Jason Whitlock and Scoop Jackson--two black sportswriters--have been duking it out in various ways lately. Scoop explains himself at length in a recent interview with Michael Tillery on the Black Sports Network. The stuff about Whitlock wasn't all that interesting--basically Jackson tells Whitlock to get his facts straight.
But, given that so many people are mystified by Scoop's work, Tillery did a great thing by getting Jackson to explain his approach:
Remember when Chuck D said (Rebel without a Pause) "A supporter of Chesimard?" (Assata Shakur--activist in Black Panther Party currently living in asylum in Cuba) I guarantee you that nine out of ten people never knew who Chesimard was. Chuck D remained unapologetic in his lyrics. He never explained who she was. He wanted the listener to do the research. I'm the same way. It's the same way when hypothetically a White writer like Lupica or Albom references a Bob Seger song. I wouldn't know what the hell they are talking about! I have to do the research to find out. When I mention an Ojays song or something by Gil Scott Heron, or something deep from an Oscar Peterson song, or Kool G Rap or Ultramagnetic MC's, I'm not going to explain. Do the research. An ESPN executive told me that when I came over from Slam Magazine that I might have to explain some things as I write them. I told him no. I wanted my writers to enlighten themselves by taking the time out to do the research. African Americans history and future at the same time is enriched with all kinds of knowledge and experience. When we pull from that we are educating the masses and they should see it as such. We are the only race of people in this country that has the past that we have and are unsure about our future. If we don't pull from that and associate it with our craft then we are just like everybody else.
I think that, right there, might be the reason so many people have such strong negative reactions to Scoop: he's not trying to write things that are easy for you to understand, he doesn't care if you're downright confused, and he's happy to send you scrambling to the encyclopedia.
I know that a lot of genius work--the stuff you read in high level classes in college--is, frankly, hard to understand. I see that as something that, regrettably, you have to put up with, but that in an ideal world, the most genius thoughts would be accessible to just about everybody. (That's just my personal approach to writing. If I can help it, I'd prefer not to leave anyone confused, because I know no one likes feeling confused. I understand plenty of great writers feel differently.) My belief is that absent a good professor hanging over your shoulder with the threat of a bad grade, almost no one learns anything when they are confused.
(Also, as an aside, I've seen Gil Scott Heron live several times. I even took my dad once. But Bob Seger could be here in my office today and I wouldn't have a clue unless he broke out into the Chevy jingle.)
I know Scoop Jackson, and I like him. And I know he's more than capable of using his hard work, his experience, his brain, his connections, and his magnetic personality to permanently change for the better the way we talk about race and sports. But I fear his ideas are largely getting lost by his determination not to take the time to make it clear, at least sometimes, what it is he really wants us to know. Making your readers aware that there's a lot of stuff they don't know--I guess that might have some value. But much more valuable, from my point of view, is sending them out into the world with greater understanding. Or, to put is another way, instead of salutingGil Scott Heron with a passing word or two, why not give him a whole column?