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The Black Athlete
While it is commendable that you care about the plight of blacks in sports, I think that you are asking too much of sports to expect them to cure an ailment that plagues society. Sports follow society's thinking; they don't lead it. And maybe that's the way it should be. For many in the inner city the choice is often between eating and going to a ball game. That may explain why many sports stadiums aren't filled with minorities.
Your series of articles was excellent. It reiterates what has long been known about America—we have a long way to go.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Aug. 19 POINT AFTER about teaching young blacks that sports is not the only way to get ahead was probably the most profound article I have ever read on helping black youths in this country to reevaluate their goals. Gates was definitely on target when he cited statistics on the number of African-American professional athletes active today and pointed up what a small number it actually is. Every young man and woman of every minority should read this magnificent article.
Having worked closely with 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith during the U.S. Olympic Festival earlier this summer in Los Angeles, I was particularly interested in The Eye of the Storm (Aug. 12), a look at the subsequent lives of the U.S. track and field stars who protested racism at the Mexico City Olympics. Smith was joined at the festival by other African-American Olympians from Southern California (Barbara Ferrell Edmonson, Sherri Howard, Rafer Johnson, Charles Lakes, John Rambo, Wyomia Tyus and Marilyn White) to bring a motivational message about academic excellence to a number of inner-city youth organizations. Smith also promoted the festival by participating in Olympic-trivia contests and handing out prizes. On the last day of the competition, he presented the medals for the 200 meters, the event for which he received his gold medal 23 years ago. This gesture indicated that he held no hard feelings toward the U.S. Olympic Committee, which banished him from the Olympics after he and John Carlos demonstrated on the victory stand in '68.
I was dismayed to discover that the racist image of the Boston Celtics persists ( Beantown: One Tough Place To Play, Aug. 19). The city of Boston may be racist and the Red Sox may have been racist in times past, but I can think of no other organization that is less racist than the Celtics. Ever since Red Auerbach took over the Celtics more than 40 years ago, they have emphasized character, loyalty, ability and winning, but never race. As Leigh Montville pointed out in his story, the Celtics drafted the first black in the NBA, were the first team in the NBA to start five blacks and were the first team to name a black coach. When they had a team with a significant number of whites, they played for a number of championships, and that is what athletics is all about. It is not an affirmative action league.
I am a 26-year-old white male who read your series with great interest. I have lived and died with the Boston Red Sox ever since Carlton Fisk took Pat Darcy deep that October evening back in '75, and with the Celtics ever since the days of Cedric (Cornbread) Maxwell. Heck, I have even developed a soft spot for the Patsies. However, after reading Montville's article, there was only one thing that I wanted to do—cry.
I am Mexican-American, and I am tired of reading how the educational system has let the blacks down. They should take it as a blessing that they have the opportunity to earn degrees on athletic scholarships. I would love to have the opportunity to go to college but can't afford it. Where were these black athletes in high school? Were they too busy doing something else to pay attention in class? Why didn't they take advantage of school, like the rest of us? I think an athletic scholarship should be earned, just like everything else in life. Are we to hand the black athlete everything on a silver platter, including a college degree, just because he can run fast and jump high?
Exploitation works both ways: The colleges win championships and attract money to their schools, and the black athletes showcase their talents to the pros for big-money contracts.