Since the Renaissance, institutions of higher learning have been the scenes of social experiment, and thus if there is any place that a Negro could expect to find a more tolerant view and a movement toward accepting him into the fabric of society, it presumably would be on America's campuses. Why, then, is the black athlete held in rigid social check at so many U.S. colleges? At first glance the answer appears cruel and generalized—just like some of the old ideas about Negroes. Namely, coaches—and athletic directors, who are usually former coaches—are responsible. Indeed, these men are primarily to blame, though some responsibility lies in other areas, too.
It is in the hands of the coach that the Negro athlete places his entire career. Other students are accountable to and watched over by the dean, the class advisor, the dorm counselor and parents, but for the black athlete all of these power figures are relegated into secondary roles. It is the coach who tells the black athlete when to get up in the morning and when to get to bed at night, what to eat, whom to live with and how to conduct himself on campus. Nor does the control end there. Many coaches advise the black athlete on what courses to take ("After all," the coach can argue, "I got you in here in the first place, and it's my scholarship that is paying for your education"). And most coaches advise him on his social life. The guidelines invariably are strict ones.
Who is this Big Daddy who strolls about the campus in spiked shoes and sweat socks, while mere Ph.D.s stand aside and point him out as a celebrity? Is he a sociologist? Seldom. Is he trained in psychology? Rarely. Where does he rank in the academic life of the campus? Sadly, he ranks in the derri�re garde. He may not be "an intellectual dinosaur," as a University of California administrator once charged of coaches in general, but he is not likely to be a Socrates or a Gladstone, either. His basic intelligence may be high or low, but so much of his cerebral energy must be applied to such matters as conditioning and play patterns and scouting and recruiting that he has precious little left for the human problems of his athletes. His is a more fundamental assignment: winning. It is also considered nice if he can carry out this assignment without rocking the boat. The coach who rocks the boat passes quickly back to the junior college level, where he keeps watch over the cross-country team.
Coaches are men who move about busily, ruling their small kingdom, talking about the mens Sana in corpore sano and, for the most part, doing their sincere best. But these are also the men who are guiding the college careers of black athletes who are often deprived, frightened, maladjusted and totally unprepared individuals who have come out of intellectual vacuums to make their muddled ways across the country's campuses. Coaches don't always make the finest guidance counselors.
The first message that is passed on by the coach to the uneasy young Negro is often: Stay away from white women. The message gets across in many different fashions. The direct approach is on the way out, though at certain schools if a black athlete is being seen on campus with a white girl he will be called in and advised to stop it. If the athlete persists he may find himself out on his ear.
Sometimes the message is passed along by an �minence grise doing the coach's work. When Dave Mills attended Seattle University, a Jesuit school, he had no dating problem; he was already married. "But I knew that when a Negro ballplayer tried to associate with white girls he was called in. They did everything they could to prevent Negro players from going out with white girls. Once one of the Fathers came to me and asked me to speak to a Negro player who was dating a white girl. I told him I wouldn't."
Not even Elgin Baylor was exempt from the pressure. During his legendary college basketball career Baylor elected to take a white girl to a campus ball. A coaching assistant advised him to cease and desist. "There were a few rumbles," says a school official who was there at the time, "but Elgin finally caved in."
At UCLA, generally regarded as a pleasant refuge for Negro athletes, Walt Hazzard used to feel thousands of unseen eyes when he walked about the campus with white girls. "Coach [John] Wooden never said anything to me about it," Hazzard says, "but there was always that feeling of apprehension, even when you were just going from one class to another. I remember one time I was dating this white girl and we were walking on campus and we ran into an assistant football coach. He called me aside and said, 'We don't do that here.' I told him that my personal life was my own, that I was on a basketball scholarship and that he had no control over my scholarship."
Harold Busby, the sprinter and football player who anchored the Bruins' 440-relay team to a world record as a sophomore last year, feels the same pressure at UCLA that Hazzard felt four years ago. "Sometimes if you're walking with a white girl the coaches will look at you kind of funny," Busby says. "Nothing is said about it, but you can get the message."
Mickey Cureton, a star high school football player who was sought by some 70 colleges before enrolling at UCLA, remembers a recruiting visit to the University of Oregon. "Some of the fellows took me to a party where there were white girls, but they told me the party had to be kept secret. The athletic department did not approve of Negro boys and white girls mixing socially. There weren't any Negro girls for a hundred miles!"