Lapchick: We've had more than 2,000 athletes come back into a degree-completion program that we're involved in at Northeastern with 70-plus universities around the country, and that number includes 702 current pro athletes. We've found that no matter where the athletes came from—but it's particularly true if they're black—they had parents who went to their football and basketball games but not to parent-teacher conferences. The parents talked to their children about how to improve their jump shots, but not about how to raise their grade point averages. Guidance counselors steered them to one course instead of another course to keep them eligible. And coaches never told them what the odds were against either getting that college scholarship or making the pros. So, at a very early age, kids got subtle messages from the people that they love most that sports are more important than academics. When these athletes first came into our program, they were almost basket cases. As soon as they started to get involved with people who told them they could do the work, they believed. We did a program on ethics in college sports at Loyola Marymount, and the first question from the audience was, Who's to blame for poor academic performance? Well, one Loyola basketball player got up and looked at the woman who asked the question and said—very gently—"You're to blame." He said, "I was here for four years, and you never asked me anything besides how I played. I was an economics major. You never asked me what I thought about the world economy. I'm black. You never asked me what I thought about what's going on in South Africa in terms of race relations in the U.S.—I was just a ballplayer for you." That is how it is in college.
SI: Bill, did coaches treat players of different races differently?
Walton: Yes. When a black player was struggling, the coach or the general manager would come up to me and say, "Do you think he's on drugs?" If a white player was struggling, the coach would come up and say, "Is something wrong? Is his family all right?"
Washington: It has to do with compatibility and comfort. It's not wrong for me as a black coach to feel comfortable with my black players and a little uncomfortable with the whites. It works in reverse order as well. I think white coaches are more comfortable with white players.
Aaron: There's also a problem in baseball with the coaches. Some of them don't know how to relate to some of the blacks. If someone in a Cadillac picks up a black player, the first thing the coach may say is, "Is he on drugs?" This is not unusual.
Stringer: A coach from Kansas told me that he had to leave because he couldn't take it anymore. He was told by the alumni that he had to play a certain number of white players.
SI: Let's talk about athletes moving into the front offices of their respective sports.
Aaron: I still think that baseball needs to improve in a lot of areas, not just those involving athletes. For example, I've been going to the winter baseball meetings for the last, oh, 17 years, and I don't know of any black team doctors that we have coming down to share in those meetings. I don't know of any black vendors that have come down to share in those meetings. I don't know of any black clubhouse guys coming down to share in those meetings. For about 10 years I saw nothing but white faces. Now, after I raised a little holy hell for a while, the commissioner decided that he was going to do something and stood up in the winter meetings and told us, "I see a lot of progress." I said, "Where's the progress?" He said, "Don't you see all these women we just hired?" I said, "Wait a minute, that's O.K., but you have to tell me what else you have done. Show me some black managers. Show me some black team doctors." That's where baseball has its trouble. All of these things that have been denied blacks all this time.
SI: During the 1968 series, Larry Doby was quoted as saying: "You know those junkyards along the highways in Jersey? Well, they have scrap heaps for athletes, most of them black. Black athletes are cattle. They're raised, fed, sold and killed."
Davis: One of the black athletes' problems, in all honesty, is that they fail to plan and position themselves to be more than participants. It just doesn't happen. I get a sense that a guy like Buck is saying, "Hey, I think I could become a general manager because along the way I'm going to start planning and developing a relationship with management. When I'm finished, these people are going to know that this is what I want to do."