THE COUNTDOWN to
the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first day in the major leagues
(LEADING OFF, page 6) was unfortunately shot through with the inevitable anger
and melancholy that comes with every moment of racism in sports.
Don Imus was a
little boy the day Robinson broke baseball's color line. Sixty years later, as
host of a nationally syndicated radio show, he was mocking the Rutgers women's
basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." Rarely do you hear such naked
racism (as opposed to code-talking or show-off political incorrectness) but
there it was, dominating the news in a vortex of argument among athletes,
politicians and pundits over not only racism and sexism, but also hip-hop, free
speech, shock radio, civil rights, Borat and God.
The one sure thing
as the volume rose was that Imus was going down. Troubling was the whiff of
self-promotion that settled over everyone involved—except the Rutgers' players
and coaches. Almost unknown despite nearly winning a national championship, the
depth of their character began to show when Aditi Kinkhabwala's first story
about the controversy appeared on SI.com, where she writes a weekly column. In
that piece we learned that junior point guard Matee Ajavon's mother cleaned
houses until she had enough money to bring Matee and her sisters to the U.S.
from Liberia; that freshman forward Myia McCurdy is a science whiz and former
Girl Scout; that junior guard Essence Carson, who last summer lost the
grandmother who raised her, plays four instruments and writes poetry.
Kinkhabwala, who interned at SI and now also covers Rutgers sports for The
Record of Bergen County, N.J., stayed on the story, and her exclusive report
taking you inside the Scarlet Knights' meeting with Imus leads the magazine
In an obvious
irony, the fallout from Imus dampened the reaction to the declaration by North
Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper that the three white Duke lacrosse players
accused of raping an African-American woman were innocent in a case so charged
with racial content that it has left Duke scarred and reeling. The rush to
judgment by ethically impaired prosecutor Mike Nifong shredded many lives as is
underlined by Rick Reilly's column on former Duke coach Mike Pressler, who was
forced to resign before his players were charged (page 82).
What would Jackie
Robinson think of all this? Writing about Robinson for SI.com last week, senior
writer Phil Taylor suggested that the Hall of Famer "would undoubtedly have
been heartened that the outrage over Imus's comments has crossed racial and
ethnic lines." Then Taylor laid out an obvious truth: " Jackie Robinson
didn't tell the public about the content of his character, he showed it, over
time, through the way he behaved." The women of Rutgers are following in
his footsteps on that same high road.
Kinkhabwala on the Scarlet Knights basketball team, go to SI.com/rutgers; to
read Taylor on Jackie Robinson, go to SI.com/taylor.