Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Commentary [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Lacing up to open the mailbag

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

There were two things I wish I'd pointed out when I wrote this column criticizing Nike and Michael Jordan for essentially doing nothing after the release of Jordan's retro gym shoe, the Air Jordan XI Concords, incited widespread violence.

• In 2006, Allen Iverson paid for the funeral of a Philadelphia man who had been shot because he refused to give up his Iverson jersey to a group of teens. Iverson used this incident and his own substantial public platform to draw attention to Philadelphia's jaw-dropping murder rate. "It's just terrible, what's going on in Philadelphia," Iverson told reporters at the time. "I just feel like I've got to do something more than I have been doing to try to help this situation as much as I can."

• Also in 2006, Stephon Marbury created his "Starbury" shoe and clothing line. The Marbury sneaker cost just $14.98 because Marbury wanted to endorse a shoe that anyone could afford. Marbury, who grew up with six brothers and sisters, told the TODAYshow.com, "Why you want your name associated with a pair shoes nobody can afford? I think that defeats the purpose."

Marbury and Iverson both have been involved in their share of controversies and, at times, haven't always been the greatest role models. But both possess social awareness that, frankly, seems to be missing with Jordan, one of the more powerful and revered athletes in sports history.

Stephon Marbury
Stephon Marbury offered signature shoes that just about any kid could afford.

Many of the readers who responded to my Jordan column thought I absolved the individuals who were directly responsible for the violence. Glenn Wilson of Philadelphia wrote, "Do you really think those prone to violence over a basketball shoe would stop and think about what they were going to do because MJ made a statement? Really? … I fault you for not using your national platform to call out the youth and the parents that behave badly."

Of course, those directly involved bear the ultimate responsibility for their actions. But that doesn't mean Jordan and Nike shouldn't address the problem. Besides, if we only chose to raise awareness of problems that could be easily fixed, we would never raise our voices over anything.

Iverson and Marbury likely understood their overtures weren't going to single-handedly stop people from committing violent acts over shoes and clothes, but they were still compelled do something. Chris Webber also chose to end his relationship with Nike in 1996 because the company refused to lower the price of the basketball shoe it created for him and he wasn't comfortable with the way the company targeted inner-city youths.

How could any athletes feel comfortable about people harming one another over shoes or clothes that carried their name and likeness?

How could someone with Jordan's unique brand power not do or say anything?

Change is gradual in our society, but sports has been at the forefront of powering change. Had Jordan issued a public service announcement that coincided with the release of the Air Concords, it would have become its own news story. Perhaps it would have pressured stores to provide a safer environment for consumers and maybe have given those in line second thoughts about their actions.

But I guess Jordan had more important things to do.

On to the mailbag …

A lot of you were convinced that the only reason I wrote that the Colts should choose Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck is because of some twisted sense of racial solidarity.

The only reason you say the Colts should pick Griffin is because you're black and he is. This guy is going to be the biggest bust since Oakland's QB. He should have NEVER won the Heisman Trophy. He did because he was black. I can't wait for this clown to flop!
-- Richard Howard, Menasha, Wis.

Seriously, are you at ESPN solely to dig up imaginary racist stuff?
-- Brian Levine, Orlando, Fla.

Jemele … You should have just named the column "Pick the black guy over the white guy" so I would have known to skip over this obviously racially-biased garbage. It's a shame that people like you do your best to keep racism around in this country.
-- Vic, New Jersey

Robert Griffin III
Apparently the Heisman voters were wrong about Robert Griffin III, too.

What's interesting is that I never mentioned race in the RGIII versus Luck column. I'm wondering why so many of you did. Does that mean Tony Dungy also is a racist because he thinks Griffin is a better choice than Luck?

And is Skip Bayless also a racist for saying the same thing?

Ironically in light of the mail, my entire column was based on preserving and protecting an entrenched white quarterback, Peyton Manning. Griffin and Luck are both talented enough to start right away for any team. The reason I suggested Griffin was a better fit for the Colts was because the media already has positioned Luck and Manning as adversaries.

Manning might be more open to developing a relationship with Griffin because there's no pre-hyped drama. Unlike Luck, the media hasn't been calling Griffin a "can't-miss prospect" for two years, or making it seem as if it would be a crime against humanity if he isn't an NFL starter from day one. Absent such lofty expectations, Griffin might be more open to sitting behind Manning and learning.

I also agree with Dungy that Griffin's mobility gives him an edge over Luck. Griffin is a pass-first quarterback with Olympic speed. There has been this long-standing stereotype that mobile quarterbacks can't win long term in the NFL, even though Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers have proven otherwise. Cam Newton seems like the prototype for the NFL's next evolution at quarterback, and Griffin fits that mold more than Luck.

Speaking of Cam Newton, I highly recommend this column, which takes him to task for his recent misguided comments on race in ESPN the Magazine.

Brees
New Orleans QB Drew Brees has recorded 18 TDs and two interceptions in playoff games.

I just saw your piece on Drew Brees where you said more than once that you didn't want to "belittle his achievement." But that is exactly what you did. Perhaps there is some truth to what you say. Perhaps not. But the media is too quick to knock down contemporary heroes.
-- Brad Conard, Mexico City

Drew Brees seems like a great guy and what he's done to help rebuild New Orleans is admirable. But let's try to put his record-breaking season into fair football perspective. Breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record was a terrific accomplishment, but it happened in an era when offenses are ruling the NFL.

Brees was one of three quarterbacks who passed for more than 5,000 yards this season. Another seven quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards. At one time, any quarterback would have considered such a season a career-defining achievement, but because today's rules so greatly favor offenses, nearly a third of the NFL's starters achieved those watered-down numbers.

Defenders can't touch the quarterback these days or be physical with receivers. The New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers have proved in the past two Super Bowls that a powerful offense is more important in winning a championship than a great defense.

The Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are the only remaining playoff teams which had top-5 defenses. Among the other teams left, the highest-ranking defense belongs to the Denver Broncos, who were ranked 20th. The New England Patriots and Green Bay are arguably the favorites to make Super Bowl with defenses ranked 31st and 32nd, respectively.

If this offensive dominance continues, someone will break Brees' record in the next couple of years.


Final word: The best part about entering a new year is the "best of" lists that come at year's end. This might be the best of, well, the best of.

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

MORE COMMENTARY »