Project Playbook: Day 2

Last week, I held the second session of Project Playbook at Meeting St Academy. This time, we played flag football, a really fun sport, although I had to heavily emphasize that we would not be doing any tackling. With a group of around eight boys, we started off with some throwing and punting drills. Some kids were able to do these very well, throwing and punting the ball long distances. Others weren’t quite so advanced, so we worked more closely with them to teach them the finer points of the game and to help them learn the skills necessary to play. Then, much to the excitement of our little group, we began to play a full game.

Throughout the afternoon, the students were continuously enthusiastic and engaged. Their excitement made it fun for me to be out there as well, and once again I thoroughly enjoyed myself the entire afternoon. There were many times in which we were able to use certain situations to help emphasize teamwork and sportsmanship. For instance, all four of the players on one team wanted to do the kickoff. In order to settle this little dispute fairly, I held a number between 1 and 10 behind my back and had them guess to determine who would kick off. After one boy had been chosen, the others had to accept this decision and understand that next time around, it would be their turn to kick off. Little instances such as this have made me confident that these kids are truly gaining something from these sessions that will prepare them for years to come. I can’t wait to go back next time, and I’m currently trying to decide which sport to play… as of right now, I’m thinking basketball :)

Racism and Sports in the UN and International Community

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination! What’s more, the 2013 theme for this celebration is “Racism and Sport”… how perfect! As Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon said, “We must join forces to end racism, and sport can help reach this goal. On this International Day, let us recommit to ending racial discrimination and realizing our vision of justice, equality and freedom from fear for all.” This theme was chosen in order to highlight both the ongoing racism present in sports throughout the world and the power of sports to combat racism and racial discrimination.

UN sports

Sports have played such an international role in the past century, from the Olympics to the World Cup, and now the UN is recognizing their importance in promoting peace and equality, two principles upon which sports and human rights are founded. After all, The Olympic Charter even states that the “goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Indeed, various programs instituted in countries throughout the world, especially poverty stricken countries embroiled in conflict, have been instrumental in promoting acceptance, diversity awareness, self discipline, teamwork, and conflict resolution in communities across the globe.

Ban Ki Moon

This day is being promoted by the UN in conjunction with the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is being celebrated by an event in Geneva highlighting this international theme and featuring many influential sports figures from around the world to speak on the topic of racism and sports. The Secretary General delivered this message to the international community: “This year focuses on using the power of sport to end the blight of racism. It is an opportunity to highlight the sharp contrast between the positive values of sports and the despicable incidents of racism that scar even some professional competitions.” Ultimately, the fact that the UN and international nations have recognized the power of sports and the inherent racism that still underlies competition had made me so incredibly happy, and I only wish that I were able to travel to Geneva to celebrate alongside the world’s leaders.

Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing In Sports

Souled OutSouled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing In Sports by Shaun Powell is a meditation that first asks, then answers, many issues concerning the intersection of race, sports, and society. Unlike some of the previous books I read surrounding this topic, this did not really give much historical background on the subject; rather, it was mainly concerned with present-day issues, although Powell does provide some historical references to offer perspective on the subject.

Some of these dilemmas include: the lack of purpose many black athletes and coaches today show in following the lead of such pioneers as Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson; the misuse of Muhammad Ali’s outspoken and fearless legacy; the me-first mindset of many African American professional athletes; the metaphorical glass ceiling confronted by many blacks in coaching and front office positions.

This book also examines the destructive nature that can often underlie sports, and in discussing how blacks are “losing” in sports, Powell reflects upon the extravagant lifestyles many professional African American athletes aspire to, and ultimately attain. Additionally, he covers a topic I have seen represented in many of my readings- the lack of true diversity in management positions. While he discusses the negative effects sports have had, he also wrote about the positives as well, a nice change from the often critical assessments I had read in previous works. Overall, this book proved an excellent addition to my research that reinforced many of the topics and arguments I had investigated in my other books and articles.  

Current Issues in Race and Sports

In past interviews and discussions about my senior project, I’ve had many people ask me about the current status of equality in both sports and society. One woman asked me if I believed that discrimination still exists. Another man asked how power played a role. One man even told me that my historical research took an optimistic view of sports and that I may be overlooking problems that have been caused by sports and that are still part of athletics.

There’s no question that the sports world and our overall society have come a long way since the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. That being said, things aren’t perfect. They probably never will be. Discrimination and racism exist, and sometimes they rear their ugly heads and make us shudder at the ignorance some people can display. And, in response to one of the previous comments, I do think that power plays a huge role. It’s human nature to want to be the best, to feel like you’re on top. To accomplish that, you have to put someone below you. That love of power is what I believe to be the source of a lot of prejudice and racism, especially in sports. In the 1940’s, when baseball was divided between the MLB and the Negro Leagues, didn’t the white players in the MLB feel more powerful than their African American counterparts? Their subversion of black players allowed them to become the premier players in the country and ultimately gave members of the MLB a sense of control and superiority. This sentiment is echoed throughout the history of athletics, proving that this human love of power will have to be fought to establish equality in our country.

While there are still issues of race in sports today, they are of a different nature than those seen in previous decades. African Americans are no longer banned from participating in sports; an athlete won’t be ostracized for speaking out for equality. Instead, the issues are more subtle- a lack of diversity in coaching, particularly in football; the exploitation of black student athletes that has resulted in low graduation rates; an abandonment of the African American community by black athletic stars; a “plantation system” in professional sports in which black athletes work for the economic gain of white owners; the misrepresentation of African American athletes by a predominantly white media. This isn’t outright racism; people aren’t being turned away because of the color of their skin. Rather, the fault seems to partially lie in stereotypes and assumptions that define the place of African Americans in sports.

Take, for instance, the lack of diversity in NFL coaching positions. In today’s offensively minded football systems, the best way to become a head coach is to be an offensive coordinator. The best way to become an offensive coordinator is to play quarterback. However, the position of quarterback has historically been filled by white players. Why? Because it is considered a very cerebral position that requires thought and analysis, instead of pure athletic ability, a trait felt to be best embodied by white players, not black. Just look at three black quarterbacks in the NFL today- Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, and Cam Newton. All three are defined by their remarkable athleticism and running abilities and are rarely praised for their decision making on the field. Even those black quarterbacks that do play in the NFL aren’t considered “smart enough” to eventually become coaches. Ultimately, the stereotypes and prejudice that regarded African Americans as less intelligent and talented than whites has continued, however subtly, today, defining blacks’ place in the game of football and leading to a lack of diversity in coaching.

There are always going to be problems because of race, if only due to the ignorance and stupidity of some people. Sometimes, this will be manifested in sports. At times, it might even be created by sports. That being said, sports have also provided an excellent way to promote equality and acceptance- just look through the rest of this book. We’ve come along way, but there are still obstacles to overcome. As we move forward, the sports world must begin to tackle those racial issues that are more subtle, those that are only undertones to our consciousness. Given the strides we have made in the past decades, I am confident that with a collective conscious effort, we will be able to overcome the racial issues that still exist in sports today.

Project Playbook: Day 1

Wednesday was the first official day of Project Playbook at Meeting Street Academy, and I must say that it was a success! Although the weather was perhaps a bit colder than we would have preferred, the enthusiasm of the kids and our constant movement soon rendered the blustery conditions irrelevant. I decided that our first sport would be baseball, and so first I had to acquire gloves, bats, balls, and bases from the PE department at Ashley Hall. Then I had to get volunteers. I enlisted the help of both Walker Buxton and Eva Ravenel, two students from Ashley Hall who were absolutely wonderful throughout the day.

Once we arrived at Meeting Street Academy, we were matched up with about eight third graders. After introductions, I talked a little bit about Jackie Robinson before we began practicing catching, throwing, and batting with the kids. After they felt comfortable with these aspects of the game, we moved onto a full baseball game featuring the “Lightning Destroyers” vs. the “Bulldogs”. Then, at the very end, we had a short discussion about teamwork and sportsmanship, and I gave one of the students, a girl who had cheered for players on both teams and had congratulated them all day, the “Sportsmanship Award” of the day.

Overall, I had a wonderful time during our hour at Meeting Street Academy. It was just plain fun! The kids were so excited to play and maintained their enthusiasm the entire time. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks, and as of right now, I think we’re going to be playing flag football. It’s only been one session, but so far Project Playbook had been a truly great experience!

The Night Al Campanis Shocked the World

On April 6th, 1987, the biggest sports story of the night was supposed to be the highly anticipated boxing matchup between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel was set to broadcast the fight later in the evening, but needed a story to fill the time before the showdown began. Because it was the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of the MLB, Nightline decided to conduct a tribute to Robinson and his legacy. Among several guests, including Jackie’s widow, Rachel, was Al Campanis, the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a man who had been a part of Major League Baseball for decades. Prompted by previous comments from Rachel Robinson, in which she had stated that Jackie would have been disappointed in the lack of progress made in the MLB since he first began playing and the racism that still existed in management and front office positions, Ted Koppel decided to ask Campanis what he thought of the issue. Al Campanis opened his mouth, began speaking, and suddenly the Hagler-Leonard fight was the second biggest sports story of the night.

Koppel asked Campanis “to peel it away a little bit. Just tell me, why do you think it is? Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?”

Then, Campanis answered, “No, I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that [African-Americans] may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or perhaps a general manager.”

Al Campanis

Campanis then went on to suggest that there weren’t many African Americans in pitching, catching, or quarterbacking positions because those were more cerebral positions and required a level of thinking that many black players didn’t possess. He also added, quite bizarrely, this philosophy: “Why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

Ted Koppel, along with every other viewer tuning in, was quite understandably shocked by Campanis’ remarks. Koppel was so confused, in fact, that he repeatedly tried to help Campanis realize the gravity of his comments and to give him a chance to correct himself. Such efforts were in vain, and Campanis’ statements continued to be racially charged. Koppel went on to ask, “Just as a matter of curiosity, Mr. Campanis, what is the percentage now of black ballplayers, for example, in your franchise?”

Campanis replied, “I would say, I think Roger mentioned the fact that about a third of the players are black. That might be a pretty good number, and deservedly so, because they are outstanding athletes. They are gifted with great musculature and various other things, they’re fleet of foot, and this is why there are a lot of black major league ballplayers. Now, as far as having the background to become club presidents, or presidents of a bank, I don’t know. But I do know when I look at a black ballplayer, I am looking at him physically and whether he has the mental approach to play in the big leagues.”

Al Campnis 2

Unsurprisingly, Al Campanis’ ignorant and utterly insensitive remarks cost him his job in the days following the interview and have since shrouded his name in infamy. What is perhaps most confusing about his comments, however, is the fact that he had never before displayed any racist ideologies and in fact had been involved in promoting African American participation in baseball in previous years. He had even been Jackie Robinson’s teammate and roommate decades prior. Yet, when he made his comments on Nightline, he revealed something that no one wanted to acknowledge at that time: that racism still existed in baseball, and it was disgustingly ugly.

After the interview, Frank Robinson, the first black manager in the MLB, commented by saying, “Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years—that black aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors: that there is racism in baseball.” This attitude ultimately represents the problems many African Americans faced toward the end of the 20th century and the discriminatory beliefs that pervaded athletics even after all sports had been fully integrated- they were eventually considered athletically gifted enough to excel on the court or the field, but ultimately were seen as not smart or intellectual enough to hold a coaching or management position. What’s worse, we unfortunately continue to see these trends today.

It must be stated that Al Campanis was aging (at the time of the interview he was 70 years old) and for whatever reasons may not have been himself during the program. He is even said to have had a tendency to sort of bumble through interviews and mess up his speech and trains of thought. Given his previous work in the MLB, as well as accounts about his actions both before and after the interview, I have to believe that Al Campanis was not a racist or a bigot. In fact, he may have been misunderstood and wrongfully shamed following his appearance on Nightline. That being said, he exposed an underlying way of discriminatory thinking that seemed to exist throughout the MLB, one that continues to characterize the wrongful stereotypes of African American athletes that govern their roles in sports.

Al Campanis was the first person to blatantly state the racist beliefs of the sports world, but there is no denying that the discrimination behind his remarks had existed long before he spoke with Ted Koppel on Nightline. While we have since progressed beyond this ideology, it still continues to exist under the surface of sports at times, but hopefully we will eventually be able to overcome this ignorance through more diversity hirings in coaching and front office positions in all of sports.


Works Cited:

Zirin, Dave. “25 Years Since Al Campanis Shocked Baseball: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t | The Nation.” The Nation. The Nation, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Weinbaum, William. “The Legacy of Al Campanis.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 01 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.