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.

Michael Jordan: Did He Transcend Race, Or Just Ignore It?

Forget LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan is without a doubt the greatest basketball player the sport has ever seen. In fact, he stands today as one of the most enduring and prominent sports figures of all time, a man whose competitive drive and unparalleled excellence has shaped him into a global brand of success. Ever since his emergence as a star for the Chicago Bulls, kids have been striving to become “like Mike,” clamoring to Nike stores to buy his shoes or other gear if necessary. He was a superstar in its entirety, not simply an emblem for the black community but for the nation as a whole. But the question stands: did he overcome the barriers of race to promote a colorblind society, or did he simply ignore his race and abandon the black community he represented?

Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, a time removed from the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement that nevertheless still bore its scars. His agent began pursuing a shoe deal with an athletic company, and eventually the partnership between Jordan and Nike began. It was at this time that Michael Jordan’s “image” was born. After all, when it comes to retail and marketing, the only thing that matters is the image. Who’s promoting these shoes? Who will I emulate if I buy them? Just how cool/new/like me is this guy? I would argue that it was this point in Jordan’s career, the instance in which he and his influence moved beyond the basketball court and into media and society, that he began to blur the lines of race.

Michael Jordan 2

Meanwhile, on the court, Jordan’s stock was soaring. He was dunking on power forwards, hitting game-winning shots, and proving himself superior to any and all competition. As he became more and more popular on the basketball court, his image in the media did as well, and soon “Michael Jordan”, with his expensive shoes and multiple endorsements, became a bonafide brand. And, like any brand, his image and public depiction had to be maintained in order to sustain and promote his sales. This is when the issue of race begins to come in play.

Michael Jordan was able to become a superstar for everybody, not just blacks. He showed what hard work and natural talent could accomplish for the entire population, instead of merely the African American community. White kids wanted to be “like Mike” just as much as everyone else. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that he was black, just that he was a great basketball player. In a way, Michael Jordan was able to transcend race and make it irrelevant to his public depiction, becoming arguably the first and most prominent African American major athlete ever to do so. Could he even have been one of the final steps toward an equal and colorblind society?

Michael Jordan

The other side of the equation is that even if a lot of the public didn’t put an emphasis on his race, Michael Jordan was still black and still a member of the African American community. Unlike Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and many other black athletes who came before him, Jordan did not become a vocal advocate or racial symbol; instead, he merely remained a basketball player. This is not meant as a criticism; after all, no one ever asked him to represent the grievances of an entire race, nor was he necessarily expected to. That being said, Jordan took a step in a different direction from his predecessors and forged a new black athlete- one who no longer needed to become a racial symbol to be idolized or recognized.

Michael Jordan Promotion Tour Jordan Classic Camp

This silent attitude and focus on public perception was perhaps never more prominent than in 1990, when Michael Jordan was asked by his former UNC college coach Dean Smith to endorse Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, a black civil rights activist running against the segregationist and racist Jesse Helms in North Carolina. Jordan, one of the most high profile figures in the country, refused, saying “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

As previously mentioned, Jordan was never compelled or expected to give a political endorsement. Most professional athletes don’t. This decision does, however, mark a separation that he subtly defined between activism in the black community and economic interests. By refusing to endorse Hantt and support civil rights in order to preserve his image, Jordan showed that he wanted to be a business man, not an advocate. Beyond this, he did little to engage himself in the African American community throughout his career, effectively distancing himself. So now one must ask: did he ignore his race and heritage?

Michael Jordan 4

In a way, Michael Jordan was a whole new kind of black athlete. Instead of exceeding despite his race, like Jackie Robinson, or demonstrating it proudly, like Muhammad Ali, he made it a non-issue. When people saw Michael Jordan, they didn’t think “black man in sports”; what they saw was simply an incredible basketball player. Ultimately, Jordan was able to transcend race, to move beyond its duties and labels. Whether this was a move toward equality and a colorblind society or an abandonment of his roots is a question that could be debated continuously. The answer could be both. There might not even be an answer. Regardless, Michael Jordan redefined the role of African American athletes, moving beyond the labels of a race to focus more on a brand and media depiction.

 

Works Cited:

Merlino, Doug. “How Michael Jordan Became the First Modern African-American Superstar Athlete.” Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report, 20 May 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Granderson, LZ. “The Political Michael Jordan.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Breaking a Stereotype: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Doug Williams’ Super Bowl Victory

The Super Bowl two days ago was celebrated across the country, with families and friends gathering around bowls of salsa and bean dip to watch the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers’. There were dozens of headlines surrounding the game: two head coaches that were also brothers, Ray Lewis’ final NFL game, the jubilant atmosphere in the hosting city of New Orleans. One aspect of the game, however, was only mentioned in passing because to analysts and fans alike, it seemed unimportant and unremarkable- the starting quarterback for the 49ers’, Colin Kaepernick, was black. It just didn’t seem that big of a deal. Twenty five years ago, however, that was not the case.

Doug Williams

January 31st, 1988, was the day the Denver Broncos faced the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII. On one side of the ball was the Bronco’s famed quarterback, John Elway. On the other was a man who was more known for the color of his skin than his skill on the field. His name was Doug Williams, and after a turbulent career that had seen its fair share of highs and lows, he had emerged to become the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins. The fact that he was a black quarterback about to play in the sport’s biggest game did not go unnoticed, as he was surrounded by fan fair and media attention. It wasn’t until his team emerged victorious, however, and his stellar play earned him MVP honors, that Doug Williams truly broke the stereotype surrounding African Americans in the quarterback position.

Doug Williams 2

Before he even made it to the Super Bowl, black quarterbacks in the NFL were something of a rarity. It was felt that coaches and GM’s suffered from the misguided notion that they couldn’t read the defense or make smart passing decisions. Williams’ outstanding play on football’s biggest stage finally put an end to that belief. As Charles Ross, author of Outside the Lines, said, “Doug Williams really shattered that unwritten belief system that was prevalent in NFL. What he did could not be downplayed.” Ultimately, he was able to change the perceptions of African Americans in the game of football, proving that they had just as much skill in more cerebral positions as athletic ones. He showed that black quarterbacks could lead their teams to victory and represented the struggles that so many before him faced in being denied opportunities in the sport of football. Thanks to Doug Williams’ ground breaking achievement, African Americans are no longer hindered by positions or excluded from being quarterbacks. His victory on January 31st, 1988, was truly a victory for an entire race.

 

Works Cited:

Keys, Perryn. “25 Years Later, Doug Williams’ Win Still Resonates.” The Advocate. The Advocate, 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.
Harris, Terrance. “Doug Williams Broke down Barriers with Super Bowl XXII MVP Run.” Greater New Orleans. The Times-Picayune, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.

Meet… Wilma Rudolph

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

Wilma Rudolph knew a thing or two about adversity. Throughout her life, she had to overcome being crippled at a young age, poverty in her youth, the discrimination of being a woman, and the prejudice she faced as an African American. Yet through it all, she remained strong and steadfast, eventually rising above her challenges to become a celebrated Olympic athlete and a role model to young girls across the nation, both black and white.

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was born in rural Tennessee in 1940, one of 22 children (from two of her father’s marriages). As a young child, she suffered from pneumonia, scarlet fever, and eventually polio, leaving her without the use of her left leg by the age of 6. Because of this affliction, she was forced to wear leg braces, although she spent most of her time trying to take them off. Every day, one of her many siblings would massage her leg, and she travelled 90 miles round trip each week to receive treatment for her crippled limb. Although she went on to suffer from whooping cough, the measles, and chicken pox, she eventually gained enough use of her leg to discard the braces and wear a special shoe instead. Wilma was determined to live life as a regular kid, however, and within a few years she had discarded the shoe as well.

Such persistence and determination manifested itself throughout her athletic career. Rudolph took up the game of basketball and emerged as a star on the girls’ team at the all-black Burt High School. Her exemplary play and remarkable athletic ability eventually led the Tennessee State track coach, Ed Temple, to take an interest in her as a track athlete. Rudolph began attending the college practices while still in high school, then went on to enroll at Tennessee State in 1957. Wilma fell in love with running and began gaining national attention for her performances on the track. She qualified for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and it was there that she would finally burst forward onto the world track scene and emerge as an international athlete.

Wilma Rudolph 2

In Rome, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in an Olympics. There, she earned a gold medal in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4×100 meter relay, earning the title of “World’s Fastest Woman” along the way. Almost immediately, she became a media darling. Dubbed “The Black Pearl”, fans and press alike flocked to her in Rome, and subsequent competitions across Europe brought hoards of fans to watch her perform. That year, she was also named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, as well as the United Press Athlete of the Year. Rudolph’s immense international popularity paved the way for other African American athletes, especially minority women, as she inspired young girls across the US to play sports and break into the world of track and field.

Pres. John F. Kennedy and Wilma Rudolph meet at the White House

Pres. John F. Kennedy and Wilma Rudolph meet at the White House

When she returned home to Tennessee following her legendary performance in Rome, Wilma Rudolph was invited to a celebration headed by Governor Buford Ellington, a prominent segregationist. Rudolph refused, saying she would not attend a segregated event. Later, a parade and celebration of her accomplishments in her hometown of Clarksville would become the first integrated event the city had ever seen. By establishing herself as  a universal hero and champion athletic figure, Rudolph was able to unite her fans behind her in ways that had not previously been accomplished, whether they were white or black, male or female. She set a new precedent for not only the black athlete, but the female as well, allowing those who had previously suffered from prejudice and discrimination in the world of sports to emerge in their own ways.

The most notable of these was Florence Griffith Joyner, an African American track star who would also go on to win three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics. Rudolph recognized her influence and was extremely proud of the accomplishments made by Joyner. “It was a great thrill for me to see,” Rudolph said. “I thought I’d never get to see that. Florence Griffith Joyner — every time she ran, I ran.” Ultimately, Rudolph’s exemplary grace, calm, and courage would establish her as one of the most prominent and influential African American athletes of the 60’s, one who set a new precedent for minority female athletes and inspired girls across America to pursue their goals in the face of discrimination.

 

Works Cited:

Roberts, M.B. “Rudolph Ran and World Went Wild.” ESPN.com. ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

 

NFL Coaching Diversity… Or Lack Thereof

This past offseason in the NFL resulted in eight open coaching positions, prompting owners and GM’s across the league to interview dozens of candidates to fill these jobs. Last week, the final spot was filled when Bruce Arians was hired as the coach of the Arizona Cardinals. This would’t be too notable, except for one overarching fact- all eight positions were filled by white men, leading many journalists and sports analysts across the country to question the NFL’s diversity in management and upper office positions.

About a decade ago, the NFL passed the Rooney Rule, a league wide requirement that teams must interview at least one minority candidate to fill an open coaching gig. This rule has been in effect for nearly ten years and initially served its purpose by allowing black head coaches to finally secure interviews with owners, a practice that itself had previously been difficult in a league still run by ideas of the “old boys’ club”. But, as evidenced by these recent hirings, coaching diversity has yet to truly change. Now that all eight positions have been filled, only 3 out of 32 head coaches in the NFL are minorities. This is in a league in which 68% of players are African American. So why do coaching statistics not reflect these demographics?

Lovie Smith- One of two minority head coaches fired this offseason

Lovie Smith- One of two minority head coaches fired this offseason

I don’t believe that blatant racism is to be blamed here. Rather, it is a more subtle and underlying atmosphere that governs the positions of African American coaches and coordinators in the league. The NFL has evolved to focus more on an offensive minded game. Therefore, GM’s are looking to fill coaching positions with offensive masterminds. The best way to become one? Play quarterback, a position that has historically been filled by mostly white players. Indeed, nearly all minority coaches in the past few years have defensive backgrounds. That being said, seven of the eight men hired this offseason were offensively-minded. Therefore, it is clear that there is a gap between what owners want in a coach and what minority candidates are capable of providing.

Ultimately, owners are going to hire whichever person they feel is best suited for the job, as well they should. Whether that person is black or white should have no impact on the decision. However, it is important that each candidate has an equal shot at being hired, which is why I feel that the Rooney Rule is important to make sure that head coaching positions remain an equal opportunity for all races and ethnicities. Meanwhile, I hope that future years will see the hiring of more minority head coaches, so that the number of African Americans in coaching and management positions can more accurately reflect and represent the demographics of the sport in which they have spent their entire lives.

 

Works Cited:

Chadiha, Jeffri. “Progress for Minority Coaches stalls.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Woodfork, Rob. “NFL Recap: More Diversity Needed in Coaching Ranks – WTOP.com.” WTOP Sports. WTOP, 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Meet… Arthur Ashe

“My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity.”

Arthur Ashe may very well be one of the greatest men to ever live, and it is his enduring spirit and unwavering courage that truly embodies the very essence of my senior project. Simply read some of his most famous quotes, and you will understand the wisdom and integrity that he displayed throughout the course of his life. Best known for becoming the first African American to win a men’s Grand Slam title, he used his success in the game of tennis to advocate civil rights and equality not just in the United States, but throughout the world. He worked tirelessly to bring about the end of injustice and inequality, so much so that many criticized him for abandoning his tennis game to champion his causes. In the end, however, he would say, “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments”, and he hasn’t been. He has instead been remembered first and foremost as a conscience leader, humanitarian, educator and, lastly, an incredibly gifted athlete.

Arthur Ashe 2

Born in 1943 in segregated Virginia, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. began learning tennis at a young age. His tennis prowess was evident early on, and soon he came under the tutelage of Dr. Walter Johnson, the same man who coached the great Althea Gibson. After success in many junior tournaments as a teenager, Ashe was offered a full tennis scholarship to UCLA, one of the best college tennis programs in the country. While at UCLA, his tennis career flourished, and in 1963, he was selected as a member of the United States Davis Cup team, becoming the first African American ever to achieve this honor and represent his country on the international stage. Ashe took great pride in this achievement and would continue to play on the team for many years, a testament to his patriotism and national pride. His prestigious college career ultimately culminated with both an individual and team NCAA Championship in 1965.

Upon graduating, Ashe went on to serve in the military, joining the US Army from 1966-68. While stationed in West Point, New York, Ashe continued his tennis, participating in the Davis Cup and other national tournaments. He even went on to win the US Open in 1968, becoming the first African American man to do so and solidifying his place at the top of the tennis world. It was in 1969, following his military service, that he truly began to establish himself as both a powerful and diligent activist. After noticing that tournament prize money was dwindling significantly in proportion with the rising popularity of the game of tennis, Arthus Ashe, along with several other players, partnered to form what is today known as the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), essentially the men’s professional tennis circuit. Later in the year, Ashe also cofounded the National Junior Tennis League with Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder, a program that sought to give children the chance to play tennis that might otherwise not have had the opportunity, while also promoting an attention to academics and discipline.

Arthur Ashe 4

That year, Arthur Ashe also expanded his activism beyond the United States’ borders when he applied for a visa to South Africa to play in the South African Open, a prominent tournament. At the time the #1 ranked American player in the world, Ashe was denied entry into South Africa due to racial discrimination laws under Apartheid. In response, he used his denial to take a stand against the racism of South Africa and called for the expulsion of the country from the international tennis tour and Davis Cup play. He continually applied for visas, and was continually rejected, until 1973, when he was finally allowed entry and became the first black tennis player to participate in a South African event. His fight against the injustice of Apartheid would continue for the next two decades, remaining a cause dear to his heart until the end of his life.

Meanwhile, on the court, Arthur’s tennis game continued to thrive. He won the 1970 Australian Open, the second of his three majors, before going on to upset the heavily favored Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final to become the first and only African American to win the men’s championship on the lawns of All England Club. His unprecedented victory would go on to propel him to the #1 ranking in the world, and he remains the only African American man to ever achieve this accomplishment. After enjoying this profound success, Ashe would later go on to suffer from an unexpected heart attack and undergo subsequent heart surgery. It was these heart complications that would prompt him to retire from the game in 1980 with a career record of 818 wins, 260 losses and 51 titles, a career that would eventually put him in the Tennis Hall of Fame.

Arthur Ashe 1

Although he may have ended his playing career, Arthur Ashe’s off-court career and humanitarian efforts flourished. He served as a columnist for the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and Tennis Magazine, a commentator for HBO Sports and ABC Sports, and author of a three volume body of work about African Americans in sports entitled “A Hard Road to Glory”. Additionally, he was appointed captain of the US Davis Cup team, leading the team to two titles in 1981 and 1982, and served as the president of the American Heart Association. Furthermore, he founded numerous charitable organizations, including the National Junior Tennis League, the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Athlete-Career Connection, and the Safe Passage Foundation. All the while, he continued his hard work in fighting prejudice and inequality in America, as well as Apartheid in South Africa. He was even arrested outside the South African embassy in Washington DC during an anti-apartheid protest in 1985.

ALLMET5P3

It was in 1988, however, the Arthur Ashe’s life was forever changed. While in the hospital for brain surgery, it was revealed that he was HIV-positive, having contracted the virus from a tainted blood transfusion during a second heart surgery in 1983. Wary of public scrutiny and paranoia surrounding the disease at the time, Ashe and his wife chose to keep the diagnosis private, seeking to retain a sense of normalcy and privacy in their lives. He did not publicly announce his diagnosis until 1992, when USA Today contacted him to say that they had on record that he was HIV-positive. Rather than let the newspaper break the story, Ashe held a preemptive press conference on April 8th, 1992, to announce to the world that he had contracted AIDS.

Suddenly, Arthur Ashe had a new cause to champion, and in the final year of his life, he worked tirelessly for AIDS awareness and research. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, which raised money for research into treating, curing and preventing AIDS. He spoke before the U.N. General Assembly on World AIDS day to raise international awareness of the disease, begging delegates for increased funding in research and hoping to prompt them to address AIDS as an important global issue. Ashe continued his dedication to other causes as well, being arrested for protesting outside the White House against US policy toward Haitian refugees and founding the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which was dedicated to solving medical problems in urban, low income, minority populations. Lastly, he competed his memoir, “Days of Grace”, only days before his death. Then, on February 6th, 1993, only ten months after announcing to the world that he suffered from the AIDS virus, Arthur Ashe died from AIDS related pneumonia at the age of 49, leaving behind his beloved wife and daughter.

arthur-ashe

The legacy that Arthur Ashe has left behind is one of courage and perseverance. Throughout his life, he remained dedicated to causes of social justice and humanitarian aid, undaunted by the segregation and oppression he faced as an African American. He lived with the utmost compassion for his fellow humans and spent his life working to implement change in a broken world, from apartheid in South Africa to segregation in the United States. Arthur Ashe was a truly great man, one who left the world a better place than he found it and who accomplished so much in his short life that we can only stand it awe at his incredible dedication and perseverance.

 

Works Cited:

“Biography – Arthur Ashe Official Website.” Biography – Arthur Ashe Official Website. The Estate of Arthur Ashe, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

“Life Story of Arthur Ashe.” ArthurAshe.org. Arthur Ashe Learning Center, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

Meet… Bill Russell

“We foolishly lionize athletes and make them heroes because they can hit a ball or catch one. The only athletes we should bother with attaching any particular importance to are those like [Muhammad] Ali, whom we can admire for themselves and not for their incidental athletic abilities.”

Bill Russell not only revolutionized the game of basketball with his height and shot blocking abilities, but he also drastically altered the role of the black athlete before going on to become the NBA’s first black head coach. When Russell first entered the league, there were only 15 other African Americans playing professional basketball. Racism and prejudice still existed in organizations, and often logistics such as lodging and food were made difficult due to segregated establishments. Throughout his career, Russell remained outspoken and opinionated, attacking these issues and becoming a vocal role model for black athletes in America. Ultimately, he would become one of the NBA’s greatest champions, as well as one of its greatest men.

Bill Russell

Like so many African Americans of his generation, Bill Russell was born into poor financial circumstances in the rural South, although his family eventually moved west to California in pursuit of better jobs and opportunities. As he grew older and taller, Russell began playing basketball, a game in which he showed initial promise despite his awkward height on the court. He would go on to play college basketball at the University of San Francisco, the only school that offered him a scholarship. Bill didn’t care though; he was just excited to go to college and have the opportunity to escape the racism and poverty of his childhood. While at USF, Russell emerged as a dominant force on the court, averaging over 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. He also introduced vertical defense and smothering shot blocking to the game of basketball, two aspects that define the game today. Eventually, he would go on to lead his school to two NCAA national championships, becoming a first team All-American and Final Four MVP along the way.

Bill Russell 3

Russell’s success in college basketball was not without its dark moments, however. Racism still existed throughout the country, and it manifested itself several times throughout his collegiate career. Notable instances include a game in Oklahoma City in which none of the city’s hotels would put up Russell and his fellow black teammates, as well as the time before a tournament game in which the fans yelled “Globetrotters” at the players and threw coins at them. Russell didn’t let this deter him, however, and he continued to work hard to become the best player he could. He eventually was drafted by the Boston Celtics, where he would go on to become a forceful player and champion.

Russell entered the NBA in 1956, a time in which black athletes were being thrust into the political spotlight amidst the chaos of the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Bill didn’t underestimate this significance, either. “It is the first time in four centuries that the American Negro can create his own history,” Russell wrote in the 1960s. “To be part of this is one of the most significant things that can happen.” He was never afraid to speak his mind, and did what no one else had previously dared to do when he called out the league on its lack of diversity. He also travelled to Africa several times throughout his career, seeking to reestablish his roots and form a connection to his heritage. Perhaps most notable, however, was the fact that Russell and his fellow black Celtics teammates boycotted an exhibition game in Kentucky after a local restaurant refused to seat them. This bold and unprecedented move was one of the first times that black athletes had called attention to the discrimination they faced and marked a change in the role of the black athlete.

bill-russell-2

Russell went on to lead his Celtics to 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons, establishing a dominant league dynasty. He also became the player-coach of the Celtics in 1966, thus marking the first time an African American had been named the head coach of an NBA team. This accomplishment occurred nearly 16 years after the league had first integrated its players, a remarkably long time given the nature of integration in society and other sports. Russell led his team to a final title in 1969 before retiring from the game, leaving behind a legacy of greatness in which he redefined the nature of basketball with his height and shot blocking strategies. His most important contribution, however, was the role he played in giving African Americans power and a voice in professional sports, as well as the strides he made in finally breaking the color barrier of NBA management and coaching.

 

Works Cited:

Merlino, Doug. “Bill Russell, Civil Rights Hero and Inventor of Airborne BasketballCeltics.” Bleacher Report. N.p., 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.

A Ridiculous and Irrelevant Question: Is RGIII Black Enough?

I had every intention of taking a break from posting over the holidays. However, that was before I saw an article about the comments made by Rob Parker on a recent episode of ESPN’s First Take. On the show, he and a few other analysts were discussing NFL rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American player out of Baylor whose electrifying play has taken the league by storm this season. But instead of talking about Griffin’s unprecedented success or the maturity he has displayed in the past months, Parker, an African American as well, decided to ask if RGIII was “black enough” or if he was “down with the cause”. Here are some of his comments from the show:

“I’ve talked to some people in Washington, D.C. Some people in [Griffin’s] press conferences. Some people I’ve known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is … is he a ‘brother,’ or is he a cornball ‘brother?’ He’s not really … he’s black, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the guy you’d want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don’t know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancé, people talking about that he’s a Republican … there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, ‘I have black skin, but don’t call me black.’ People wondered about Tiger Woods early on — about him.”

Robert Parker

Skip Bayless, Rob Parker’s partner on the show, then went on to ask: “What do RG3’s braids say to you?”

“To me, that’s very urban,” Parker continued. “It makes you feel like … I think he would have a clean cut if he were more straight-laced or not … wearing braids is … you’re a brother. You’re a brother. If you’ve got braids on.”

RGIII

To me, these comments are absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for. I don’t understand why Parker felt it was necessary to make comments not only about Griffin’s race, but whether he should truly be considered a part of that race. With all of the amazing things that Griffin has accomplished on the field, there should be no need for Parker to be discussing the fact that he is black. Even another African American analyst on the panel, Stephen A. Smith, commented after Parker’s comments, “Well, first of all, I’m uncomfortable with where we just went.” In today’s society, we shouldn’t have to refer to a player’s race in order to analyze their play on the field.

Not only did Parker violate this policy, but he also had the audacity to question if RGIII was even black to begin with. I simply don’t understand this line of thinking, or what Parker considers to be truly “black”. ESPN has since issued a statement deeming these comments “inappropriate” and will hopefully take further action in the coming days. This action couldn’t come fast enough, and in fact I wouldn’t be upset if Rob Parker didn’t have a job at ESPN next week.

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement Through Sports

To begin with, a comprehensive timeline of important dates and moments in sports and the civil rights movement-

* points that are bolded and italicized are those that occurred outside sports

1863- The Emancipation Proclamation is issued

1884- Moses Fleetwood Walker integrates professional baseball

1908- Jack Johnson becomes the 1st black heavyweight-boxing champion

1910- Jack Johnson defends his title and defeats Jim Jeffries, who had been deemed the “Great White Hope”

1919- Fritz Pollard begins pro football, goes on to form first all-black team

1923- Jack Trice, an African American Iowa State football player, is trampled to death on field against Minnesota

1936- Jesse Owens wins 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics

1938- Joe Louis defeats Max Schmeling

1947- Jackie Robinson integrates the MLB

1948- Armed forces integrated

1950- NBA integrated

1954- Brown vs. Board of Education dismisses “separate but equal”

1955- Montgomery bus boycott

1957- Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon

1957- the Little Rock Nine integrate Arkansas schools

1963- Martin Luther King Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream Speech”

1963- Mississippi State plays the integrated Loyola University in the NCAA tournament after having previously boycotting the tournament in protest of integration

1964- Civil Rights Act passed

1966- Muhammad Ali claims exemption from the Vietnam draft

1966- Bill Russell becomes first black NBA head coach

1966- Texas Western defeats all-white Kentucky in the NCAA basketball championship game with an all-black starting five

1967- Perry Wallace integrates SEC basketball

1968- Tommie Smith and John Carlos launch black power salute at the Mexico City Olympics

1970- USC defeats Alabama behind Sam Cunningham’s amazing game; the next year Alabama integrates its football team

1975- Frank Robinson becomes 1st black MLB manager

1975- Arthur Ashe wins Wimbledon

1989- Art Shell becomes the 1st black head coach in the NFL since Fritz Pollard

2008- Barack Obama becomes the first African American president of the United States

Michael Vick and the Media Depiction of Black Athletes

Michael Vick began a promising career as an NFL quarterback in 2001 before a shocking fall from grace. Viewed as a young talent with incredible athletic ability and tremendous upside, Vick ultimately lost all favor with the public after a scandalous arrest for involvement in a gambling and dog-fighting ring. When he was arrested, the sports world was shocked. Here was one of football’s greatest talents, and now it had been revealed that he had become involved in shady, illegal, and ultimately cruel activity. Needless to say, he became ostracized from society and was deemed a villainous figure who, above all things, hated puppies. Vick would be convicted of his crime and spent two years in prison before finally returning to the game three years ago. He is now the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, and has executed play that has been good, if not great. The question that still shrouds this saga, however, is how he would have been received if he was white.

Following time spent in prison for his crime, Vick tried out for multiple teams and was eventually signed by the Eagles. In the years following his release, he was detested by the public and often appeared as number one on polls of the most hated players in the NFL. This sentiment shows that people were generally unable to forgive and forget, retaining grudges against him from several years ago. Some writers claim that this is only because his is black, although I feel that it must be remembered that he committed a heinous and cruel crime against animals, one that would cause a lot of people to dislike him. I don’t believe that his race is the reason he was disliked, although it may have played a part in his media depiction, as writers may have been more apt to present him as a thug and a brute in conjunction with common, and completely unjust, racial stereotypes against African Americans.

According to a statistic conducted in 2011, 97, 86, 86 and 90 percent, respectively, of sports editors, columnists, reporters and copy editors in the media world are white. The fact remains that although sports writers may not consciously discriminate based on race, they lack a connection to issues that are relevant with African Americans. This is true in the portrayal of many black athletes, and it also appears in the story of Michael Vick. Had sports media been more diverse, they would have been able to offer a balanced perspective that would have examined the issue from a diverse racial standpoint.

Vick has given many heartfelt and sincere apologies publicly, even appearing at high schools to talk to students about the crime of dogfighting. It’s no question that he is extremely remorseful for his actions and would take them back in a second if he could, not because he got caught, but because he knows they were wrong. Still, despite his every effort, the public still views him as “The Bad Guy”, a thug, a villain marring the face of football. The public has twisted him into a mold he no longer fits because everyone wants a bad guy they love to hate.  Now, despite his every effort to show sports fans his guilt, remorse, and ultimate enlightenment, Michael Vick remains the villain of the sport, a victim of the realization that one wrong choice can lead to seemingly permanent damage in public perception.

It is no question that Michael Vick committed a crime and that he was punished accordingly. Issues of race arise, however, when his situation is compared with that of another NFL quarterback, the white Ben Roethlisberger.  Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in 2008, and although he was never convicted, the scandal was covered extensively by the media. Today, both men are still starting quarterbacks, but the only one still haunted by his former brush with the law is Vick. Many writers have claimed that Roethlisberger has not been treated as harshly as Vick, with one article even stating that “Roethlisberger’s complexion has inherent perks that allows to him establish connections with the media that Vick cannot draw upon.”

I think that it is important to remember that Michael Vick was convicted of his crime and spent time in jail for it, whereas Ben Roethlisberger was never convicted of sexual assault and certainly never sentenced to prison. Additionally, media coverage of both incidents was extensive and critical, and I do not believe that Roethlisberger received more favorable treatment merely due to his race. That being said, I do find it possible that Vick could have been portrayed in a manner depicting him as a thug, hooligan, and delinquent because of racial stereotypes on behalf of an overwhelmingly white sports media, and that these sentiments may have lasted long after this issue has passed because of common social prejudices against black athletes. Hopefully, a more diverse sports media world could eliminate these racial stereotypes and allow for a more balanced and fair depiction of black athletes to the public.

 

Works Cited:

Rogers, Dexter. “Michael Vick: Was ESPN’s Portrayal of Vick Being White Fair?”Bleacher Report. N.p., 28 Aug. 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.