When LeRoy takes back the ball

New uniforms, modeled by players who need to shut up and just run the ball and be happy.

New uniforms, modeled by players who need to shut up and just run the ball and be happy.

Back in the 1960s, when southern high schools were beginning to integrate, there was a common expression used to describe gradual white acceptance—and ultimate embracing—of black faces on their football rosters: “Just give LeRoy the ball.”

Translation: Yeah, technically it sucks. But LeRoy is a big ol’ nigger who run s a 4.4 40 and can get us an extra three or four wins. So let’s smile, shut up and hand him the football. And as long as he doesn’t date our daughters or think himself a real part of our community, all should be OK.

Decades have passed. LeRoy is no longer LeRoy. At least not in the conventional sense of the phrase. Now he has a name. He’s Jim. Bob. Malik. Steve. Ellis. Jeff. Casey. Emmett. Ray. Integration took hold of America long ago, and now schools everywhere feature big, strong, fast black football players who run 4.4 40s and elicit cheers from the crowds. Generally (but not always), whites still prefer they stay far away from their daughters. But they definitely want them on their college football teams. No doubt.

Here, however, is what they don’t want: Complaining. Whining. Anger. Conditions. LeRoy (or whatever you wanna call him in 2015) should be damn happy [FILL IN THE BLANK] University removed him from the ghetto of [FILL IN THE BLANK CITY] to allow him to play football and receive a valued four-year education. He should be thankful, gracious, humbled by the salvation granted upon him by (largely) white America. It’s a gift for the chosen. And if the majority of the gift givers (coaches, university boards, boosters) vote for candidates who strongly oppose funding the social welfare programs that help inner-city communities grow and thrive, well … hey. Life isn’t perfect. LeRoy—or whatever his name is—should just keep his trap shut, eat to his heart’s content at the nearby dining hall (it’s BBQ night!) and give us 30 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns against LSU. Education? Take it if you want it. Or don’t. Won’t really matter in 20 years, when your knees are gone and you’re storing boxes in a Target warehouse.

•••

I am writing this shortly after learning that Tim Wolfe, the University of Missouri president, has stepped down after the African-American members of the school’s football team threatened to boycott practice and an upcoming game were he to remain in power. The black Tigers were responding to a fellow student’s hunger strike—as CBS’ Jerry Hinnen wrote, “part of a series of student protests over racially charged campus incidents and what the students view as an inadequate response from Wolfe.”

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Now, I don’t know if the players are right or wrong in cause. I truly don’t. Hell, I’m not sure there is a definitive right or wrong. Did Wolfe need to quit? Could something have been salvaged? Was he a bad guy, or a good guy caught in a sticky situation? Did he make mistakes, or were mistakes made around him? Or both? Or neither? Hard to say, even after reading myriad accounts of the past few days.

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What I’m bothered by, however, is the visceral anger directed toward Missouri’s LeRoys African-American players, who—if you listen to (largely) conservative America—should shut the fuck up, mind their business and play football. Not all that long ago, these same people lauded Kim Davis in her courageous fight against gay marriage in Kentucky. She was strong-willed and righteous and determined. She was willing to go to jail to stand up for what she believed in, even if that meant braking the laws of the land. God bless America and God bless Kim Davis, standing up for persecuted white Christians everywhere! Amen!

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Now, however, we have different people partaking in a fight. They’re seemingly strong-willed and (one could certainly debate) righteous and determined. They also happen to be young, which, you would think, would be a celebrated fact. Right or left, middle-aged or senior citizens, a common refrain among Americans over the age of 30 is that “young people today” don’t care. They’re all about iPhones and texting and the Kardashians and 100 degrees of varying trivial nonsense. “Back in the day …” the story goes, people cared.

Well, the University of Missouri football players seem to care. They stood up, took an action, gained their desired outcome. Whether you agree or disagree with the point is, well, pointless. The call to action should be applauded.

You, however, don’t see it that way.

You see a bunch of LeRoys.

2 thoughts on “When LeRoy takes back the ball”

  1. Jeff – nice post but I think your last paragraph should probably say “some” of the University of Missouri football players seem to care. It has been widely reported that not all players on the team…not even all black players, agreed with the desire to “strike” or not practice or play.

    I know it’s a smaller piece of your story but in a situation where it becomes a black or white thing, sometimes the facts that lie in the “gray” area make a big difference.

    I think it will be interesting to see if this incident will be a “one time” thing or if other schools and teams will begin to use this as a template for other programs.

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