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The Black Athlete
The first installment of your black-athlete series was both timely and of exceptional quality. The roundtable discussion with prominent sports figures about the progress of black athletes since 1968 ("A Lot of Things Seem to Be Better, but...") was a strong highlight, but I wish more of the discussion had focused on solutions to problems on the collegiate level. In particular, the comment by C. Vivian Stringer, the women's basketball coach at Iowa, that the NCAA should guarantee student-athletes five years to graduate, deserves serious consideration. That, coupled with the elimination of freshman eligibility, could reduce the negatives associated with Proposition 48 and tell students that studying is at least as important as playing sports.
I was disgusted by the sentiments expressed in the roundtable discussion by the two college basketball coaches, Rudy Washington of Drake and Vivian Stringer of Iowa, about their respective children. Both coaches seemed to be concerned about their children's delusions about becoming the next Michael Jordan, yet both blame society and the media for these delusions. While society and the media are not blameless, certainly these two parents can find the strength and authority to shape their own children's lives and perceptions. If these coaches cannot or do not take responsibility for their children, how can we expect them to behave responsibly with the student-athletes who are put in their care?
Regarding Bill Walton's condemnation of Michael Jordan for not speaking out on contemporary issues, I would suggest that Jordan leads by example rather than by speech. For instance, Jordan does not smoke or drink, he openly supports education as the road to success, and he refused to renegotiate his rookie contract, choosing instead to fulfill his six-year obligation to the Bulls. He also sets an example on the court by playing hurt. Maybe Jordan has put his money where Walton's mouth (foot) is.
In How Far Have We Come? former SI writer Jack Olsen, who wrote the magazine's 1968 series on the black athlete, is quoted as saying, "The sports establishment is still refusing to take any responsibility for the education of black athletes or their preparation for a future beyond sports." Whose responsibility is this, really? Is it not the athletes'? They are given a great opportunity because of their physical gifts. If they don't make the most of it, it's their fault. Please quit telling these athletes that someone else is to blame.
I was moved to tears when I saw the picture on the last page of A Courageous Stand. I was 13 years old in 1968 and remember thinking that the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they received their Olympic medals were some sort of Black Power salute.
Kenny Moore's article helped me realize that no one who merely observed their action could possibly understand what these gifted men experienced as they tried to represent both their country and their ideals. To have achieved what most people consider the ultimate athletic goal but not be able to relish the moment, must have made it a bittersweet victory indeed. Twenty-three years later these men who were shunned and reprimanded deserve to be applauded and admired.
We are often admonished not to judge people until we have walked in their shoes. As a white American, I will never live the black experience, but Moore has brought me closer to understanding what it was like to walk in Tommie Smith's and John Carlos's shoes.
Every week I eagerly await the arrival of SI so that I may read about the accomplishments of my sports heroes. This week was different. As I finished Moore's article, I could only shake my head in sadness. I then realized something about myself—Smith's black-gloved fist meant more to me than any of Michael Jordan's amazing dunks. I suppose it is any sports fan's dream to meet a Jordan or a Magic Johnson, but I'll take Tommie Smith. I think I could learn more from him.
How is it that SI can publish such a superb issue on the condition, progress and concerns of black athletes in America while every year putting out a swimsuit issue that demeans women and continues to treat them as objects?