“Flair, style and temerity have always been apparent in black athletes. It dates so far back that it’s etched in their DNA,” writes Yvens Tiamou
“We shine because they hate us, floss ’cause they degrade us
We tryna buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we’ll stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a ni**a in a coupe”
These are lyrics extracted from Kanye West’s All Falls Down, a song when stripped down for what it is presents a sentence that speaks on even if a black person is successful in life, brushing shoulders with the wealthy, buying items that connote affluence, even with all this, at the end of the day to many, they’re still just a “n***a in a coupe.”
Racism has yet to yield its poisonous presence from our societies, as it jumps from one old ecosystem to another, adapting to it using sinister means. Though, this isn’t an article about racism, it is however important to use it as a springboard towards the main purpose of this piece.
- natural ability to do something well:
- a situation in which something is done in an exciting and interesting way:
Manchester United raised the curtain on their 2017/18 Premier League campaign dismantling a West Ham team in savoury fashion (4-0) – thanks to the shine emitted from their black excellence. It was the flair, the pace and the strength, well mixed together like Grandma’s stew that proved too spicy for Slaven Bilic’s side to stomach.
The bigger the spotlight, the more ebullient their shine is and that is exactly how United’s big-money signings – Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku – played. Pogba exuded a conveyor belt of flair, lolling his body right and left, bypassing his suitors like a perfectly floated combination emitted from the gloves of an experienced boxer. He found the smallest of crevices in the West Ham defence, which he exploited effortlessly. He was mesmerising, though, that is what encompasses the Frenchman. His blonde streak in the side of his head stands out just as much as his erected stature. It was almost cruel watching Mark Noble futilely expend his efforts at dispossessing Pogba off the ball.
And what of Lukaku? The man that sent waves across the country, decreeing that he needed a bigger club to come for him, for his talents to bear more fruit. Well, there’s no bigger stage than Old Trafford, The Theatre of Dreams, where he scored a brace on his home debut. If you thought Pogba’s mastery on the ball impaled West Ham’s defence to a longitude of frailty, Lukaku’s pace and guile off the ball took what was left of that frailty and smashed it into smithereens.
And when he would score his goals, he would stand a gargantuan figure, staring sternly into the crowd that frenzied in front of him, stoic but gave off the impression of, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
The braggadocious style emitted from these two players is nothing new. Flair, style and temerity have always been apparent in black athletes. It dates so far back that its etched in their DNA with a permanent marker, as if to say, “I’m so confident that I’m going to be great, that I am going to write this in permanent ink.”
But when did it begin? Where was the first sighting of flair?
Was it when Usain Bolt would start off so poorly in races? Inspiring false hope into the minds of his competitors, before snatching it away from them, by not only catching up with them, not only surpassing them, but having the panache to jog the last 30 meters of the track – whilst his once hopeful competitors, wore a layer of protruding veins on their faces, futilely trying with all their might to close the gap.
Was it when Michael Jordan came up with a premonition of how many points he would score – 40 – against a Miami Heat team, and proceeded to verbally count down from that total with every shot he made? Steve Smith was the unfortunate defender that had the nightmare job of defending Jordan, enduring his savage bravado. Though it wasn’t until Jordan got to zero that Smith realised what he was doing. It was flair coalesced with the most blatant disregard of Jordan’s competition, but it was a recipe that still produced mouth-watering brilliance. And when he would stick out his tongue, the world knew tacitly that sheer mastery was about to be displayed.
Or was it when Odell Beckham Jr. made that ridiculous one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys? Not to do him an injustice, it was actually two fingers and a thumb that caught that ball. Nevertheless, it will go down as one of the greatest catches in NFL history. It wasn’t a fluke either. He practices those catches before every game in warm-ups. But who even has the gull to practice catching with a couple digits of their fingers? Odell.
The genesis of flair can be traced even back further, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. Flair has always been ubiquitous amongst black athletes. Which begs the question: Where would sports be without the Black Athlete? What would the face of sports look like if integration in sports never went ahead?
Flair is not just showmanship. If you trace the contours of flair with your fingers, you will feel the phenomena of brilliance and black excellence. Man United’s 4-0 win over West Ham was merely just another reminder of this.
Despite all this, things can still come crumbling down with a gentle blow from the wind. As Kanye said:
“Even if you in a Benz, you still a ni**a in a coupe.”
Words by Yvens Tiamou