Donovan McNabb is a black quarterback--actually, he's probably the most prominent black quarterback in the NFL right now. Furthermore, racist stereotypes and the quarterback position have a long, ugly history; as Lloyd Vance writes, "African American Quarterbacks in their history have been shunned, converted to other positions, fought for inclusion, stereotyped (Drastic Misconceptions about the Leadership and Intelligence of African American Quarterbacks) and chased opportunities in other leagues."
So, given the history of racism and stereotypes involving black quarterbacks, don't you want to know what the most prominent black quarterback in the NFL thinks about race and the position? And if he answers honestly that he thinks race is still a factor in the treatment of quarterbacks, isn't that worth listening to?
Why would we want to stifle such a discussion? Why would we accuse him of "playing the race card," as if he's saying something irrelevant? What he's saying is quite important. I want to know what McNabb thinks. I want him to be honest. And I want his opinions to spark legitimate discourse (in which, of course, you're free to disagree with McNabb and argue against what he actually says). What I don't want is for McNabb's opinions to be dismissed, and accusing him of "playing the race card" is an attempt to dismiss his words.
I wish I would never have to hear or read the phrase "the race card" ever again. Of any other cliched figure of speech, it's by far my least favorite.
It's not simply that it's a mindless cliche (which it is). It's that the accusation of "playing the race card" is an attempt to invalidate a discussion. We should have honest discussions about race; discourse on the issue is a method of progress. But to accuse somebody who discusses race of "playing the race card" is to suggest that race isn't a factor, that race shouldn't be discussed in this case, and that the person is injecting race where it doesn't belong.
Accusing somebody of "playing the race card" is an attempt to avoid serious discussion and debate. It's usually used as an attempt (sometimes explicit, sometimes not) to say something like "Donovan McNabb shouldn't be discussing race here" or "McNabb is wrong to bring up the subject of race" or "McNabb should shut up."
Accusing somebody of "playing the race card" is usually an attempt to dismiss an idea rather than address it.
If a person brings up race and says something you disagree with, then explain why. Discuss it, argue it. Address the issue. But don't accuse the person of "playing the race card" as if he/she is trying to actually deflect serious discussion by using race; talking about race is serious discussion. Don't try to invalidate or diminish the person's argument with this cliche.
How can people discuss race, stereotypes, and racism reasonably and honestly? How can people be honest while discussing race? Shouldn't we have reasonable and honest discussions about race? Shouldn't people be honest when they perceive racism? And why should we dismiss or diminish such discussion?
The very figure of speech "the race card" suggests we as a society still have a lot of progress to make; unfortunately, this cliche often prevents that progress from occuring.
Addendum: Cobra Brigade also says that McNabb is right, and that players like McNabb should speak up about the issue.