Sports, comedy and racism

Sports, like or not, is intrinsically linked to all aspects of American life, with social media often serving as its umbilical cord. In separate interviews, the MSR recently talked with comedian Aries Spears and history professor Ibram X. Kendi for their thoughts on the soon-to-be-past year in sports.

Photo courtesy of Britney Buchanan Aries Spears

A good source of comic material

Comedian Aries Spears was in town for a two-night standup gig at a downtown Minneapolis nightclub in November, a couple of weeks after Colin Kaepernick’s workout NFL PR stunt was staged in Atlanta. Kaepernick, has been ‘Whiteballed’ out of the NFL for three seasons, not for his talents but for his views on racial injustice.

Kaepernick is Black—his mother is White and his father is Black—but he was adopted by White parents. “His White side fights with his Black side,” Spears joked. “His intentions are worthy, but he might be having internal issues.”

As a principal cast member for eight seasons on Fox’s sketch comedy show “Mad TV” during the early 2000s, Spears was the show’s second-longest cast member, appearing in 198 episodes from 1997, the show’s third season, until he left in 2005, its tenth. He did hilarious take-offs on such sports figures as Mike Tyson, Shaquille O’Neal and Evander Holyfield, among others.

“Mad TV”’s producers made full use of Spears’ creative writing talents and aggressive hip-hop acting style during his run. “As long as you have a voice or you have someone who captures your voice,” he stressed, “and you are allowed to do what you do visually, that’s the best-case scenario.”

“There is always enough material” from sports to use, Spears added. He uses his standups both to make people laugh and to provide social commentary. “As long as you have a platform in which to be a voice for those who can’t be listened to, I think that’s an important responsibility.”

Sports laden with ‘racist ideas’

Charles Hallman/MSR News Professor Ibram X. Kendi

America is “addicted to racist ideas” and sports aren’t immune to this, American University History Professor Ibram X. Kendi declared. He is the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University and has published 14 essays and three books, including his latest, “How to Be an Antiracist.”

The guest speaker at last October’s YWCA Minneapolis forum on race, Kendi told the audience, “We have to have a common definition” on what it is to be a racist. “Racist is a descriptive term, not an attack word,” he added. 

Kendi afterward told the MSR that sports tend to bring out the deep-seated racist beliefs in Americans. “I think when we are looking at basketball, football and baseball,” he said, “which are the sports Black and Latino people dominate in, I think many Americans have been trying to figure out why it is that [they] dominate in these leagues but don’t dominate [elsewhere].

“There’s a longstanding racist idea that Black people are not only inferior to White people, but they are actually closer to animal-kind than they are to White people. What makes White people so superior is their superior intelligence.”

Kendi said that Colin Kaepernick being out of the NFL despite teams in need of quarterbacks due to injuries is largely a result of him not keeping his views to himself. “You have racist Americans who think that people of color, Black people, who are making millions of dollars as professional athletes…that they should just be grateful for being there.”

These racist Americans believe Black athletes “shouldn’t use their platform to speak out against racism, and when they do they are the fundamental problem,” said Kendi.

“I think that’s what happened to Colin.”