PHILADELPHIA—As I watched Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens leer at the nearly nude actress in that introduction that aired before Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, the name Mandingo flashed through my head.
Like the original “Mandingo,” played by Ken Norton in the 1975 flick, Owens is a genetic masterpiece. And there Owens was up on the screen looking like a black god, and playing into some of the usual stereotypes about black men. That they’re hypersexed. Irresponsible. Bucks even.
I wasn’t the only one who squirmed. Kenneth L. Shropshire, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said Owens’ appearance with “Desperate Housewives” star Nicollette Sheridan made him glad his elementary-school-age children were in bed. While he marveled at how far America has come, in that a black man can now even be pictured in this type of interaction on national TV, he also suspects that it was all a ploy on a part of ABC just to get folks talking.
“If it had been Brett Favre or some other white ballplayer, would it have had the same effect?” asked Shropshire, author of “In Black and White: Race and Sports in America” (New York University Press, 1996). “If I was T.O’s agent, I would have advised him not to do that.”
The sultry introduction was the stuff of discussions all around the city, both by people who felt uncomfortable about the stereotypes it raised and by those shrugged it off.
“That’s like the Janet Jackson thing. What’s worse than that?” said Amin Stovall, a 27-year-old business owner. “They made a big ruckus about her exposing her chest, but they’re not making a big thing about a naked woman on TV?”
“I find it offensive,” Stovall said.
Other African-Americans I talked to were not so offended.
“They were doing it because he was hot,” George C. McNeal, a retired municipal servant, said as he stood near 52nd and Market chatting with a friend. “He was the star. He’s probably the star of the National Football League.”
That may well be the case. So, it begs the question as to why? Why bother to perpetuate that image of ballers being skirt-chasing, irresponsible people?
Robert Smith, a Chicago-based sports agent and an African-American, said: “When is somebody going to do something different? Is this always the way we have to go? People already expect that anyway. There are so many things you can do (rather) than just take the low road.”
Especially when you’re a star as big as T.O.