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'A LOT OF THINGS SEEM TO BE BETTER, BUT...'
August 05, 1991
SI gathered 10 prominent sports figures in Chicago recently for a discussion about what has happened to the black athlete since 1968
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August 05, 1991

'a Lot Of Things Seem To Be Better, But...'

SI gathered 10 prominent sports figures in Chicago recently for a discussion about what has happened to the black athlete since 1968

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Rudy Washington, men's basketball coach at Drake University and executive director of the Black Coaches Association: The earlier series about the black athlete in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was extremely enlightening to me. I'd never seen it before, and I would go so far as to say that I don't think things have changed at all. In 23 years, we've lost some honesty, some candor, in the people that are dealing with the black athletes. But America is getting what it wants out of sports, and that's entertainment. That's basically what the black athlete has been providing for America—entertainment.

Bill Walton, former All-America and NBA All-Star center who is now an analyst for CBS Sports: I agree. Things haven't really changed. Black athletes certainly have more opportunities as participants, but for them to get to the decision-making level is quite a remarkable thing.

Willie Davis, Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end who is now a Los Angeles businessman: I've seen a lot of cosmetic changes. A lot of things seem to be better, but I get a feeling that underneath it all it's not. When you look at graduation rates and other things that indicate the quality of life for black athletes, it's a horror story. The one thing that has probably equalized is the economics of sport. I think black athletes today are getting paid commensurate with their entertainment value. But I don't see the access to the executive side improving.

Hank Aaron, baseball Hall of Famer and alltime home run leader who is now senior vice-president of the Atlanta Braves: Sure, a lot of us are making good money, but I have to agree with Willie. I don't see us making any progress.

Buck Williams, forward for the Portland Trail Blazers: Until three years ago I didn't believe that someone would actually hire me to be a general manager. Now, because of the efforts of people like Hank, I believe it will be easier for me to do that.

Washington: Buck, what makes you think you can be a general manager?

Williams: I look at Hank and what he's done, I look at Willis Reed, the general manager for the New Jersey Nets, I look at Don Chaney, the coach of the Houston Rockets, and I see a number of blacks who have been able to get decision-making jobs. We're not there yet, but because of them, I think we're making baby steps in the right direction.

Richard Lapchick, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, at Northeastern University: Clearly there have been black individuals who have risen to top-level positions. But the attitudes of society haven't changed. I was optimistic in the '70s that there would be change, but racism in our society is now probably at a peak. My greatest concern is for the black athlete who doesn't make it to the pros. Forty-three percent of black high school athletes believe they're going to play pro sports, according to a Lou Harris survey last year. And at what price? The U.S. Department of Education reports that 25 to 30 percent of high school senior football and basketball players leave high school functionally illiterate. What have we prepared them to do?

Larry Hawkins, founder of the Institute for Athletics and Education, and girls' volleyball coach at Hyde Park Career Academy, a public school in Chicago: It seems to me that if we are addressing the black athlete's plight, we have to look at what's happening to the young people who are in the developmental stages. We have fewer and fewer opportunities for young blacks to get into sport, to run track or to play basketball or volleyball across the country. Why? Because people at the top of sports talk about the subject as if the bottom wasn't there.

Stephanie Hightower-Leftwich, 1980 U.S. Olympic hurdler and world-record holder who is now director of communications for the Ohio Department of Mental Health: We as black people have forgotten how some people struggled for us to get where we are today. That's especially true of our younger athletes. They don't understand the struggle of being a black person in this society anymore, so they automatically think that sport is a way to not have to deal with that.

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