Thursday, January 4, 2007 Updated: January 8, 11:56 AM ET
A disturbing, violent trend
By Jemele Hill Page 2
"Wrong place at the wrong time."
Who knew the wrong place to be on New Year's Eve was at a party welcoming in the new year? Who knew the wrong time to be murdered was now when people are so callous about death that it's almost as if we're asking the victim, "Just what did you do to get yourself murdered?"
There are many words to describe the senseless killing of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams. Unfortunate. Heartbreaking. Sad. But here's the one word we can't use in describing such a death: Unexpected.
Why are we no longer shocked to hear that a black athlete has been murdered?
Over the past 12 months, three NFL players have been shot, and in the past couple weeks, police discovered one NFL player, Bears defensive lineman Tank Johnson, had enough weapons in his home to mount a terrorist attack. University of Miami lineman Bryan Pata was shot to death at his apartment complex in November. In Denver alone, three notable athletes have been shot since 2003 Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, Denver Nuggets guard Julius Hodge and now, tragically, Williams.
One unavoidable commonality about these episodes of gunplay: all of the athletes are black.
It leads to an inevitable question from all of us, but particularly mainstream America: Why do black athletes often seem to find themselves either holding a gun or staring down the barrel of one?
Real talk for a moment.
Contrary to stodgy opinions, young men have a right to go out. They want to hang with their peers. They want to talk to women. They want to show off a little of their success. Nothing wrong with any of that as long as they're careful.
Who they're with, what time they're out and what they have is only a small part of the issue. The larger problem here is the one no one is ready to openly discuss.
While America is generally a violent place, no culture in this country glorifies violence more than the African-American community. And consequently, no other racial group is as disproportionately affected by it.
This isn't to say black people invented violence or have a penchant for it. But far too many of us glorify shooting people for revenge, perceived slights or to prove toughness. Two things you almost always see when "MTV Cribs" features a black superstar: a poster of Tony Montana and a poster of the Godfather. Montana and Michael Corleone, though fictional, are considered heroes by young black men everywhere. Montana and Corleone had one thing in common: both killed people to gain respect.
BET, the same network that saw fit to cut its nightly news program, has a new show called "American Gangster," which "chronicles the life and times of some of Black America's most notorious crime figures." It's explained that the program has a strong moral component and doesn't seek to glorify violence, but on BET's Web site the show is promoted by showing Ving Rhames, the king of cool, in slick gangster apparel as if he were promoting a music video, not a show about violent criminals.
And sure enough, right beneath Rhames' promo ad, a BET dot.commer says, "Young, black males will look at this [show] as an inspiration."
Now, criminal biographies appear on The History Channel all the time, but the difference is that violence is often marketed to blacks in a way that makes it appear more sexy and daring.
Black men constantly receive the message that they can't make it in life through using legitimate means, and the only way they gain society's respect is through the street game.
This is the mentality black athletes greet when they go to the club. A recent Public Library of Science Medicine study shows black men living in urban America have the shortest life expectancy of any other racial group in the country. The life expectancy of a black man in Cleveland is closer to that of West Africans than the average white American. So wearing a jersey every Sunday doesn't protect you from anything.
Of course, movies and songs don't make people kill people, but they can influence the way people think and live.
But ultimately, if we want to see fewer black athletes as victims of violence, African-Americans must stop worshiping at the altar of their own demise.
Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN the Magazine, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.