Emmanuel Acho’s reputation as a thoughtful voice on social issues has gone up in smoke.
Acho, a former Browns and Eagles linebacker, really became a star after his playing career, as an analyst for Fox Sports and the host of the web series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” He’s parlayed that into a Lexus commercial that makes very little sense, a monologue about discomfort and empathy that sounds like the result of a couple too many puffs on a joint.
Deadspin’s Carron Phillips has seen through Acho for a while, writing last August that, “Quite simply, it’s a waste of time. It’s a show designed to make white people believe that ‘uncomfortable conversations’ are the answer — not actions, legislation, or corporate policy.” And, well, it’s made Acho a person whom Lexus is comfortable having as a spokesman, not a gig that a luxury car company is giving to, say, Nikole Hannah-Jones.”
So, if you’ve listened to my colleague, or to other Black voices who have taken a cynical view of the niche Acho has carved out for himself, you might not be so surprised by what happened on Friday, when Acho reacted to the story of Sha’Carri Richardson.
Richardson was hit with a one-month suspension for a failed marijuana test, which will keep her out of the 100 meters at the Olympics. The rising track star smoked weed, which is legal in Oregon, after learning of the death of her biological mother. The problem is that pot is a banned substance in track, and while Richardson took responsibility and accepted her ban, her situation stands in stark contrast to what happened when Michael Phelps got caught smoking pot (albeit not right before the Olympics), or 1998 Olympic snowboard gold medalist Ross Rebagliati, now a dispensary owner. It’s not hard to see that a different standard is applied to a LGBTQ Black woman.
Seems like a good moment for a social activist to point this out, right? Acho had a different take, tweeting, “Legalizing weed in track and field competition is all good if you’re running a straight line. Legalizing weed in track and field is terribly dangerous if you throw the javelin. Where do we draw the line?”
Naturally, Twitter let Acho have it, including NFL players Robert Griffin III and Darius Butler. Acho then went on Fox Sports and talked about “stupid rules” but also about how “you’ve still got to adhere to the stupid rules. … Let’s please not make this racial.” Except, how can you not make it racial when there is a clear double standard for penalties under the stupid rules?
Acho blew up his own spot with this one, but his gaffe speculating about getting high and tossing a javelin does raise one interesting question: What Olympic sport would marijuana be good for? It’s certainly not any of the running events, or anything that requires concentration. It’s also definitely not any of the combat sports. And you certainly don’t want to try any of that horse-jumping stuff while you’re stoned. You might want to say skateboarding, but the answer is a sport that’s making its return to the Olympics this year, baseball. After all, if Dock Ellis can throw a no-hitter on LSD, it’s not hard to imagine a stoner having success. And, it’s the sport where in 2008, one of the Olympic gold medalists was Jung Bong.