"Oh T.O., Say It Ain't So!"

As 2010 comes to a close, I've spent some time thinking about the most significant, relational breakthroughs in my marriage over the last 12 months: witnessing my husband's first sweater purchase at H&M; our failed, tag-team attempt to grab one of Derek Jeter's balls (yes, we we're at a Red Sox game); and most importantly, the hours we've spent bonding over sports in the comfort of our Jennifer's Convertible three-seater.

To whom and to what do we owe our newest love language?  Reality television and the proliferation of melodramatic athletes.  Namely The T.O. Show, Basketball Wives, Kendra, and The Micheal Vick Project (and Football Wives to a lesser extent...and Keeping Up with the Kardashians...and Lala's Full Court Wedding...and Real Houswives of Atlanta...just to name a few).  Because of these shows, in the last twelve months I've gone from referring to Terrell Owens as "that dude that does the Campbell Chunky Soup commercials with his mom," to predicting Shaq's next surprise Boston appearance before Shaq even knows!  No longer do I suck my teeth, roll my eyes, and sigh when I turn on my television and find it on ESPN (which happens EVERY SINGLE DAY), but I actually enjoy a few Come on Man segments before moving on to Oprah or 60 Minutes.

Basically, I'm interested in all the stuff about sports that has nothing or very little to do with the game.  Who cares about irrelevant statistics like, "DeLaSoul TreMarquis Johnson is the fifth NBA player in the last ten years to dribble with both hands while blinking twelve times in the 1st quarter!"  What I want to know is:  Is he a good husband?  Do his kids like him?  Does he even acknowledge he has kids? Does he owe child support? Back taxes? Does he have a closeted foot fetish?  An anger management problem?  An unusually close relationship with his psychiatrist?  A panache for colorful post-game press conferences?  A forthcoming rap single?  A country album?  And then there's the laughs I get from some of borderline homoerotic commentary, calls, and behavior that takes place in professional sports.  During some games I've noticed booty-slapping, rubbing and kissing of sweaty, bald heads (ew), and calls like "illegal back entry" (I swear that's what I heard), and commentary like "Shaq is big enough to control the penetration."

But I have managed to follow the athletic achievements of two athletes that everyone loves to hate: T.O. and Ochocinco (I am still waiting for the two of them to announce that they have both changed their legal names to "TOchoinco").  And speaking of T.O., it only took about three episodes of his show before I sensed the less than enthusiastic support of his interracial relationship from his two best friends and publicists, Monique and Kita:

"Terrel acts like he’s embarrassed to be seen with me with my hair scarf and pins but I could care less. I traveled five and a half hours.  Honestly, black is beautiful and he needs to get used to it because he will be with a black woman one day."

"When there's a knock at the door Mama Marilyn walks in; this is a time I wouldn't even want to be Keri.  Here she is a six foot tall, brunette white girl she's got five family members staring her down."

"I mean, and you’re right and it’s not even to throw in the race card, but I just think, you know, at the point where he is in his life he needs a strong black woman. He needs a woman that’s a reflection of who he is."

My initial reaction?  In the words of the great philosopher Ochocino: "Child please!"  But then again, I obviously don't know T.O. or his dating history as well as his best friends.  I also think there is a general perception that when a successful, black man, particularly a professional athlete (one of the more highly visible images of black men projected in mass media), chooses to date a woman who is not black, that decision is essentially a rejection and betrayal of all black women everywhere, including his black, biological momma (I'll talk about this more in a future post: "Why I'm Still a Jill Scott Fan").  

In my days as a single woman with no interest in getting married, my mom and her friends would set me up on dates with eligible Nigerian bachelors (basically any Nigerian man they knew under 30 that was in medical school), hoping we'd hit it off, make a nice Nigerian home, make Nigerian babies, and listen to our in-laws speak Yoruba to each other all day and night.  Sadly, I spent most of my time at those dates zoning out, watching the television in the background and thinking to myself  "I can't believe I'm missing 60 Minutes for this!" and trying to figure out exactly why they even wanted to marry a Nigerian girl when they 1) did not seem to realize they were African and 2) had no interest in anything remotely to do with Africa.  Then I'd come home and call my husband--my friend at the time--to vent about everything that went down.  And now he finds himself eating jollof rice and pounded yam (with his hands, no fork!) like nobodies business.  Funny how life works sometimes.

So the only litmus test I hold out when it comes to love, no matter the color, is whether this person is going to embrace all of the real me (including my big, loud, African family) or just some nebulous idea of me?  Like one of T.O.'s ex-love interests (who happens to be black) put it:

"It is so wrong. Because, I date outside my race. I am an equal opportunists lover. Love knows no color.  And Terrell shouldn’t be put into a box of just trying to date a black woman because you know, people feel like he should. No! I tell him all the time, you need to date who you are happy with."

Enough said.

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