A Burden George Karl will Never Understand: on George Karl, Carmelo Anthony and Black Fatherhood

In March 2001, I received a phone call that would change my life.  As a freshman at Southern Illinois University I received a phone call or a voicemail, I cannot recall which one, from my mother telling me not to watch the news.  The news coverage showcased a crime my father was accused of committing and later convicted for, first-degree murder.  A year earlier I had formed my first real bond with my father, meeting him for the first time that I could remember.  I remember looking in his face and finding the piece of me that was missing.  He laughed like me, smiled like me and could command the attention of a room when he told stories, like me.  I found a piece of me that was missing and I was eager to get to know; it was a moment of self-discovery.  Imagine finding a piece of yourself you didn’t know existed at 17 years old, almost the age when the world determines you to be a man.  Unfortunately, this piece of my life was taken away from my life, by his own actions, with a robbery charge two months after my birth and later an attempted murder and murder charges when I was three.  The majority of my life, my father has been incarcerated and will now be for the rest of my life.     

The basis of my story isn’t unique; neither is my father’s a young black boy, growing up without his biological father.  Growing up you’d hear it and see it, households with no father figure.  As real bonds started to form with friends, it was something that we talked about in hushed tones, some of us knew where their father was and some didn’t.  Others longed for their father to return, a white knight on a white horse, while some of us didn’t care to see our fathers again.  Because abandonment is what we felt, it could breed a plethora of emotions from entitlement to pure spite.  The black family in America is an enigma, a country that never wanted our families to thrive.  The design and impact of slavery and its subsequent children: Jim Crow, segregation, welfare, public housing, crack cocaine, mandatory minimums and disproportionate imprisonment of black people all have had devastating effects on the black family. 

George Karl, one of the NBA’s winningest coaches and one of its most hated pulled off his cloak of invisibility to write a book titled Furious George.  In giving an advance copy to the New York Post, George Karl took issue with his players and their relationships with their fathers.  George Karl felt that star players like Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony were impacted by a lack of a father in their home, all while in other sections of the book, he seemingly blasted J.R. Smith’s father for giving his son too much confidence that it bordered on selfishness.  Speaking on Kenyon and Carmelo, George Karl said: Anthony and Martin not having fathers in their lives became a detriment to their personalities and caused them to carry a huge burden.  “Kenyon and Carmelo carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man,” Karl wrote.  All while bringing up every flaw in Carmelo’s life on and off the court.  When asked would he comment yesterday, Carmelo said that he was “past being disappointed” and hopes that Karl finds happiness.      

George Karl proves in this short-sighted assessment that he is the one that still needs his father.  George Karl has been around the NBA for decades, a sport that simply would not survive without black men.  To be around the NBA and come out of it with the assessment that young black men have an exorbitant amount of money and have no father to show them how to act like men, shows that he should never have coached the game.  A coach is often entrusted with a player’s well-being and is put in a place to mold young men; that is a responsibility that comes with the job at all levels, let alone one earning millions of dollars to do it.  As a man, when you see a young man trying to find his place in the world, you are called to action.  Show a young man a much-needed lesson, how to tie, pick out the right suit or how to manage fame and fortune if you’ve had it before him, clearly areas where George Karl chose to criticize instead of act.   

When I first started my career, I worked for a major corporation and I was clearly the one of the youngest employees in the building.  I was in my 20’s and men saw me and took me under their wing.  I learned life lessons from a group of men and learned how to behave as a professional.  They gave me tools to succeed, while empowering me at the same time, this group of men served as my unofficial coaching staff.  Bringing some of the best parts out of me while teaching me how to exploit my weaknesses and giving me responsibility.  I learned more in one year of working with these men than I did in many years of life, I am eternally grateful for them as they provided me with life lessons at 26 that my father was not around to provide.  For George Karl to have Carmelo Anthony for six years and not have this kind of impact should serve as a mirror to George Karl and his own abilities or the lack thereof.

In 2016, I’m surrounded by men who are excellent fathers.  Many of them whom did not have father’s in their life.  No blueprint, no in-home training, just a pool of knowledge from people around them, mentors like I had and wisdom from Cliff Huxtable and Uncle Phil.  They did not have a father at home but they do their best.  Around the NBA people have sounded off about Kenyon and Carmelo and you have not heard testaments from their peers or other former coaches like George Karl has decided to spew in his book.  You have heard admiration for how they made it out of circumstances that leave many crippled.  How they are changing the narrative of their family tree by being great fathers, present in their children’s lives despite the grind of a NBA schedule.  You will hear about Carmelo’s impact and commitment to his son and his people.  If George Karl could not help the young black men that he coached by being a father figure, then maybe he was not the man he thought he was.  But I will give George Karl credit for one thing: he was absolutely right in saying that Kenyon and Carmelo carried a burden by growing up without a father, unfortunately that burden was too heavy for him to help lift and for him to understand. 

P.S.: My posts are always best read with a soundtrack, the soundtrack for this post is: J. Cole ft. James Fauntleroy - Born Sinner