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A MATTER OF BLACK AND WHITE
William Oscar Johnson
August 05, 1991
An SI survey of professional athletes revealed some of the deep divisions between the races
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August 05, 1991

A Matter Of Black And White

An SI survey of professional athletes revealed some of the deep divisions between the races

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Perhaps even more worrisome to black athletes than the inequities they perceive as players is what they think the future holds—or, more precisely, doesn't hold—for them. They are convinced that most sports management jobs are not likely to be open to them because they are black—77% of the respondents believe this. And for once, a substantial percentage of the white athletes—43%—agrees with the blacks, saying that blacks are less likely than whites to move into team management positions.

The New York Giants' Everson Walls, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive back and a former Dallas Cowboy who is now in his 11th year in the NFL, spoke candidly about the difference between his league and the NBA: "Blacks are so predominant in the NBA. They attain higher positions. I can understand why baseball and the NFL won't let blacks in the front office or [work] as coaches. They don't want blacks to be prominent. They make it so difficult in the NFL for blacks to get ahead. No matter how many times I go to the Pro Bowl, no matter how many Super Bowls I'm in, no matter how much money I make, when it's all said and done, I'm a black man. A nigger."

However, black athletes indicate that racism may be on the wane in the locker room, on the playing field and even in the stadium. Only 17% of black respondents think their current team has a racial problem. Only 36% report having heard racial slurs from whites during games, and 52% say they have never heard them. Only 27% believe that blacks enjoy less fan support than whites. Among all athletes polled, 53% said they socialized an equal amount of time with team members of both races.

What are we to make of all this? Supersensitive as big league sport may be about the volatile subject of racism, it remains a powerful presence in America. Marcus Allen, the Los Angeles Raider running back, spoke with great feeling after he replied to the survey: "I think racism is at its highest point since the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. I would call it our cancer. There is definitely a lack of awareness and a lack of education. We're not only talking in sports, but in every segment of society. People aren't going to let it get swept under the rug."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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