Pro coaches will go out of their way to avoid drafting a Negro with the wrong "attitude," and there is evidence that such blackballing includes the whole NFL and AFL. Robert Lawrence (Bobby) Smith, who is 6' 3" and 190 pounds and very fast, was a starting defensive back at the University of California for three years, averaging 290 minutes of playing time per season. When he was selected for the East-West game and the Hula Bowl and played in both, the pro scouts seemed quite interested in him. "After the season I was told that I would be drafted." Smith says, "possibly as high as the second or third round. I was told this in person by one scout, and I also heard it indirectly from those who said they were speaking for three or four clubs."
Then the Cal campus erupted in a black-white athletic disturbance that led to the departure of the head basketball coach. The spokesman for the black militant forces turned out to be Robert Lawrence Smith. "I used to be a good nigger." he explains, "but now I was one of the bad guys."
The pro draft took place a week after the disturbance, and Bobby Smith was ignored. He was not even so much as invited to try out on any team in the NFL or AFL as a free agent, which is the least that happens to any superior college football player. "If they can draft jailbirds [ Cincinnati drafted an imprisoned Michigan State defensive back], why couldn't they draft me?" asks Smith. "I'll tell you why: because they go by the creed 'keep them grateful.' I guess I wouldn't be grateful enough."
An "ungrateful" black might indeed find enough inequities to keep his team in constant turmoil. For one, segregation is still more or less the norm. Sometimes the segregation is imposed by the team itself, and the athlete either takes it or speaks out and risks losing his job. Clemon Daniels star running back of the Oakland Raiders, is one who speaks out. "I play for a pro club, and there should be no segregation problems. But out comes the rooming list on the road and all the blacks are paired, except on this club where we had 11 blacks, so one was given a single room."
Mike Garrett sometimes finds himself wondering about the Kansas City Chiefs' front office. "Since so many of our boys are from the South, I can't help asking myself the question: Is that why when we go on the road Negroes are always roomed with other Negroes?"
Up until recently a sort of unspoken agreement between black and white consigned the biggest white players to the front or first-class section of the Chiefs' charter plane and all the blacks to the back or economy section. "Originally the idea was that the biggest of the white players needed lots of space to be comfortable." says Garrett, "so they grabbed those big first-class seats. It was a kind of continuation of the back-of-the-bus idea." But there were big Negro players, too, and stocky muscular ones who wanted to relax in comfort on the flight home. Finally Bobby Bell, a Negro linebacker, walked to the front section and deposited his 6'4" frame into one of the first-class seats. The other Negroes watched from the rear to see what would happen. The white players murmured a bit, but did nothing. "I told myself, 'I want to sit up there, too,' " says Garrett. "So I did." And that was the end of the Kansas City Chiefs' segregated charter system.
The average fan has no idea of the everyday pressures and tensions that exist between Negroes and whites on almost every professional team. Pro athletes tend to be prima donnas in the first place, supermeticulous specialists who push themselves to the limit and punish themselves unreasonably if they fail. They can be just as harsh on one another, and instead of ameliorating the tensions between the races, pro sport is sometimes more likely to inflame them.
Sometimes the player-to-player tensions become violent. A white player on one AFL team called a black player a "dirty nigger" and was soundly beaten up for his remark. But such scenes are far rarer now in all pro sport than they were in the early days of sporting integration. Mike Garrett likes to point out that his own relationships with white players are excellent. He mentions in particular E. J. Holub, a linebacker from Texas. "The great thing about Holub is he keeps after you to do your best whether you're white or Negro, and if you don't he rides you equally hard. That's all I ask. I want to be taken for granted, not coddled or patronized or loved or hated because of my color."
Aside from matters of man-to-man prejudice, the black professional athlete makes two major complaints: that he must be significantly better than his white counterpart, and that when he is through as a competitor his sport has no use for him. It is in baseball that these two aspects of the black athlete's career show themselves most clearly.
In terms of the militant postures of today's young Negro society, baseball is almost an anachronism. The biggest single move of the black team athlete into the consciousness of America came when Jackie Robinson was brought up to Brooklyn in 1947, and it is argued by some that baseball has been resting on its liberal laurels since. Conservative by nature and hell-bent to maintain its profit curve, baseball has kept rigid control over its athletes—black and white alike. At a time when black athletes arc being put under heavy pressure to join in the civil rights movement and to pour energy and prestige back into the Negro community, it is rare that a black baseball player is heard from. Curt Flood was kidding about Tulsa, but the specter of the minor leagues is too real for the average baseball player to risk offending the front office.