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January 30, 2007

Message to the People: Get ready for Soul Bowl Sunday

I don’t write about sports in this column unless there’s some sociopolitical tie. That’s intentional. It’s not because I don’t like sports — I just think they are seriously over-emphasized in the black community. Too many young black boys harbor false hopes of becoming the next LeBron James or Michael Vick. Beyond that, you don’t really need to be an intellectual titan to toss a ball through a basket or run into somebody at full speed, so many of these young men care little about actually “learning” in school. They just want to figure out which sport to play. Unfortunately, this mentality is setting in earlier and earlier.Many parents are getting in on the action, too. Nothing is sadder than mothers and fathers attacking their 7- and 8-year-olds at little league games because of poor performance. I mean, really — get a life! These kids aren’t your meal tickets. Bums!This process is especially evident at the college level. Every ball player thinks he’s going pro. For most, that won’t be the case. Academically, many only do as much as they must to remain eligible — nothing more. In the end, many collegiate athletic careers end with no pro contract and no degree. Then real life starts. Often, it’s not pretty.If they do make it, some see these people worthy of idol and leadership status. How backward is that? Just because a brother is a good athlete doesn’t make him a person we should celebrate or look to in situations of social or political crisis. And yet, many black people do it. No other way to say this: That’s dumb!Despite all of this, I love sports — especially football. Actually, the word “love” is not strong enough. Seriously! When I bought my house, I had DirecTV installed before I even moved furniture into the place so I could get NFL Sunday Ticket. A woman who doesn’t like football couldn’t date me if she likes to have “togetherness” surrounding non-football activities on Sundays from September to early February. That’s my football day. I’m engaged from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. — no compromise!I’ve followed football since I was 6 years old. I started off a Miami Dolphins fan immediately following their undefeated season in 1972. The next year, I figured out I was supposed to pull for the Atlanta Falcons since they were the home team. Yep, that’s right — I’ve suffered with the Falcons for almost 35 years. Hmm, I wonder if I could sue those bastards for mental cruelty.There were a few things missing that a 6-year-old wouldn’t pay attention to when I started my love affair with football. One was black quarterbacks. I remember how weird it was to see Joe Gilliam in Pittsburgh, James Harris in Los Angeles and, later, Doug Williams in Tampa Bay, who eventually led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl.They all followed Willie Thrower (what a great name for a QB), who played in only one game for the Chicago Bears in 1953. Later, Marlon Briscoe (the namesake of a fictional high school in a recent series of Nike commercials) set an NFL record by throwing 14 touchdowns in 11 games for the Denver Broncos as a rookie in 1968 as the NFL’s first starting black quarterback. He was never allowed to play QB afterward. Among other things, the general belief was that black men just weren’t cerebral enough to play the position.Well, on Feb. 4, we’ll see something even greater. It’s taken far too long, but when the Chicago Bears take the field against the Indianapolis Colts, both teams will be led by black head coaches. Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, who are great friends, will not try to out-muscle one another — they’ll leave that to others. As the top dogs, they will try to “out-think” one another. That’s cerebral enough for me. What a glorious day it will be. We still take the sports thing too far, but I’m proud of these brothers. So, this Super Bowl’s a little special — this one’s got a little soul. Yeah, I like that … it’s the “Soul Bowl,” baby! Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools. Jones’ column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact him at blackvanguard@hotmail.com