Five college freshmen ignited a basketball revolution. If you’re a sports fan I’m sure you’ve heard or seen some sort of sound bite or conversation around the new “FAB FIVE” documentary. The two-hour film aired on March 13 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and depicts the story of Jalen Rose and his other Fab Five teammates, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Called by some “the greatest class ever recruited,” the five freshmen not only electrified the game, but also brought new style with their baggy shorts, black socks and ‘trash’ talk.
“The Fab Five” relives the recruitment process that got all five of them to Ann Arbor, the cultural impact they made, the two runs to NCAA title game, the Webber “timeout” in the 1993 championship and the scandal that eventually tarnished their accomplishments. Among other things. Finally catching the film, weekend before last, I found myself watching it 3 times in one day. I found it that powerful and thought-provoking. Below are 5 things I took away from the FAB FIVE documentary.
First and foremost, what stuck with me the most was Jalen Rose’s comments concerning Grant Hill’s family.
“I was jealous of Grant Hill,” he’d explained poignantly. “He came from a great black family. Congratulations … I was upset and bitter that my mom had to bust her hump for twenty-plus years. I was bitter that I had a professional athlete that was my father that I didn’t know. I resented that, more so than I resented him. I looked at it as ‘They are who the world accepts and we are who the world hates.'”
Personally, I feel that was an extremely powerful and transparent statement. It forced me to confront and come to terms with my own biases towards young black men from two parent, middle class households. Growing up poor and in a household with just my mother, I know all to well the feeling that I’m who the world hates and shuns. That stigma and marginalization breeds a deep contempt and anger towards mainstream society and anything seeming to accept it or be accepted by it.
Growing up I always felt a certain kind of way towards my counterparts from two parent and/or middle class homes, because I felt they fit a mold and a tradition that I wasn’t previewed to. Within the black community there exists a huge divide along social classes, which far too often isn’t talk about.
The second thing that stuck with me was the comments by Dick Vitale. Even more disturbing is the fact that after the film, no one has mention them.
“The black shoes. The ugly black socks. It’s the shaven head. I mean my head’s shaven because I have no choice,” Vitale said. “But all of that really has come back to haunt them in the eyes of a lot of people.”
I mean really, come on son. These comments to me embody the environment these young brothers had to face every day and that same environment and rhetoric is still present today. Society (its systems and paradigms) by in large does not have the best interest of young brothers and sisters of color at heart. We live in a society which continually marginalizes and ostracizes individuals who look or act differently than the white-washed standard of what a citizen or human being should be. And in an attempt to entice some sort of debate or conversation I’ll move on.
The third thing that stuck with me was of course the statements made by Jalen Rose concerning Duke recruiting and Uncle Toms.
“For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke and I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited players who were Uncle Toms.”
No one wants to be called an Uncle Tom. Targeted at middle or upper-class African-Americans. Uncle Tom means that you’ve bought into the establishment and are not looking back to the folks who helped you get there. Being called an Uncle Tom means that you’re not really black or, perhaps worse, that you don’t want to be. As an 18-year-old undergrad, Rose was trying to express the fact that, as an inner-city kid, who, although perhaps unable to articulate it at the time, he felt alienated because he was poor and black.
Two things in this stood out to me. One being his choice of words, I think a lot of the time we find ourselves unable to fully articulate the gravity of a certain set of circumstances are paradigms, and so we resort to extremely strong language. All in an attempt to self validation ourselves and how we feel towards something. In this use of strong language we are seeking to evoke a strong reaction in another individual so that in a way they can feel how we feel. (I’ll go more into that in a blog post next week) The second thing that stood out to me regarding the Duke and uncle tom debate was that no one seemed to draw contention with the recruited practices of Duke University and the larger societal contentions that had on how we view and treat inner black youth as a whole in everyday life.
The fourth thing that stood out to me in the film was this perceived feeling of disdain and contempt I observed that Michigan and its fans, administrators etc. , had towards Chris Webber and the controversy involving an in excess of $200,000. What I found especially shocking was the ban placed on him through 2013. To me it spoke volumes to the levels of exploitation and marginalization with place this athletes under every season. Across the country there are countless debates and accounts of players and individuals ‘cheating’ the NCAA by taking money, gifts, and/or selling merchandise.
But what kills me is that prior to the ‘Fab Five’s’ arrival the University of Michigan had an annual revenue stream from basketball of about $1.5 million. In just the first year of the ‘Fab Five’s’ arrival that number shot up to $10.5 million per year. If that isn’t exploitation I don’t know what is. The overwhelmingly majority of athletes collegiate and professional are African-American, many of whom come from ‘disadvantageous’ backgrounds. And are quite frankly struggling on college campus around this country, some can’t eat or are working part-time jobs on the side to support immediate family members back home. Collegiate athletics has created a system, African-American youth exists solely for their athletic gifts and potentially to bring in more fans and revenue to a college. These universities aren’t affirming these young men and women and aren’t developing their minds and spirits to become better people. In the words of Adrian Peterson, its akin to modern-day slavery.
In closing, my final sort of takeaway from all this, was the reaffirming that race is STILL a problem here in America (not to say it isn’t anywhere else in the wrong). If race and the discrimination, marginalization and biases by both whites and blacks wasn’t the underlying theme I don’t know what was. And it has been quite frankly extremely disturbing that most of the conversations we are having aren’t constructive, insightful, growth enticing one’s.
Far too much focus has been put on Jalen Rose and his use of ‘Uncle Tom’. For every Jalen Rose who makes it, there are 10 others like him who don’t. And some don’t make it because of their individual choices, but more don’t make it because of a pervasive and elitist attitude that continues to alienate and disenfranchise young black men in America. The only way to combat this issue is to engage in honest and thorough discussions about what’s really going on.
by Thomas Toney