat in nearby Montgomery. 58 years ago in the storied Southeastern Conference the only way an African-American player could get on the field would be to tend to the grounds. Yet on Saturday millions of Alabama viewers and an overwhelmingly white crowd of damn near 100,000 people crowded the stands shouting themselves hoarse for two teams that are overwhelmingly African American.

The other titanic story in college football is also taking place in the southeastern United States albeit not the Southeastern Conference. African-American football star, quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State, could lose both The Heisman Trophy and a shot at leading his team to a national championship because of rape allegations that could turn into formal charges any day. I am not commenting on the guilt or innocence of Mr. Winston, but I am going to comment on what we do know: he is being vociferously, even violently defended by the Florida State faithful. His accuser has been pilloried over social media by Winston’s fans in Tallahassee, with ESPN’s Jemele Hill reporting that she had already “been sent several photos that are reportedly of the accuser, in addition to screen grabs of her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. All this information is being circulated rapidly and thus becoming the Internet version of flogging someone in the town square.”

The young woman was also allegedly warned off of pressing charges by a Tallahassee police detective who was also a Florida State booster. This is sick and if found to be true, this detective should be run out of town on a rail. Once again I have to take a step back and ask, what would Rosa Parks say? This is a woman who started her activist career and first traveled to Montgomery as an organizer against rape and sexual violence visited upon African-American women by white men. [Read the book  At the Dark End of the Street to hear this story in full.) In Rosa Parks’ day it was not uncommon for African-American men to be lynched on accusations of sexual violence if they were found in any sort of relationship with a white woman. I do not know the race of the Jameis Winston’s accuser, but to see the police and a college town in Tallahassee rally to protect their African American quarterback from rape charges to save their championship season, is like entering Dixie through the looking glass. What would Ms. Parks say? What would she say about a world where just the act of playing football has turned so many of these historical racial tropes upside down?

No matter what the Republican National Committee tweets, racism is not over nor did Ms. Parks end it. (Their tweet led to the #RacismEndedWhen hashtag on twitter.) On every conceivable level, from life expectancy, to prison sentencing, to hiring practices, racism still plagues this country. Yet does the iconography of black college athletes actually make racism less pernicious? It would be easy to understand why people would mark the spectacles in football in the south east as some kind of progress. I think they would be wrong. In fact it is highly more likely it’s seeing African-American athletes on the field allows people to turn a blind eye toward the very real effects of racism in society. This is not in any way exlusive to the south and it is not unlike the argument against using Native American icons as mascots. Celebrating teams like the Redskins allows the dominant culture to turn a blind eye to very real conditions on Native American communities. It doesn’t push for engagement and actually creates disassociation. Look at the 1980s when a national embrace of Michael Jordan, the Cosby Show, and Oprah calmed white America into thinking we had reached some sort of civil rights finish line. The 2008 election of Barack Obama created a similar dynamic. I will never forget hearing comedian turned right wing pundit Dennis Miller say after the 2008 election, “If nothing else, we don’t have to talk about [racism] anymore.” The RNC tweet about Rosa Parks ending racism was not a slip of the computer keys but a slip of the mask. As for the rest of us, confusing iconography for progress will just leave us confused.

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15 thoughts on “#RacismEndedWhen: College Football in Alabama? (Participation)

  1. 82% is an astronomical amount of television casts and it blows my mind that was the number used for the Alabama Auburn. Yet this doesn’t surprise me that this was the topic throughout all my social media cites throughout the whole game. As far as the rape allegations go, this was something that my family discussed. The fact that a police officer asked her to not press chargers is ridiculous and that should be highlighted in the media vs. all this other stuff. Society today has clearly not overcome this overwhelming race issues that are prevalent every day.

  2. One thing that has definitely always bothered me is that athletes get a sort of special privilege when it comes to serious matters, and also that people will go to GREAT lengths to protect athletes and make sure that nothing happens to them, which is i believe why they do the things that they do. They have a sort of ego and mindset that since they are star athletes they cannot be harmed and they are indestructible. Without even getting color involved, this is completely wrong. Any girl who gets raped would be terrified to begin with and then to be asked not to press charges, who knows what that feels like. Especially because you wouldn’t want to be known as that girl, the one who ruined things for the football team.

  3. I do not disagree with the fact that it is wrong for a police officer to ask this girl not to press charges. But I just feel it is weird how this girl would wait almost a year to press charges. She says the accident happened December 7th of last year I am not saying this did not happen but the fact that it happened his true freshman year when he was a nobody and now coming out when he is in the run for the Heisman and leading his team to a national championship is a little fishy. College athletes get special treatment a lot, but they also get taken advantage of lot and can put into situations that are not true.

  4. I do not disagree with the statement that racism still exists in the USA today. In the south things tend to be more segregated then in Washington, with that being said I do not see how the stereo type of African American football players and white fans cheering them on is bad or even racist. This is strictly fact; the African Americans on the field give the crimson tide the best chance to win and the fans will be there regardless. Any sporting event that you go to will be segregated one way or another, the world is not equal. And as for racial remarks or slurs coming from the patrons, it happens in every game in ALL parts of the country, fans get a bit to intoxicated and don’t have a filter on what they are saying. that being said, racism still exists in this country, and will continue to fade away through time… there is no immediate solution.

  5. The Alabama and Auburn game was expected to have many viewers but 82% is an extreme amount of television casts and it’s insane that this was the number of watchers for this game. As I’m sure this didn’t come to a surprise to anyone who knows that this rivalry is one of the most heated and insane rivalry. You could go on any social media cite, twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram and you couldn’t scroll through your feed without seeing something about the Alabama Auburn game. As for the rape allegations I hadn’t heard about those until just reading this post. I think that it’s terrible that a police officer is asking the girl to not press charges just so that Florida State could win a National Championship. This rape should be highlighted more in the media rather than all of the other worthless things that they report on. Without including color I feel that this situation that the woman has been put in is completely wrong and she should under no circumstances be asked to not press charges. It is clear that society has not overcome the racial issues that are apparent in everyday life.

  6. I do not believe that it is racist that the majority of the players on the field were African-American and there were numerous whites cheering them on. However, I do find it interesting that most of the players who were recruited were African-American. I find regardless whatever race was playing the fans would be cheering them on. Yet the fact there were more African-Americans than whites should just be noted that maybe scouts are basing it off of their natural athletic ability and that could be or not be associated by the racial stereotype of African-Americans being more naturally athletically built. In addition to the rape allegations I do not question why the female accused Mr.Winston however, I do think its odd she brought up the case a year later than it happen when his football fame was rising. I do believe athletes tend to get special treatment when it comes to any incidents and people will go to extreme measures to protect their players however, this gives no excuse to the police officer who asked her to drop the case. I am aware that in the South racism is still a pertinent issue and that football is taken extremely serious in the South, I know this because my brother plays football in Texas. It does not surprise me that the officer asked her to drop the case because football in the South is hypothetically seen as another religion. In addition, racism down South has ceased to disappear and life down in the South is extremely different from living in Washington. Racism is more blunt and abrupt whereas in Washington it is more discreet.

  7. This was a very good article and to be honest, I’m not exactly sue what Rosa Parks would think of the Jameis Winston case today. I am also unfamiliar with what nationality the accuser is in the case. But, the bigger concern for me is, just because people in the south are standing behind Jameis Winston does not mean that they are not racist. What if Jameis Winston was bi-racial or wasn’t the number one player on the number one team in the country. Would the public believe him? You also must take into account the amount of money the Jameis Winston (a freshman) has already brought Florida State and the SEC conference as well as how much more money he will bring in with his early success and highly probably NFL career. When you start thinking about who is really running the show, they could probably not care any less about the type of person Jameis Winston is as long as he is generating revenue that he will never see. The NCAA is a billion dollar industry that pays it’s players tuition, sometimes, and they make bank off of their big name players like Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney and Jameis Winston. All are household names and all are just regular college students who will get penalized severely if there even try to touch any extra money that is given to them without the consent of the NCAA. As it’s stated in the article, I don’t think racism is gone at all, but the way that they continue to mask racism makes it seem as if there is hope.

  8. My first thought on this article was the fact that so many people were watching this game. It is so incredibly shocking to think that 82% of people who were watching television were actually viewing a football game. It is incredible to see how people in this generation and day and age are spending their time. It really goes to show what we view as important. It really is something that I wouldn’t have thought about unless it was brought up to me like in this article, that we really do praise these athletes as gods. And these new gods are African American people that whites used to view as nothing but slaves. Its so funny to see how roles have really reversed, shining positive light on blacks. I love knowing how it is not just college teens who have “fallen into a trap” by spending time watching regular men with great talent. Football viewers do not discriminate. While we do spend so much of our time admiring these men, the credit oversees consequene much of the time. In the case of Jameis Winston, we see how the defending side becomes much stronger when it is someone important. This man would be locked away so fast had he not been a superstar. We somehow think we must save a man who is at fault so we can continue spending our time watching him on Sunday afternoons which is so disturbing. It mostly is just frustrated knowing that my brother is facing charges for running away from a cab and now being faced with two felonies. If this were to happen to a professional athlete, I think this would be laughed about. Its amazing to see how time has truly changed, but as we know not enough. Racism will always be looked at and seen from different view points. Like this article pointed out, even presidency doesn’t change a whole lot.

  9. Racism is always going to be around no matter what the case may be. As for the Alabama case, I think it’s showing the improvement of how racism isn’t a factor as much as it use to be. The “Whites” supporting a majority of African- Americans who play for the Crimson Tide provide evidence that they don’t care what color the athletes are, they just want to see their school at the top like it has been. Changes are being made and in today’s society it seems like we’re beginning to take racism as a joke like it should be. It is shocking to know that 58 years ago Rosa Parks couldn’t sit in the front of the bus and now Auburn Stadium is filled with different cultures and backgrounds supporting a majority of African- Americans playing with pride for their University. Times have changed for the better but it is up to us to keep improving society as one to make each other better human beings.

  10. Personally, being a college athlete myself, it is unreal seeing how people treat you and do whatever they can in their power to protect you. Although there is a thought that people are only protecting Jameis Winston because he is the key to win the national title in January, why does that automatically make it seem like people are only defending him because he is a great african american athlete? And sure racism has not completely vanished but i wouldn’t call people racist either. This man has become a hero and role model for many kids around the country being either white or black. They do not see the color of the skin any more on that field. The fans of Florida State and jams winston only see burgundy and gold jersey with the number 5 on it dominating the college football world. There is no racism involved with this which does not make since to me. There is no longer a stereotype for a certain position. It is a game that has evolved and progressed over the years.

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