by Chris Stevenson
Forty one seasons ago Joe Gilliam (RIP) was a starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He beat out Terry Bradshaw and Terry Hanratty during the preseason. This was when preseason games (6) were almost half as long as the regular season (14). Gilliam led the Steelers to a 30-0 victory over the then-Baltimore Colts, and they rolled to a 4-1-1 start after six games before he was benched by coach Chuck Knoll. What happened during those victories that caused Gilliam to be replaced by Bradshaw? Part of the answer is you have to understand the racial climate of Pittsburgh at the time; a dusty blue-collar town dominated by racist policies. Gilliam was forced to endure persistent boos and hisses at home from Steeler fans, it is his reaction to their unjustified behavior that doomed his season and eventually his career. He allowed himself to be trapped in the Pittsburgh/Italian racist matrix instead of thumbing his nose at them the way Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell or particularly Cam Newton would have. It was largely due to his inability to do this and his lack of discipline, and stubbornness that prevented him from using his running backs more (he had arguably two of the best in Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, whom would have taken much pressure off of him) that he eventually resorted to escape through substances, cocaine, alcohol and at some point heroin.
It was a huge blow to blacks around the country (I remember the news of his drug use even while in high school), and a tremendous waste of potential. Gilliam had a quick release, quicker than even Joe Namath and much later on Dan Marino according to experts. There are film clips showing him launching the football where his arm is harder to track than a blur. Bradshaw often stated Gilliam was a better qb than he was, he was quoted as late as Feb. of 2000 telling James Brown on a broadcast of Real Sports “He (Knoll) gave me my job back, It’s not like I beat him (Gilliam) out.”
Gilliam, Bradshaw and Hanratty- cs
Though obviously this is no indictment of the whole It-population of Pittsburgh, they were the only white ethnic group known to have the flag of Italy regularly draped over their homes. Back then their population was the largest white ethnic group in the city but by the time Gilliam’s presence became known, a Twilight Zone-dichotomy began among mostly separate groups of Italian American Steeler fans. While there was booing and no-doubt hate-mail sent to their starting black quarterback-whom as I again say was winning-a movement was concurrently created to smother his teammate Franco Harris, the star running back with nothing but love. Harris’ dad was an African American serviceman, who met his mom while stationed in Italy and brought her back to the states with him (While European women loved black men historically, it was still a huge taboo to bring one back here as a bride). This segment of fans called themselves Franco’s Italian Army, a movement that started with 40 men in 1972, and grew into thousands in several years. One wonders what their reaction would be if Harris was the signal-caller instead, or they or the black Steeler fans (who gave Harris and the Franco’s Italian Army tons of grief disguised as pro-black) could have started a General Gilliam’s Africa Corps, but that’s easy to say when you’re not living in the middle of one of the East Coast’s worst racial powder-kegs.
As of 2008 Pittsburgh Italians are still among the top five ethnic populations in the US (1-New York City: 1,882,000 2-Philadelphia: 498,000 3-Chicago: 492,000 4-Boston: 486,000 5-Pittsburgh: 316,000, with 300k in the metro area alone). According to Infoplease.com they are still the 3rd largest white ethnic group (39,632, or 11.8%) there as of today. I wonder what many of their old-school NFL fans think about Cam Newton? By now at least 60% of the country got what they wanted in their good vs. evil fairy tale ending of Superbowl 50; a Peyton Manning victory. I suppose in the back of my mind over the past two weeks I feared this, sound football fundamentals and defense winning out over flash and dash. And sure enough it happened. It was also disappointing to watch the NACL (National anti-Cam League) go into overdrive as soon as the game ended. A post-game interview segment was cut and spliced to make it look as if Cam just abruptly got up and left in the middle of questioning, as if he didn’t stay for his allotted time. I found it odd that no mention was made of Cam congradulating Peyton on the field right after the game. Since part of Beyonce’s performance alluded to the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, just what did Malcolm tell you about big media that still applies today 50 years later?
The least talked about clip after the game- cs
Over the decades of journalism I have been accused of racism by a more than a few White Americans for my views on a particular issue that differed from theirs. I generally brush these pronouncements aside. I know where they really come from. I saw it a couple of years ago after an intense game between the Seattle Seahawks and their arch-rivals the San Francisco 49ers saw cornerback Richard Sherman raise the ire of the nation with six simple words “Don’t you EVER, talk about me.” Social media and internet comments lit up with words like “thug.” My only thought was “there they go again.” Understand Sherman’s resume has nothing on it within a light year resembling thug behavior, Sherman is a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and graduated from Stanford University in 2010 with an undergraduate degree in communications. He is said to be currently pursuing a masters degree.
In cases like that I am forced to look at the accuser. Much of White America has been manifesting a racism so obvious to us and largely unnoticed by them so as to dazzle the mind since around 2007 (I wonder why hmmm…). Much of the nation’s police force have virtually replaced the Klu Klux Klan, and they have adhered to the unseen national green light to shoot black men and boys for the most frivolous of reasons. Is it safe to say law enforcement is the last occupation that the strongly opinionated white man can find sanctuary? Among the internet troll community they can really cut lose.
This is not good news, if a black quarterback leading his team to the Superbowl is any indicator, we haven’t progressed at all since the race-obsessed reactions over Doug Williams leading the Washington Redskins to that stunning victory in 1988. In fact in many respects it’s gotten worse. What we have today is a type of race-based remote-location micromanagement as to what is and isn’t expected of black public figures and celebrities/athletes. The more proof of racism, the tighter the white denials. Once Steve “Air” McNair and Donovan McNabb and others went to the Superbowl I was under the impression all the dumb black-qb questions had stopped, I was wrong. Those black field generals between Williams and Newton did or said nothing controversial to spark their outrage, and were treated mostly like their white counterparts.
From the start of their epic Superbowl run last fall, all the way to the Panther’s 31-24 playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks after which a fan wrote an angry letter to the Charlotte Post calling him “Mr. Classless Cam Newton” for tossing a 12th man flag, Cam’s performance seemed to rub or dabb many white fans the wrong way. Just Friday at the cigar bar I overheard a guy behind me saying he “didn’t care about Manning winning, I just wanted Cam to lose.” You see Cam’s antics is a political statement to him that he doesn’t see in local Buffalo hero Rob Gronkowski, or on occasion even his teammate Tom Brady. There isn’t much difference between fans’ reaction to Cam and the Pittsburgh Steeler fans booing Gilliam back in the early-’70’s, except-as previously stated-Gillam went into a depression and resorted to drugs. Fans today are a bit more sophisticated, they don’t mind you dancing and smiling, but not if they feel it’at their expense. You got to dance and smile their way. ‘Stay in your place boy’ is the not-so-silent message, and Cam won’t give them the satisfaction. He’s too mentally tough.
Romanowski once again rears his dimwitted head-cs
This prompted Cam to respond during media week “I’ve said this since day one. I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare it to.” When Newton says this he’s not talking about showboating as many announcers and bloggers are inferring, forget his Dabb, forget his Superman pose. What he means by a lot of people not seeing anyone like him they can compare him to, even though they have seen other black quarterbacks (5 of them having already played in the Superbowl) is he anticipates himself being more dominating than they were. Very similar to how Stephan Curry is raising the bar for point guards in the NBA. The swagger is new for a quarterback, but I’ve seen it for years in a tight end, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. So I really don’t know how many of the white NFL fans relate Cam’s dancing and mannerisms as “thug” behavior.
This conversation does not continue without me acknowledging the other side of this two-headed fear monster, a two years ago there were black players who felt that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t black enough-these were players on his own team-Marshawn Lynch and former Seahawk Percy Harvin were among those who led the anit-Wilson pack, and when Harvin was traded to the New York Jets Lynch tried to recruit the whole team against Wilson. One sports website reports “Players said Harvin was an accelerant in a locker room that was quickly dividing between Wilson and anti-Wilson. … There is also an element of race that needs to be discussed. My feeling on this—and it’s backed up by several interviews with Seahawks players—is that some of the black players think Wilson isn’t black enough.”
What then is the requirements to being too black? Well… You have to be a physically big, grown, strong, black man… that exercises a character defect, a social flaw, you know, like responding to on-air interviews with “thanks for askin.” A walking oxymoron, do 1,500 push-ups while bragging about collecting $400 a month from Welfare. Within the black community, oftentimes the one with the least education or lowest standards sets the bar for blackness, many of these guys drag this attitude with them when they make it to the pros. The anti-social, self defeating behavior of players like Harvin, Lynch and others we have witnessed around the league over the years; Adam Jones, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, these players at one time or another have reflected the behaviors that get them points with Marshawn. What about Cam?
If every young black man between 15 and 35 were as trouble-free, competent and confident as Cam Newton you would have a safer and saner more productive black community, and maybe that’s what scares many in the white community the most.
Chris Stevenson is author of “The MAO Syndrome: A Timeline of Newspaper columns Tracking Hate, Fear, Loathing, Obstinacy, and Stubbornness of many on the right & some on the left who are simply Mad At Obama.” He is also a regular columnist for blackcommentator, and a contributor to the Hampton Institute, his own blog www.thebuffalobullet.com, and a syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter, and Facebook, you don’t have to join any of them. Watch his video commentary Policy & Prejudice for clbTV & Follow his Blogtalkradio interviews on 36OOseconds. Respond to him by email; firstname.lastname@example.org