Thank You, Pioneers!

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically . . . No, the only tired I was, tired of Giving In.”~Rosa Parks

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a holiday to celebrate the man who helped guide the citizens of the United States to find its better self–one of acceptance of differences, integration and the start of equal representation. We haven’t quite mastered that yet, but most of us are still trying to accomplish his dream.

In reaching towards King’s dream, sports has been a leader in helping society to see past the differences of skin color, facial features, dialect or spoken language, gender, nationality, and now, orientation. There are serious strides still to be made especially in regards to gender and orientation but the conversations have started and movement has been made.

But what if athletes of all different nationalities and races were not like Rosa Parks and tired of giving in? What if Jackie Robinson never stared down racism every time he was hit with a pitch or called a nigger? Where would Major League Baseball be? What if Willie O’Ree was afraid to take to the ice to integrate the National Hockey League? There are not many minority NHL players. Without O’Ree, would there be any? What about Ernie Davis and Jim Brown with the National Football League or Major League Lacrosse or the Heisman Trophy? What about tennis with Arthur Ashe or the Williams Sisters?

We owe the minority sports pioneers a debt of gratitude for having the courage to make us face the ugliness of bigotry and become more enlightened. Because of their faith and courage, players from all walks of life come together on courts, fields, pitch and the ice. Sports has taught us the beauty of combining our cultures, our strengths and weaknesses as well as our personal beliefs to help us overcome obstacles and win championships. MLK’s dream along with others made that possible.

There’s a scene in the 1988 movie, Mississippi Burning, about the real life events of MLK and SCLC trying to integrate the South in which 3 young Civil Rights workers (Jew, White and Black young men) are killed in Jessop that illustrates this point:

Mayor: You can tell your bosses that people got the wrong idea about the South. You know what I’m talking about . . . everybody running around ragged, backwards, illerate . . . eating sour belly and corn pon three times a day . . . Simple fact is Anderson we have 2 cultures down here–White Culture and a Coloured Culture. That’s the way it’s always has been and that’s the way it always will be.
FBI Agent Anderson: Rest of America don’t see it that way.
Sheriff: The rest of America doesn’t mean jack shit. You’re in Mississippi now.
FBI Agent Anderson: Uh, that’s for sure. What’s the score Mr. Barber?
Barber: St. Louis up 5-0.
FBI Agent Anderson: What inning is it?
Barber: The bottom of the 7th.
Mayor: You like baseball do you, Mr. Anderson?
FBI Agent Anderson: Yeah, I do. You know it’s the only time when a Black man can waive a stick at a White man and not start a riot? (laughs)

A 92 year old man died in prison a few days ago. He was one of the men who killed those 3 young Civil Rights workers . . . today, our country appears to be going backwards with the blood shed and ignorance of the 1960s reappearing in the language of our government leaders and select hate groups. But here’s hoping that sports helps the United States continue to kill racism plus all the other “isms” and phobias and heal itself before it’s too late. Here’s to Not Giving In.

Source: Graduate School (Wake Forest University)