Give U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) credit for his finely honed ability to deploy a racial dog whistle with skill and speed that would make President Trump blush.
On Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the NCAA announced that it was beginning the unprecedented process of allowing student-athletes to profit from their names and images, Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, took to Twitter to assure many that he was as invested as they were in keeping upward mobility as far away from as many African Americans as possible.
“If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income,” Burr wrote in a post. “I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to ‘cash in’ to income taxes.”
Burr, 60, knows how racial perceptions play to the “we’re losing our country” crowd — the Southern, heartland and “working-class white” voters who’ll drive past a 7-Eleven and see non-English-speaking Brown people waiting for rides to do jobs they would never do yet swear that those same folks are stealing opportunities from their children in college.
The Bible Belt politician is well-versed in identifying what does and does not resonate with the Southern white voter, especially those who subscribe to the absurd belief that they struggle through life as equally yoked by the weight of discrimination as do people of color.
When Burr tweeted his nonsense, he likely relied on the polling conducted in February by Morning Consult. In a survey of 2,201 US adults, Morning Consult found that 55% of Black respondents supported paying student athletes a salary compared to a much smaller group of whites (31%).
This discrepancy is obviously borne out of the optics created by the billion-dollar industry that is college sports. The two money-makers are football and basketball, for which the overwhelming majority of the athletes are African American. Turn on March Madness, the NCAA’s annual men’s basketball tournament, and you’ll see prestigious schools like Duke or UCLA represented by a majority of Black players.
You know what this looks like to that foggy mind driving past those migrant workers at the 7-Eleven waiting to go pick strawberries for $5 an hour? A much better form of their distorted interpretation of welfare, one where Blacks not only get a free education but now will be given the opportunity to make money off of their images.
Burr is actually insulting the intelligence of his flock. Who in their right mind thinks that the income earned by these athletes off of their names and images wouldn’t be taxed?
In reality, the NCAA’s plan sounds like a smart capitalistic concept on entrepreneurship tailored for a transforming economy, something that would be best conveyed by professors at the business schools of Harvard, Penn and Stanford.
However, to the irredeemably bigoted — Burr and the president’s target audience — anything perceived as giving the pretense that it may it help African Americans close the unseemly wealth gap between the races is simply unacceptable.
Surely there are students of all races on academic scholarships who are also working part-time or full-time jobs to earn extra income. Why, then, is Burr not suggesting that they, too, have their scholarships taxed?
It’s simple. Many who hold those stereotypes about the migrant workers and athletes also hold the same stereotypes around academics. In the myopic minds of those Hillary Clinton labeled a “basket of deplorables,” Black and brown people aren’t going to college on academic scholarships — those are things that only whites and Asians do. The Black student-athletes helping to rake in hundreds of millions are to be seen and not heard, nothing more than sub-human grunts who, had it not been for their athletic gifts, never would have seen the inside of a college classroom.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinions on phillytrib.com.