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Goon: Race shouldn't dominate sports dialogue
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's unfortunate that Robert Griffin III has to be involved in any kind of controversy this last week, especially when it's not because anything he said or did.

It's easier to imagine Griffin, the product of a military family, helping the elderly across the street than popping up shirtless in clubbing photos, a la Rob Gronkowski. By almost all accounts, he's a focused, smart, happy-go-lucky guy.

But controversy-proof? Apparently not.

That's because of a television commentator's remarks on ESPN's First Take, when millions cringed as Rob Parker wondered aloud whether Griffin was a "brother" or a "cornball brother."

You don't need a minor in political correctness to know how off-base that line of thought was. Parker later apologized for his comments, likely after long reflection on the meaning of the word "restraint."

But the issue is beyond Parker, ESPN or even really Griffin. And given the way we think about race in sports, controversies like this one are liable to keep coming up.

The comments came in response to about as neutral a statement as one could muster: Griffin had said he didn't want to be "defined" by being a black quarterback. Which makes a ton of sense.

It's not like Peyton Manning wants to be called "the best white quarterback in NFL history" when he retires. In your career, do you want to be known as the best Latino banker, or the best Asian journalist?

That's not the label any of us want slapped on what we do. But in sports, it's somehow hard for us to see these athletes without immediately categorizing.

It's something hard to stop, how we like to make a novelty out of our athletes. It's why a guy like Jeremy Lin, as much as his fame has done for him, has to live with being cast as the best Asian basketball player, while he's probably much more focused on being the best American point guard.

It's a tough thing to explain, because while no one wants to be slapped with a label, race is very much a part of who you are.

It's your background, your experience, your family, your values — or at least it usually plays a big role in shaping those things.

In some sense, it's realistic to acknowledge that athletes such as Griffin and Lin take pride in their race. If you really want to call it trailblazing — even though black quarterbacks and Asian basketball players have been around for years — they probably take a dose of pride in setting that example.

The issue is one of sensitivity. No one can be faulted for identifying Griffin as an athlete of color. But when race starts to dominate that discussion — and when people question the authenticity of that identity — is maybe when we all need to take a step back.

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

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