In one of the more idiotic columns we’ve read recently in the Washington Post (which, as you know, is really saying something), Quinnipiac University Professor Phillip Lamarr Cunningham said that the arrest and trial of O.J. Simpson proved that white America will support black athletes…but only as long as they meet a few “conditions.”
“The Bronco chase, coming in the middle of the fifth game of the NBA Finals, cast a brief pall on what had been a watershed moment for black athletes,” Cunningham writes. “To suggest that Simpson overshadowed a decade’s worth of goodwill toward black athletes would be an overstatement. But Simpson, arguably a major source of this goodwill, certainly made clear the conditions white Americans put on their goodwill, even as the nation’s greatest black athletes continued to thrill and amaze.”
Um, he murdered two people. If that crosses the line of the “conditions” under which white Americans are willing to support and accept this particular black athlete…well, what’s the problem? The bigger problem, if there is one, is that an overwhelming majority of black Americans – including those that found themselves on the Simpson jury – decided to support this black athlete despite the clear evidence of his guilt.
Cunningham uses this bizarre premise to look back on politically outspoken black athletes like Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, both of whom, he says, proved too controversial to break through to mainstream white America. He then says that O.J. changed all of that, turning his back on politics and even eschewing any emphasis on his blackness to finally break through, star in Hertz commercials, and nab himself a starring role in the Naked Gun movies. He was followed by Michael Jordan and other nice, friendly, apolitical black athlete-celebrities. Those kinds of black athletes, Cunningham argues, white America could accept.
“The chase not only disrupted the NBA Finals — it also unsettled the comfort white Americans had developed for black athletes,” he writes. “For years, black athletes, and Simpson in particular, were held up as signs of the progress made toward bridging America’s racial divide. That night, however, he served as a stark reminder of how conditional that comfort was.”
Again: Conditioned on the assumption that our prominent celebrity athletes are not, you know, homicidal maniacs.
Simpson’s legal “dream team” managed to turn a case of obvious double-homicide into a case about racism in America. It’s interesting to see that all these years later, there are still idiots working in academia who buy into that transparent ploy.