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Re-Framing the Fatherhood Narrative in Sports: Why We Needed Riley Curry

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There are several lasting images from the Golden State Warriors run to become the 2015 NBA Champions; those that stick out to me have far less to do with a Stephen Curry three-point shot or one of those ferocious dunks Harrison Barnes unleashed in game 6. Instead, the look on Andre Iguodala’s son Andre Jr., as it was announced that his dad was the Finals MVP. It was priceless, a rare glimpse into the humanity of the athletes we revere and revile, admiring their near-superhuman feats, while casually tossing aside their lives outside of their respective arenas.

The other impressions came from earlier in their title run, when Riley Curry, Stephen’s two-year-old daughter began to join him at the postgame press conferences. She was rambunctious, full of personality and life, feisty, fun, but not afraid of the cameras or the strange men talking to her father. In fact, it seemed to be just the two of them in that room, everyone else was furniture. She was being two-years-old. However, the next week was filled with conversations about professionalism and criticism of her presence, sports and social media weighed in, but everyone seemed to miss the real point.

We needed to see Riley Curry with Stephen Curry. Much in the way we needed Andre Iguodola Jr. on that platform and we need Bryce and LeBron James Jr. in more commercials with their father. The perception of Black fatherhood in the media and in the streets is that of absenteeism, so to see Black athletes at the pinnacle of their profession sharing these moments with their children is something we need to applaud, not police. Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and others have brought their children to the press conferences in years past and they even participated, but none stole the show like Riley Curry, which undoubtedly led to the conversation of the appropriateness of children in those settings. Curry, a second-generation NBA player and current MVP, eschews family values unlike many players in the league. How many cutaways did we have his parents and pregnant wife Ayesha? The NBA has it in its best interest to promote that part of Curry’s life, in concert with his evolving game, to build him one of the pillars of the league as Kobe Bryant prepares for retirement.

The league’s current front man, LeBron James, has filmed Sprint commercials with his sons in previous seasons, but they’ve been out of the spotlight during his first season back in Cleveland. Also, we’ve seen very little of his wife and infant daughter Zhuri throughout the season, as he remained focused on bringing a championship to Cleveland. I was hoping LeBron brought his RT_lebron_ml_150226_4x3_992daughter to the podium after game 3 and changed her diaper while answering one of the repetitive asinine questions he’s peppered with.

The importance of seeing these men as fathers in front of a largely white sports media is important, because those are the controllers of the narrative that makes jokes of Shawn Kemp, Antonio Cromartie and others with multiple children by multiple women. Not to mention, the last two sports stories involving Black fathers have been the battle against cancer Devon Still’s daughter Leah is fighting and Adrian Peterson child abuse claims from last year. Yes, we needed a few lighthearted moments with Riley Curry to celebrate the balance these fathers must demonstrate to not miss these pivotal times in their children’s lives.

That media interpretation is important, because that’s what drives the point to those corners of society who otherwise have investment in Black America. I’m hoping against logic that Riley or Andre Jr. make the cover of Sports Illustrated alongside their fathers next issue, which would surely buck the historic sports weekly tradition of showcasing Black athletes and their children. Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds are two of the greatest baseball players of all time, with fathers who played the game at a high level for long time, but they never appeared on the cover with their dads. But Cal Ripken Jr. did. There are also covers featuring Drew Brees, Mark McGwire, Chuck Liddell and Jay Buhner and their sons. The lone time a Black child appears on the cover was a hard-hitting expose on the children born out of wedlock to professional athletes, but disproportionately spotlighting the NBA, the Blackest league of them all.

Understand, I’m not trying to toss the issue aside, but there must be a balance in reporting. To lump such a negative connotation to this small group of people (less than 4000 athletes compete in the four major sports leagues) creates the image that there aren’t many, if any, who are worth celebrating. This same segment of the media has irresponsibly censored which segments of society are worth bringing into the context of sports, largely ignoring issues of race, class and gender bias, because it becomes an indictment on their very industry. But, the four white men who wrote the “Where’s Daddy” article are probably not willing to explore the root of the epidemic and convey that to their subscription base.

Fatherlessness in the Black community has its roots in slavery, when the Black family was first deconstructed and marriage illegal. As time passed, there were policies enacted that denied basic social services to married families and the proliferation of drugs into our communities took many fathers from the households, mothers as well. While the number of single parent household feature a large number of Black and Brown single parents, single parent households as a whole have tripled since 1960. It’s not an athlete thing. It’s a societal thing. But it’s easier to look at it through the narrow lens as an issue concerning people of color, because that’s how the narrative is fostered. Especially when Hallmark is making cards like these.

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