Indicting the Black Athlete of Today

You know about Elgin Baylor. You’ve seen his records being broken. Maybe you know that in the 61-62 NBA season he averaged 38.3 points to go with 18.6 rebounds. Such numbers are eye popping but there is more to this man than that. You may not know that Elgin was a United States Army Reservist that same year and could only play for the Lakers when he got a weekend pass. You may also not know that Mr. Baylor single handedly saved the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1958, when Elgin was drafted number 1 overall by the Lakers, the Lakers were in trouble. They were lousy. The George Mikan era was over and the players who were left on the team were “slow, bulky and aging” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Baylor). The Lakers owner at the time, Bob Short, begged Baylor to skip his junior year and join the Minneapolis Lakers. Mr. Hope would later say in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1971: “If he had turned me down, I would have been out of business. The club would have gone bankrupt”. The Lakers drafted Mr. Baylor to save the franchise and in his rookie year, he led them to the NBA finals. To help put this in perspective think of this; the Lakers had finished 19-53 one year before Elgin came to town. Talk about clutch.

You definitely know about Jackie Robinson. You know what he accomplished by being the first black person in the big leagues. Jackie had to be good you see, Jackie had to be very good or this experiment was going to end just as quickly as it had begun. He was carrying the hopes and dreams of every little boy and girl who wasn’t white but had picked up a bat, a glove, or a ball and dared to dream. Talk about pressure. He knew exactly what he had to do. He had to carry those dreams and hopes on his back. Good thing he had a strong, broad back.

What about Oscar Robertson? He was the only man to ever average a triple double in a season. During the 61-62 season, he pulled off 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game. But you knew that. You may not know just how poor Mr. Robertson was growing up. In fact, he picked up basketball because it was a “poor boy’s sport”. His family could not afford a basketball so he learned how to shoot by tossing tennis balls and rags bound with rubber bands into a peach basket. The Big O had to put up with a lot of racism during his career especially in college and high school. He often had to sleep in dorms on the road instead of hotel rooms like the rest of his teammates because he wasn’t allowed in. Despite all of that, Mr. Robertson flourished and even helped bring an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA which led to a reform of free agency and draft rules.

There are many more old time black athletes. Some of them we’ll never hear about because their sacrifices went unpublicized. In a time when their white counterparts were renowned for what they did on the courts, pitch, field, etc., these men had to be champions both on and off the court. They were called upon to look beyond themselves and help bring change and they came through convincingly. Without them, there would be no Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, etc. The NBA wouldn’t be fantastic, Major League Baseball wouldn’t be importing players from Japan and the Dominican Republic, and Football wouldn’t be America’s new pastime. Yet these men are at risk of being forgotten. Some of them are still alive but aren’t celebrated. When the average fan of today calls Michael Jordan the greatest, I beg to differ. All Michael had to do was just play. The people before him had to win the hearts of people who didn’t want them there.

We are losing a valuable piece of American history. Part of the problem is the apathy shown by current athletes in their refusal to take up causes outside of their comfort zone. There is still some racism left, some injustice in this society, and yet the people who have the power to do so much do nothing at all. The current black athlete is failing off the court despite their high marks on it. Meanwhile history continues to be lost, one piece at a time.

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5 Responses to “Indicting the Black Athlete of Today”

  1. Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods both got Nike exemptions.

    Mike Vick had one too–but it expired.

    So long as you can sell product you are considered media clean.

    Dead Doped Dogs hurt sales.

  2. I recall during one of the BCS bowls this year they honored the University of San Francisco football team from the 50’s who unified “as one” and agreed they would not go to a bowl game because the team was told their black players were not welcome. More of these stories need to be unearthed so all of us, regardless of race, can appreciate who actually laid the foundation for all of today’s stars to perform upon.

  3. Agreed, the real indictment on today’s athlete is the attitude of entitlement (or at least it appears to be) many athletes possess. Also an indictment of our society that we don’t CARE enough to look this up. It’s not a race issue. It’s a history issue. It’s a progress issue. It’s a human issue. Whatever your perspective… this is an issue and it needs to be addressed.

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