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Everything wrong with Herschel Walker's RNC speech

Aaron S. Bayley

Herschel Walker is an African-American former athlete. But he's not just any former athlete; he's a former NFL star running back, former Olympic bobsledder, and former mixed martial artist. Growing up in a Christian household, Walker overcame a speech impediment and graduated high school as valedictorian. He claims not to lift weights, but does over 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 sit-ups a day, a training regimen he began as a teenager. At 50, he looked fitter than most athletes in their 30s. Walker's work ethic, perseverance, and achievements are, by any measure, extraordinary.

Walker's legacy is inspirational, but it's not unblemished. Upon retiring from the NFL, Walker dealt with anger issues and once put a gun to his wife's head. He was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), described by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder of two or more distinct personality traits or an experience of possession.

Walker is also a Republican and friend to Donald Trump. There is no doubt that he sincerely believed everything he said during his speech on August 24, the first night of the Republican National Convention. The speech was almost surely not written by him, but that point is moot. As a whole, it was full of platitudes and ambiguities that don't hold up under scrutiny. Let's start at the beginning.

"I'm not an actor, a singer, or a politician."

Walker begins his speech with a vaguely condescending remark. By stating that he's not an actor (i.e., a Hollywood celebrity), a singer, or a politician, he implies that his viewpoint is more credible. But he doesn't explain what, in particular, makes a former athlete's opinion more valuable than that of an actor, singer, or politician. Should we take his statement as a denunciation of legendary actor and Obama critic Clint Eastwood, or of red-meat Republicans and rock stars Ted Nugent and Kid Rock? And if we are not to trust politicians, is it because they are all two-faced? What does that say then, of Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Lindsey Graham? Should we not trust these Trump sycophants and loyalists every time they open their mouths, or do they get a pass because they play for the right team? Walker tells us what he's not, but in doing so, he opens himself up to hypocrisy.

"I'm also a father, a man of faith, and a very good judge of character."

Here, Walker implies that being a father is morally superior to not being a father. And by telling us he's a man of faith, he in fact tells us nothing. History shows us countless Evangelical pastors who claim to be men of faith while proving to be men of low character. Jerry Falwell Jr., the disgraced Evangelical and cuckold who sat in a corner and watched a pool boy have sex with his wife, is only the latest example. As far as being a good judge of character, that is empirically false when it comes to Donald Trump. The one thing Trump's detractors and supporters (at least the one's who are honest) agree on is his absolute lack of a moral compass. By all objective measures, Trump lacks integrity, honesty, humility, decency, courage, compassion, and responsibility; all hallmarks of a person of strong character. Just in the past four years alone, it would be easy to find explicit examples of how Trump failed at demonstrating each of these traits. By claiming he's a good judge of character, Walker says more about himself than he does about Trump.

"I watched him treat janitors, security guards, and waiters the same way you would treat a VIP."

Presumably, Walker is using this stock example as proof of Trump's character. But why should it be considered some great moral achievement that somebody would treat janitors, security guards, and waiters the same way they treat a "VIP"? Ordinary, decent people do this every day. If anything, this is an embarrassing admission.

In one of the RNC's propaganda set pieces designed to make Donald Trump look like a human being capable of empathy, the president stood in a circle among frontline workers and asked each one to talk about themselves. When one of the women said she was a custodian who works at the post office, Trump asked, "What do you do exactly?" Trump might not know what a custodian does, but at least he treats them well, according to Walker.

"Growing up in the Deep South, I've seen racism up close, and it isn't Donald Trump."

Does Walker think Trump isn't a racist because he has never called him the n-word? Does Walker not understand the distinctions between blatant racism, covert racism, casual racism, and accidental racism? Trump may have not kept African-Americans as slaves, but he did his best to take his Manhattan properties off the market to ensure blacks couldn't move in. Walker seems to think that if you don't use the n-word (which, if Trump's sister and former lawyer are to be believed, isn't even true) you're not a racist. It takes a healthy amount of gullibility and willful ignorance to believe that Trump isn't a racist, but Walker shows himself to be up for the task.

"Just because someone loves and respects the flag, our national anthem, and our country, doesn't mean they don't care about social justice."

There are plenty of Americans who respect the flag, the national anthem, and their country while also caring about social justice, but Trump is not one of them. Besides, what exactly does it mean to love and respect the flag? The flag is a piece of cloth. Sure, it's a potent symbol embodying the powerful idea of justice and democratic principles, but Trump tramples over those principles nearly every day.

"He shows how much he cares about social justice in the black community through his actions."

This line is so ridiculously false it was likely included just to trigger the left. Trump's actions have been to the detriment of the black community. Tellingly, Walker can't name one thing Trump has done for the black community. His vague "actions" is sufficient evidence for his perfunctory audience.

"He keeps right on fighting to improve the lives of black Americans, and all Americans."

See above.

"He leaves nothing on the field. Some people don't like his style; the way he knocks down obstacles that get in the way of his goals. People on the opposing team didn't like when I ran over them either! But that's how you get the job done."

Sports fans will appreciate Walker's attempt to paint Trump as a cutthroat, conquering hero who will do whatever it takes to win. This is true, if "winning" is defined by lining his own pockets at the expense of the American people. Trump has no goals other than to enrich himself. Walker's "Trump-as-athlete" metaphor is a lazy analogy that has no basis in reality.

"Give him four more years. He has accomplished so much almost all by himself under constant attack."

Walker appropriates Trump's "Woe is me!" mantra meant to make us sympathize with him, but instead demonstrates Trump's persecution complex and impotence as a leader. Authentic leaders get things done without whining about obstacles. But what has Trump done, specifically? Again, Walker is vague on details.


Herschel Walker is a racist politician's dream: He is a black man whose athletic prowess and success as a businessman make him an icon to middle-aged men whose fragile masculinity compel them to cling to a more virile past and be seduced by politicians who promise them the past they crave; he is also a black man whose subservient and deferential behaviour to white authority figures is reminiscent of someone with Uncle Tom syndrome, a pejorative term for African-Americans who assume an appeasing and submissive role when confronted with the threat of white power. Indeed, "UncleTom" was trending on Twitter after Walker's speech. For the racist politician, Herschel Walker is proof positive that he is not a racist, like the white guitar player who asks how he can be racist when he worships Jimi Hendrix.

Walker is oblivious to, or in denial of, the fact that he's being used because as a former NFL star, he is used to being venerated. Hobnobbing with white politicians at charity golf events is par for the course. He seems not to realize that he is loved not for his blackness but because of his celebrity. It's worth remembering that in 2011, Republicans and Fox News criticized President Obama for inviting rapper Common to the White House, simply because he was critical of President George W. Bush. Apparently conservatives and the far-right find Walker's transgression of holding a gun to his wife's head tame by comparison.

The NFL is code for conservatism and enjoys close ties to the military; as a result, black athletes who support conservative or far-right politicians are more likely to come from the NFL. By contrast, the NBA is decidedly more progressive and radical (although former NFL players like Colin Kaepernick are challenging the league's narrative and paying the price). It's unlikely any black current or former NBA players will be as gung-ho as Walker to speak in support of a racist bigot such as Trump. Kaepernick and the NBA's LeBron James could have easily allowed themselves to be wooed and coopted by the establishment; instead, they choose to speak their conscience. Walker chose what was socially and politically expedient.

When Donald Trump points and says, "Look at my African-American!" he's pointing at Herschel Walker.


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