The criticism lobbed at Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, in a letter to the editor published online by The Sun, for buying his offensive linemen expensive Rolex watches, ignited an understandably emotional response from many people in all walks of life. But the outcry from African Americans was particularly poignant.
We know all too well the double standard and extra layer of scrutiny applied to African Americans when we experience success. I know people who purposely drive modest cars and live in homes below their means to not draw attention to themselves and avoid the chatter about how much money they make and whether it is deserved. It’s the same kind of scrutiny Mr. Jackson faced his first year as quarterback when people questioned whether he could not only run the ball, but throw down the field. So many thought he was limited and underqualified. We all know now he can do both.
For those who see their sons, brothers, nephews and friends in Mr. Jackson’s smiling face, the criticism of him was more judgment of a young black man earning a nice salary, judgment that you likely wouldn’t hear about white players. Their reaction was swift and clear, a crescendo from people who are tired of unfair chiding and weren’t willing to let the humble quarterback, who wears T-shirts that say “nobody cares, work harder,” go down in a cloud of criticism.
Many people questioned why Mr. Jackson’s money was being counted in the first place and why complaints aren’t made about the gift-giving of white players. Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gave virtual gaming systems to his linemen one year, with no criticism. In fact, a story on baltimoreravens.com at the time described the elite quarterback as an “elite gift-giver" in an ode to the lavishness of his gifts.
Indeed, the tradition of quarterbacks giving the players who protect them from hits and clear the field so they can make the passes and runs that lead to touchdowns, is not a new one. These players often don’t get the glory of the quarterback, and these gifts are a gesture of appreciation. The typically private Mr. Jackson doesn’t appear to have publicized his gifts, at least not on his Twitter feed, though a couple of his teammates did, one with a Santa emoji. The Sun ran a brief story on the gifts Dec. 24th.
Mr. Jackson has worked hard — he wows the crowds with his athleticism and has brought a new fire to the team and the position of quarterback. And he can afford such gifts, with a rookie contract that was reported by spotrac.com to be $9.5 million with a $5 million signing bonus. Did people expect he’d give sweaters or boxes of Godiva chocolate? If anything, Mr. Jackson is underpaid, and we sure hope the Ravens give him a raise given his record-breaking performance this year.
The criticism of Mr. Jackson suggested he should have skipped gifts and given the money to charity, but I don’t see anyone looking to see what charities NFL owners, mostly white men, donate to, and they make much more money than the players like Mr. Jackson, who are the ones who attract the fans to the stands.
And just because athletes are in the spotlight doesn’t obligate them to serve as de facto philanthropists or role models, though Mr. Jackson apparently does. He gave $25,000 to a program called Blessings in a Backpack and hosts an annual free event called “Funday with LJ," for children in his hometown. And that is just what I found from a quick Google search. There could be plenty of other ways he gives back. So he can buy a Rolex and give money to charity. The two are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, at least one study, by W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy, found that African Americans donate a larger share of their income to charities than other races, particularly to black churches. African Americans who don’t have the same family and legacy wealth as white Americans are also likely to be helping struggling family members, something that isn’t calculated as traditional charitable giving.
I am proud to have Mr. Jackson playing for our hometown football team. While his presence doesn’t rid the city of its ills — crime, poverty, political corruption — we can celebrate him for teaching us all about hard work, modesty and remaining classy amid criticism over buying your friends a few watches.