Sunday, February 3, 2013

Randy Moss's unforgivable blackness




I don't have a real rooting interest in the game tonight. But a part of me is rooting for the 49ers, only because I'd like to see a championship for Randy Moss-- one of the most transcendently gifted and criminally mistreated athletes of my life.

I typically don't get particularly exercised about sports, but Moss has become one of those issues on which I'm willing to rise to genuine anger. At his peak, Moss was, in my estimation, the most dangerous weapon in the history of football. Take it from a Bears fan who often had to watch him brutalize our defense twice a year: you felt genuine fear when he lined up. He was exhilarating and dominant. And he did it with, shall we say, frequently uninspiring quarterback play. Recently Moss declared himself the best WR ever, provoking guffaws from many who prefer Jerry Rice. But Rice, of course, had either Joe Montana or Steve Young throwing to him for the large majority of his career-- two QBs who are probably among the top 5, and certainly among the top 10, to ever play the game. Daunte Culpepper had a few glory years, but some poor ones as well. Rob Brad Johnson, Jeff George, and Kerry Collins hardly need to be explained. (If Moss played with Montana and Young for 15 years... god.) When Moss was traded to the Patriots and finally played with a great quarterback, the results were amazing: 98 catches, 1493 yards, 23 touchdowns, and dozens of incredible highlights.

The football case, I'm sorry to say, is not really what's defined Moss's career. Today, he is commonly talked about as a disappointment or worse. And it is eminently clear to me that this interpretation is totally bound up in his race. The case against Moss on the football field is like a rundown of every racist sports trope you can think of: his production is all about natural talent and athleticism, not work ethic; he lacks character/leadership/team spirit/toughness; he never got the most out of his talent; he loafed and dogged it; and he generally did not play "the right way," a vague term that is almost always applied to white athletes who are sold as hustlers and hard workers. Moss's off-the-field sins, which many people casually assume are significant, are largely minor. He has been associated with smoking weed; if he does smoke, it's a habit he shares with millions of Americans, and which large percentages of Americans believe he should be legally allowed to do. A notorious incident in a playoff game, where Moss mined mooning the crowd in Green Bay, has been replayed endlessly. I honestly didn't think it was that bad at the moment, despite Joe Buck's absurd howls; afterwards, when I learned that Green Bay fans are notorious for actually mooning opposing teams, I found it funny and totally fair. Much more serious is an allegation of domestic violence. The charges and an attendant restraining order were later dropped by his accuser, and there was never a formal exploration of the facts. I take the accusation very seriously, but I also don't feel that I can fairly judge him for an accusation that was later rescinded.

A strong case can be made that Jerry Rice was a better WR than Moss. It's fine to think that Moss should have accomplished more in the last years of his career, when he bounced around and wasn't productive. But the notion that he is some sort of terrible disappointment, or that he's some terribly malcontent or thug, is just ridiculous. And given the way that the complaints about him always echo typical attempts to undermine black athletes, I have to believe that race is a factor. This is especially the case because of Moss's self-presentation-- thick Southern accent, oftentimes a big afro, considerable (and admirable) disdain for hoary old sports cliches.

Compounding all of this is Moss's relationship to Boston, home of the New England Patriots. I was listening to the BS Report, Bill Simmons's podcast, and his regular guest Sal Iacono said something like, "It must kill you that Moss might win a championship." That's hardly an unfair thing for Iacono to say, as many Boston fans indeed have animosity towards Moss. But while listening I couldn't help but ask myself, why? He was transcendent for the Patriots. Yes, the relationship turned sour. But it takes two to tango, and he would hardly have been the first Patriot to leave the team under bad terms during the Belicheck era. Making this worse is the fact that, during their undefeated regular season, everyone involved with the Patriots went out of their way to say what a model citizen Moss was being. It was only later that Moss was suddenly regarded as a malcontent. For all that he accomplished for that team, to be turned into an object of derision so quickly is shortsighted and unfair.

Boston teams, fans, and media have a really ugly history of this sort of thing. Once there is a dispute between a Boston team and a player or coach, the Boston media immediately begins to undermine him. Anonymous quotes are printed, "team sources" reveal embarrassing details, and efforts are generally made to insist that the person on the outs was a bad citizen. It happened with Nomar Garciaparra, it happened with Manny Ramirez, it happened with Terry Francona, it happened with Antoine Walker, and it happened with Moss. Speaking as someone from New England, it's deeply depressing how much of the fanbase tends to march in lockstep with whatever story ownership has dreamed up. Boston's history of race problems-- which continue, according to many black residents-- makes all of this a little bit darker. I wince every time I hear Patriot fans wax on about how much more they like Wes Welker than Randy Moss. The love for Welker is the perfect complement to the disdain for Moss: Welker is a gamer; he thrives on superior effort; he maximizes limited talent; he has heart, guts, character; he "plays the right way." The contrast between them is indeed illustrative, but not in the way most people pointing it out think. Personally? I'd rather have a one-armed Randy Moss than Wes Welker.

I am not making a blanket accusation of racism against Boston sports fans, of course-- I know and love many. And I am not making a blanket accusation of racism against critics of Randy Moss. But I am asking that people think a little bit harder before they make these kinds of critiques. Sports are all bound up with racial politics, and our sports narratives have a long history of echoing racist tropes long after it has become verboten to express them explicitly. I also think that sports fans in general should be far, far less credulous towards stories of bad behavior from players and coaches who are out of favor with team management; local sports media, after all, has far more incentive to tell ownership's side than that of employees. Finally, I'm asking that you appreciate the career of one of the most electrifying athletes of all time. Constantly complaining about what someone didn't accomplish is unfair, when they did accomplished so much. And it's a perverse habit, anyway; it takes enjoyment and makes it into disappointment.

25 comments:

Jesse S said...

Could not possibly agree more.

Saxmotronix said...

Why did Moss end up on 3 different teams in 2010? Why did Terry Francona (someone you bring up as unfairly maligned on his way out) say all the things he said about how difficult it was to deal with Manny Ramirez and how many exceptions they had to make for his behavior on a recent episode of the BS Report? Why was Antoine Walker out of the league by the time he was 30?

I'm not denying that a lot of sports commentators and fans have racist tendencies, I just think it should be acknowledged that a lot of athletes really are incredibly difficult and immature and a lot of them really are significantly more naturally gifted than other players.

Do you think Sal was suggesting that Simmons would harbor a grudge against Randy Moss because he smoked weed or had his name come up in a single domestic violence case in which he was never charged with a crime? Or was it perhaps over the locker room tension that resulted in Moss having to be traded halfway through the season, to a team that waived him due to locker room tension shortly thereafter?

Freddie said...

I brought up the moment from the podcast simply to point out the perception that Boston fans hate Moss-- which is certainly confirmed by personal experience with all of my (many) Pats fan friends. Terry Francona's treatment was inexcusable. He was accused of being a pillhead by management-- I'm sorry, "unnamed sources"-- when he was on the way out of town. Nomar Garciaparra's treatment was inexcusable. He was the heart of that franchise. People think it was all Pedro, looking back now, but he carried the Red Sox in that era, and his name was dragged through the mud when they were done with him. Before him, it was Mo Vaughan, also an athlete who was immediately regarded as a bad citizen as soon as he left Boston. Deion Branch left under bad circumstances. Are these all examples of athletes behaving badly?

It's one thing for an athlete to stop being as good as he once was. It's another for his reputation in the city to suddenly and drastically change when the team has no more use for him.

What does "locker room tension" mean? How do we know what it means? We have no idea. There's no evidence for corroboration. Yet people swallow the notion that Moss was a bad guy, because the Boston media said so. And the Boston media is deeply complicit with the teams.

When I hear Patriots fans claim that Moss was never a "real Patriot," but Welker is-- or Danny Woodhead is, or Julian Edelman is, or any of a string of great white hopes-- something is going on.

Alexios said...

Good stuff, and agreed. Only question --when did Kerry Collins play with Moss? In Oakland?

Anonymous said...

"When I hear Patriots fans claim that Moss was never a "real Patriot," but Welker is-- or Danny Woodhead is, or Julian Edelman is, or any of a string of great white hopes-- something is going on."

Woodhead is regarded as a "true Patriot" just as previous black third down back Kevin Faulk was. Wes Welker is regarded as a true Patriots just as previous undersized number 1 WR Troy Brown was. I don't really think anyone has all that much enthusiasm for Edelman, but to the extent that they do, it's because he was drafted as a QB out of college, learned to play WR, and then lined up at nickelback when they were short corners. Randy Moss was an extraordinarily talented player who was never underestimated. The "true Patriot" thing is dumb, but I've never found it a racist label.

Anonymous said...

Is this more about a slavish devotion to management, or genuine racism on the fans part? Or is it both? Also people who think Edelman and woodhead are better assets than Randy moss are crazy, but its difficult to deny what an amazingly consistent and resilient player welker has been, especially this season. It's not absurd to think that pats fans would favor him over moss, without necessarily being terrible racists or whatever.

Saxmotronix said...

I brought up the moment from the podcast simply to point out the perception that Boston fans hate Moss-- which is certainly confirmed by personal experience with all of my (many) Pats fan friends.

I understand all of that, which is why I asked you what you think the source of that BURNING HATE is. Do you think it is because Randy Moss has smoked marijuana, or do you think it has to do with how he had to be traded in the middle of the season? Since every single report of his unhappiness with his contract situation becoming a distraction will automatically be suspect in your eyes because those reports came from the Boston media, do you think the fact that the team to which he was traded waived him 4 weeks later is significant? Are the reports from the Minnesota media equally suspect? Why did only one team try to claim him off waivers? Why was Moss available for a fourth-round pick when the Patriots acquired him? Is every NFL coach and front office official racist? Why doesn't this seem to affect the way they deal with the vast majority of their black players? Is it because those players all speak like Percival Everett and Colson Whitehead, and are therefore forgivably black?

Terry Francona's treatment was inexcusable. He was accused of being a pillhead by management-- I'm sorry, "unnamed sources"-- when he was on the way out of town.

Once again, I'm not here to defend the Boston sports media, I'm here to ask you to entertain the possibility that perhaps 2 things are true at the same time-

1) writers and radio hosts want sports to reinforce conservative narratives about hard work and meritocracy and have issues with black culture, and in Boston these media figures are often too chummy with team ownership groups (who often own many of the media outlets in which these media figures appear)

2) Randy Moss had some issues surrounding professionalism in team settings

Nomar Garciaparra's treatment was inexcusable. He was the heart of that franchise. People think it was all Pedro, looking back now, but he carried the Red Sox in that era, and his name was dragged through the mud when they were done with him.

As I recall, the mud-dragging was going on well before they were done with him, there were contract tensions and both sides were pissed and that was what precipitated the trade. The notion that Nomar's reputation "suddenly and drastically changed," in the wake of the trade seems weird to me when all anyone was talking about that whole season was how both sides hated each other.

It's almost as if there's a pattern here other than race- contract disputes with a simultaneous dropoff in effectivenes leading to bitterness on both sides? Nope, must be Nomar's unforgivably Latino persona. He was practically Tony Montana!

Before him, it was Mo Vaughan, also an athlete who was immediately regarded as a bad citizen as soon as he left Boston. Deion Branch left under bad circumstances. Are these all examples of athletes behaving badly?

I notice we're no longer discussing Manny Ramirez and Antoine Walker. What happened?

Deion Branch wanted a new contract and the Patriots didn't agree to his numbers so they traded him. Basically everyone in Boston wanted the Patriots to pay him and a lot of people (including Bill Simmons and everyone I know) blame Belichick not signing him for the loss in the 2006 playoffs. A few years later he happily came back, although he did need a National Guard escort to every game just like Ernest Green in 1957.

As for Mo Vaughn, he seemed fine and I agree that he was fucked over all the time and shit was probably racial.

When I hear Patriots fans claim that Moss was never a "real Patriot," but Welker is-- or Danny Woodhead is, or Julian Edelman is, or any of a string of great white hopes-- something is going on.

How did Wes Welker react to not having a long-term deal in place these last 2 seasons? How did Randy Moss react to 1 season of the same situation?

TheStone said...

Following up on your post's theme, Moss's 1st big embroilment in controversy was explicitly race-related. There was a racial ruckus at his WV high school in which he stomped a guy into a coma. This led to the denial of his application for admission to ND, and his subsequent enrollment at FSU and, eventually, Marshall.

Freddie said...

Antoine Walker is a perfect example, actually. Sure, he got old, and his game eventually suffered. But no one talked about him as a malcontent-- until it was time for him to leave town. Then, suddenly, it's not just a basketball problem. It's a "character" issue.

Likewise, I don't deny all of Manny Ramirez's many issues. But the way he was talked about and treated in the Boston media was always influenced with his race. Again: Kevin Youkilis vs. Manny Ramirez. The former was loved, because he "played the right way," because he hustled, made the most out of limited talent, etc. etc. The latter was hated, because he had bad character, because he didn't beat out singles, because he didn't "play the right way." And yet Manny Ramirez was so much better than Youkilis, the comparison is laughable. Are you detecting a pattern here?

It's bizarre that you're choosing to treat Boston's terrible history of race relations as some sort of irrelevance here. It is not a coincidence that a city with a well-known race problem has a habit of electing white athletes great white hopes again and again, while finding reasons to dislike or out-and-out hate black athletes. As you say: it is a mix of self-interested fan service, historical attitudes about race, a complicit media.... That's exactly what I've argued. But a)if you hate an athlete who did as much for your team as Randy Moss did for the Patriots, you're an imbecile and b)there is simply no question that the suite of complaints employed against Moss are influenced by his race, given how those complaints perfectly track with tired cliches about black athletes.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the story about Moss criticising the catering in Minnesota. People just accept that this was a worthy reason to cut him and that it is proof he's a terrible person because the media portrayed it that way. To me it's quite likely they wanted a way to dump Moss after Favre got injured so their media lapdog dutifully dragged his name through the mud.

Try to imagine similar controversy over Tom Brady or Peyton Manning criticising catering. It's unfathomable.

Paul Sherrard said...

I used to live in Boston. When I moved there Vaughn was the town hero. What they did to him over the next couple years stunned and amazed me. By the time I left in the late 90s, it was obvious that that's just the way the owner-media complex operates up there. It's disgusting. That, coupled with the the obsessive, ugly, racist fan mentality, has made me root against Boston teams ever since.

Paul Sherrard said...

BTW, Freddie, you may not be making a blanket accusation of racism against Boston sports fans, but I am. I know there are exceptions. But everyone who's watched a few games in a crowded Boston bar knows what's going on up there.

Here's a city obsessed with the Yankees' perennial success, feels it should have been theirs, and yet actually owns the only franchise in American sports that can be compared to the Yankees. Do you see any reverence for Bill Russell, institutional, anacdotal, or whatever, expressed in any way by the city of Boston? The way Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio etc. are treated in NY? Ask an old townie about Bill Russell sometime; you'll hear plenty of malcontent-type crap and no appreciation whatsoever; he may as well have been Robert Parish (himself a great talent who would have been embraced by any other city). Somehow Bob Cousy walks on water, though.

Jonathan said...

"And yet Manny Ramirez was so much better than Youkilis, the comparison is laughable."

Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus have Youkilis's first five full years with the Sox as pretty near in value to Manny's first five with the Sox, although Youk was a couple years younger. This has some to do with Youk's useful defense at first and Manny's terrible defense in left, as well as Manny's uselessness on the basepaths. Generally when people are talking about playing the game "the right way" this is what they're referring to, the less glamorous parts of the game which allow for more visible effort (hustling to first, etc). It's not just that Manny was bad; he spent a huge amount of time dogging it and was famous for making inexplicable decisions. No one who ever watched Manny in Boston thought Manny was giving it his all once the bat left his hands. From a GM point of view, would I rather have Manny jacking bombs than DIRT DAWG Trot Nixon hustling to first? Of course. But a fan can pretend he has more in common with the one who hustles.

Youk: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1935&position=1B/3B#value

Manny: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=210&position=OF#value

I agree with Saxmotronix that no doubt race figures into some of the commentary in Boston (where I live now and outside of which I grew up) and everywhere, but I also think that you're oversimplifying a lot of cases for your narrative. I have no recollection of people turning on Antoine Walker at the end because people's view on Walker had long since been decided. Fans had a love/hate relationship with him because he was a remorseless gunner who took a huge amount of ill-advised 3's. The guy took years off my Dad's life.

Anonymous said...

While it may be true that fans and media don't like Moss because of his "blackness", it also may be true that they don't like him b/c he's an a__hole.

I spent the week listening to the Twins Cities media discussing "the greatest ever" nonsense and to a person they described him as uniquely and unquestionably unbearable 90% of the time and I great quote 10% of the time.

As for the fans in Minnesota, Moss returned to the Vikings 10/6/10 the same day as the Twins opened the ALDS vs. Yankees. Literally hundreds of fans dug their Moss jerseys out of the closet to wear to the Twins game. His talent was beloved in Minnesota.

His 2nd departure from Minnesota was predicated by this:
While his teammates lined up to dig in, Moss lashed out, according to the report.

Moss yelled "What the [expletive]? Who ordered this crap? I wouldn't feed this to my dog," a player who witnessed the incident said, according to Yahoo! Sports.


In a league that is ~60% African American, the disdain for Moss is somewhat unique. As a counter point, Ray Lewis has more or less been lionized for the past two weeks despite being accused of being an accomplice to murder.

I would never deny your premise in rooted in some truths but the NFL and its fans will tolerate almost anything in the pursuit of winning, see Leonard Little. The fact that the one of the greatest talents in the history of the league wears out his welcome in place after place, in my opinion says more about Moss then media and the fans.

Freddie said...

As a commenter above asked: would you ever hear a similar story about Tom Brady used as a reason to dismiss him as an athlete? Complaining about food? I'll remind you that Tom Brady fathered a child and then left the mother so he could pursue a relationship with a supermodel.

Jonathan said...

"As a commenter above asked: would you ever hear a similar story about Tom Brady used as a reason to dismiss him as an athlete?"

Well, I assume you're using Tom Brady because of his whiteness. So, I mean, the Beckett-Lackey-Lester trio -- three pretty white dudes -- got pilloried for a clubhouse food issue that was just as dumb.

Freddie said...

Good point. I should separate two things: one, the continuing prevalence of depictions of black athletes as freak athletes who don't work hard and white athletes as hustlers of limited talent, and that expression in Boston sports fandom; and two, the tendency of Boston media to credulously repeat management's shit-talking about departing or recently-departed Boston area athletes. Separate but related issues in this instance, I believe.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a useful list of Randy Moss incidents up until 2005.

http://football.about.com/od/nationalfootballleague/a/mossantics.htm

jult52

Freddie said...

Thanks for the list. It's remarkable how common the problems are-- getting angry at officials, fighting with teammates, being angry after losses-- when you remove the marijuana incidents. Which, if I haven't made this clear before, I simply could not care less about.

Saxmotronix said...

Holy fuck, Freddie!

WHY WAS MOSS TRADED FROM THE PATRIOTS MID-SEASON? WHY WAS HE SUBSEQUENTLY WAIVED BY THE TEAM THAT ACQUIRED HIM 4 WEEKS LATER?

"I'll remind you that Tom Brady fathered a child and then left the mother so he could pursue a relationship with a supermodel."

Jesus Christ, is this Rod Dreher's blog? Does Brady pay child support? Is he involved in the child's life? Do you favor compulsory marriage following pregnancy and the abolition of no-fault divorce? Per Wikipedia, I see that Moss has four children and his "dating violence" incident was with a woman who was not their mother. Fortunately, because I do not selectively put on my Bill Bennett costume when I am losing an argument, I DO NOT GIVE A FUCK.

Verbally abusing low-level food-service employees, feuding with teammates and coaches in multiple organizations, demanding a trade while under contract, the only reason anyone could possibly object to such behavior is because of their racism.

No one could look at a precipitous dropoff in performance as an athlete reached his 30's and possibly think this might indicate that prior performance was largely due to superior athleticism unless they were huge racists!

Is David Ortiz forgivably Dominican whereas Manny Ramirez is unforgivably Dominican? It must be because of his lighter skin tone and strong command of English.

Freddie said...

Calm down.

Your attempt to paint me as a moral majority type is laughable. I am describing a double standard in reputation, not a reason I dislike Tom Brady personally. Now, when you mention Moss and his children and his personal life, you are of course doing precisely what you claim to not be doing. But as for the rest--

Verbally abusing low-level food-service employees

You weren't there; you only had the opinions of self-interested parties; and if you think athletes don't pull that kind of behavior on a daily basis, you're an imbecile. You only heard about it because it was in someone's best interest for you to hear about it. Which any intelligent person would know.

feuding with teammates and coaches in multiple organizations

You weren't there. You don't have any unbiased information about this at all. These allegations have been made about literally hundreds of athletes. You accept as proof the word of self-interested parties without corroboration.

demanding a trade while under contract

Again: you have no idea what actually happened. Your certainty that you do suggests a certain deluded attachment to the word of the team.

Saxmotronix said...

Calm down.
I'm perfectly calm, dude.

Your attempt to paint me as a moral majority type is laughable. I am describing a double standard in reputation, not a reason I dislike Tom Brady personally.
Your attempt to describe a double standard is laughable because you bring up Brady's behavior and point to the lack of criticism when in fact Moss is "guilty" of the same behavior and has received no criticism for it. Sounds like a pretty similar standard to me. One might even say that any intelligent person would recognize the standard is the same.

One might also say that mentioning you were throwing on a costume or wondering if this was Rod Dreher's blog might indicate that I know you are in fact not a moral majority type, and any intelligent person would know this.

Now, when you mention Moss and his children and his personal life, you are of course doing precisely what you claim to not be doing.
Uh, no, because I explicitly stated that I had no problem with it. You were the one who introduced this entire line of argument, but now I'm guilty of the same thing because I tried to highlight its irrelevancy?

You weren't there; you only had the opinions of self-interested parties;
I have asked in every post I have made in this thread, and I will ask again- Why was Moss traded from the Patriots? Why was he subsequently waived weeks later by the team that just surrendered a third round pick to acquire him? Why did he only attract the interest of one other team when he was on the waiver wire?

Since every report ever published in any journalistic outlet covering sports is nothing more than owners and coaches using their journalist lackeys to provide cover for their actions, what caused the Patriots and Vikings to take those actions in the first place? Does one have to be delusional to think those actions suggest that maybe there might be some truth to the narrative presented by the media, that those facts might offer a certain corroboration?

and if you think athletes don't pull that kind of behavior on a daily basis, you're an imbecile.
But Freddie, you aren't there with all these athletes on a daily basis. You only have the opinions of self-interested parties. You're not... trafficking in tired cliches about athletes, are you?

Look, I understand that this is not a sports blog and this is growing tedious and no one ever changes their mind in an internet argument, so I will stop now and you are free to have the last word, but if your honest read of everyone who has disagreed with you in this comment thread is that they are deluded and unintelligent and shills for management and the media, then I weep for the future of the great white race.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but is criticizing out-of-wedlock births now such crimethink that even hinting at it leads to being labelled
as a "Moral Majority" type?

Yes, I consider Brady's behavior blameworthy. And I'm an atheist.

jult52

Fin Egan said...

A little late, but I only just stumbled across your blog.

Yeah, in Boston we are racists. We hate Johnny Damon because... oh wait... uhm... we love Pedro cause he's... uhm... nope... we hate Roger Clemens cause he's... dammit. I can't think of a case that actually proves that point. In fact, the only thing that I notice about my reasons for hating Moss, Clemens, and Damon, is that they are douche-bags. And for the record, Clemens is easily the worst douche-bag, Moss is a far second, and Damon is barely a douche-bag, and only because he swore not to go to the Yankees and then immediately did.

Admittedly, we treat players like crap when they leave (whether it's a trade or retirement). We have a long history of it. And I'm sure a good number of them are because of race, but many more aren't, and certainly not Moss. No more than our hate for Damon and Clemens is based on race.

If anything, I think whoever made the comments about Russel is dead on. Greatest man to ever play the game, in my book, and we do nothing to show our appreciation of him. He's so unknown, dopes like Stephanopoulos can't even pick him out of a crowd.

For the record, I still love Mo. My favorite Sox player growing up was Boomer. And everyone still love NomaH (yes, the H is intentional). If anything, I'd say we hate white players that leave MORE than black players.

Also for the record, I still think Moss is one of the best NFL players ever. Top 50 easily. But he's still a douche-bag.

MaysonicWrites said...

Anyone playing NFL football for 15 years is lacking in neither work ethic nor toughness. Anyone maligning such a player as lacking such is an ass.