When defensive back coach Bob Jenkins enlisted me to serve as PA announcer at Muir High School's home football games three seasons ago, I felt intimidated by the responsibility. Not merely because I would be taking over for Roland Bynum, the beloved Muir English teacher and esteemed KJLH radio broadcaster who had expertly called the games for over a decade – but because I knew that the words and style of the person on the mic help define a school's image and impact the attitudes of both the fans in the stands and the players on the field.
That's why it hurts my heart to read about the 15-year-old announcer at an Ohio middle school game who said that an opposing team's 7th grade running back had "getting-away-from-the-cops speed." School officials were right to discipline the student because comparing a skilled athlete – especially a black athlete - to a fleeing suspect is not colorful, it's insulting. It denies the player recognition for his ability and reduces him to a cliché that makes light of the tragic, stubbornly-persistent bias that black men, as a group, are dangerous and criminally inclined. No matter what we do (run the football, buy a bag of Skittles or become President of the United States), we African-American men are easily prejudged as lawbreakers.
Making matters worse is the fact that the phrase "getting-away-from-the-cops speed" was popularized by a black sportscaster, Gus Johnson of Fox Sports. This is another disturbing example of how some African-Americans have lost sight of the fact that racial stereotyping, racial bias and outright racism are still alive, influential and dangerous in America. That is why Johnson was justifiably chastised in 2009 after he applied the awful analogy to Tennessee Titans' ball carrier Chris Johnson.
But back to that middle school football game in Ohio . . . The fact that one kid used the running-from-police parallel to describe another kid (and, yes, the running back was black) makes this matter even more deeply troubling. Young people's perceptions of themselves and of each other are easily-affected by the words of their peers. Comparing a 7th grader to a criminal suspect could chip away at the youngster's self-esteem while simultaneously making anti-black paranoia an accepted feature of adolescent culture.
By reprimanding the student announcer, the school administration drew a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable language. Setting boundaries is what adults are supposed to do. And suggesting, even jokingly, that an African-American sports star (particularly a child) is similar to a guy who's trying to escape the law should be outside the boundaries for all of us.
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.