June 29 - July 5, 1995

B y  T o m  D a n e h y


I AM NOT a black man. Never have been, never will be. And despite the fact that I grew up in a so-called "black" neighborhood and had (and have) lots of African-American friends, or even that I was on the business end of some racially- motivated taunting as a child, I learned pretty early on that I would never come within a country mile of knowing what it actually feels like to be black. Not even for a second.

That's fine with me, mostly because it's a waste of time worrying about things that can never happen, and also because I don't know if I could handle the blind, stupid hatred that would be an everyday companion. I'd probably be a very angry black man.

While those feelings are very clear and immutable, I nonetheless wonder occasionally what goes on in other people's heads. I did a lot of that last week. For, in my estimation, it was not a good week for black men in America. Not for three such men who are best known for nefarious deeds, alleged and otherwise, nor for those everyday people who lend varying degrees of support to them not out of a sense of logic or reason, but some misguided idea that one must stand behind a brother at all costs.

The three men originally gained fame and fortune through athletic exploits. And each would run seriously afoul of the law, one in a mostly self-destructive manner, another in a felonious manner, and the third in an allegedly fatal manner.

The facts in each case are indisputable. All three have committed terrible acts of violence against women, among other crimes. Of that there is no doubt. Each, in his own gutless way, denies his crimes or seeks to mitigate them through psychobabble and/or denial.

This would be galling enough for the average person were it not for the unseemly outpouring of affection and support for these men, much of it from other (ostensibly reasonable) black men. An open-hearted willingness to forgive is one thing; a blind allegiance based merely on shared skin tone is quite another. To support them after their abominable actions does a major disservice to society as a whole and the black community in particular.

Still, there they were--Darryl Strawberry, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson--each making a comeback of sorts and each receiving a vulgar outpouring of support and affection from a segment of society whose cause and collective progress has been put back by these men's selfish acts.

Start with Strawberry, who, in relative terms, is the least offensive of the three. All he is is a wife-beater and an industrial-strength drug addict. He drank and sniffed his way out of the Hall of Fame, and then was disgusting enough to get run out of New York, no small feat. He had a built-in excuse for every failure and expected way too much from each minor success.

Strawberry fell from grace with the Mets, absolutely stole $8 million from the Dodgers in two years of disservice, then played so-so last year with the Giants. In between, he beat his wife and his girlfriend (two fists, no waiting), abused alcohol, snorted cocaine and cheated the IRS. A real multiple threat.

And now he's with the Yankees, having the dubious distinction of being the only player in history to play for all four of the original New York teams.

What's bad is the torrent of words to the effect that he deserves another chance (what is it, his eighth or ninth?). To top it off, Strawberry gets righteous with an announcement that he won't be talking to the media, ever.

Then there's the ongoing O.J. Simpson saga. The prosecution's blundering notwithstanding, a majority of Americans agree that Simpson is guilty. Yet the percentage of whites is almost double that of blacks who feel that O.J. is guilty.

What can they possibly be thinking? Is their hatred of the LAPD so great or their distrust of the American criminal justice system so profound that they are willing to show support and respect for a vile man who deserves neither? Blind loyalty is an unwarranted response to betrayal.

Finally, we have Mike Tyson, the unrepentant rapist who received a hero's welcome last week in Harlem, where he was flanked by the unholy duo of Al Sharpton and Don King. Tyson refuses to admit that he did anything wrong when he brutally raped an 18-year-old girl, and far too many black men are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when a mostly-black jury had no doubt.

Tyson's New York show was a tribute to tastelessness, with a steady stream of speakers extolling his virtues. One even compared Tyson to Malcolm X. Oh yeah, let me see. Malcolm was a leader of men; Tyson is a beater of men. Not to mention women. Malcolm used the X to protest slavery; Tyson might adopt it so he won't misspell his last name so often. The similarities are endless.

I sincerely hope that Tyson straightens out his life. I hope that Strawberry stays drug-free. And I hope that Simpson learns arts and crafts while he rots away the rest of his sorry life in prison.

But most of all, I hope certain people learn to differentiate between well-deserved support and blind, misguided allegiance. These jerks deserve neither.

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June 29 - July 5, 1995

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