Dr. Joseph Ray is no bumbling administrator in a hermetically sealed ivory tower; he is not unaware of some of the practices that have gone on at UTEP. But he argues that "the principal thing is that as Negroes their preparation before they came here was not as dependable as it should be." He admits that the university has exploited some of its black athletes, but no more so than all universities exploit all athletes, black or white. "I can think of one Negro athlete who they recognized would not be able to stay eligible if he took all the required courses, and so they kept him eligible. Our athletic council took notice that this sort of thing was going on and it's being terminated. It's being terminated. But that happens at a lot of places. We're not the only ones that ever did it."
UTEP is not the only school that ever slipped a little extra financial assistance to its athletes, either; the practice is widespread and almost inevitable because NCAA rules are so stern. "We're supposed to get $10 a month plus room and board and tuition and books," says Willie Cager. "Who can live on that? We're all in bad financial shape, but there's no use discussing it. You know yourself that the alumni are always putting up money to help the athletes. What burns us is that somehow it never reaches the black athletes here. We never see that money."
"I'm not asking for money to be slipped to me," says All-America Linebacker Fred Carr, first-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers. "All I'm saying is that if there's some extra money being provided to help athletes through financial binds, then it should be used by black and white, the way it is everyplace else. Now, I know that some of the white athletes get this kind of help, but the Negroes don't. I'd get a note in my box saying, 'Nice game.' I'll buy that; I'm not looking for money. But then don't give it to the white players."
"If a Negro looks for help he doesn't find it," says Bob Beamon, the best long jumper in the world. "I have a 4-year-old car that needs $300 worth of repairs. I don't know where I'm gonna get the money to fix it. If I were the white long-jump champion that car would be fixed like magic."
The problem with the car would not have disturbed Beamon if he could walk to the campus, "but there's no decent housing for the married Negro anywhere near the school, so my wife and I live two miles away, and I have to have that car. I go around borrowing money, practically begging people for money, and I wind up in debt."
"A Negro will be more apt to get in debt here than a white athlete," says Willie Worsley. "I'll tell you how they'll help a Negro; they'll send him down to Household Finance. In other words, they'll help you get in debt. It wouldn't be so bad if they'd give us more help getting jobs in the summertime."
"I went in two months before vacation break to ask McCarty to help me find a job, the way he does with the white players," says Halfback Willie Fields. "He said he didn't know of anything, but I might be able to get a job raking leaves or something like that. But I know a couple of white players who asked him to find them a job, and he got them jobs the next day at $3 an hour."
According to the Negroes, their wives are treated the same way. "My wife is a qualified secretary, bilingual in English and Spanish," Beamon says. "They got her a job at $1.35 an hour lifting boxes." Fred Carr tells about a Negro athlete whose wife spent three months looking for a job with the assistance of the UTEP athletic department. "They were having a hell of a time financially," Carr says. "And then in comes a white athlete, a junior-college transfer, and they got his wife a job in three days. They say that the Negro wives can't get jobs because they are not qualified. Well, most of them are." Unstated here, of course, is the fact that lack of job opportunities for Negroes—especially in the South—is an oppressive national problem, be the Negro a linebacker, shoe salesman or pipe fitter. Nonetheless, the UTEP athletic department seems not to have made the extra effort that obviously is required.
Harry Edwards and his staff of bereted, beaded and militant assistants swarmed all over UTEP the weekend after Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, and one of them draped himself across a chair in the Sheraton Motor Inn on Mesa Street and intoned carefully: "What it gets down to is sex, the same old story. Isn't it funny that whenever you make a thorough study of the problems of white and black together, it always comes out s-e-x? What a problem it must give the recruiter from this school. They're committed to using black athletes to get their name before the public, right? So this poor recruiter has to go to the Bronx and Harlem and convince Negroes that of all the places they could go, El Paso is the best. Now what is the first thing that enters the kid's mind, any kid's mind? Are there any girls? Well, what the hell is the poor recruiter going to say? That there are hardly any black women in El Paso? That there are only a few black girls at the university? So he has to fudge around, tell a few lies. He may even hint that the atmosphere is pretty relaxed down there in the Southwest, and nobody would mind if he dated a white girl. After all, that's where America begins, out there in Marlboro Country. So the kid signs his letter of intent, and then he's hooked. He gets on the campus and he finds out that if he dates a white girl it's his ass."
In a way, Edwards' lieutenant was exaggerating, for it does not all come down to sex, and he knew it. But, for the black athlete on the majority of America's campuses, what it does come down to is loneliness, exclusion and the consequent destruction of the Negro's pride. The inability of the white to understand this distinction just adds another element to the frustration that the black athlete feels.