The entire spectacle of national signing day is an exercise in absurdity. It’s absurd that major-conference college football is such a behemoth that the decisions made by 17- and 18-year-olds are nationally televised events with press conferences, pep rallies and parades. It’s absurd that these decisions matter enough to create (and end) jobs and shift millions of dollars of potential revenue in mere seconds.
It’s absurd that this is branded to be about the kids, but signing a national letter of intent actually takes power away from them because they’re tied to whichever college or university they signed with despite the fact that the school could decide not to admit that student for nonacademic reasons.
But even within exercises in absurdity are established and expected rules of decorum. And the mother of University of Florida commit Jacob Copeland went viral yesterday when she broke them by walking away when her son made his decision.
The reaction to Copeland’s mom was swift and harsh. The New York Post reported that she “gave him a couple of menacing glances.” Sports Illustrated claimed that she “upstaged” him. According to Yahoo! Sports, she “stormed away.” And this pales in comparison with what was said about her on social media:
Admittedly, the optics here were pretty bad. If Copeland’s mom knew that a decision that would upset her that much was possible, maybe she should have just stayed home. She did, however, come back later to hug him. But even if she didn’t do that, we have no clue why she was so upset, and the commentary about her parenting is premature and perhaps even a tiny bit racist.
Maybe there’s something about the University of Florida’s school or coaching staff that rubbed her the wrong way. Since this family is from Florida, this isn’t an instance of the mom being upset because her son is moving far away. She was wearing an Alabama sweatshirt and a Tennessee hat, so it’s clear that she actually wanted him to leave—which would seem to give more credibility to the rumor that the reason she was upset was that there are some questionable and criminal influences in Florida he might be susceptible to, and she just wanted him to get far away from that.
And how is this perhaps even a tiny bit racist? It’s complicated, but it boils down to the fact that people often assume the worst with black moms. Particularly black moms who appear to be in a certain socioeconomic situation.
Imagine for a moment that this was an affluent-looking white kid with both his mom and his dad sitting beside him, and the kid made a decision that made both parents visibly upset. I suspect that the prevailing commentary wouldn’t be “Those parents are toxic, ungrateful and unsupportive” but, rather, “They must’ve had a good reason to be mad.” Also, that some black people have taken part in this criticism parade doesn’t make it any less racist. Because it’s a reaction to a racist (and classist and sexist) stereotype—one we can all allow to infect our thinking.
Again, we can only speculate on why Copeland’s mom was so upset. Unless she comes out and tells us, none of us will know. It’s just telling which way our speculations sway.