Racism in Sports? It's Checks, Not Balances
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
By Chris Sprow
Don King, who has spent time in prison, has had bullets nestled comfortably in the back of his head for over 30 years, has been in court more than Judge Judy, and has made millions by “promoting” boxing events for decades, is fond of saying “Only In America!”
He’s halfway right. He should have said, only in American sports. King is often barely coherent, but his success is not debatable.
King promotes blacks, whites, Latins, or Asians with equal vigor. Take your race card elsewhere. This is economics.
Checks, (cashable ones) not balances.
How about Jamie Foxx? Foxx, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, reminded us why sports may always be the peaceful eye of any racial hurricane.
On a Sportscenter segment called the “Budweiser Hot Seat” (read: useless filler for cash) yesterday, Foxx answered this Jay Harris question: who should start next year for the Dallas Cowboys?
"I love Quincy (Carter), he's my boy and all and he's black, but I got to go with Drew.” Said Foxx. “Quincy's had his shot but it's about winning, race has got nothing to do with it."
Try that phrasing in any other segment of society and eyebrows get raised. In sports, it drew laughs, or more amazingly, no attention at all.
Why? We don’t care about diversity, we care about title delivery. Quotas? Give us quality starts. You may think racial balance is vital, but you would know better if you were writing the checks.
Sadly, it took the courageous Jackie Robinson for the world of money sports to realize its potential. However, since his arrival, and the slow process of full integration that followed, we have in many ways achieved the true American dream, but for a different reason than we think. Let us not forget, Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers president who so “courageously” signed Robinson, made an economic decision just as much as he made a social one.
It was about the color of money, not the color of skin. It was performance, not an attempt to pacify critics, or infuriate bigots.
While other realms of a free society attempt to manifest a semblance of equality through point systems and quotas, squirming while forcing a twin sheet onto a queen-size bed, the world of sports simply asks, “You any good?”
And with a “Yes”, they say, “Fine, prove it.”
So if you’re white and you want to cry foul at Foxx like the Democratic senate screeched at Trent Lott last year for a far more ambiguous statement, go ahead. But don’t expect results. Expect laughs.
In sports, the message is clear, you produce, you play…and you get paid.
The University of Michigan last year successfully upheld key tenets of their entrance policies, which recognize ethnicity as well as test scores in their quest for diversity. Fine. However, if you see a paid scout adding a few integers to a white player's free throw percentage, or a few points to a black player's batting averages, you are delusional. The world of sports is still ruled by the only sane social science: economics.
And that, incredibly, make Foxx’s comments laughable. Root for blacks if you want. Root for whites if it feels good. In sports, you had better root for their stats. In sports, the term “millionaire” knows no skin color.
Make all the arguments you want about how there are not enough blacks driving stock cars, not enough whites on basketball courts, or not enough of either on the table tennis circuit.
This is not racism. This is America. Land of the free…free to get rich.
This is economics. People have the choice and incentive to pursue the sport, or “avocation” as the NCAA calls it, that not only gives them the greatest opportunity to date the head cheerleader, but in some cases, to get paid millions and sit the bench in any number of pro leagues.
The NBA does not have time for affirmative action. They have a product to sell, and 147 more Steve Kerr clones won’t get shoe companies drooling. Major League Baseball has seen a decline in the number of African American players in recent years. I would bet a Jackie Robinson autographed bat to your John Rocker signed glove that no quota will be in place to fix it. Blame it on an influx of Latin American players. Blame it on basketball and football and even soccer, sports that statistically have drawn a great deal of blacks away from the diamond. However, blame will never be placed on the people writing the checks.
Acknowledging the shortsightedness of Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Donovan McNabb in the fall, we must remember, perhaps his greatest error was not seeing see his own fallibility. He never donned a pro jersey. So to even toy with racism, he needed to come from within sports. Instead, he was seen as an outsider perpetuating the idea that the social problems of the real world, a place where racism does exist, could actually be plausible in sports.
It does not work.
Sure, there is racism in sports. Comments are made. Battles are fought. There have been those to help break the mold. Branch Rickey, Don Haskins, even the great Bear Bryant, who in 1970 took African American running back Sam Cunningham into his own Alabama Crimson Tide locker room after they were thrashed by USC in front of their home crowd and said, "This is Sam Cunningham. This is what a football player looks like." They all helped bring us to where we are.
And now, where we are, it really comes down to this: Who’s good? Who stinks?
As Bobby Knight used to say, “If I listen to the people in the stands, pretty soon I’ll be sitting with them.”
Funny, too. Some critics once foolishly called Knight a racist. That is laughable, because if anybody knows, it’s a born winner like Knight. In sports, it’s who wins that matters, not what color the players are who get it done. And the ones who win, sometimes they get paid.
It’s all checks (the written ones), forget the balances.
Chris Sprow is the Director of Media Development and a regular columnist for Chicago Sports Review. He can be reached at