Would Bill Belichick’s hoodie be seen very differently if it were worn by one of the many of African-American football players on the New England Patriots? While some have associated the hoodie with “black street gangs” or thugs, when Bill Belichick wears it, somehow it’s perceived as a sign of football genius. Only a couple of years earlier Trayvon Martin became a target of suspicion and ultimately was shot because he was perceived as threatening for wearing a hoodie. That was not an isolated incident.
Some will argue that the difference is that Bill Belichick is obviously an older person, and not younger and thus potentially more threatening. Is the hoodie’d Belichick less threatening than this photographed Belichick from three decades earlier as a coach to the most feared Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants?
Tom Brady also wears a hoodie at times and is seen as model player while many of his African-American teammates do not receive the same image projection. Of course, one of Tom Brady’s teammates Aaron Fernandez is now facing murder charges, but that should reflect less on their teammates than upon New England Patriots’ management, if at all. Would you trust your wallet to remain full or how about football to remain inflated any less with Belichick, Brady, or one of the many black teammates?
In the end, if the New England Patriots win, Belichick will be attributed the greatest credit and Brady is probably most likely to get more advertisements – don’t be surprised if Brady is featured in the immediate aftermath as “I’m going to Disney World” ad that has become synonymous of the most celebrated, not necessarily most valuable, players winning the Super Bowl. I would not expect to see Marshawn Lynch in such ad even if he carries the Seattle Seahawks to victory. Regardless of victory, Belichick’s hoodie has become a symbol of, at worst, a maverick stealing every advantage. Why then do we see white men wearing hoodies in a very different way than blacks, and it’s not just age – see Mark Zuckerberg as another hoodie’d genius, (which I think he really is but still maturing as young person and leader).
Thirty some years earlier, when I was in a locker room of young football teammates, black and white and brown, the clothes did not define the man or teammate. We all wore the same jersey but got to know each teammate for their own talent and character – how reliable or good a person was under the uniform, or at least if he was fun to be around. Of course, some of us sought to look more formidable on and off the field, but the substance was beyond the fashion, including our social, spiritual and/or political activism. (Read: “Sports Stars Beyond Caricature to Freedom of Expression.”) If sports is supposed to teach lessons in life, we should get to know the stereotypes that can creep into our minds and perceptions of our fellow citizens. In the end though, we all share more. We want to be winners and not losers. Rather than crawl, we hope to fly, which brings me to this great song by Malik Shakur: “Fly”