I was one of the big believers that some of the intense criticism (not so much the criticism itself, but the tone and language and unwarranted passion of the criticism) of President Obama was based on race. People spoke of the tenor of the national conversation becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive. Well, fortunately football fans in Pittsburgh do need the nuance of political arguments because they are more than happy to simply blurt out rude and offensive slurs. Let me take you on a tour of this past Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns game.
As I walked to Heinz field with my brother we observed several classy t-shirts. “Baltimore sucks, Cleveland swallows” was one such shirt that was clearly debasing the national conversation on football and city supremacy. Another shirt, however, caught our attention. It simply said “Burn the Brownies.” We joked to each other that there could be a not-so-subtle racial tone to that shirt.
Everything seemed pretty normal walking to the stadium. Fat men in Steelerjerseys mocked other fat men wearing Cleveland Browns jerseys. My brother andI were actually quite surprised at the absence of homophobic slurs that usually abound at professional sporting events. Maybe this would be an extra classy day at Heinz Field.
After we took our seats we were quickly joined by three men in our row. They were all approximately 6’1, 220 lbs of high school football and college drinking weight. They looked like they were about 22 years old. They spoke like they were from the antebellum south, both in content and accent. Here is what happened.
Sidenote- Can anyone explain to me how trailer parker/redneck is a uniform accent throughout the country? I have met trailer parkers/rednecks from places as different as Alabama, Colorado and Michigan, but they all seem to have the identical twang. Weird.
Comment one from Billy Bob (that is what I will call their ring leader) came at the expense of a black man wearing a Browns jersey. Billy Bob yelled at this man, (loud enough for close by people to hear, but not loud enough for the man to actually hear) “Sit down Brownie, and I don’t just mean your jersey.” I gave Billy Bob the benefit of the doubt – either he had seen the former FEMA director or he was trying to be intentionally provocativefor his friends’ benefit, which as a comic I could understand a little. Nothing to get to worked up over.
Listening to fans at a football game is generally like being at Church – don’t expect tons of logical or scientific words to be uttered. In the former it makes sense because it is predicated on faith. However, I am amazed at how dumb football fans can be, despite honoring it andfollowing it like it’s a religion. In this quarter Billy Bob went to get some beers from the concession stand. However, he was taking his “Terrible Towel,” which his buddy, Cletus, wanted to continue waving. As soon as it was clear Billy Bob was going to throw the towel I knew it would land on my head. Four seconds later as I sipped my hot chocolate, a terrible towel landed on my head.
This angered my brother more than it did me, but what happened afterwards was even more awful. Cletus, in his drunken 81 IQ way explained to me in these exact words, “Oh man, I’m sorry. He was trying to throw the towel at me and hit you in the head.” Oh, thanks for clarifying that for me! I would have never known that that is what happened, except for the fact that I saw Billy Bob throw a towel and felt it land on my head. Moron.
Then Cletus, with a chance to star as lead idiot while Billy Bob got beers, turned and spilled his entire current beer on an 11 year old kid in front of him. Moron.
This climax of this experience occurred during this quarter. With the Cleveland Browns running the Wildcat offense with a black player playing the quarterback (I don’t know most of their players’ names because they suck – oh correction – they swallow according to the Pittsburgh area literature) the Browns began to make some good plays. And then, after a particularly good play, Billy Bob uttered the words that ruined my day and possibly won Eastern Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary against Barack Obama:
“Tackle That Nigger.”
This was one of those moments for me where time sort of stopped. I felt like Zach Morris in Saved By The Bell where only I could speak or hear what was happening. My thoughts were, in order:
1) I need to Tweet this (shameful, but very modern reaction)
2) Wait, did Billy Bob just really say that? And that loudly?
3) Why is no one looking around? Did anyone hear that? Or are they ok with it?
4) Damn – I am sure this guy has little interaction with mixed race people, but even so, I am going to have hit up a tanning bed. But he’d still be thinking it even if he was too embarrassed to say it. I have had numerous experiences like this where white people have felt free to tell me all sorts of racist things because it was winter and they had no idea I was half black or half anything besides white.
5) Does Billy Bob realize that he is wearing a Santonio Holmes jersey, who is quite black? Or is this just emblematic of America’s tradition (diminishing, but still existent) of embracing blacks as entertainers only (even Obama had to brand himself as “cool”), while fearing, dehumanizing and/or denigrating blacks in other contexts.
My reaction was sort of dumbfounded and as I looked around, based on the composition of the immediate 5-6 rows (white, lots of rednecky accents) I did not think an argument, let alone a fight, would be advisable. But hopefully my letter to the Steelers organization identifying the date and seat numbers will ensure that these guys have a tougher time getting into games and will have to just watch games from the Aryan Nation Father-Son Sunday Brunch.
My brother and I sat with sort of a vomity look on our faces, not really enjoying the remainder of the game sitting in the KKK box.
As I sit writing this now I am reminded that racism is alive and well in America. However, I am just as annoyed with people who would read this, be disgusted and outraged by such overt racism, while reassuring themselves that they are not racist simply because they don’t speak the same language. The people who did not even flinch when he said “Tackle That Nigger” are the bigger worry to me and there are a lot of them. Perhaps I should have hit the guy or started something, but it felt like a useless reaction. Not sure what I should have done exactly, but I wish I could of thought of something more satisfying than just “be pissed off.”
Of course all of this could have been averted if the Steelers tackling was better.