Willie Worsley talks this way and sees these things because he is representative of the new Negro athlete. If he is sometimes truculent and suspicious, he is always dignified and proud. He has the "Negro instant" attitude. Warren McVea defines Negro instant: "It means that in anything involving my people I don't think twice. It's 'Negro instant.' "
The first requirement of this new Negro athlete with his new attitude of Negro instant is a pride in things black, in black ways of acting and thinking-not the old fictionalized darky stereotypes with their laziness and duplicity and connivery, but the new verve and grace that the black man brings to sports.
"Take those great football teams of Michigan State," says Sam Skinner, Negro sports editor of San Francisco's Sun-Reporter. " Bubba Smith and his boys used to bring their records and play soul music. Now this is better than a pep talk. Listening to James Brown is better than listening to Duffy Daugherty."
Says Harry Edwards: "Black people are communal by culture. They prepare communally. They dance, they play games communally. That slap on the hand you see Lew Alcindor give Mike Warren, or vice versa, that means something to those brothers. It means something to the brothers in the stands. It means something to the brothers who are watching the TV sets."
Ronald Fair, the Negro novelist, believes that the black athlete, with his superior skills and proud new attitude, has become a dominant figure in the Negro struggle for equality. To Fair, black athletes "have a commanding position in all of Negro society." He made the hero of his novel Hog Butcher an 18-year-old athlete, because he recognized the preeminence of the black athlete's role. The hero is bold; he speaks out. "It's sad," Fair says, "but the Negro athlete used to be afraid to do this. He was afraid he'd lose his position. He's not afraid anymore."
The new Negro athlete no longer accepts the thesis that every victory for the black competitor represents a step forward for the great mass of blacks. "They are unwilling to equate personal success with racial success," says Sterling Stuckey, a 36-year-old Negro who has taught history at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. "The young black intellectual knows that individual success—for himself or for athletes—means very little about the progress of the race."
Nowadays the Negro community will respect the black competitor, but the respect will not last if the athlete confines his activities to the field. "There is a growing demand that the athlete take part in the affairs of the Negro community, that he use his prestige, the position he's acquired, to make himself a force in the improvement of the position of all Negroes," says Bob Wheeler, assistant superintendent of Kansas City public schools. "Negroes are apt to show hostility to a Negro athlete who doesn't take full advantage of his opportunities."
"The black athlete has finally realized he's got to have some kind of life when he takes that uniform off," says Bernie Casey of the Los Angeles Rams. "For many years he said, "I'll just play the game and get my money and be a good nigger.' But now he knows the house nigger is dead. I'm not speaking of physical death, but of spiritual death, which could be the worst of all."
Militants like Harry Edwards reserve their harshest criticism for blacks who refuse to speak out, who remain "house niggers." Edwards professes to prefer George Wallace. "At least we know where Wallace stands, and at least he's not afraid to say what he thinks," Edwards told an audience recently. His voice drips with sarcasm and derision when he talks about certain mild-mannered Negro athletes. "As long as you have black athletes making it to the top and then shutting up like Uncle Willie Mays, or like Jesse Owens or Joe Louis, well, then, athletics has done very little for the black community. It has helped black individuals to delude themselves, this is all. But when you have people speaking out like Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, you begin to feel the importance of sports to the black community. When you have people like Satch Sanders going out and getting a million-dollar grant from the Federal Government to revitalize housing in the black community of Boston—well, they didn't give it to him because he was some Joe off the street, but because he was Satch Sanders of the Celtics and because he had made himself a public figure and had access to the white man's media and public-opinion forces."
The examples set by some and the exhortations of others are making it almost impossible for today's Negro athlete to remain simply an athlete, even though lots of them would prefer the middle-of-the-road position. The Negro star who refuses to take a firm stand on racial matters finds himself, at worst, ostracized by his race, consigned to Bernie Casey's "spiritual death," or, at best, left in a kind of limbo between white and black. Some, like Willie Mays, try to take refuge in a passive role. Willie gives money to Negro causes, but he is not the most likely candidate to be leading a black boycott on the San Francisco Giants. "I'm a ballplayer," Mays says. "I am not a politician or a writer or a historian. I can do best for my people by doing what I do best."