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ESPN: Exploring Race Relations

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By Leland Stein III –

Thanks to Stevie Wonder and many others we just concluded the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day, and, in recognition of ESPN’s remembrance of that special day it recently concluded a noteworthy survey of sports fans on race in sports.

The conclusion of the detailed report notes that while American society has made huge strides in terms of racial equality over the past half century, the survey clearly denotes that we still have a long way to go. The perception of racial equality in white and black fans is hugely different.

A Hart Research Associates survey pooled sports fans (1,213 white, 435 African- American) and unfortunately the results were predictable and could have been implemented in the 1930’s and we would have gotten the same results.

The white surveyed data base overwhelmingly held the perception and belief that racial equality is happening now, while African Americans surveyed feel strongly that equality has not been achieved in all of American society and equality has not been reached in sports. African-Americans noted that they have fewer opportunities for positions of power in sports and equality beyond the playing field still have many miles to traverse.

The fact of the matter is African Americans empowered as owners of a pro sports franchise, athletic directors at a major Division I universities, NFL head coaches and head coaches at a major BCS schools is dismal and does not reflect their participation numbers on the fields of play.

One of the main themes in ESPN’s television narrative was do sports unite or divide? The input was much better in this category as 72 percent believe sports do more to unite people across racial lines.

That I’d have to agree with as I covered Olympic Games, Super Bowls. NBA Finals, Final Fours and many other championship sporting events, and, I’ve seen nations, countries, states, cities and county areas galvanize in unprecedented terms behind teams. Players from one’s neighborhood and local universities and professional teams can and have driven people to a joyful frenzy no matter the color of none’s skin.

One disappointing result for me was how blacks and whites viewed the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview, not hire, one minority candidates for senior operating posts and coaching positions. The survey noted that 57 percent of African-American fans think the rule will be needed for years to come, while 20 percent of white fans think it is unnecessary no matter the facts.

The biggest and most disconcerting gap manifests itself in how blacks and whites viewed media bias in its treatment of black athletes versus white athletes.

Overwhelmingly African- Americans believe the media is biased and unfair in its treatment and presentation of African-Americans. Whites surveyed believe there is no media bias. Wow!!!!

I can truly exclaim that while it is not always rooted in racism, there is an inability of different races (reporters) to view life through anything but their own prism. Now I understand that all this does not apply to every black or white person, because there are some genuine individuals that live life and view life through a non-jaundiced human microscope.

However in relation to the masses it unfortunately seems we are getting more polarized than ever. Two third of whites would bury Mike Vick in quick sand if they could. Many have also put LeBron James in the same hate me category because he exercised his earned right to be a free agent.

No matter that James has never been busted for drugs, beat up any old ladies or young, and never missed a plane.

Indeed it has been was 46 years since Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, spoke passionately about his dreams and hopes for equality in the United States.

Without a doubt sports has broken the rock solid barrier of racism long before education institutions, housing, government and neighborhoods did.

When Jack Johnson won the heavyweight title in the early 1900’s he was firmly put in the cross hairs of racism as they changed laws to get him arrested for marrying a white woman. Thirty years later Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in America’s Pastime (Major League Baseball) and Jesse Owens claimed three gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games with Hitler watching in serious pain. Meanwhile King and other future Civil Rights leaders were just babies. Indeed I would have to project that the progress of race relations in this hostile America for too many . . . for too long was pushed forward by the blood, sweat and tears of many African Americans on the playing fields long before they were even granted the right to vote. Indeed I know there have always been many men and women pushing the race debate, however they did not have the and media attention of Detroit boxer Joe Louis who fought in Yankee Stadium before 70,000 people and millions more via radio in the 1930’s.

Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com

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