In Super Bowl XXVII, Leon Lett started celebrating early. His team the Cowboys were blowing the doors off of the Buffalo Bills when the Bills once more fumbled and Lett recovered the ball and started running towards the end zone. As he approached he started an early celebration, holding the ball outstretched and Bills receiver Don Beebe smacked the ball out of Lett’s hands before he crossed the goal line and the ball went through the end zone causing a touchback and no score for Lett.
I was working at WFAN at the time and Bob Page was the sportscaster who was trying out for the station the next day. He remarked, “I notice that it’s only the black players who are celebrating early. Is this some kind of racial thing that I don’t understand?”
The phones rang off the hook and Page was deemed a racist for his remarks. Perhaps, however, his remarks aren’t too far afield?
Today’s New York Times asks the question regarding celebrations as it pertains to race and football less crudely and more scientifically.
A Kansas City Chiefs cornerback returns an interception 58 yards for a touchdown, then flexes his biceps in the end zone with one foot resting on the ball. A Seattle wide receiver makes a throat-slashing gesture after catching a 52-yard pass for a score. A running back for Green Bay lies on his back in the end zone and waves his legs and arms to mime a snow angel after an 80-yard scoring catch. After an 18-yard touchdown catch on Jan. 1, a Buffalo receiver exposes an undershirt that has “Happy New Year” written on it.
Each of these touchdown celebrations last season resulted in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. But they had one other commonality: The fouls were called on black players.
The study goes on to talk about people watching black and white players celebrating and then asking them to assess not penalties but rewards for their actions. Black players were often penalized.
I have seen this happening in several other walks of life. I was once asked to move a car for a colleague who was running late and had to get on the air. The car happened to be a mercedes. I parked it in an appropriate spot and returned the keys without delay to its owner. No big deal. Two weeks later another colleague, who is black was asked to move the same car. A cop gave him the shake down:
“Is this your car?”
“No it’s my boss’ car.”
“You won’t mind if I come upstairs and confirm that, would you?”
Mind you, that same cop was in the same spot two weeks earlier, but I was just fine to move the car without incident. I’ve never seen my friend more angry. Clearly he was “helping while black” and that was reason enough for inquiry. Perhaps the officer should have questioned him, after all, he saw a white haired man park the car there just a short time ago. But why, then, would he not question me? I was just as likely to steal a mercedes.
Would I also be less likely to celebrate in the end zone?
It pays to remember that the guy who really started all the celebrating was this guy:
Mark Gastineau happens to be white.