Commentary: Comparison Between Johnny Manziel and Rosa Parks Is Obscene

White columnist displays her ignorance of U.S. history in tying civil-rights icon to a troubled, greedy athlete.

Posted: 08/14/2013 05:54 PM EDT

I’m not one to nitpick at white journalists. I understand their shortcomings, just as I understand the issues that affect Black journalists and Black people. Yet some things that white journalists do are just so ratchet that you can’t ignore them, no matter how tempted you are to do so.

Writing for FOXsports.com, hardly the mecca of enlightened thought, columnist Jen Floyd Engel crafted a column that would have been laughable if not for one fact: It demeans the history of my people. Engel compared what Johnny Manziel, the troubled Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, is going through with the NCAA to Rosa Parks.

Engel wrote: “My comparison of Johnny Football to Rosa Parks, a brave and willing American hero, is based only on Manziel's role as a tipping point.”

Manziel is like Parks the way I’m like Kobe Bryant or Robert Griffin III, which is to say not at all. Nothing about Manziel’s selling his autograph for money, a clear violation of NCAA rules, is about freedom or justice; nothing about his plight is a march toward equality.

Manziel didn’t do what he did for any purpose other than to grab fistfuls of dollars for himself. How does that equate with Rosa Parks?

Too often, white journalists have taken iconic figures in our history and portrayed them in an unfavorable light. The landscape is littered with stories that recount Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s extramarital affairs but shortchange the larger issues in his life.

What these white journalists do is marginalize King’s public profile while the salacious tales about his sex life and infidelity, if those tales are even factional, get overblown. Engel did so with Parks.

Even Engel acknowledged that racism persists, which helps to explain how a white woman with a meager journalistic pedigree in sports leapfrogged Black men to get a column she didn’t deserve. What she did was stretch the Manziel legend to rival Parks’.

A better choice might have been Curt Flood, though Flood’s contribution to history was of his choosing and Manziel’s is not. Flood was fighting for his freedom – his freedom, not necessarily the freedom of his ball-playing peers who disagreed with the stand he took. His lawsuit did prove a tipping point, eventually ushering in free agency for Major League players.

But as men and women who chronicle history, we can’t always expect the past to dovetail neatly with the present. What we can never do with our prose is bend the past to make it fit into present circumstances. You end up with the nonsensical comparison that Engel made.

For no way is Manziel a heroic figure. He is no better than Terrelle Pryor, another high-profile athlete who took money, secretly, when he knew the NCAA didn’t allow him to. Pryor got caught; so did Manziel.

Manziel’s punishment won’t include a night in an Alabama jail or a day in court. He should soon be back on the practice field at A&M, basking in the glory that comes with being the next Great White Hype in sports.

For Parks, she found no immediate glory or riches. Hers was a fight for more than money, a fact that any journalist who takes a minute to pour over history would know.

Engel took not a second to do so. Had she, she would have seen that Parks was no footnote in American history. She was and is a civil-rights icon and the most Johnny Manziel can ever be is a sports figure whose name will be lost among all the other sports heroes who came before and who will come after him.

To paint Manziel as anything more, as Engel did, is to overplay the importance of sports in our history.



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(Photos from left: Mike Stobe/Getty Images, Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

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