On Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson Not Being "Black Enough"

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

1. The Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman is Black. I assumed he was with a last name "Freeman," but I had to google to confirm. I did not, however, google Freeman's bio and background, so I'm going to assume he has some Black family members, Black friends, Black acquaintances, Black neighbors, and possibly even a Black gf/wife and Black children. He also makes a living reporting on and writing about a sport that features primarily Black athletes.


Basically, Freeman is not a stranger to Black culture. And since Freeman is not a stranger to Black culture, he should be aware that calling a Black man an "Uncle Tom" is perhaps the worst insult you can give him. It's not something that's ever said in jest. When employed, it's an indictment on a Black man's entire character. It's worse than "nigger." Nigger, at least, is general. If someone calls a Black person a nigger, they're effectively calling all Black people niggers. Uncle Tom is personal.

Anyway, assuming Freeman is aware of this, it's irresponsible of him to include…

There is also an element of race that needs to be discussed. My feeling on this—and it's backed up by several interviews with Seahawks players—is that some of the Black players think Wilson isn't Black enough.


…in a column about Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson without naming a source. Even if what Freeman is reporting is the truth — and it very well might be — that's too poisonous of a pill to treat like it's any other rumor. There's just too much of a historical, political, and cultural context behind that type of claim without a named source or actual proof.

2. Later in the column, Freeman plants another racial landmine:

This is an issue that extends outside of football, into African-American society—though it's gotten better recently. Well-spoken blacks are seen by some other blacks as not completely black. Some of this is at play.

What Freeman is saying here is technically true. There are some Black people who believe Blacks who speak well are "acting White." There are also some Black people who believe Kool-Aid is a food group, and some who believe Rihanna is in the Illuminati. You might think these are silly comparisons, but Freeman is essentially saying the same thing.

Again, Freeman isn't wrong, but it is wrong to repeat something like that without any type of context. Let me put it this way: I'm sure Russell Wilson isn't the only well-spoken Black player on the Seahawks. It's a locker room with dozens of Black players, many of whom are college graduates, and some are assuredly as bright and articulate as he is. But he's the one being called out for "acting White," which tells you that claim goes a bit deeper than Wilson's diction.


We're all aware of the oft-cited belief that Black people who speak properly and succeed academically are chided by other Black people. Those who've examined that a bit deeper, however, know that's a lazy and dangerous characterization. While there definitely have been Black people dissed by other Blacks just for being smart — and I'm sure some of you reading this have experienced that — the "acting White" claim often has more to do with a Black person's willingness to align themselves with White people and their inability to code-switch than it does about their intelligence or achievement. Although I'm (obviously) not in the Seahawks' locker room, I have no doubt that if Russell Wilson is being called out for "acting White," it's less about him being "well-spoken" and more about his behavior, his all-White circle of close friends, and the perception that he's more of a "coaches' guy" than a "players' guy."

3. That said, these rumors about Wilson don't surprise me. There are some Black people who, for whatever reason, aren't as "culturally Black" as most other Black people. This doesn't make them bad people or deserving of ridicule or ostracization. They just naturally gravitate more towards White friends, White significant others, and activities more associated with White culture. Russell Wilson has always struck me as one of those types of Black people.


Thing is, he doesn't need to be more culturally Black. Perhaps some Black people and some of his Black teammates would feel better if he was, but would he feel better if it just wasn't a natural thing for him? As long as he doesn't make a point to throw his Black teammates under the bus, there's no need for him to change who he is. There's enough space in Black America for Blacks more comfortable around Black people and doing things traditionally associated with Black culture, and those more comfortable doing other things.

This does not make Russell Wilson an Uncle Tom. Just a human being.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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Russell Wilson was raised by father who was a LAWYER. Of course he speaks properly. Judging by his father's profession and his mother who was a nurse consultant (whatever that is) I dont think he grew up around many black people. The man went to school at WISCONSIN. He played BASEBALL. If he tried to act black it would look phony, and people would be calling him out for that since he wasnt "raised in the hood." His upbringing is very familiar to a certain person residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave….. and nobody is questioning HIS blackness. He grew up in freaking Hawaii with his white mom and white grandparents. Its certainly hood out there in Honalulu…..