The world of sports prides itself on references to fair play and teamwork. Have those references always been applicable? Not so much. This month, after the excitement of March Madness has dissipated, we need to look at both commercial and amateur sports historically to see where justice has been slighted and where it has improved.
Why were the 2021 NCAA playoff facilities for men and women markedly different: full weight training room for men, a series of dumbbells for women? That inequity was quickly rectified but should not have happened in the first place.
Why was Jeremy Lin, a former NBA star, now playing in the NBA’s G League in an effort to return to a major team, called a “coronavirus” by one of his teammates? Lin is Taiwanese-American. The reference to his heritage is unacceptable as part of today’s unwarranted denigration of Asian-Americans.
Why did Black baseball players have to play in Negro Leagues? Why did Major League Baseball wait until December of 2020 to combine the statistics of seven Negro League teams with MLB statistics and grant them Major League status?
If baseball is “America’s pastime,” why are Black people often missing from top management?
Both Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated the Major Leagues in 1947, Robinson with the National League and Doby with the American League. Baseball began in the 1860’s, after the Civil War. What took so long?
Why did Henry “Hank” Aaron receive hate mail and death threats when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974?
After San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 as his peaceful protest against police brutality and systemic racism, why has he never been hired by another team? Was he ahead of his time in expressing his sentiments?
Will the National Football League’s “End Racism” slogans on football fields and helmets actually do that? 70 percent of NFL players are Black; coaches and top management positions do not come close to that statistic.
Although Lee Elder was the first Black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in 1975, why did it take forty-six years for him to be the first Black person to participate in the tradition of honorary starters at the Masters earlier this month? Why did it take until 1990 for Augusta National to welcome its first Black member? Why did it take until 2012 to admit its first woman member?
Will Hideki Matsuyama, this year’s Master’s winner, be the first of many Japanese golfers to do well on the tour?
Why is Michael Jordan, who has been described as the greatest basketball player ever, now the only Black owner of a NASCAR cup team in fifty years? Why is Darrell “Bubba” Wallace the only Black full-time driver at the top NASCAR level?
If you have heard of Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Serena and Venus Williams, why have you not heard of Jimmie McDaniel? Don Budge and Jimmie McDaniel played the first interracial tennis match at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in Harlem in 1940. Did the white first winner of the Grand Slam in 1938 beat the Black collegiate star? Yes, he did, but McDaniell went on to win many tournaments after that.
So what do we learn from all of these questions? We ask more questions. What if all sports coaches were required to have dimples? What if janitors at stadiums could only be between ages 39 and 44? What if Olympic team members could only have first names that start with the letters ‘U’, ‘S’, or ‘A’?
As ridiculous as these “what ifs” are, they are no more ridiculous than de facto requiring players to be white or intentionally or unintentionally overlooking talent because it does not match someone’s current view of what is acceptable.
The concepts of fair play, or teamwork, or equity or justice should be color blind. Period.
“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof l’maan tichyeh” – Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may live…
Audrey Brooks is an Emeritus Judicial Member, State Bar of Wisconsin, lifelong volunteer, and current Tucson Hebrew Academy Board Trustee.