|Thank you, Warren|
By Alan Grant
Special to Page 2
Consider the source. I know that's what you did when you heard him say it, so I'll do the same now.
For nine years, Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay's gregarious defensive tackle with the nimble feet and the ample gut, has made millions of dollars indulging in an extended version of recess. Last week, after expressing his displeasure with a $50,000 fine for bumping a referee, Sapp said something that struck a chord with me -- and I'm sure with you as well.
He said, "If you're a black man in America who makes money, you're supposed to just shut up."
Never one to shy away from a supportive analogy, Sapp added that NFL players are like "slaves," and the commissioner and league owners are like "slave masters."
OK, before I move on, I ask you to repeat after me: Sapp's. Words. Are. Not. To. Be. Taken. Literally.
There, I said it. For the record, I've stated what I think is painfully obvious. I'm not saying that an NFL player who makes millions of dollars is literally a slave, or that Paul Tagliabue and his gang literally oversee a plantation that extends to 32 sites.
But I am saying that Sapp has a point.
So thank you, Warren Sapp, for saying what you did. I agree wholeheartedly with your analogy. I do think that black men are told to just shut up and take the money. Unfortunately, most successful black men do that very thing. Some of my friends (who are black) work in NFL corporate offices. They have titles and job descriptions like "development" or "community affairs." And that would be OK ... if they didn't aspire to be general managers or directors of player personnel.
These are men who are as bright, as polished, and as motivated as their white counterparts. But they'll never get promoted. Being former players may get them in the door; but once they're in, that door quickly closes and they find themselves trapped in a one-dimensional room. Professionally, they're doomed. They'll never be recognized as anything other than what they were hired as:
As a writer, I'd love to tell their stories. I'd relish the chance to let them speak into my microphone and tell America: "My resume is much better than my white superior, and my knowledge and my skills, both business and personal, surpass his." But they won't ever say this for the record because they're afraid of the consequences.
They know that a former player who possesses an intellect or -- God forbid -- expresses an opinion outside of football is seen as a threat to the existing power structure. So these guys remain silent. They take the money and shut the hell up. They do so because they're afraid of losing their jobs and afraid they might be ex-communicated from the league. So when I raise such topics and my boss asks me for quotes, I can't provide them.
That was until the scourge of the NFL spoke his piece. Once again: Thank you, Warren Sapp.
About two years ago, I used a Sapp-like analogy with one of the NFL's more famously-disgruntled employees, Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon. Just last week, Dillon complained about being unappreciated and not having a large enough role in the Bengals' offense. And he suggested that it was time for him to play elsewhere.
Once again, I'll consider the source, because Dillon's timing sucks. His comments came just as the Bengals are finally showing signs of life and threatening to actually join the NFL.
That afternoon at a photo shoot in downtown Cincinnati, Dillon was approached by an older black gentleman. He told Dillon that he should be more "humble" in his public presentation. To his credit, Dillon didn't take offense. But I did. As far as black men are concerned, I think humility only maintains the status quo. I think humility insures that there will be only four black head coaches in college football; that there will be only three black head coaches in the NFL; that there will be but one black general manager in the NFL; and that the black influence on corporate America shall remain impotent, with finite numbers.
For the record: Where black men (or, for that matter, all so-called minorities) are concerned, humility is vastly overrated.
Anyway, after the photo shoot, we sat in the car and waited for the photographer. As Dillon took his place in the passenger seat, I climbed in back, taking the opportunity to be a cultural back-seat driver of sorts.
"That guy wants you to adopt the typical slave mentality," I told him. (The "slave mentality" can be explained with one self-loathing philosophy: "Oh, mah massa sho' is good to me. Ah's jus' happy to be here.") Without turning around, Dillon's shoulders bobbed up and down as he chuckled.
"I'm glad you said it, because I was thinking the same thing," he said.
Like Corey Dillon, like Warren Sapp, I am blessed. I inherently know this, but I've encountered many people who have taken it upon themselves to remind me just how blessed I am.
You're lucky to be here.
I've heard it a thousand times from people in my business. It's usually delivered with a contemptible sneer that makes me wonder: "Do they mean I'm lucky to have a job, or lucky that I was never chained to the hull of slave ship cruising through the Middle Passage on my way to a life of servitude?" I'm never quite sure.
So I just consider the source.
Alan Grant is a former NFL defensive back and the author of "Return to Glory: Inside Tyrone Willingham's Amazing First Season at Notre Dame"