The Ultimate Double Standard??

By Dan Le Batard
Updated: April 18, 2010
MIAMI — Conversations about race agitate.

They create discomfort. There is a lot of unseen baggage and history and frustration and subconscious nuance on both sides. And that’s before the discussion even begins.

Re-read some of those words. Agitate. Discomfort. Baggage. Frustration. That’s not where conversations start; that’s where arguments do.

If black people want to know how white people feel, and white people want to know how black people feel, they both must listen, think, open, empathize, understand. Work, in other words.

But it’s easier and more comfortable to look away and dismiss when others see race in places we don’t, which doesn’t solve much of anything unless you think the best way to clean a messy room is by walking out of it.

I’m not any kind of enlightened. I have blind spots. I get emotional, and my know-it-all tone and lack of patience too often get in the way and do as much harm as good.

I made a loud mess of a Hannity & Colmes segment once because I couldn’t believe we were having a discussion about the racial elements of the Michael Vick case and that all five of the faces on the TV screen were white (six, if you count the tiny white dog held by the Atlanta radio host).

I bring this up just so you know that, when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger, all I’m searching for is a discussion, not any kind of fight. I really don’t know how or if I would punish Roethlisberger if I were in charge. Nor do I know whether his whiteness helps or harms him today.

But I keep hearing from black players in basketball, football and baseball who are watching this Roethlisberger case closely and hoping NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punishes Roethlisberger with the same kind of overzealous excess with which he has punished black players.

And I wonder how we arrived in this place where the “right” thing for an excessive dictator to do is to keep being excessive.

“We have been suspending black guys, so we have to suspend the white guy?” Charles Barkley asks. “I’m concerned with that mind-set in my community. You get one, we get one?

That’s doesn’t make it even. This isn’t a contest. That’s not a win for black people.”

“How about black guys quit committing crimes?”

But, Charles, what if this time Goodell decides to be more lenient and reasonable? What if the only thing he suspends this time is the arbitrary and unprecedented way he has been doling out his morality?

What if he says, “You know what? Ben isn’t guilty of anything but drunk, stupid judgment. He hasn’t even been arrested, never mind convicted. I can’t suspend a guy for he-said-she-said.”

“A lot of black people are going to get mad,” Barkley says. “And all hell is going to break loose.”

It is an odd, uncomfortable spot Goodell has put himself in. He appears to be just as interested in how things look as he is in how they actually are. Image and perception are the reasons for the NFL having a morals code in the first place.

We can apply nuance and case-by-case reason to this, but how is it going to look and feel to Goodell’s black players if the white star gets off lightly?

And how fair is it if the white player gets a stiffer sentence than he might otherwise just because of the pressure to penalize the white guy instead of . . . you know, his crimes that, um, actually and legally and technically weren’t crimes?

Goodell doesn’t wait for due process. His standard is higher than the American justice system, and it always is a dangerous thing when morals are being decided and policed by any one man, especially when that one man has a great deal in common with his constituency (old, white owners) but not with his work force (primarily young, black players).

That’s how we arrive at the NFL’s absurd bandana and fun-strangling celebration rules. Goodell has made up the punishment rules for misbehavior as he goes — four games here, half a season there — and that’s ridiculous in a workplace in which the rules are supposed to be collectively bargained and the employees are supposed to be partners.


This wouldn’t and couldn’t happen in baseball, where the players union is so strong that Rangers manager Ron Washington somehow fails a cocaine test but you never hear of a player doing the same.

Why? Because the baseball union won’t even allow its players to be tested that way. But football’s union somehow hasn’t challenged Goodell’s power or judgment on his unprecedented suspensions. So what will the all-powerful boss do now that it is a troubled white guy getting drunk and urinating on the NFL’s shield and image?

“Goodell is playing God,” Barkley says. “He’s the Supreme Court. That’s not the way I want my judicial system working. But I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer with Ben. I know it makes for a great debate.”

But it’s not my job as a black man to simply always take the black point of view. That’s one of the reasons we are in bad shape — because we don’t hold each other to a higher standard as black people.”

“It’s always, `I have to defend my tribe.’ Well, no. I’ll defend my tribe if my tribe is fair and right. I’m not defending my tribe if it gets me into a situation where I sound like I’m defending Pacman Jones.”

There is one place Barkley sees race being a factor in the Roethlisberger mess: The police officer who took the latest alleged victim’s initial complaint. The cop reportedly dismissed the woman’s accusation immediately, deciding she was making everything up, and then chummed it up with Roethlisberger’s bodyguards, also cops.

He has since resigned. Barkley wonders how that same cop would have reacted if a woman had been lobbing that same accusation at someone who looked more like Vick.

“Guilty until proven innocent in that spot if you are black,” he says.

“There’s more patience from everyone when its the white athlete in trouble. It’s, `Let’s allow the facts to come out. Let’s get the details.’ The reporting when a black guy gets accused is more aggressive.”

But that’s about the only place where Barkley sees race being a factor here. He keeps hearing black fans and black players wonder why the Steelers would get rid of Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, who is black, for bad behavior while keeping Roethlisberger.

But he cuts through that this way: “Yeah, there’s a double-standard there, but it isn’t between black and white. It’s between a player who is great and one who isn’t.”


Legend Jim Brown, a civil-rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King, gets agitated when he hears racism cries over how the Steelers treated Holmes.

“Come on, man,” he says. “I don’t like this. This is not my cause.

It took courage to get rid of Holmes. You know the Steelers know more than we do on that one. Does them no good to get rid of him. Does no good to their team.”

He laughs here, and reminds you that the rule that demands minorities get head coaching interviews in football is named after the family that still owns and runs the Steelers.

“That’s the only race card in professional sports,” Brown says.

“That’s not the organization to be going after on something like this, not when they gave their Super Bowl team to a young black coach when they didn’t have to do that.”

On Roethlisberger, Brown says, “The league has an obligation to do something, but will it be a pat on the hand or something meaningful?

It’s a complicated set of circumstances. Confusing. Unclear. Fair is the only way — it’s what we’re all fighting for — but we as African-Americans can’t have our representation be guys like Santonio Holmes, and we can’t keep blaming others.”

“You have to recognize that what goes on in our neighborhoods is because of us, not anyone else. Our gang culture is ridiculous. You going to blame a white man for that?

Clean up your own mess. A black man is killing another black man over a blue rag and a red rag, and that’s somebody else’s fault?”

Brown is 74 now. He’s getting tired. He has been at this fight for a very long time. He knows real racism when he sees it and feels it. This isn’t it.

“One guy gets suspended two weeks and another guy gets suspended three weeks — that’s not the fight, man,” he says. “That’s not right. It’s not real. You can’t let major issues go by while you sit there and stare at the white quarterback and his punishment. Come on, man.”