Is it wrong that I rooted for Mike Tomlin because he’s Black?
Here’s the thing: I know nothing about football. Less than nothing. Considering I was a cheerleader for three years, this is a bit pathetic. All I know is that a “first and ten” is good, a touchdown is six points, (possibly seven?) and sometimes all the guys will huddle around the ball and watch it wobble for some reason. (What is that about?!)
I don’t have a favorite football team. I guess if I had to root for a team, I would go with the home team. But what is the home team for New Jersey? We don’t have a football team. Right? The Giants are a New York team. But they play in Jersey? I truly don’t know.
For the Superbowl, it’s no fun to watch if you’re not going to root for somebody. I was already leaning towards the Steerlers ’cause they’re on the east coast. And because Arizona is McCain country.
Then, in the days leading up to the game, I caught a few pre-game interviews with Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Within thirty seconds, I was sold. The Steelers had to win. Tomlin is young, cute, intelligent, well-spoken and…he’s got that other thing going on. That thing I fully support. You know what I’m talking about…
I was brought up in a militant, pro-Black household. My parents were members of the Nation of Islam for some time. And my bedtime stories were books like Before The Mayflower. (I read the whole book, cover-to-cover, in the third grade). I watched Eyes On The Prize with my dad, my hands over my eyes for some parts. I sobbed at the images of Emmett Till in his casket and marveled at his mother’s strength. I grew up with a very firm understanding of my history as a Black woman in this country. And all that Black folks had endured just to be here, living and breathing.
In my house, we rooted for Black people with no apologies.
I can remember my mom yelling up to my room:
“Hey Lee! Come downstairs quick! There’s a Black woman on Jeopardy!”
A woman named Claudia Perry, (who was a journalist at a Newark paper!), made mincemeat out of her opponents everyday for a week.
This woman was no joke! And we were jumping and down and celebrating for her in our living room. I think we were particularly proud of Ms. Perry because Jeopardy is not a game of chance. You have to know your stuff. And she did.
(I ended up meeting Ms. Perry many years later, backstage at a Big Pun concert at Newark Symphony Hall. I heard her introduce herself to someone. And my sister and I looked at each other and said in unison: Claudia Perry?! I introduced myself to her and said, “I remember you from Jeopardy! We were so happy for you!” She laughed and gave me a hug.)
In my house, we cheered for Debi Thomas at the Olympics. We screamed out loud when Suzette Charles, a Black woman who was Miss New Jersey, was named second runner up. I remember my mom saying, “Wow! Second runner up! That’s huge!”
And then, they had the nerve to announce Vanessa Williams as Miss America. My mom actually cried. I mean real tears, streaming down her face. She had her hand over her mouth and just shook her head back and forth. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it…” she kept saying over and over.
We wanted to see people who looked like us do well.
Is this wrong? I don’t know. But re-read this post so far and pretend it’s a white person saying they cheer on white folks, just because.
Now you see why I felt a tinge of something I couldn’t name as I silently rooted for Tomlin’s team to win.
My upbringing followed me to college. When Randall Pinkett was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, the whole Black community at Rutgers cheered collectively. Now, I didn’t know Randall personally. But he was Black. And the award was internationally reknown and he was making us all look good.
So you can imagine how I felt when he ended up being a contestant on The Apprentice. I didn’t watch the show that often. But I was pulling for him to win. And when he did win, there was definitely some fist-pumping and “terrorist fist jabs” being exchanged at my house.
I’ve always felt like it was natural and normal to cheer on my people. Why wouldn’t it be? We’ve been through so much in five generations. Has it really been that long since June 2, 1938, when Black folks spilled into the streets to celebrate Joe Louis’ victory over Max Schmelling?
But still. I felt weird about pulling for Tomlin.
I could come up with lots of ancillary reasons to root for him: Obama was rooting for the Steelers too. Franco Harris, one of TheHusband’s heroes, played for The Steelers.
But for me, it kept coming back to race.
I watched Tomlin in interviews, to see if there was anything that I could use to not root him on. Was he cocky? Arrogant? Didn’t seem to be. Was he a regular Black man? Or was he a Tiger Woods-type, don’t-label-me-Black man?
Nope. He was one of us. His father went to Hampton! He pledged a Black fraternity! What more did I need to know?
And then I got this email from a friend:
By the way, about Mike Tomlin(Black Head Coach of the Steelers for you ‘only-watch-the-Super-Bowl’ football fans..hey, I’m just sayin’), I did extensive research and found he is married to a…(whew)Black woman, Kiya Winston, native of Morristown NJ no doubt. so it’s officially safe to cheer him on, my peoples.
Married to a Black woman?! From Jersey?! I look her up and she’s cute but not over-the-top groupie-cute. They were college sweethearts. Have three children. Here she is at a charity event for the Steelers…
So, yeah. I needed Tomlin to win. And he did. And I cheered.
But I can’t front. Something about cheering on the Black coach with the Black wife and the three Black kids, (one of whom shares a name with my own kid!), does not sit well with me.
Again, it’s the Obama effect. I didn’t vote for Obama because he’s Black. (Really, I didn’t.) I voted because I believe in his vision. If the election had turned out to be Hilary Clinton versus Colin Powell or Michael Steele or Condoleeza Rice, Hilary would have had my vote.
But things like The Superbowl or game shows are different. There’s no real harm on cheering for either team. And my support won’t affect the outcome. But I still think it’s wrong. I don’t want TG and Tog to grow up rooting for people because they’re Black.
I try to keep myself from asking TG about the ethnicity of her friends. She attends a school that is predominately white. And I’m nervous about her self-identity. So when she mentions a new friend, the first thing I want to say is, “Is she Black?” But I bite my tongue. (And pray that she is making Black friends.)
And when I drop off Tog at daycare in the morning, my eyes sweep across the room and I always notice that she’s the only little Black girl there. And she’s chilling with her girls Addison and Reagan and having a great time. And I have to remind myself, this is fine. You chose the best schools for both girls. They will still understand their heritage and be self-actualized as Black women. Or so I hope.
Yes, I’d love a color-blind world. But is that what I really want? Do I really want to get to a place where we don’t instinctively cheer for our own?
I’ve been thinking about this word I keep seeing in the media: Post-Racial.
If you Google it, you’ll get a half-million hits. But I can’t find a definitive definition for it anywhere. But I know what it implies. We’re supposed to be moving into a period in which color doesn’t matter. My president is Black. Whoo-hoo.
I think, according to the concept of a post-racial America, I’m supposed to stop cheering for Black people just because. And I’m not supposed to trip over my daughters both attending predominately white schools.
After the game last night, the commentator asked Tomlin how it felt to be the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl.
TheHusband said, “And the Blackest!! How come they didn’t ask him that!!?”
TheHusband was actually mistaken. Tony Dungy was the first Black coach to win the Superbowl, when the Colts beat the Bears last year.
But still, Tomlin’s Blackness did feel like it was surrounding everything last night. I think I half expected the commentator to somehow work in Tomlin’s race in his questioning. Something like….
“So, you’re the youngest to win it. And um, you’re Black too. Which is great! Because, y’know, the president..is Black. And all that. Good time to be Black, eh?”
My president is Black. And so is my SuperBowl coach. And that makes me want to cheer.
Dear Readers, is this wrong? Shouldn’t we be moving away from this mentality? I want to hear from everybody. Black folks, did you grow up cheering on our people, just because? Do you think we need to move away from this now? White folks, what do you make of this? And where do you stand?
I’d love to hear from you…
P.S. When I searched in Google images for the word “post-racial” the first thing that popped up was this. Interesting.