What Did McNabb Mean?

By Annette John-Hall and Rob Watson Courtesy of the Mecury News
Updated: February 4, 2006
A figure of speech, some say of the quarterback?s ?black-on-black crime? remark. Others say it fans flames. Hear what fans have to say.

PHILADELPHIA—During the lead-up to the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza, the Super Bowl, Donovan McNabb fires off a salvo for the world to hear: Terrell Owens’ criticism of his quarterbacking skills last season was “black-on-black crime.”

Black-on-black crime? A careless choice of words, given the daily tragedies in Philadelphia and other cities, or intentionally loaded? Or just a figure of speech?

From the streets of Philadelphia, inside barbershops, and all day over the radio airwaves yesterday, people weighed in on McNabb’s words. Did he realize what he was saying? Was he hero or victim? Was he speaking out too late?

And all the while they couldn’t help but wonder: Will this beef ever end?

“It was definitely a slap in the face for me,” McNabb told ESPN in an interview broadcast on Wednesday, speaking for the first time about Owens’ November accusation that the Eagles would have been better off with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. “As deep as people won’t go into it, it was black-on-black crime.”

Rochelle Lampkin, vice president of Mothers in Charge, a support group for families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, said McNabb’s phrasing was itself a “slap in the face.”

“Our members could tell Donovan what it truly feels like to be a victim of black-on-black crime – the effects are immeasurable and long lasting.”

Lampkin, though, also believes that McNabb will always have to defend himself. “He is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, not to mention that he is also black. … As long as he is succeeding, he will be attacked, whether it is from Rush Limbaugh or Terrell Owens. It comes with the territory.”

“Black quarterbacks have been under siege for years,” said Shayne Lee, a professor of sociology and black studies at Tulane University, adding that the phrase was used to make a point that speaks to the racist history of professional sports.

“We are finally at the point where African American quarterbacks are accepted. So to have your black receiver suggest that a white quarterback can do a better job is a direct attack.

“Donovan is a smart guy. He’s not saying that what T.O. said is tantamount to black-on-black crime,” Lee said, adding that disrespect among black professionals was similar to dissing someone on the streets. “It’s the same seed, but a different degree.”

University of Southern California sociologist Todd Boyd, author of Young, Black, Rich & Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip Hop Invasion and Transformation of American Culture, also dismissed McNabb’s black-on-black reference as nothing more than a figure of speech. “We use metaphors in everyday life to make a point. And anybody who would interpret it literally missed the point.

“Clearly Donovan didn’t say, ‘T.O. tried to murder me.’ ” Boyd said. “What Donovan said didn’t increase real black-on-black crime nor did it decrease it. It had no impact on it. So as a black man, Donovan has the option of using that figure of speech.”

McNabb’s father, Sam, first used the term publicly in an interview last November. In defense of his son, Sam McNabb said that to have a member of your race criticize you unjustly “is like another black-on-black crime.”

There was little outrage generated from Sam McNabb’s comment at the time. But Tukufu Zuberi, director of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says there should have been.

“Donovan and Sam McNabb ought to apologize for taking so lightly a very, very tragic thing in our community,” Zuberi said. “[African Americans] know black-on-black crime. We suffer through it. … To have millionaires arguing among themselves has nothing to do with black-on-black crime.”

Zuberi believes that athletes’ words “have an impact on people’s perceptions. … Whether they like it or not, they will speak to more people than we ever will. That’s why when Donovan McNabb says ‘black-on-black crime,’ there’s an uproar. Not because people are not listening but because they are.”

On WIP sports radio yesterday, McNabb was the talk. Morning Show cohost Rhea Hughes said the “basis of our listeners’ comments was black-on-black crime doesn’t mean two millionaire athletes having a pissing match from their mansions in Moorestown.”

But not all fans thought the dispute was about race.

“This is all about money, ego and fame,” said Deron Shanks of Norristown. “One is greedy because he had a contract and wanted to change it and the other did not have a good year this year.

“[McNabb's] ego got messed up because some of the things that T.O. was saying about him was true. So it has to do with [McNabb] and not ‘black-on-black