INSIDE Chico State
0 December 13, 2001
Volume 32 Number 8
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Penalty Flag Down on Do-Rags

Vernon Andrews

‘Just because you own the team, [do] you get to make the rules for all of those who play the game?’

-Vernon Andrews CSU, Chico alum

photo by: Kathleen Mcpartland

“Do-rags,” spandex-like head gear currently popular, especially among African Americans, were recently voted unacceptable attire for all players in the National Football League. All but one of the teams’ owners voted to ban the do-rags because the owners perceived the caps to be symbols of gang membership. In response to that vote, Vernon Andrews, professor of American studies, CSU, Chico graduate, and World Cup Rugby player, asks, “Should it follow that just because you own the team, you get to make the rules for all of those who play the game?”

In a standing-room-only Conversation on Diversity presentation held with CSU, Chico faculty and students on Nov. 11, Andrews, whose sociological research focuses on sport as a metaphor for the larger culture, argued that American cultural institutions are still not truly open to all American citizens. Instead, they “cripple” many people and need to undergo a broad, democratic redefinition. Andrews holds that American laws and codes of conduct and belief, originally framed by white, heterosexual, Protestant, male governors, today compose a long-standing cultural tradition that has not been challenged for hundreds of years.

In the abstract to his forthcoming book, Black Bodies, White Control, Andrews writes, “... there still remain in place deeply entrenched, ‘traditional’ ways of evaluating verbal and nonverbal behavior and social actions based primarily on ... English codes of manners and civility, the Protestant work ethic, and other socio-historical constructions. These constructions and codes of conduct have tended to be exclusionary and resistant to change from any but those of similar power and ideological focus.”

Andrews reminded his audience to consider for a moment in what low regard African Americans have held American tradition historically, since, to begin with, their ancestors were sold into slavery in its name.

Appearance, grooming, and style are powerful, culturally traditional vehicles used to make public statements. Certain grooming and style practices among African American male athletes challenge dominant cultural notions of what is “male.” It is common practice, for example, for black males to have their nails manicured, noted Andrews. In fact, one team member of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons owns several successful manicure salons, he pointed out. Many African American males, athletes among them, also enjoy wearing more jewelry than white American males customarily wear. The differences in approach to such forms of self-expression raise questions about traditional notions of masculinity for many white American males and cause them discomfort. It’s a question of perception—or misper-ception— Andrews would say.

Another form of self-expression, “end-zone dancing,” is a practice African American male athletes have made when they’ve scored touchdowns. National Football League players are penalized if they exhibit this type of behavior in a game because it is not viewed as traditionally appropriate, sportsmanlike behavior. The predominantly white male team owners want the game played as it has always been played, according to tradition, said Andrews. He pointed out that 67 percent of the National Football League players are African Americans who don’t share the owners’ same sense of tradition. Magnify such examples of cultural conflict, and it is easy to see that the problem is enormous and pervasive.

And so, according to Andrews, it is time for everyone to call for a time out to learn about and come to appreciate the gamut of needs and cultural values.

Most of us are going to be plenty uncomfortable in this process. “If you have trouble feeling uncomfortable, African Americans can train you; they’ve had plenty of experience!” Andrews said.

Andrews earned his B.A. in English in 1981 and his M.A. in communications in 1989, both from CSU, Chico, and then earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is currently a tenured professor in the American Studies Program at the University of Canterbury at Christchurch, New Zealand, and has taken a year’s sabbatical to work on his book, teach a course in sports sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, and revisit his alma mater and former professors. “I have done hours of sociological research at Madison Bear Garden in my time,” Andrews said, smiling.

Andrews’s work can be viewed as calling for a time out; he brings his audience into an intellectual and emotional huddle to discuss and begin to understand these far-reaching issues. When the ball goes back into play, the play is up to us.

Note: Andrews would be happy to correspond with anyone who wishes to do so via e-mail: amst025@it.
canterbury.ac.nz

Sue Reynolds

 

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