Tag Archives: Race

Pardoning Jack Johnson

Sen. John McCain wants to pardon deceased boxing icon Jack Johnson:

“We need to erase this act of racism which sent an American citizen to prison on a trumped-up charge,” McCain said, adding, “I have great confidence this president will be more than eager to sign this legislation and pardon Jack Johnson.”

The act of racism to which McCain refers was Johnson’s arrest for transporting a white woman across state lines–a woman who, it should be noted, later became his wife. In those unenlightened days, though, what Johnson did violated the Mann Act. In 1913 he was convicted for his “crime”:

Johnson fled the country after his conviction, but agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence. He tried to renew his boxing career after leaving prison, but failed to regain his title. He died in a car crash in 1946 at age 68.

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Wrongheaded Defiance in South Carolina

Ron Morris has penned a fairly brave column in the State. In it, he takes on his fellow South Carolinians’ dogged insistence upon flying the Confederate flag in the public square. Here’s what that has to do with sports:

For yet another year, Columbia was left off the national basketball map, despite having an 18,000-seat arena that could host a regional and a university willing to put on the show.

You might have forgotten that Columbia can never be the site for a pre-determined NCAA tournament. Never, at least, until the Confederate flag is removed from the State House grounds.

I lived the first 29 years of my life in Mississippi. Both my parents were born in Alabama, all of my family–immediate and extended–still lives in the South, and I have ancestors on all sides who fought for the Confederacy. And not even I can understand why the South clings to the symbols of a war fought to preserve slavery (spare me the revisionist pablum about states’ rights being the casus belli).

Anyhow, for a state that’s not exactly an economic pacesetter, you’d think they’d be more concerned with bringing in out-of-state dollars than with genuflecting before long-ago insurgencies.

With that said, I wouldn’t want to be Ron Morris’ inbox right now.

(HT: Deadpsin)

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Hoops and Hip Hop

June has been deemed “National Basketball and Hip-Hop Culture Month.” I’m not exactly sure who deemed it so, but it’s a fitting commemorative. In fact, the NowPublic piece linked above declares it to be the 25th anniversary of the dawn of the “Dunkadelic Era.” What happened 25 years ago? Run-DMC released their debut album, and Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Seminal events, to be sure.

It’s undeniable that basketball’s close relationship with Hip Hop has helped make it the sport of black urban America. It’s been a symbiotic arrangement and, I’m sure, wildly profitable for both industries. That’s also why David Stern’s occasional bouts of “old white guy stodginess” can be self-defeating. He has a narrow line to walk–throwing the occasional sop to white ticket-buyers who actually care about such things as what the players wear when not in uniform while, at the same time, not alienating the young urbanites who buy Association merch.

In any event, this will surely help the commish’s street cred.

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MJ and Jesse Helms

When someone like Jesse Helms passes on, I aspire to restraint. De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est. Since I have nothing but ill to say about the man, I’ll keep quiet about him.

What Helms’ death does provide, though, is the opportunity to talk about Michael Jordan’s vexing and from-afar associations with the deceased Republican senator. In 1992 and 1996, Harvey Gantt, the black mayor of Charlotte, ran against Helms for his North Carolina senate seat. Jordan, of course, is a North Carolina native, and during the 1990s he was at the peak of his cultural import. These days, there’s no one to compare him to. Perhaps the cumulative face time of LeBron James and Peyton Manning comes close, but there’s really never been a mass-media phenomenon like Jordan, at least in the sports world.

So a Jordan endorsement could’ve done Gantt a world of electoral good, particularly in North Carolina. But none came. Jordan famously declined to take a side, pleading that, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”

In the main, there’s nothing wrong with an athlete’s choosing to remain above the political fray. As Jordan intimated, it’s often more profitable to concoct as much of a politically neutral image as you can. But Jordan’s complacency in the 1990s did more than spare a segment of his customer base from affront; it helped keep an unreconstructed racist in national office. That’s to his enduring shame.

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Paul Ince – Pioneer

Paul Ince was recently named manager of Blackburn of the English Premier League. This is significant because Ince now becomes the first British-born black head coach in the history of the Premiership. It seems a belated milestone, this being 2008 and all. Of course, given European soccer’s complicated racial history, it’s not entirely surprising.

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Race and College Baseball

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an interesing article examining the lack of diversity in college baseball. Indeed, 86% of college baseball players are white. Of particular concern to the author is the relative paucity of Latin players: they make up just 5% of college rosters, whereas Latinos constitute 29% of the major-league population.

The reasons for this are many. As the article points out, college baseball teams must spread 11.7 full scholarships across a roster of 35 student-athletes. That means a healthy majority of college baseball players are paying at least a portion of their own tuition. Needless to say, this is going to impact the less-affluent Hispanic community. As well, there’s the fact that Caribbean and Latin American players outside of Puerto Rico can sign professional contracts as young as age 16. Obviously, this sets baseball apart from the NFL, which requires all draftees to be out of high school for at least three years, and the NBA, which requires draftees to be at least 19 years of age and to allow at least one NBA season to pass after they’re graduated from high school. As well, the NBA and NFL, unlike MLB, don’t exclude foreign players from their draft (although this makes no difference with regard to the NFL’s talent pool).

In baseball, the vast majority of international signings in the Western Hemisphere come from impoverished nations like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Panama. As a result, the signing bonuses dangled in front of them at age 16 are, in many instances, crucial to the survival of their families and impossible to resist. For these reasons, college recruitment abroad approaches nil. Take that in tandem with baseball’s cultural descendancy among American blacks, and you’ve got a sport at the college level that’s both white and the province of the economically enfranchised. As the WSJ piece puts it:

What bugs many coaches most is that baseball, a sport that has a legacy of integration dating back to Jackie Robinson, has become at the college level a game for the privileged — a country-club sport. To be noticed by college recruiters, they say, players must participate in travel leagues and showcase tournaments, attend camps and work with well-known trainers and coaches. Only the families of wealthy kids can afford this, coaches say.

This is indeed regrettable, but it’s not a situation of college baseball’s making. Instead, the peculiar nature of MLB’s signing rules are largely to blame, as are the scholarship constraints placed upon baseball programs. Insofar as Latin players are concerned, even more factors are in play. The Hispanic population in the U.S. comprises a significant percentage of illegals, and another, not entirely overlapping group isn’t fluent in English. Obviously, membership in either group makes attending college in the States somewhat problematic.

In any event, if the NCAA is genuinely troubled by the racial makeup of college baseball teams, then about the only thing it can do is finagle more scholarships for that sport. Failing that, they must agitate for changes to MLB’s policy toward international talent. Neither is likely to happen.

(For further reading, drop in on Craig and his commenters and the wizened gang of posters over BBTF.)

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Don Imus Screws Up

Don Imus is once again embroiled in racial controversy. This time, he’s forced to play defense because, once again, he’s opining on black athletes:

“On his nationally syndicated WABC morning talk show on Citadel Broadcasting Corporation, Imus in response to a statement from another WABC programmer about Dallas Cowboys defensive back Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones legal difficulties asked ‘What color is he?’ When the programmer responded he’s African-American, Imus responded, ‘Well, there you go. Now we know.'”

From the transcript, it’s easy to infer that Imus was suggesting that Jones routinely breaks the law because he’s black. However, Imus insists his point was that Jones is “being picked on because he’s black.”

Imus’ defense sounds plausible, and given the chastening consequences of his Rutgers remarks, I doubt he’d say something as objectively stupid and offensive as what his comments about Jones sound like. So I’m inclined to believe Imus.

With that said, Imus, when broaching any subject of this nature, must (particularly given his personal history) ensure his words are impossible to misinterpret. Imus is a smart man, and he’s been a professional communicator for decades. So he should know better. When it comes to matters of race, he simply can’t allow himself to be this tin-eared. And I say this as someone who, at least at this point, accepts his explanation.

Of course, I’m generally for anything that hastens the demise of the “shock jock.”

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