Patterico's Pontifications


Another Ridiculous Headline Previewing a Weak Analysis

Filed under: General — JVW @ 7:34 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Here is how some (yes, you guessed it) academic chose to commemorate in today’s Washington Post the 25th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s wild ride down the 405 Freeway:

OJ Headline

At first I determined that the headline (which I saw on Twitter) was so dumb that I wouldn’t read the accompanying essay, but I remembered what I wrote about George Skelton last week with respect to opinion writers not writing their own headlines, so I decided to give it a go. I was not impressed with the argument of the author, a Media Studies Professor at Quinnipiac University named Phillip Lamarr Cunningham. Here is the gist of it, so that you don’t have to waste your time reading it yourself:

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.

Those crazy white folks: rescinding their approbation and respect just because you go and do a silly old thing like slaughter your ex-wife and her co-worker.

Prof. Cunningham’s thesis just gets more murky from there. He travels through the history of white America’s disapproval of “militant” black athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, before contrasting them with former Heisman Trophy winner Simpson, the first NFL running back to run for 2,000 yards in a single regular season. He complains that Simpson’s commercial appeal “did not lift up other black athletes in the 1970s and early 1980s,” having apparently never heard of Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Reggie Jackson, or Walter Payton, and being completely unaware of the famous Mean Joe Greene Coca-Cola commercial, which in my recollection played about 22 times per televised game for the next seven years.

Prof. Cunningham admits that by the end of the 1980s there were plenty of black athletes who served as effective pitch men to white America, naming Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, and, of course, Michael Jordan. But he complains that these athletes, Jordan especially, had to avoid political topics in order to thrive:

It’s not clear whether Jordan really said “Republicans wear sneakers, too” as a rationale for not supporting Gantt. But we do know that Jordan, like Simpson, was disinclined to fight overt battles against racism.

Hard to believe that white America wasn’t keen on having multi-millionaire jocks recite the catechism of oppression that is formulated and promulgated by the leftist academia/media alliance so dominant in our modern culture. But nevermind that. Prof. Cunningham declares that the day O.J. became the prime suspect in the murder was a watershed for the black athlete:

The chase not only disrupted the NBA Finals — it also unsettled the comfort white Americans had developed for black athletes. 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, killing two people in cold blood is sadly going to lower your Q rating. But I was around in 1994, and among the most popular athletes of that era, I recall the following: Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr., Michael Johnson, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and of course, the king of them all, Michael Jordan. By the end of the decade, the only challenge to Jordan’s throne would come from a young golfer named Tiger Woods. So much for the idea that the arrest of Simpson made businesses reluctant to use black athletes as spokespeople.

Prof. Cunningham’s summation is that “[t]he means by which Simpson won over America,” which he earlier described as presenting a friendly apolitical demeanor, “are antiquated, especially in an era in which black athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James not only have embraced social justice but also have convinced their leagues and sponsors to do so as well (to an extent).” It’s telling that Prof. Cunningham lauds one player who hasn’t been on the field for three seasons due in part to what a large segment of the public believes is shallow grandstanding, and another player who has downscaled his commercial endorsements in order to concentrate on more traditional business interests.

But hey, as usual this is somehow the fault of white society and our failure to fully embrace the complexity of the black athlete. It’s as if social justice academics are just halfheartedly going through the motions these days.


25 Responses to “Another Ridiculous Headline Previewing a Weak Analysis”

  1. Interesting the main lesson some people draw from a double-murder, isn’t it?

    JVW (54fd0b)

  2. Did OJ’s publicist commission this? And, without looking it up, I’m guessing that his parole has ended?

    nk (dbc370)

  3. Interesting, indeed, and what an entertaining post to read. I wrote this comment 5 different ways and erased each one because they did not convey how I feel. Bottom line: You write well.

    DRJ (15874d)

  4. OJ was incredibly popular with everyone, including the LAPD, which is why conspiracy theories that they framed him, made no sense. But of course, the mostly blacks jury was going to find him innocent no matter what. I remember Larry King had an on-going legal panel and an old Jewish judge from IRC San Diego who kept saying the Jury was never going to convict because of race. I thought he was a dumb ol’bigot until he turned out to be right.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  5. BTW what precisely do you study to become a Perfesser of “Media Studies”? Old TV shows?

    rcocean (1a839e)

  6. But Simpson, arguably a major source of this goodwill, certainly made clear the conditions white Americans put on their goodwill,

    I would think that killing anyone automatically changes the goodwill of everyone. Is this not how it works in Prof. Cunningham’s world?

    Dana (bb0678)

  7. 25 years ago, OJ showed some people how conditional their discomfort with murder was.

    Munroe (808123)

  8. Thank you for that, DRJ. I greatly appreciate the compliment.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  9. I’ve made a couple of edits for clarity, in one case to add words that I had accidentally omitted. I can never copy-edit my work effectively until well after it is published.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  10. @5. More like old farts: Josef Gobbels, William Randolph Hearst, William S. Paley, David Sarnoff, Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Michael Deaver and so on and so on.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  11. BTW what precisely do you study to become a Perfesser of “Media Studies”? Old TV shows?

    The same thing that you study in every humanities/social studies major these days: critical race theory, ladders of systematic oppression, hierarchies of intersectionality, etc.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  12. What do we have in common with people like Professor Cunningham?

    NJRob (4d595c)

  13. Citizenship?

    Leviticus (a63b65)

  14. Mr. Cunningham was 19 years old when OJ murdered two innocent people.
    OJ was a superstar who transcended race. Nobody cared about an NBA game on that day. For me, I was in a golf tournament and watched the slow-speed chase in the clubhouse. Everybody there, all of us white-privilege folks with bad golf games, were shaking our heads at the surreal nature of what unfolded.

    Paul Montagu (841370)

  15. The real question is when are the American people going to realize the Emperor has not clothes, and stop funding all the nonsense that passes for academic scholarship.

    In the business world, someone who wrote such tripe would be out on his rear in no time. It is only in academia where Alice-in-Wonderland type theses get awarded with tenure.

    Bored Lawyer (998177)

  16. What a load of crap. It’s like the idea of white privilege and white supremacy is ingrained in the minds of professors and writers like this. So much so that they feel like it’s their sworn duty or obligation to scold white Americans about it, as if by imposing white guilt on us will somehow purge the nation.

    I’ll tell you about my first experience with black athletes. It was in 1972. I was in the sixth grade, walking home from school. There was this small restaurant about halfway in between, Pearson’s, which was a classic 1950s-style burger joint and soda shop. It had a counter bar with six stools and some tables with chairs for sitting customers, but most of all it had an authentic fountain soda machine. It was hot, I was thirsty, so I stopped by for a root beer float.

    I walked in, and there were five really big black men, sitting at the counter. Now, at that time, the only black people I had ever encountered in my life was this one family that lived at the apartment complex. DC Williams was the father’s name, and he and my father would have these barbeque contests every weekend, just to see which one could grill a better meal. “I got you thins time, JD,” he would say. “No, you don’t, DC,” my father would say. Then our families would enjoy a barbeque feast together. My brothers and I played with their sons in the courtyard practically every day. So, I didn’t really think anything of five large black men sitting at the counter bar, except it was a bit odd. In Edinburg, population maybe 20,000 at the time, mostly Hispanic. There was one stool at the end of the counter, I sat down, put a quarter on the counter and said, “May I have a root beer float, please.”

    Then this really big black man–this guy was like really big, at least four times bigger than me–I was a small child–and he said, “How’s it going, kid.”

    I turned to him and somewhat stunned asked, “Are you Meadowlark Lemon?”

    It was the Harlem Globetrotters come to town to play an exhibition game at the university. All five of them–Meadowlark, Curly, Geese, Gip, and Pablo–these guy were famous! They had their oun cartoon on Saturday morning TV. I totally freaked and jumped off the bar stool. “You’re the Harlem Globetrotters!”

    They laughed and gave me high fives all around. They even bought me a burger. Yeah, that’s right, I ate burgers and fries with the Harlem Globetrotters in a small restaurant in Edinburg. They got a kick out of me, because I was first person they had met who knew who they were. The waitress and the manager didn’t know. But a little white boy walking home from school did. They were really nice to me, and I kept asking them, “How do you do this and that?” And they would kind of laugh and say, “Practice.”

    I should have asked for their autographs, but I was too freaked out at the time. I mean, how often do you meet the Harlem Globetrotters? Especially in a small restaurant in Edinburg on your way home from junior high.

    They treated me with respect, because I treated them with respect.

    I will never forget that encounter. So this whole white-black thing is to me a complete hypocrisy.

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

  17. You have the best stories, GG. I can’t decide if it is because you are a Texan who is a great storyteller (as in true stories, not storytelling as in lies) or another Forrest Gump. Maybe both.

    DRJ (15874d)

  18. Nowadays, if you say “I judge people as individuals, not as representatives of a race,” you might be accused of having made a racist statement — because “individualism = white privilege” and “colorblind = denying the very existence of ‘people of color'” etc.
    Cunningham’s thesis rests on the belief that O.J. can’t possibly be seen as a unique individual whose actions don’t reflect on anyone else. He must be seen as a generic Black Athlete (or Black Man). Cunningham assumes that white people all must necessarily see O.J. as a stereotype.

    But if you say “He’s just one individual who doesn’t represent all black athletes,” then you’re demonstrating your racism …

    Radegunda (1db015)

  19. 15, you were more fortunate than me – I had to pick my sister up from her school in the Hyde Park neighborhood as they would be returning from their 8th grade trip, in a very unreliable 80 Cutlass traveling both ways on roughly 8700 S to 5600 S Stony Island Avenue (excuse me, Stoney Island), Chicago as the chase was unfolding. My sincerest hope was to get home before OJ was taken out and not be the lightest skinned thing at a stop light if it happened.

    urbanleftbehind (5eecdb)

  20. “How do you do this and that?” And they would kind of laugh and say, “Practice.”

    Sage advice.

    Bored Lawyer (998177)

  21. I can’t decide if it is because you are a Texan who is a great storyteller (as in true stories, not storytelling as in lies)

    The term you’re looking for is raconteur :)

    Chuck Bartowski (bc1c71)

  22. Nobody cared about an NBA game on that day. For me, I was in a golf tournament and watched the slow-speed chase in the clubhouse.

    I was on Interstate 5, headed in OJ’s direction, when the chase happened. I was working in Burbank at the time, and living in Anaheim. I had my radio set to KNX 1070, and could hear the description of the chase. The announcer called off the exits OJ passed, and I knew he was getting closer to me. I was about 2 miles north (I5 doesn’t actually run north-south in that stretch of California) of the 605 interchange when I heard that OJ had changed from I5 to I605. Alas, my brush with history was incidental at best.

    Chuck Bartowski (bc1c71)

  23. “White” America embraced OJ because he allowed them to see what they wanted to believe. And many of them still believed after Nicole was brutally murdered.

    Then the evidence, and the “chase” and more evidence and they had to give up their belief. Many non-white people did, too. Yes Fuhrerman, and the shrunken glove, and the jury pool from hell, but most people, having given up their image and replaced it with another, saw no reason to consider again.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  24. Hey, I’m still in disbelief about Chloe.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

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