THE BLACK ATHLETE
As a member of the daily sporting press, I would like to commend Jack Olsen and the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for the beginning of what promises to be a revealing, shocking and moving look at the Negro in American sports (The Black Athlete—A Shameful Story, July 1 et seq.). Olsen's work promises to be one of the most important sports documents written.
Perhaps it's time that members of the daily press, like myself, took a hard look at the racial problems in our own spheres of influence. Examples: the insidious quota system which poisons many professional and collegiate teams, the reluctance of traveling secretaries to room Negro and white ballplayers together and the refusal of the powers to recognize the legitimate heavyweight champion, a Negro, because of his political and religious beliefs.
Perhaps we can substitute, "What can I do?" with, "When do I start?"
I'm white. The message in the first installment of Jack Olsen's series was a long time coming from any national medium, sports or otherwise. Better late than anticlimactic, so a measure of thanks is in order. Going back 15 years, I remember two exceptional Negro football players at Penn State being openly referred to by student body and faculty alike as "eighth-semester sophomores." (Both were lucky enough, and good enough, to have extended NFL careers after "graduation.")
I would like to see more black athletes majoring in education—my education. Olsen's piece is exemplary of the kind of classroom aid these black teachers would need to get through to most of us, the thickheaded majority.
ROBIN C. NELSON
Jack Olsen's new series, in its excellence, forces one to look into the entire structure of amateur athletics. His criticisms apply, too often, to all athletes, though more so to black athletes.
Many of the current ills go back to high school athletics. Since it is largely supported by local taxpayers, the only justification for high school athletics is that it be educational. If something is to be educational, it must change or reenforce young people; it must make demands. Too many high school coaches let boys feel that the sport needs them more than the boys need the sport. Too many coaches rationalize keeping a boy "on the team," because they say it will get him a scholarship or teach him some values. Any true values must be transferred into daily living, otherwise they are empty and hypocritical. There is already too much emphasis on "getting"— getting a scholarship, getting an award, getting into college (even though this may not be a student's greatest need).
The sports world has shown that black and white can achieve together; it can credit itself with no more. Black and white also get hurt by the same kind of selfish thinking on the part of leaders in athletics and in institutions.
In a survey that I conducted 10 years ago most university presidents indicated that they justified athletic proselytizing as being necessary in order to compete and to pay off stadium construction. Can't we expect higher purpose from our universities? Can't we expect better moral and academic preparation of teen-agers by community schools and leaders?
White Plains, N.Y.
Congratulations on your contribution to the myth of the Almighty White Man. As they say on the sports pages, us white folks can do it all. We forced Don Smith to steal jewelry and toys instead of books; we made Robert Buford play pool instead of learning English, which he doesn't like; and we warned the black people of Rayville, La. that there would be trouble if they tried to speak the language like their cultured, white neighbors. Yes, we did all of that, and now we feel guilty as hell about it.