The Jim Crow Segment of Professional Sports, Part I

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Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford

Professional sports around the world can be proud of the social improvement that has evolved.  Soccer in Europe has advanced immensely.  A few years ago I was in a waiting room at a French government office. One of the French employees was watching a professional soccer game and he blurted out in English “That’s all you see playing these games – Africans!”  I responded with a smile, “Get ready that is how American Basketball started.” He nodded with a smile of surrender.  Sports, big time money sports, is a meritocracy.  Owners have the final say on who will play, coach or be traded.  The games are about who gets the most money.  The winners are the ones with the greatest Television Value, ticket sales and marketing schemes.  Professional sports generate trillions of dollars around the world.  It also creates god-like heroes with unlimited influence that can last through generations.

This is a capitalistic society and that is why racism has been withering away. Two of the greatest football coaching legends, Paul “Bear” Bryant and John McKay together developed a scheme to make Black football stars play at their famous schools. Coach Bryant could not recruit Blacks for fear of being fired and black balled forever.  John McKay was frustrated because he could not play quality teams in the southern schools because the fans would not allow it. Coach Bryant rightfully feared that southern schools like his Alabama would soon be losing after season Bowl Championships because he had no Blacks on his teams like the giant programs of Ohio State, University of Southern California and UCLA, etc.

These two geniuses developed a plan. It was clear USC was going to have the best team over the next three years. Bryant was restrained by the race conscious programs in the South. All of the great Black talent was starting to populate northern and western programs.  Bingo!  They decided to schedule each other for a preseason contest. It was a struggle but somehow it happened:  Multi-racial USC Trojans vs. all white Alabama Crimson Tide as the first college game of the season and in racist Birmingham, Alabama.

They played it correctly!  It was Diversity versus Jim Crow. The mighty Trojans came onto the field with a majority of Blacks (unafraid, muscular Blacks with all the speed and braggadocio in the world.  With each first down and touchdown they flaunted their God given talents.

As the late and great Muhammad Ali would say, “The Trojans shook up the world!”  Every white football fan in the South was horrified.  Integrated schools in the rest of the country were having field trips to the South and generated hundreds of Black football stars for their schools.  One NCAA announcer who worked that trailblazing event entered a Birmingham restaurant for breakfast and sat next to a table of sulking Alabama fans. One of the fans shouted, “I know what Bear needs to do. He needs to go out and recruit some of those colored boys for Bama!” The rest of the table shouted “That’s right!!”  Yes indeed, it shook up the world.  After the game, Coach Bryant sent Coach McKay a request.  He wanted him to send their star running back, Sam “The Bam” Cunningham. When Sam came over, the Bear told his team to, “all stand up walk by and shake the hand of a perfect football player.” Sam had a great pro career playing for the New England Patriots. His little brother, Randall, would do equally well in the pros.

It caught on in Basketball as John Wooden of UCLA and Dean Smith of legendary North Carolina broke the ice in that sport. It only took a few years for the National Football League and the National Basketball Association to follow identical paths.

All of these scholarships started arriving in Black neighborhoods.  Black females would soon profit from this movement. In my junior year at the University of Wisconsin, the Chancellor frankly asked the Black football players, “What is it about dating white girls?” I frankly responded,“Bring in some cute Black girls and maybe your concerns would fade away.” The next semester UW Badgers awarded over 800 Black females scholarships. I would joke around and declare the change in population should be accredited to me.

When money and sports combine together for a worthy cause, diversity, it becomes a powerful social and financial tool. Black education increases and these college graduates flock to upper middle class professions and raise successful children.  Professional sports has guided this nation to a better America for the most part.  Broadcasters, paid at the 7 figure level, and management team positions are all going for a $ million dollars plus financial based benefits.  It is so great!

However, there is one flaw (a massive flaw). Who designs and builds our stadiums and arenas  –  these billion dollar structures?  Check into it and you will find things here have not changed much. Part II is going to deal with that.

 Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

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