Tuesday, November 06, 2012

'Bucket of Chicken' Quip Lands Bradshaw in the Fryer

Whether or not he goes the way of Howard Cosell remains to be seen but Fox Sports football analyst and resident goofball Terry Bradshaw's latest on-air verbal gaffe was a titanic jaw-dropper; even by the almost non-existent standards to which he seems bound on live television.

On Sunday afternoon while the Fox Sports studio analysts were reviewing video highlights of former USC standout Reggie Bush's spectacular 18-yard touchdown run for the Miami Dolphins, Bradshaw (referring to the intensity of Bush's effort to reach the end-zone) quipped to ex-Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson; "Look at this Jimmy! Like he was chasing that bucket of chicken the wind was blowing the other day!"

Check out the 21-second clip for yourself.

As a former football player who played at both the Division I collegiate level and in the NFL who also worked as a television sports reporter and newspaper sports columnist, I can write with a reasonable level of authority on the subject of the various announcers, commentators and personalities who sit in front of the screen and call the game.

Fox anchor Curt Menefee, aside from analyst/former player Howie Long, is arguably the most balanced of the Fox bunch and the only other African-American on the set besides Michael Strahan. While he cringed noticeably, he yucked it up with the rest of the others; who seem to relish Bradshaw's folksy off-the-cuff and clearly off-color remarks. Almost like a class of high-school seniors who can't wait for the class clown to crack them up.

If some of the media reaction is any indication, Fox is moving quickly to reinforce Bradshaw's apologetic assertions that the comment was directed at Jimmy Johnson's love of fried chicken, rather than some kind of sly twist on the dead-horse stereotype of black people loving fried chicken.

Even Menefee is Tweeting denials that the comment had anything to do with the color of Bush's skin, but I think the fact the he's even denying that points to the context in which Bradshaw's comments are viewed by many people. Even though millions of people (including me) do love fried chicken, the reality of this nation's history is that there are deeply entrenched stereotypes that link African-Americans with certain types of food in ways that are viewed as racist when taken in certain contexts.

There are countless examples of 19th and early 20th century art work, graphic art/advertisements, posters, product labels and post cards depicting simplistic negro stereotypes with exaggerated physical features like bug eyes, grossly enormous lips, "pickaninnie" grins greedily feasting on slices of watermelon.

In the same way that Fuzzy Zoeller caused a media stir back in April of 1997 when he called golfer Tiger Woods (then 21 years-old and one of the top players on he tour) as "that little boy" and jokingly suggested Woods shouldn't serve fried chicken and collared greens at the next champions dinner (as winner of the Masters he selected the menu), Bradshaw tapped a vein that still threads through this country.

Having been raised in Maryland, I grew up a Washington Redskins fan and I was watching the Dallas Cowboys-Washington game on that Monday night back in September of 1983 when Howard Cosell referred to Redskin's wide receiver Alvin Garret as a "little monkey" after he caught a pass, I still remember being stunned. Like many Americans I knew about his relationship with Muhammad Ali and his past public support of black athletes; but when he referred to a black receiver as a monkey it sounded racist. Period.

It wasn't just the monkey comments either, during the game Cosell had made repeated references to the Redskin's other wide receiver Charlie Brown's extremely long arm as well; ascribing the player's long reach to an almost ape-like physicality that was clearly hinted at during the broadcast.

It eclipsed Cosell's years of experience and indeed his character, it made Cosell sound insensitive; even it's true he called his own grand kids and other players little monkeys, it still made him sound like a bigot and put him in the same light as Jimmy the Greek. What confuses me about men like this is they're media professionals with years of experience and hundreds of hours of live broadcast experience; how is it that they don't stop and think to themselves, "Maybe that's not the best way to phrase that?"

Bradshaw is the 2nd Hall of Fame-Super Bowl winning NFL quarterback/broadcaster to suffer a slip of the tongue that was perceived as racially insensitive. Back in fall of 2009 I blogged about ABC broadcaster Bob Griese after his stupid taco comment about race car driver Juan Pablo Montoya during a college football broadcast.

Like Bradshaw, I'm not going to judge the man's entire life based on one comment. But it offers insight into how even well-known media professionals used to being in front of the camera can permit subconscious prejudices to come to the surface. It reveals a lot about how deeply ingrained some behaviors and assumptions are in this nation.

So I'm not going to pretend I know that Terry Bradshaw is a "racist", but he hails from the deep south and it's not unreasonable to assume he's absorbed certain prejudices over the course of his life that might surface from time to time. This is America and he can think what he wants after all.

But let's be honest, does anyone really believe that if a white tight-end or a white running back was hustling into the end-zone for a touchdown that Terry Bradshaw would refer to fried chicken in discussing his efforts?   

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