I am trying to avoid the media blitz on the Superbowl and anybody keen to enthuse about all the “amazing” commercials. But sometimes I can’t look away. One trope gets me every time. It involves The New York Times and Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. Last week The Times did a profile of Kiwanuka. It recounts his tragic family history back in African: he’s the grandson of Uganda’s first prime-minister, Benedicto Kiwanuka, who was murdered by Idi Amin. Here’s what interesting: Basically the same story was published about Kiwanuka last week, in the Times in 2007 and before that in 2006. Like that’s the only story to tell about Kiwanuka.
Times reporter Sam Borden has certainly pulled out his best hushed prose for this one.
“Two years ago, Kiwanuka traveled to Uganda during the N.F.L. off-season. He was joined by some family members and a former teammate, linebacker Kawika Mitchell. Kiwanuka had been to Uganda before — he went for the first time in third grade — but this trip was different. Instead of being shocked by the sights and smells of a struggling society as he was when he was a boy, he wanted to use his fame and money to help. His goal, he told Mitchell, was to bring clean, running water to a school in the village where his mother’s family lived.
Mitchell recalled arriving at the school and being stunned. Many of the buildings seemed to be fashioned out of clay, he said, and in one corner of a classroom was a stream of termites eating their way through the floorboards.
The children, though, flocked to Mitchell and Kiwanuka. They did not know about the N.F.L., did not know about where these men had come from. “They just knew we were trying to help them,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview.”
Termites indeed! The linebackers – already holding their noses to ward off the stench of a struggling society – must have been scared out of their wits.
At least the children were good enough to be absolutely knowledgeless, just cute little embodiments of gratitude, which is of course how it has to be.
Kiwanuka is probably much more thoughtful than the Times makes him out to be, but it seems the only way to sustain interest in the lives of mostly African and African American football stars is to either talk about their personal tragedy or else to show how moved they are by the plight of other black people. (Kiwanuka, incidentally grew up in Indiannapolis.)
The media (and the NFL for promotional purposes) have noticed that their more players who are the children of African immigrants. And the template–as we can see, for example, in this piece on Nnamdi Asomugha, Madieu Williams and Ndamukong Suh on CNN from about 2 years ago–is to express or mediate the Africanness of these players, not as sportsmen, butthrough the practice of a reassuringly Western kind of life-touching-humanitarian-philanthropic-giving-back-charity work.
And I’ve just heard that Madonna’s going to be singing at half time.
* I can’t vouch for everyone else here on AIAC. Sean, for example, plans to watch some of it, though not Madonna or the commercials.