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Melvin Rogers tells of how the Eula D. Britton school "couldn't offer a foreign language until last year. Our students were cut way down on their choice of colleges, because most colleges won't accept a high school graduate with less than two years of a foreign language. So right away we're inadequate. We still don't teach trig or any of the higher math that kids need these days." The Northern ghetto schools are not much better. "The differences are almost negligible," says Educator Novotny. "About the only advantage the Northern Negro gets is more up-to-date textbooks."
The University of Missouri's conscientious football coach, Dan Devine, one of the few coaches with a real understanding of the Negro's problems, sums up a lot in a brief way when he says, "I get letters from Negroes in which the spelling and punctuation are so bad it would make you want to cry."
"No white can say what a Negro goes through till you been a Negro," says Willie Worsley, one of the captains of the Texas at El Paso basketball team. "You may talk to Negroes, go out with Negroes and hang around with Negroes, but you don't know until you be one, and you can't be one if you're white. It's two different worlds, man."
How different? Consider a fundamental aspect of life—food. In the white world, food is something that is ladled out three or more times a day, consumed and largely forgotten. In the Negro world, food is a fascination, a preoccupation, an obsession. "Our colored athletes will spend their last dime on food," says Bobby Dobbs, football coach at Texas at El Paso. "They are a people that can go and eat in the chow hall, but if they've got any money later that night they will be over at the Wiener schnitzel or the fried chicken place. I don't think the white race puts that premium on food. Some people say it's because Negro children go hungry a lot. But I just think it's inherent with their race. That's what they live for is to eat, I think."
One is always meeting members of the sporting establishment who feel that certain characteristics of the average Negro are "inherent with their race." Tags and nickel slogans are popular in the world of sports, and the Negro athlete spends his life in a tight mesh woven of the white man's prejudices, clich�s and sweeping simplifications.
"They say we like to eat," says Melvin Rogers, "and I say I agree; brother, we love to eat. And you take any white American who was brought up poor in the depression years and you'll find somebody else who loves to eat, and that's how simple it is. The depression never ended for the Negro; hunger is something he lives with, and he's gonna shovel that food down any chance he gets. Two years after he becomes financially stable, he's still shoveling that food down, trying to fill that hole in his stomach. Ten years later he's not much different. Inherent in the race? Not any more inherent than poverty."
The technique of hustling extra food at lunchtime has become a fine art with Negro high school athletes, most of whom come from the same deprived homes as the other Negro students and yet require more than a normal amount of sustenance. Melvin Rogers instructs his athletes on how to get extra milk—find somebody who doesn't like it and stand behind him in the cafeteria line. Another coach tells his players to make friends with girls who have not developed a taste for beans. Willie Worsley cultivated the Jewish students at De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, because "Jewish fellows don't eat too much at school. They get so much to eat at home they're just bored by the cafeteria food."
But not every Negro athlete is so lucky, or so clever. Some achieve years of athletic success on diets that would not sustain Tiny Tim. Bill Myles can show you dozens of them. Myles is a Negro who played center for Drake University's football team and returned to the black world as football coach at all-Negro Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Mo. "Sometimes I go to coaching clinics and hear some white coach tell me all the problems he has with the fathers—they complain that their sons are being discriminated against or that some other man's son is getting bigger write-ups in the paper. How can I talk to those coaches about common problems? My problem isn't how to deal with an irritated father, but to go out and buy a box of Cream of Wheat and half a dozen eggs so that one of my players and his family can eat for another day."
Last year Myles began to realize that he had a potential professional athlete on his hands, a boy who could run the 60-yard dash in 6.2 seconds and the 100 in 9.7 and who rushed for 960 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior year and had half a dozen colleges eyeing him. One day Myles went to the boy's address and found that he was living in a friend's car and scrounging food on the streets. Myles got the boy a job at the school so he could afford an occasional warm meal. As soon as the boy began eating he began trying harder in the classroom. "He'd been spending too much of his time figuring out how to eat," Myles says. The boy's name is Robert Buford.
Robert Buford is a 19-year-old very black boy, slightly built (5'10", 163 pounds), with a Floyd Patterson haircut, a quick smile that reveals an uneven line of white teeth and a large nose spread over the middle of his face. He says it is a long story how he wound up living in cars, but the story mostly is that he kept being sent from relative to relative in various cities, and finally he ran out of relatives.