Robert Griffin III's blackness and the diminishing returns of stupidity


An ESPN anchor questioned whether Robert Griffin III is really black on Thursday, and it was every bit as sad as it sounds.

One week, a writer essentially says that Colin Kaepernick's tattoos make him look like a black convict QB and it's a shame because he seems so white and Tebow-ish, the next week RGIII is not black enough because he's marrying a white girl. Just another fun sports month in post-racial America!

But we're not here to join in the crusade against Rob Parker, or even what he said. Not exactly. When someone wrote that Kaepernick tattoo column, I said this:

It's one of the most obnoxious traits of the media in 2012. One stupid person writes something horrible, and then the next day we have to read 200 rebuttals to the stupid thing that everyone knew was stupid in the first place, all to prove to the world how not-stupid the rest of us are. (I've probably done this 100 different times, so I'm as guilty as anyone.) In the process, sure, the guy gets endless traffic and more fame than he deserves -- but that's not even the problem. By rebutting his horrible opinion, you promote it, and then it becomes a Thing that people are saying, and suddenly "Colin Kapernick is facing criticism about his tattoos this week."

No, he's not.

Only one stupid asshole said that.

ESPN's Rob Parker is this week's stupid asshole, so let's not pretend he even deserves a serious rebuttal. He's already been suspended by ESPN. If you have no idea what we're talking about, just know that it was a First Take segment that involved his white fiance, the Republican Party, and Tiger Woods. Robert Griffin is "kinda black, but he's not really" in Parker's words.

But I don't blame Parker. He works for a show that exists to spark conversations about people's blackness, even if it's not usually this explicit. As Deadspin once described First Take:

... the new First Take was supposed to be a triumph of format over circumstance. ... First Take's genius -- if you can call it that -- was to subtly raise the stakes by pitting Skip Bayless against black guests and letting the subtext, white grievance vs. "honky, please," do all the work.

They are the WORST. You can watch this show every single day and there will be 10 different opinions that are obnoxious enough to leave you outraged.

Parker may have careened through the guardrails on race-baiting highway onto a road that's more basically racist and ridiculous, but don't be mad at him. Be mad because he will probably not be fired, and because ESPN and First Take found out this afternoon that race-baiting debates about Robert Griffin III are the new outrage catnip, so this is just the beginning. Rob Parker's mistake was being too clumsy and obvious, but he was just doing the only thing that's ever made First Take a success. They are "habitual line steppers," in Charlie Murphy's words.

The good news: The show's ratings were declining as of last summer, and after a year where the president of ESPN publicly regrets the amount of Tebow coverage on his network, it's hard to imagine that the worldwide leader's worst offender improved all that much. Nobody cares what Skip Bayless thinks of LeBron James. Stupidity dies because the market for it dies.

Nobody pays attention to Sarah Palin anymore, Keith Olbermann's been fired over and over again, Fox News fired Glenn Beck, Stephen A. Smith's talk show got canceled, First Take will be recycled into a completely different show within the next year or two, Skip Bayless will be stashed somewhere else at ESPN until his contract expires, and nobody will read another David Whitley column until he writes something racist enough to get him fired. Thursday was probably the first time you've heard Rob Parker's name, and sometime in the next few months you'll forget it forever. It's a case of diminishing returns; bit by bit, people stop caring as much when someone who's known for saying dumb things says something dumb. Then the dumb person disappears, but by then, you barely even notice.

"You've just got to keep long-term, short-term in mind," said ESPN's president this week about overhauling his network's Tebow-trolling priorities.

Even ESPN understands that this stuff fails eventually. For now, it's just funny that we're talking about a black man trotted out on Skip Bayless' pandering variety show, asking someone else if he's "down for the cause." This is how he spends his life, and he doesn't even see the irony. I'm not mad at Rob Parker, I just feel bad for him.

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