Bernard Hopkins and racial stereotypes

11/19/2010 - Boxing

In Martin Lawrence's 1993 comedy special "You So Crazy," Lawrence asked the white people in his audience whether they desperately craved a white heavyweight champion.

"It's all right to feel you want a heavyweight champion," Lawrence quipped. "But the [bleep] ain't gonna happen … long as a brotha is out of work … it ain't happening."

Lawrence's politically incorrect joke was met with resounding applause and laughter because a lot of African-Americans consider boxing to be "our sport."

Now, Bernard Hopkins has given us his take on Lawrence's old joke. But it is far from humorous.

After Manny Pacquiao destroyed Antonio Margarito this past Saturday night, Hopkins said that African-American fighters would pose more of a challenge to Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs), questioned why Pacquiao hasn't fought any black fighters -- he discounted Pacquiao's victory over Joshua Clottey in March because Clottey is from Ghana -- and added that Pacquiao would lose to Floyd Mayweather Jr. because black boxers fight more aggressively.

"Floyd Mayweather would beat Manny Pacquiao because the styles that African-American fighters -- and I mean, black fighters from the streets or the inner cities -- would be successful," Hopkins told Fanhouse.com. "I think Floyd Mayweather would pot-shot Pacquiao and bust him up in between the four-to-five punches that Pacquiao throws and then set him up later on down the line."

This, by the way, is coming from the same boxer who lost to white fighter Joe Calzaghe after boldly declaring, "I'll never lose a fight to a white boy."

Hopkins' comments offered a brutally honest opinion about Pacquiao's weaknesses as a fighter. Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs) isn't the first person to suggest that Mayweather's contrasting style would give Pacquiao problems.

But I have an issue with the way Hopkins tried to make a salient argument about why he considers Mayweather to be a superior fighter because he undermined his point with an offensive racial stereotype.

Hopkins not only accused Pacquiao of being afraid to fight black fighters but basically insinuated that Pacquiao couldn't beat an African-American, period.

"Maybe I'm biased because I'm black, but I think that this is what is said at people's homes and around the dinner table among black boxing fans and fighters," Hopkins said.

That, I believe. But if anyone ever dared to suggest that an African-American couldn't compete in something because of color, he or she would automatically be labeled a racist, and rightfully so.

Only, there has been little outrage over Hopkins comments, and I can't help but notice that many African-Americans either outright agree with him or are somehow rationalizing his statements.

There's nothing wrong with racial pride, but when you consider how much discrimination African-Americans have endured because of cruel racial stereotyping in sports, it makes what Hopkins said seem even more irresponsible.

It wasn't so long ago that there was an unspoken rule that blacks couldn't play quarterback because they were considered intellectually inferior. Nor was it that long ago that some people believed blacks wouldn't be successful head football coaches because they weren't smart enough and weren't good leaders. In fact, some believe that those stereotypes are still to blame for the lack of black head coaches in Division I college football.

That's dangerous thinking, and it has victimized African-Americans for a long time. But it hasn't stopped some African-Americans from privately and publicly harboring dangerous stereotypes about other races.

Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, who is white, once told me that when he played at Stanford, it was routine for black players to express amazement at his ability.

"Even at the college level, my freshman year I played some, and after they tackled me, they'd say, 'Man, you run good for a white guy,'" Gerhart said.

Can you imagine the furor that would erupt if a white player told Michael Vick he plays quarterback well despite being black?

Or if people told Tony Dungy they didn't expect him to be a good coach because he's black?

But for some reason, it's OK to say that white men can't jump or, in Hopkins' case, that Pacquiao doesn't stand a chance against a black fighter.

Besides, Hopkins completely ignored the possibility that Pacquiao hasn't fought many black boxers because there aren't a lot of black fighters in the lower weight divisions to start with. A lot of people think it's the black fighter, Mayweather, who is ducking Pacquiao, rather than the other way around, even though most experts predict that the payday for both fighters could be the biggest in boxing history.

I'll buy that Hopkins wasn't trying to be malicious, and it's no secret that there always has been a strong racial undercurrent in boxing, but that doesn't excuse Hopkins' thoughtlessness.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.