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December 06, 2001

Iverson's rap is Rocker-esque
By Dan Patrick

First of all, I'd like to apologize for anything I may say or do. For the rest of my life. The way things are going in our country today, that should cover me for all but the most egregiously awful words or deeds lurking in my future.

It's funny, though. This insurance policy doesn't make me feel any better. I guess I'm hung up on that old-fashioned and irrelevant notion of responsibility. I'll survive, though.

Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson has been much less offensive on the basketball court.

Allen Iverson is currently taking advantage of the climate of instant forgiveness in our country in the wake of the controversy surrounding his upcoming rap album, "Non-Fiction." An edited version of his song "40 Bars" will be released to radio stations on Oct. 10, but the song contains homophobic references and violent images. Like any good rapper, he also insults women in the song. Here is part of Iverson's apology:

"If individuals of the gay community and women of the world are offended by any of the material in my upcoming album, let the record show that I wish to extend a profound apology," Iverson says in a statement. "If a kid thinks that I promote violence by the lyrics of my songs, I beg them not to buy it or listen to it. I want kids to dream and to develop new dreams."

Aside from being weak and transparent, Iverson's words are also disingenuous. Iverson most certainly is begging kids to buy this album. He is offering this product to the marketplace, and, frankly, this media tempest will only help sales. Iverson is also making claims to be an artist, saying the lyrics are a form of personal expression. But artists don't go around explaining and apologizing for their work. Businessmen do that.

I am not asking Iverson to raise my kids. I am not asking him to be Grant Hill or Michael Jordan either. But I am wondering why he can't accept his position as a role model? Like I said, I can raise my children. But is it too much to ask Iverson to think about the kids who really do look to him for clues and guidance? I'm thinking about young kids from single-parent homes who may need to look beyond the kitchen table for behavioral and attitudinal ideas. What about the kids who do not have an adult explaining to them why Iverson's talents and appeal as a basketball player do not make him a valuable or interesting music maker?

This context is much more troubling than Rocker's. Iverson, not prompted by anything other than the marketplace, chose to express himself in this hateful way.

The idea of Iverson doing a rap album is based on his basketball fame. So let's not pretend to say his hoop fans are not the target audience for his music. It's just a shame the best he could do is a record that promotes hatred, violence, stereotypes and prejudice. And his excuse is, well, this is what rap artists do.

Are we to conclude he felt obligated to apologize because it's a rap record? Well, then he's not an artist because artists are anything but followers. Or, even worse, does he really feel that way about gay people, guns and violence? Well, then he's not much of a person either.

John Rocker was roundly and rightly criticized for the racist remarks he made last fall to "Sports Illustrated." But the context of those comments was a magazine interview, the spontaneous give-and-take between a reporter and the subject. The result was an almost too-honest look into the mind and heart of an athlete. Most of us did not like what he said, but at least it was straight talk. The horror was that Rocker meant what he said.

But Iverson presumably sat down and wrote these lyrics over weeks, maybe months. He scratched his chin and wondered what he could rhyme with "faggots." He thought about this stuff, polished these lyrics. He later recorded them. All of this effort went into an album he was selling. It was all very calculated. This context is much more troubling than Rocker's. Iverson, not prompted by anything other than the marketplace, chose to express himself in this hateful way.

Allen Iverson is not an artist off the court. This song and record prove that beyond doubt. He is an artist on the court, and I would pay to see one of his basketball masterpieces any night. But he should, like all of us, stick to what he knows. Despite our understanding nature as a society, some things are unforgivable.

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