Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Tiki Barber – The Protected Negro

In the December 18th issue of Sports Illustrated, Karl Taro Greenfeld profiles New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. The article isn't your run-of-the-mill puff piece, as Greenfeld's excessive kowtowing practically deifies Barber with neon hyperbole.

For those of you who don't know, Tiki Barber announced his retirement, effective at the end of this season, and hopes to begin a second career as a member of the media once his football playing days are over.

Unique? Sure, when you consider that Barber wants to do more than join the dozens of screaming ex-NFL stars on pregame shows whose only qualifications are "Black" and "loud". In fact, Barber has his sights set on venues like Good Morning America, Dateline NBC and 20/20.

So, what's got my goat?

Well, the ostensibly objective article opens up with a pair of posed pictures of Barber from "Icon SMI", a sports media photo press agency who obviously have an "arrangement" with the soon-to-be erstwhile running back. It's never too early to get those head shots out, I suppose, and what better stepping stone than the most successful sports magazine in America?

Greenfeld opens with the usual jock-talk, recounting Barber's career stats, a quote from his head coach…you know the routine. But, the predictable prose is broken almost immediately:

"…and you could make the case that (Barber) is the most accomplished New York athlete of the 21st century."

No, you can't. Taking nothing away from Barber's 2004 and 2005 seasons when he led the league in yards from scrimmage, can you ever point to Tiki Barber and say that the Giants were his team? You can? Fine…"his" team went 58-54 since 2000, with three sub-.500 seasons mixed in. Barber, meanwhile, racked up impressive regular season stats, but in the playoffs, he's averaged 3.5 yards/carry with just one touchdown.

We'll just assume that Greenfeld has never heard of Derek Jeter and move on.

The SI article careens all over the place before it gets to the struggles of the team. Within about a dozen words of each other, Greenfeld writes about the well-publicized rants of Giants' DE Michael Strahan (he publicly ripped teammate Plaxico Buress and verbally assaulted a female ESPN reporter) and then does the same with Barber.

The difference is that Greenfeld immediately spins the Barber story (after a loss versus Jacksonville, Barber criticized the coaching staff and play calling) better than Tiki's own "people" could. Showing equal parts "apologist" and "publicist", Greenfeld gives Barber an out and inquires if Barber's ill-conceived quotes were meant to "draw the heat" from embattled quarterback Eli Manning.

Barber's response? "Yeah, that was part of it."

Sure, it was, Me-ki…sure, it was.

By now, you surely think I have some ax to grind and you'd be right. It's not with Tiki Barber (well, it kind of is), but instead with Greenfeld's "journalism".

After painting Barber in the best possible light, Greenfeld then goes into a description of Tiki Barber's head.:

"Barber's facial structure is so defined that you imagine you know what he will look like in a thousand years, long after the flesh has decomposed and he is only bone. His face is all sharp angles and perfect planes. His broad smile bares gleaming white, evenly arrayed teeth, an extra helping of perfection after the symmetry of his features."

"An extra helping of perfection"? Jesus, anyone know where these two are registered and does anyone wanna go in with me for a set of china for the happy couple?

It gets better:

"When asked who his hero is, (Barber) thinks for a while. He finally settles on Matt Lauer. 'No matter the situation, (Lauer) is professional, polished and intelligent."

Tiki Barber's "hero" is Matt Lauer from NBC? Is he kidding me? And, was Lauer's ass sliced open from the "sharp angle and perfect plane" of Tiki's lips? Could this guy get any more manufactured? Well, you bet he can, cuz it's time to play the (non-) race card!

"If you had to engineer an American television news personality in a laboratory, you might come up with someone like Tiki Barber: non-threatening, articulate, funny, intelligent, self-aware and hugely self-confident without seeming like an egomaniac. And, then there is his diction, which is ethnically and geographically neutral."

There might not be any more obviously backhanded praise for a Black guy than to drop the "he speaks so well" compliment. We're not all aspiring rap stars, y'know, but Greenfeld is so enamored with Tiki's literate tongue that he mentions it twice in the above consecutive sentences. Ah, hell, why not let Tiki make it three:

"We grew up in a white middle-class community and had a mom who emphasized education and lived that neutrality. She didn't speak that typical African-American diction."

Oh, how I would've paid cash money to hear Greenfeld ask Barber, "Can you give me an example of 'typical African-American diction'?" And, just to summarize for those of you scoring at home: "white middle-class + education = neutral". Way to tweak that "Q" rating, Tiki. Good to know that Wichita, Omaha and Boston will welcome you into their homes (but, only if you stay inside the TV…and, don't even think about moving into their neighborhood or the locals might have some 'African-American diction' for you. Well, just one word, really, but you know what it is. Or, do you?)

Finally, Barber ends with this equally enlightening quote:

"Quite honestly, I don't have the passion to (play) anymore. I'll sit in meetings and I'm bored, or my mind is drifting or I'll go out on Sunday on the football field and the blood isn't flowing like it used to."

Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Edgerrin James, Ray Lewis, Keyshawn Johnson, Daunte Culpepper, Joe Horn, , Jerry Porter, Warren Sapp and Kellen Winslow, Jr.

Those are just ten players, off the top of my head, who would be crucified if those words ever came out of their mouths. But, Tiki gets a pass.

I guess it's good to be neutral.


Jeff said...

Don't forget that it was completely out of character for Tiki to criticize the coaching a few weeks ago, and he would never ever do that (that's a Jeremy Shockey thing). Remember, under no circumstances would Tiki state that his team was out-coached.

mike mejor said...

I going to miss you on Inside Pulse, but I'm glad that you're still writing. You've got a pretty interesting take on Tiki Barber, but you can't tell me that you're surprised? The media has been neutering (or 'neutralling') athletes of all colors for years. Tiger Woods comes to mind and so does a guy like Emmitt Smith. Even white athletes aren't immune, as the NBA looks for guys like Steve Nash and that 'white chocolate' dude to force down the fans throats.

Anyways, good thoughts. Looking forward to reading more!

J-E-T-S fan said...

Sorry to see that you're no longer at IP. You were probably the only reason I kept reading them, so I'm glad that you've decided to go out on your own. Good luck with this!

This is nice read, but I have to strongly disagree with your last point. Yes, Tiki can say things like "he's lost his passion" and get away with it, not because the media coddles him (which, in New York, they DON'T) but because his work ethic is simply stronger than all the 10 players you listed.

C'mon, Aaron...you may not like Tiki Barber or the vanilla, one size fits all persona, but comparing him to TO and Randy Moss?

Anonymous said...

Aaron - I haven't read anything by you since you left IP music column, with the exception of you and Joe's football choices and all I have to say is welcome back!!


kevin wayne said...

Umm, so which one are you bootleg guy: frustrated failed journalist or frustrated failed jock? The SI piece (which you only quote portions of) is well-written and thorough. Tiki Barber is great player and a better person, it seems. How can you hold this against him? 10 years ago, SI wrote a piece on athletes with kids out of wedlock and was met with harsh criticism for painting the black athlete in such a negative light. Yes, the Barber story is almost embarrassingly positive, but what’s the alternative? You can’t have it both ways.

That Bootleg Guy said...

First off, thanks to everyone for their comments! I’ll try to respond to everyone, so far:

Jeff – Good point on the Tiki vs. Shockey angle, but I still think there was a little bit of selfishness w/r/t Barber’s comments after that J’ville game. My only beef was that Tiki was seemingly let off the hook for what he said (although, not living in NY, maybe that wasn’t the case?)

Mike M. – Tiger Woods is an interesting comparison, but I’m not sure it’s the same thing. If I can find the time, I’d love to write up on Mr. Woods as I’m sure my opinion of him and how the press handles him isn’t in line with what the majority thinks.

J-E-T-S – Thanks for the praise. I hate your team, but I’m willing to look past that. And, I appreciate your point on the Tiki/TO/Moss comparison, but still…my original point that the press plays favorites and double standards is, I think, valid. Isn’t the media at least supposed to *pretend* they’re objective?

Tom said...

Picture that article daily in every paper and you have a glimpse of what it's like in NYC every single day.

Greg said...

Hey! Easy on Boston! I'm a transplanted New Yorker and Giants fan so I can the Tiki thing is clearly out of hand. I haven't seen any one talk about how selfish it was for Tiki to announce his plans early in the season, creating a distraction and giving his agent plenty of time to score that diversity slot on a morning talk show. Good point on who would have been slammed making the same kinds of "my heart's not in it" comments, but not only does he get a pass from the media and public, but there's no signs of the angst form the locker room. Eli is not a leader (or Strahan or anyone else) or he would be able to tell Tiki to shut up. But when a guy is 89% of your offense, what can you do? Let him slime for the camera like a smug bastard.

But back to the Boston thing -- I'm not an apologist for what happened decades ago (and full disclosure -- I live in the white western suburbs), but I have a hard time believing it's worse here than San Diego or St. Louis or Miami. Just saying. Don't want to hijack your blog to talk about race relations in Boston, but thought I'd offer a bit of defense.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Tom: I imagine living in NYC during this season-long Tiki Barber lovefest is akin to being here in San Diego as the local reporters have fallen all over themselves to annoint Tomlinson as the next Jesus. The unspoken tone, of course, is that Tomlinson "isn't like other (Black) athletes". He's humble! He speaks well! He doesn't have a touchdown dance!


That Bootleg Guy said...


Hey, feel free to talk about whatever the hell you want in the comments section.

That said, with regards to Boston, I don't doubt for a moment that race relations from coast-to-coast, in any city in America could use a timeout and *no* dessert tonight. I just pulled three cities off the top of my head (and I've never even been to Wichita or Omaha) for the purpose of making a point.

Besides, about 18 months ago, I *really* ran afoul of Boston fans when I wrote a little something called "The 25 Worst Fans in Sports".

Fortunately, Kevlar's surprisingly easy to come by in Southern California.