BY RICK TELANDER Sun-Times Columnist
I sense a change in the air. I sense for the first time that Americans -- black, white, brown -- have had enough of the nonsense from the sports and entertainment world, enough of the thuggery and violence in words and deeds disguised as the art of ''being real,'' enough of lawlessness masquerading as social acting out, enough of immoral, discourteous and criminal behavior being tolerated because it is expression or rebellion or anything other than what it is: bad stuff.
I say this in the aftershock of an NFL season that saw so many players arrested, it seemed like a casting call for prison sports.
''It has to stop,'' said Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, steward of a team with nine players arrested in 13 months. ''It's ridiculous.''
I make my observation with the foul stench of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas redolent in the air, with the January shooting death of the Denver Broncos' Darrent Williams still lingering, with the questioning of Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam ''Pacman'' Jones for his alleged involvement in a hideous brawl and multiple shootings at the Vegas strip club Minxx right there for all to stare at and gag upon.
The cult of lawlessness that has made some black American neighborhoods as dangerous as Baghdad, that has made many of our inner-city schools resemble locked-down gang fortresses, that has created an atmosphere that terrifies law-abiding mothers and fathers into cowering behind locked doors at night, fearful of the stray bullet that might choose one of their children -- this has reached critical mass.
For the first time in my writing career, I see learned, thoughtful, civicly aware African-American sportswriters saying that this behavior -- even if it stems from the historic seeds of poverty and injustice and racism -- is appalling and enough.
Excuses be damned, the writers are saying, a la Bill Cosby. It is wrong. And it is cutting the soul from our people.
''We have a problem in the black community, and it didn't make its debut at All-Star Weekend in Vegas,'' writes AOL.com sports columnist Jason Whitlock, a black man whom I admire and consider a friend. ''What was impossible to ignore in Vegas was on display in Houston, Atlanta and previous All-Star locations.''
Whitlock, a large, intimidating-looking fellow who played Division I football and was nauseated by the thug posturing in Vegas, goes on to say that with the exception of Louis Farrakhan's 1995 Million Man March, black thuggishness ''has been on display nearly every time we've gathered in large groups to socialize in the past 15 years or so.''
His name for the criminals and malevolent poseurs who show up to ''ruin our good time''?
The Black Ku Klux Klan.
'Our silence empowers them'
In one of the strongest, most fearless statements of post-Civil Rights disgust you will read anywhere, Whitlock writes, ''instead of wearing white robes and white hoods, the new KKK has now taken to wearing white T's and calling themselves gangsta rappers, gangbangers and posse members.
''Just like the White KKK of the 1940s and '50s, we fear them, keep our eyes lowered, shut our mouths and pray they don't bother us. Our fear makes them stronger. Our silence empowers them. Our excuse-making ... increases their influence.''
Of course, the concern of any black journalist who criticizes his people is that racially repressive whites will smirk in agreement while offended blacks will scream in betrayal.
But what Whitlock is saying is that the perpetual-victim thing isn't working, doesn't work for anyone, that all Americans suffer when facts are cloaked in agenda and ethics are colored by self-interest.
He has company.
Newsday sports columnist Shaun Powell, an elegant African-American writer whose column on the death of his brother at the Pentagon on 9/11 is one of the most beautiful eulogies I've ever read, is fed up, too.
Powell, a longtime friend, has a book coming out next fall dissecting the modern American sports world through the lens of black America, and I have read the manuscript and it's stunning.
Powell makes no apologies to black society or white society for his conclusions.
In the still-untitled book, he takes everything and everyone to task for the dilemma he sees in the increasingly diverse and wealthy and yet impoverished and violent black world, from pseudo-science to rappers to adoring sports fans to technology to the loss of interest in the goals of late civil-rights heroes Rosa Parks and Arthur Ashe.
''I don't know if [certain other black writers] could have written the book,'' he told me the other day. ''They have too many people to protect.''
No need for amazement
Whitlock makes the same point, somewhat crudely, writing that ESPN's reporters, black or white, wouldn't tell us about the ''carnage'' at All-Star Weekend because they ''were embedded in the rear ends of the troops -- Shaq, Kobe, King James, D-Wade, Al and Melo.''
There reportedly are videos showing Pacman Jones slugging people, including a woman, at the Minxx, even biting a bouncer. This was before someone allegedly in his group started shooting to kill.
NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said recently he was surprised that player representatives have asked the union to crack down on criminal players.
''What's amazing about [the reps] that were here is that they are very, very concerned about all this,'' Upshaw said.
Why is that amazing?
Hating anarchy should have nothing to do with profession or status.
And certainly not with color.