Being A Black Man Ain’t Easy: Juwan Howard, The University Of Michigan, and Greg Gard

I stepped inside of University of Michigan men’s head basketball coach Juwan Howard’s shoes for a moment this morning. As I watched the ESPN hit show “Get Up” to catch up with the headlining sports news, one of the earlier stories that made national headlines is the mele’ that happened after the University of Wisconsin versus the University of Michigan men’s basketball game.

The two teams wound up in a brawl initially started when the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach decided to play last second shenanigans at the end of the game when it was over. Instead of letting the clock run out and calling it a game, he decided to prolong the game. By that time, University of Michigan men’s head basketball coach, famed Fab Five former University of Michigan basketball star Juwan Howard, was impatient and fed up.

Instead of shaking the University of Wisconsin men’s head coach Greg Gard’s hand, Juwan tried walking passed him. Greg Gard, a white man, refused to let that happen. He jumped into Juwan Howard’s face demanding his attention — and began arguing with and pushing Juwan Howard. That is where all the bad started to happen. Walking in Juwan’s shoes, I could sense his frustration, his surprise, and him feeling disrespected by Greg Gard. The much shorter, red-faced white man, could have just let Juwan go.

But no, just like racism, just like police brutality, just like economic inequity, just like redlining — all of the things that have been in the way of a Black man having his peace in this country, Greg Gard had to be right there preventing Juwan Howard from having a peaceful night. But we do not look at it this way. All we saw was a tall Black man “losing his temper” and striking an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.

All of what the viewers saw was violence, mayhem, fighting — anger from a mostly Black team — which of course would be the narrative when Black men are involved. It is a shame that we cannot take a step back and see all of the things that were at play. A Black man was simply avoiding a white man, who with his privilege, pride, and ego, intensified the situation. Why did Greg Gard feel the need to provoke Juwan Howard?

I would not be surprised if he got away with what he did. White men in this country have been doing so for years. Greg Gard felt no remorse for what happened and did not at all blame his childish, egotistical, and disrespectful behavior for being the catalyst of the violence at the end of the game. White men needing to grow up during or after such situations has not been a focus at all in professional settings.

Accountability is not a term we can throw at white men who continue to use their pride, their egos, and their privilege to create incidents like this one.

Juwan Howard, on the other hand, received the third degree from ESPN’s Steven A. Smith for doing what he did. Yes, another Black man making another Black man look really bad on national television when all of the evidence has yet to be shared. What did the assistant coach say to Juwan Howard that made him throw a punch? Was what he said racist or very offensive?

The narrative has to always be that we are “angry”. That we do not know how to control our anger; that we are violent; that we are not professional. Why does these narratives need to exist in this situation before all of the evidence is collected? Steven A. Smith should know better. There are many examples of white men doing similar things in professional sports to provoke or antagonize Black men. Steven A. Smith should be adding a more positive narrative to the plight of Black men (and women) in this country.

Should Juwan Howard be fired then that means the narrative continues. It means that white men like Greg Gard will continue getting away with who and what they are, and Black men’s collective peace will be in jeopardy. This is a learning moment for leadership across this country and across the world. When a grown man is stepping aside from whomever might be in the way of his peace, his calm, let that grown man go and everyone will have a better day, a better night.

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Christopher D. Sims

Christopher D. Sims

Writer, performance artist, and activist who writes about racism, anti-Blackness, and human rights struggles. A voice for truth and righteousness.