By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) — Derrick Rose speaks well. I know this because I’ve listened to him.
As long as his has been a prominent name in this city, Rose has been linked to speaking. How he doesn’t talk enough. How we wish he didn’t talk so much. How when he talks he sounds dumb. “Underprivileged man of color does not speak so well” is an easy ad hominem as old as this country, and it’s as unproductive and insulting as, to paraphrase Chris Rock, “He speaks so well, he’s so well-spoken” is to describe any other black man.
But Rose gets pressed to answer questions regarding his health and playing time and immigration reform and nuclear weapons and sometimes speaks his mind instead of tossing out platitudes. Then those who disagree tie his sound bites in with the results of a lower class upbringing to equate the letter of his words with the spirit of them. Derrick Rose doesn’t exhale right for some, doesn’t annunciate, mumbles too much. That won’t change anytime soon, even though it’s frustrating when you know a person put on the spot is not the true person. When you’ve worked with numerous people too shy to speak with a bunch of eyes on them but who you know speak volumes in their own ways because you’ve listened to them.
Too often speech is considered strictly oral. That which requires breathing. Doubtful is considered that which made a Derrick Rose. A neighborhood cast by a city as dark Other full of dark Others, where a relationship with law enforcement is dysfunctional even for the “good ones” who live there. Where being a “good one” is on someone else’s terms. Growing up amid so many branded as less-thans, constantly spoken down to and being told what to do by myriad authority figures to the point where eyes to the ground and chin in chest becomes the native language. And damn you if you dare look up or speak out. Streets suffocate.
And if you escape the constriction and get some breathing room, breathe right, son. Entertain us under our terms. It’s about basketball and only basketball, not your future or your family. Your psychological scars from injuries on the court and off are not important.
But it’s also about living with us continuing to reference a standardized test you didn’t take that totally would have been an accurate measure of you. Or a picture of you flashing gang signs at a college party where only wise choices are supposed to be made. Or emasculating you because we’re tougher than you. Ya know, should we find that stuff convenient or want some Facebook likes.
Anybody who has watched Rose with a ball in his hands knows he has little problem getting a message across. Dude plays really loud most nights in fact, and it’s not hard to hear him speaking in sneaker squeaks and swishy shots. That is, if you’re listening.
Listening is a choice, of course. Sometimes the choice not to listen comes when doing otherwise is too boring or too painful. Sometimes is too often these days. Talk to anyone concerned about the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Akai Gurley and Eric Garner in New York. Besides their feelings regarding violence involving police and civilians—particularly male civilians of color—those concerned will let you know the lack of awareness of it all and the discussions they so badly want to be produced. They’ll tell you how much they want people not traditionally affected by all this not to talk but to listen.
Unfortunately there is too much willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance on these very unsports subjects. Too few want to examine the possibility that there are imperfections in policing that severely affect certain Americans, that treatment by police has historically shown to vary depending on wealth and skin color, and that criticizing a pattern of police behavior is not necessarily a conclusion about the specific loved one of yours that has a badge.
Activists, their numbers growing daily as those the disenfranchised they fight for do as well, too often end up preaching only to their respective choirs. They get noticed when when screwing up commutes home or easy access into a department store, and rather than stop and consider why so many people would take the time and energy to fight for something they believe in, cursing the inconvenience is much easier and satisfying. Because human life isn’t as important as our dinner on time or getting that video game to buy someone else’s love.
Or an NBA basketball game.
Bigger voices are needed. Ones we recognize and that already carry a certain cred beyond being regulars on national news or having certain academic titles. Musicians and actors are usually quick to get on board a prevalent issue, but they’re prone to that stuff by their very artsy fartsy nature. Meh.
Sports figures, though, when they take a stand on a sociopolitical issue, that’s a thing. Theirs is not to wonder why—they are drones who perform incredible feats of athleticism for our pleasure. Outside of the strictly tactical, brains aren’t supposed part of the package.
But a 1968 200 meter race’s is one of the very few medal ceremonies remembered in American Olympic history for a reason. The name Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf doesn’t bring to mind handing the 72-win Bulls one of their 10 losses with 32 points and 9 assists. The St. Louis Rams last week were discussed more in terms of a pregame demonstration than their contribution to America’s Sunday worship service, NFL football.
All involved in those examples spoke very loudly without a single audible breath needing to pass their lips. The same happened Saturday night at the United Center as Derrick Rose yelled, screamed, and got all uncomfortably up in the faces of those not listening. Rose couldn’t breathe during warm ups before matching up against Steph Curry. He couldn’t breathe all week. He hasn’t breathed well his whole basketball career.
He’s seen too much in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and Englewood. He’s heard too much about how he is supposed to talk and supposed to act. He wasn’t about to field questions after the game about the shirt he wore during warmups bearing Eric Garner’s final words, answers to which would only be run through the semantics mill and chided by grammar police who’d likely fail a ninth grade adverbs exam anyway. Answers to which would be dismissed by those who thrive off of telling the Derrick Roses how to speak and how to act. It all got suffocating, and if you were listening before the game you didn’t need Rose to talk after it.
He didn’t use a single breath. Yet he spoke so very well in doing so.