Before reality television reigned supreme on every Viacom network, a little unknown channel called MTV gave us the show we deserved. It was called Rock and Jock! And it was good. What it offered was simple, celebrities and athletes in one venue raising money (ratings, really) for a local charity (fledgling and failing network, really). What it gave the few homes privileged enough to have cable though: Peak. Fucking. Blackness. At a time when rocking Africa medallions was the thing to do! How you compete with that?!
Although to be real, the first iteration of Rock and Jock clearly had no intention of bringing the hood to the softball park (as denoted by the name of the damn show and having Sammy Hagar and Sam Kinneson (rest his screaming soul) as coaches, with Kevin Costner. The 90s tried really hard to turn everything on its head: people wore their pants backward, “Bitch” became a radio friendly word (shout out to Meredith Brooks), the nerd was the cool person on sitcoms, and a counterculture cable network called MTV was a respected journalistic gem.
The fact that the sentence, “Queen Latifah steals the ball from Shawn Kemp and scores the fast break shot!” even exists is all the reason we need to give retroactive props to Rock and Jock. The MTV Sports spectacle was the primary reason to watch any of the Summer programs. You vibed to MTV Jams, but you were really just waiting for Cam’Ron to beat N’Sync three-on-one and take David Arquette’s ankles home in a pink Burberry tote bag.
For the public at large, seeing these larger than life celebs from various backgrounds was freaking mind-blowing. On the flip side of that, are hip-hop heads, who never get to see their cultural icons out of the character of their performances. We never got to see them just be people!
Watching Nelly show off by running a touchdown off the return kick AND THEN end zone dances to Juvenile’s booty appreciation anthem “Back That Ass Up” while the music video is playing side-by-side with him? Awesome. Mind you, I was NEVER a fan of his music, but I was like, “Damn, your boy got the boosters though.” Watching Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, and Mack 10 play softball, in LA, and smiling and shit!?!? Astronomical. The classic East/West pic with Snoop, Dre, Meth, Redman, and randomly K-Ci? Necessary af for the culture.
Honestly, that was almost ‘never-before-seen’ in the public sphere, prior to that day in 1999! You know how good that was for Hip-Hop after losing ‘Pac and Big? Rock and Jock, perhaps unbeknownst to itself, assisted in bridging what was becoming a deadly gap in the culture. I sometimes wonder if the Hard Knock Life and Up In Smoke tours would have been as successful without the cross regional networking of Hip-Hop and R&B artists at Rock and Jock events.
Honorable Mentions: Young Leo DiCaprio catching bodies on the court with the Tim Hardaway-type crossover; Dean Cain rocking the Superman cape and using JTT (don’t ask why I know Jonathan Taylor Thomas by that acronym) as a prop for dunking; Brady Anderson’s behind the back, no-look catch of Mack 10’s pop-up hit; and the not-at-all-subtle use of female-bodied celebs as draws for the male gaze to join the ratings frenzy (yeah, I said some obvious shit, say something!).
Out of sheer love, I’m hit y’all with the YouTube hyperlink for the Rock and Jock query, some of the complete games are in this queue!Enjoy, and remember what was once awesome about being counter-culture: Peak. Fucking. Blackness. MTV Rock and Jock was brought to you by the 90s, the first decade we got to see our artists and athletes shake off the pressure of being celebrities of color and just be themselves. It was a revelation, and it was fun AF to watch.