By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Irish-German-Slavic-Native-American publisher
Eighteen months ago, former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin delivered an intensely raw, emotional speech in Canton, Ohio, as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Few who saw the event can forget the puddles of tears that formed on Irvin's face as he recalled, without note or
teleprompter, the people in his life who helped him to this night of crowning achievement.
We learned that one of the highlights of Irvin's life was the relationship he has with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – the man Irvin selected for the singular honor of introducing him to the Canton crowd, an honor typically reserved for people who share the closest bonds of family or friendship.
Here's what Irvin said about Jones soon after he took the podium:
"(Jerry) has a beautiful wife, Gene. I tell her this. I just love her to death. Her spirit exudes beauty. Her mannerisms exude class. She's one of a kind. Gene, I do love you. They have beautiful kids, daughter Charlotte, son Steven and Jerry, Jr. Each have played a role in my life and I thank all of them."
Irvin, as you probably know, is black. The Jones family, you also probably know, is white.
We recalled their love for each other this week, in the wake of the amazingly stunning – to put it diplomatically – statement by Attorney General Eric Holder that America is a "nation of cowards" on the issue of race.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts, of course, are afraid to tackle no topic. We take on the issue of race each August following the emotional speeches that highlight the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
The speeches delivered there each year in the American heartland tell quite a different story – a far more complex and far more optimistic story – than the simplistic and negative old stereotypes perpetuated by Holder and others who look at America only through race-colored glasses.
The stories we see each year in Canton describe an America:
- of profound racial interaction and even harmony.
- where grown men, during the crowning moment of their lives, use the opportunity to openly profess their love for their fellow man – be they black, white or yellow, Christian, Muslim or Jew.
- where coaches, teachers, friends and family members from all walks of life join forces over the course of a player's life to help him achieve Hall of Fame immortality.
- where people are defined by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
- with a rich, complex, intricately woven multi-cultural tapestry unlike any other in the world.
These stories, in other words, fly in bald-faced opposition to the narrow, simplistic worldview of Holder.
Consider the case of 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Andre Tippett and the man who introduced him at Canton, Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Tippett was born a poor black child in the Bible Belt South of Alabama, moved to Newark as a child and converted to Judaism as an adult. His wife is Jewish. His children, of course, are multiracial. There's also a strong Asian influence through his life: he's a martial arts expert, and two of his children are named Kobe (as in Japan) and Asia. Kraft, meanwhile, is a rich white Jew from largely Catholic Boston.
Their backgrounds could not be more distinct.
Yet here's what Tippett said at the podium in Canton last August.
"(Kraft) and I share a common bond of loyalty and family. I love Robert, Myra, his sons Jonathan, Danny, Josh and David."
The "common bond" between the Tippetts and the Krafts, not to mention Tippett's individual life story, sound quite a bit different than the narrow vision of America perpetuated by Holder, and it's far more common than he gives it credit for.
But you probably know he's wrong simply by looking at your own life.
After all, sports are just a microcosm of society. And millions of Americans, including you in all likelihood, live these same kinds of lives of daily and typically harmonious interaction with friends, family, relations and colleagues from all walks of life.
The Hall of Fame ceremony simply puts these rich, complex multi-cultural tapestries of American life on display for all of us to see.
Consider another riveting moment from the 2007 Hall of Fame ceremony: former Cleveland offensive lineman Gene Hickerson, confined to a wheelchair (and since deceased), was wheeled out onto the stage by the three Hall of Fame running backs he helped pave the way for in his playing days: Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell.
Hickerson was white. All three running backs are black. Yet here the ballcarriers stood shoulder to shoulder behind Hickerson, on night of both great personal triumph and profound human weakness for the former lineman.
It was hard to see anything but racial harmony in the moment.
Of course, we know there's racism out there. We know the history. In fact, we're fairly certain we know the history better than Holder ... we'd take that debate anyday. We know society's never been perfect, we know it's not perfect today and we know it never will be perfect. (Good luck finding any society throughout history where race relations were perfect. You won't.)
But we also know this: it's easy for the cultural flamethrowers, like the attorney general, to fire off explosive charges of racism any time a white guy and a black guy get into a fight, or anytime they want to perpetuate a certain political agenda.
But the real story is far more complex than these cultural flamethrowers want you to believe. Perhaps it's too complex for these simple-minded people to comprehend.
The real story is that every day people from all walks of life in this country work together, live together and love together ... and sometimes the fruit of their labors, the labor of coaches, teachers and parents from all walks of life, combine to produce a Hall of Famer.
We see these interactions every day on the sports field, we see it every day in our own lives, and we see it every August in Canton.
Holder looks at this world and chooses instead to focus on the sadness and indignities of the past and not the hope and promise of the future. He sees only walls between the races, and not the gates that swing back and forth with ever-increasing frequency. He chooses to have his view of race relations defined by a small minority of ignorant racist, and not by the great silent majority who lead lives of profound interaction with people of all races, backgrounds and ethnicities.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts, however, choose to have our views defined by the unity we see on football fields each autumn weekend and by the stories of interracial love and harmony we see in Canton each August.
We choose to look at the world much like Michael Irvin, who sees within people of different color a "spirit that exudes beauty."
Sorry, Mr. Holder. We think that's something to celebrate ... it's also, dare we say, brave, too.