Open MIC: Come To Think of It: Racism in Sports Is Alive and Well

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IJune 21, 2009

I don’t have a racist bone in my body.

I know this to be a fact, because I had it surgically removed years ago.

That was obviously a joke, but racism is no laughing matter. This is a very personal article for me, but more on that later.

Look, I may be "ridin’ white and nerdy": but I know wrong when I see and hear it.

Saturday was Major League Baseball's Beacon Awards, which is part of its Civil Rights Game.

While our society has come a long way, it still has miles to go in terms of equality, even in sports.

On Saturday, former President Bill Clinton told the crowd, “The push for racial equality is far from over, in sports and in everyday life."

In a country where a black man is President, we sometimes forget that racism is still alive and well, in both life in general, and sports.


  • Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli was racially abused by a group of AS Roma fans who threw bananas at him in a bar. Balotelli was born in Italy, but has Ghanaian roots.

Outside the US, soccer fans are among the biggest racists in the world.

  • Many Latinos consider MLB’s Hall of Fame to have slighted them over the years.

ESPN’s Jorge Arangure Jr. writes that, “Only seven of the 289 Hall of Famers are Latino, and the Hall of Fame electorate (there will be only roughly 20 Latino voters from a total of an estimated 600 voters this year, according to the Baseball Writers Association of America) hardly represents the percentage of Latinos on the field, much less reflects the number of Latino fans.”

How can voters understand what some of these players had to go through to excel at their craft, without being more diverse itself?

  • American Indians long have felt that team nicknames are disrespectful to their cultural heritage.

While many teams have changed their names, and eliminated their mascots, some still remain. While I personally don’t understand why a mascot like Chief Illiniwek, who was forced into early retirement from the University of Illinois, would be insensitive to Native Americans, I can’t claim to walk in their shoes.

My beloved Chicago Blackhawks, the Cleveland Indians, and the Washington Redskins are but a few of the many nicknames that are said to be offensive to Native American Indians:

  • A Formula One fan at the Spanish Grand Prix wore dark makeup to mock driver Lewis Hamilton.
  • An NFL HOF’er, the late Reggie White, had insulting things to say about Jews.
  • From the NBA, an example of racism in reverse is Charles Barkley, who once said, "That's what I hate about F-cking White people"

Racism doesn’t have to be conscious. In fact, ignorance often is at the heart of racism.

For example, some NFL analysts and fans imply that black QBs are lacking in intelligence without directly saying it, viewing them as great athletes who can run and jump, but can’t read defenses or make decisions on the field like their white counterparts.  

Scoop Jackson had this to say earlier this year: “Because of the success blacks have found in sports, we tend to allow ourselves an, "It's always been this way," pseudo-fantasy. We're leaning to a universal belief that achievements in sports just happen, that Willie Mays just happened, that Jordan just happened, that Serena and Venus just happened, that Tiger just happened.

Scoop says that films and documentaries have been necessary to “reinforce the notion that nothing in this country has come easy to those born of color.” For example:

  • Speaking of Tiger, Golf Channel reporter Kelly Tilghman once said that young players competing with Tiger Woods should "lynch him in a back alley".

While I believe that Kelly truly didn’t understand that she was making a racially insensitive statement, it only serves as further proof that racism is often based in ignorance.

  • You don’t have to go back to the days of Jackie Robinson to find racism in major league baseball.

Baseball players are perceived differently because of their respective races. Scrappy, gritty players are never black, they are almost always white guys.

I have personally heard the taunts from fans in the stands that are racially insensitive to black players.

There is also the concern of declining black participation in Major League Baseball.

Hank Aaron said progress has been made, but he'd like to see MLB do more to promote black involvement and opportunities in the game.

"That's a concern of mine; I would just like to see more American blacks play professional baseball," Aaron said. "There's something that needs to be done.

Now, I do think that sometimes the race card is used too much and in situations where it doesn’t necessarily apply.

It’s part of an overly politically correct society where everything is offensive to everybody.

Those that read my work know that I can be politically incorrect at times.

Sometimes I just want to say “lighten up, everybody”. 

There are other problems in our world that involve sports, including Donte Stallworth getting only 30 days for killing someone.

Yet to think that real racism doesn’t exist is to live in a fantasy world.  

You don’t often see famous athletes tackling this subject.

Perhaps that’s because the only color mattering to many of them is the color of money.


So why does a white kid from Chicago feel so passionately about this subject?

Well, I grew up in a Southside neighborhood called Marquette Park, a very segregated area. As blacks and Arabs began to move into that neighborhood, real estate agencies started telling all the homeowners to get out while they can. Panic selling ensued.

The term "there goes the neighborhood" applies here because the neighborhood literally did go. Many called it the "white flight", as homeowners (we rented), afraid of living with people of color and the effect that would have on the worth of their homes, began to move to surrounding suburbs.

But that's not all. As a young boy, my friend Tom and I sat in hushed silence in nearby bushes as race riots broke out around the park during the marches by Dr. King and others.

It was gruesome; there were cars being overturned and burned. There were blacks being pulled from their cars by thugs in "White Power" tee-shirts and beaten.

In short, it had an appalling affect on me personally. That is simply something you cannot forget.

And I think back to walking by the headquarters of Frank Collin, who served as the leader of the National Socialist Party of America.

When I think of his office less than a mile form my apartment, with riflemen stationed in the cieling, I cringe. I cringe at the memory of this hateful man.

You know what's ironic? It eventually came to light that he was of Jewish ancestry.

You know what else? Collin was later arrested by Michigan police for engaging in sex acts with a pair of 10-year-old boys.

Nice fellow, huh?

You know, it was Ralph W. Sockman who once said, “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”

We could all learn much from this statement, come to think of it.


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