Stephen A. Smith | Using racism as an excuse

Chicago's Tank Johnson answers questions at Super Bowl media day. He is under house arrest and facing 10 firearms charges after a police raid in December. He blames racism for the charges.

Ignorance is not always bliss. Sometimes it serves as a thorn in the side, a hindrance to progress. And never was that more apparent than Tuesday at Super Bowl media day, with the eyes of the world focused on Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith.

Then there was the idiocy and insensitivity of Tank Johnson, who is beyond lucky for being allowed to lounge in South Beach instead of being back in Chicago under house arrest for all of his self-inflicted trials and tribulations.

As the football world became fixated on Super Bowl XLI, inundated with one story after another about Dungy and Smith - the first two African American head coaches in the big game - it became unceremoniously distracted. It wasn't because of stories about Dungy's perseverance, the class both coaches have exuded, or even the reality that as of Sunday night one of them will become the first black coach in NFL history to capture the championship.

No. It was because in the face of such progress, Johnson was allowed to crash the party, diverting attention away from more significant issues because of the same juvenile tendencies that have stymied progress for so many.

He was confined to house arrest, facing 10 firearms charges, after police raided his home in December and discovered everything from a .44-caliber revolver to a .308-caliber Winchester rifle to two assault-style rifles and more than 500 rounds of ammunition. And here's where accountability lies with Johnson:

He blames racism. Not himself.

"A lot of people are demons," Johnson told a bunch of reporters on media day. "You've got to look at it like that. A lot of people are out to get people just to hurt people. I never thought about racism in my whole life. I've never had a person come to me and say anything racist. Now I look at it like, 'Wow, is it because I'm certain things?' I realize people buy into stereotypes. I'm young, black and have tattoos, so it's easy to stereotype me and put me in a category.

"It's easy to clump somebody. When you see me walking down the street, I don't look like you. I don't talk like you. I don't walk like you. It's easy to say, 'He's just like the other people who we see all the time.' I've given you guys opportunities to stereotype me like that. It's unfortunate."

Unfortunate, indeed. For reasons Tank Johnson can't begin to understand.

Because racism, prejudice and all those stereotypes exist, it's not only appropriate to pay attention to them, it's necessary. One's actions, one's deeds, speak louder than his words, which is what Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith have exemplifiedfor quite some time.

When you think of Dungy, you can't help but think of a man who was denied countless opportunities, having waited more than 15 years as an assistant before finally getting his head coaching opportunity. You see the same in Smith, who served time under Dungy in Tampa Bay before becoming the defensive coordinator in St. Louis until he planted his feet in Chicago.

Neither had scrapes with the law. Both were law-abiding, model citizens. Both faced the kind of flagrant bigotry that Tank Johnson merely reads about. But you don't hear that talk coming from them.

Instead, you hear this rhetoric from a man armed as much as some terrorists, acting as if he's living in Beirut instead of Chicago, possessing weapons just a few feet away from his daughters.

Yet, somehow, this is racism.

It's sad.

The game will eventually arrive, of course. Dungy or Smith will hoist the Lombardi Trophy, pay homage, then go on, knowing he has paved a path along the way.

Unfortunately, roadblocks are always a part of the process, and the latest one occurred with Tank Johnson, a symbol for one of the things that are wrong with today's black athlete.

By being at the Super Bowl, spewing his idiocy, refusing to avoid being this kind of distraction, the defensive tackle brought unwanted attention not just upon himself, but also to the issue of why so many African Americans were denied opportunities in the first place.

It was because of the insulting belief that there was a serious lack of intellect where black coaches were concerned, along with a lack of control. Someone was needed to institute discipline and maintain order.

There's no doubt the authorities are the ones who dropped the ball by letting Tank Johnson go to Miami in the first place.

But let's be honest: If he continues to run his mouth and becomes a distraction, and the Bears lose, Johnson will take some of the blame.

Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or

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