The Black and White (and Green) of American Sports
I ONCE KNEW an individual — a 20-year Air Force veteran of something less than average intelligence, but still quite capable of supplementing his pension with unskilled odd jobs — who spent most of his waking hours watching ESPN, the all-sports channel. He was a sociable enough fellow, but he exhibited interest and comprehension only when the conversation turned to sports, and then his face suddenly became animated.
Another person I knew, and still see occasionally, has had a lifelong passion for a particular baseball team, a team that is now half a continent distant from where he resides. He has absorbed voluminous statistics and arcane facts regarding baseball, especially those relating to this particular team. He religiously visits the ball park when they come to town to play the local club, and when they appear on national TV he props himself in front of the tube while wearing the baseball cap of his favorites. Pushing 50, he once told me he would consider it a thrill and an honor to be a bat boy for this team. The few books he has picked up in his life have concerned baseball, mainly biographies of the great players associated with “his” team.
This kind of single-minded and simpleminded absorption in team sports is all too common in the United States. Using terminology of the sort that William James employed in describing religious experiences, it might be said that such a sports fan discovers in the mystical union with his very own Team the absolute realities of his own deepest Self.
This is not really difficult to understand, this deep-seated need to identify intimately and intensely with something greater than what Thoreau referred to as the “private all,” to let the individual spirit soar on the wings of a collective greatness. On another level, it can be claimed that baseball, football, basketball — most team sports, in fact — are a sort of ballet for the common man, an exhibition of control and grace surrounded by a masculine aura of violence and power.
Yet it has to be a wonderment that in this modern era of soulless, corporate sports franchises there still are legions of fans who anachronistically pledge their lives and loyalties to a particular team. In an earlier day such behavior seemed more natural: Some of today’s high-powered, high-finance professional teams grew from local clubs which depended entirely on the members and their neighbors for support.
Baseball — approximately as we know it today — came into being in 1845, when a young New York City fireman named Alexander Cartwright organized a group of his friends into the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and began playing at nearby fields. (Cartwright adapted the sport from an earlier game known as “rounders.”) It was amateur, local, and must have been fun.
When the National Association of Base Ball was organized a few years later it was stipulated in their by-laws that no player could be paid. Inevitably, professionalism developed as the game gained popularity, yet it was not until the last 20 years that lucrative television contracts raised owners’ profits and players’ salaries to astronomical levels and turned the “sport” into an integral part of corporate and commercial America.
Pro football, that other great American passion, followed a similar course, beginning with strictly local participation by workingmen who played for the sheer joy of it. In 1920, in Decatur, Illinois, George Halas was coach of a team formed by a local athletic club. When the call of the dollar was heard through the land, Halas moved his group to Chicago and became the “father” of pro football. Several modern teams still retain names that connote their local, working-class origins: Packers, Steelers.
Contemporary sports franchises are migratory, constantly seeking greener pastures, propelled by the lure of ever higher profits. By contrast, around the turn of the century Connie Mack — at one time referred to as “the grand old man of baseball” — took over as manager of the Philadelphia Athletic Club and shortly afterward became the owner as well. In these capacities he guided the team for over 50 years. Mack once was quoted as saying “baseball is a business,” but that old gentleman may well have been horrified if he could have seen exactly what kind of business it would become.
After Mack’s death his Athletics (now shortened to “A’s”) were sold to interests in Kansas City, and a decade later they migrated to Oakland in search of the golden fleece. Should the current ownership one day feel that profits elsewhere may be heftier, they’ll doubtless pack up and move, as did the Oakland football franchise, which perceived and chased the bigger numbers in Los Angeles. Many furious fans left behind in the wake of these moves view them as cruel desertions and suffer the same grief and agony as if it were a beloved spouse who had bailed out.
One saving grace of pro sports, up until the 1950s, was that it was a White man’s game. Teams were rigidly segregated, with the Negro leagues giving employment to the Black athletes. Shortly after World War II a liberal capitalist named Branch Rickey broke the “color line” by bringing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn (now Los Angeles) Dodgers. Blacks have since inundated the playing fields. One can hardly watch a sports contest today without seeing a sea of black and the hijinks that go with it: the “high fives,” the peculiar tribal dance sometimes performed after a score, the grotesque mugging for the camera. Off the field they’ll often forsake the “speed” and heroin of their ghetto brethren to fly high with the cocaine set — and, of course, to acquire the ego-enhancing White females.
Greatly overrepresented in baseball and football, Blacks in basketball are a clear majority. In viewing a basketball game it is not difficult to imagine ten high-spirited natives sporting with each other on the banks of the Congo. There is, however, yet one sport to which a White fan may repair with a good deal of assurance that his pleasure will not be marred by rambunctious high-fiving or the hootings of ghetto profanity. In the entire history of professional ice hockey, apparently, there have been only two Black players. One lasted only a short time, and there is only one Black currently active in the sport.
Hockey games in many parts of the country have almost the appearance of Northern European folk festivals; I’ve been to a few where the only non-White faces in the place belonged to vendors, who seemed somewhat uncomfortable. A man can take his girl or his family to one of these often violent contests without much concern over a confrontation with an ogling urban aborigine. Blacks and Hispanics do not seem to have much interest in a northern sport that employs no players of their own races. While I have not attended a hockey game in a few years, I presume the conditions described still prevail, although what the racial makeup of hockey fans in sub-Saharan metropolises like New York and Chicago may be I do not know.
It is an interesting thing — and a source of some perturbation on the part of teary-eyed liberals and other race manglers — that Blacks seem to have great difficulty succeeding in certain glamorous skill positions in the sports most open to them. For example, although there have been some fine Black baseball pitchers, and a few who were exceptional, the most artful practitioners of this skill have been White. One needs only note the large number of mahogany players on baseball’s annual all-star teams and the correspondingly low number of same on the respective pitching staffs. Perhaps the requirements of pinpoint control and the ability to function under pressure for several hours at a time have something to do with this.
Even more striking is the paucity of Black professional quarterbacks. Whereas they dominate the ranks of the running backs and are heavily represented in all other positions, all of the great quarterbacks, past and present, are White. There have been no more than a handful of Blacks — half a dozen, maybe — who ever played pro ball in the quarterback position; and the only one who attained even a modicum of respectability relied mainly on his running ability for effectiveness.
A quarterback is an offensive field general. He not only must possess fine athletic ability, but, equally important, must be capable of calculating a number of viable possibilities in a few fleeting seconds and of making a high percentage of correct decisions from his assessments.
Again, when the 4–3 defensive alignment was still popular the middle-linebacker was usually the signal caller, the defensive field general. He required some of the same qualities as the quarterback. All of the great middle-linebackers have been of the Caucasian persuasion.
Track-and-field events are another area where Blacks glitter. A common sight during Olympic Games is that of American Blacks being draped with gold and silver medals while the “Star Spangled Banner” is being played. (Personally, I root for the Germans, the Scandinavians, and the Russians and other East Europeans.) Yet even in track and field the Blacks excel only in certain specialities; short runs and hurdles come to mind. In the United States they also seem to monopolize the broad jump. The pole vault and the discus throw fall within the sphere of White accomplishment, as does the javelin throw, although one would think the Blacks should be quite good at that. (An unreconstructed bigot once suggested that a new sport, javelin catching, be added to the Olympics, just for Blacks.)
Whites dominate the longer runs; most of the great milers have been White, and to my knowledge only one Black (a native African) has ever won the Olympic marathon, although some of the Orientals do well in the long runs. Perhaps there is a peculiarity of Black physiology that suits them primarily to short, strenuous efforts: the quick dashes, the run from the scrimmage line, the leap to the basket, the broad jump.
Any sportswriter or commentator foolish enough, uninhibited enough, or drunk enough even to hint at these realities in public, however, soon finds himself demoted to the captaincy of the water cooler, if he is fortunate enough to retain any position at all.
Yet slips are made. One well-known radio broadcaster recently opined disgustedly that a certain college basketball team (almost all Black) that he was covering had “a collective IQ of 40.” He no longer announces the games. And in a recent contract abridgement case a general manager for one of the new United States Football League franchises made highly disparaging remarks about the basic smarts of a Black Detroit Lions player; the manager was put on suspension by his team, after the predictable uproar in the prostitute press.
Although universities are supposedly the repositories of the higher intelligence of the nation, in reality many function as the minor leagues of the pro franchises. A number of schools are greatly dependent for financial solvency on their sports programs, especially the popular draws like football and basketball. Thus, they offer full scholarships to athletes whose mental functions would be better suited to raking the campus lawn.
These “athlete-scholars” are processed through the educational factories, their skills on the playing fields a justification for the snap courses and fraudulent grades they are given. Many graduate hardly knowing how to read or write. If one is a high draft choice by a pro franchise, he becomes an instant millionaire. If he doesn’t make it in the pros and can’t land a job with the Post Office, a Talmudic attorney may take him under his wing and file suit against the university for “failing to educate.” During a recent dispute between the U.S.F.L. and the N.F.L. there was a painfully embarrassing moment for one of the new 21-year-old Black millionaire athletes, when he was called upon to read his contract in the courtroom. He could barely get through even the simplest words of the document, let alone understand an iota of it.
This, folks, is American team sports today: dreams, dollars, dope, dunces, and deception. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? And is that strange noise heard beyond the stadium walls the bones of Connie Mack spinning in his grave?
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Source: National Vanguard magazine, no. 100, May 1984, pp. 23–24; transcribed by Anthony Collins