Open Mic: How Well Has Sports Delt with Race?

Dan PieroniCorrespondent IJune 3, 2008

Zander Fruend asked me to be controversial, and I shall not disappoint.

Let me be perfectly honest with you my loyal and devoted reader. What I'm about to say may come off as offensive and insensitive to some of you, but I have always believed in speaking the truth. I'm sure Zander is certainly aware of the fact that many of these open mic pieces are going to be controversial and hurtful.

Thus, I apologize up front for anything I may say in within the context of this article that might offend you.

One of the major issues in sports over the last several decades has been equality for all athletes, coaches, and executives, regardless of race, religion, or physical handicap.

You don't hear a lot about people with disabilities or a coach that practices Cabala losing out on a job because the owner fears that his religious beliefs may be a bad influence on the team. There is however one issue that won't go away—the issue of race as it applies to the field of athletics.

For years the question has lingered, if a person of African-American ancestry has the same qualifications as a white person, are they entitled to a job? In most instances, the answer is yes. However, some, major athletic organizations have not embraced the black personnel, especially in a leadership role.

The following is a list of pros and cons of each professional sports league in how they have dealt with race relations over the last several years. The leagues are ranked from best to worst in their handling of the race issue.

NBA: Has handled the integrations of black athletes and coaches so well that there are a few, if any, important white figures in the game. The issue has been both a blessing and a curse of the league.

On one hand the league champions the inclusion of minorities in all capacities of its operation. However, the league seems to think that true talent comes at a premium. That's why you see grown men with body art all over themselves, as well as people with severe attitude problems that have an utter and complete disregard for authority. People like that have given the NBA a bad reputation.

MLB: Has grown from a league with no tolerance for blacks, into a league that is championing them as well as people who have proven they can play the game from overseas. What hurts the MLB is that is has a long held belief that blacks cannot manage all that effectively.

To date, only one African-American has managed a team to a World Series title, and even he is largely forgotten for his efforts. Until someone other than Cito Gaston wins a title, the belief will remain the same in major cities that field a baseball team.

NFL: The athlete issue is not a problem, the executive issue is. There are currently only a handful of black executives in the game. The league did not hire a black head coach until 1989, but has slowly increased that number since.

One of them, Tony Dungy, is one of the most beloved coaches in all of sports for his easygoing demeanor and quiet strength in handling adversity. The NFL has yet to embrace other cultures like the NBA and MLB have.

NHL: Why hasn't the NHL embraced race in any of its fields? Only a select few of its thousands of players have been black. Also except for Tony McKegney, and Jarome Iginla, there have been no black superstars.

Maybe it's that only a handful of black athletes want to play hockey. Or maybe it's because hockey is a niche sport, popular in only a select few regions in this country. Either way, the NHL has yet to make a concerted effort to introduce race into the game. I'm surprised the league hasn't been chastised for not providing an equal opportunity for blacks like the other leagues have.

In short, every league in professional sports has done a fairly good job in embracing other races in their sports. However, I believe that some black athletes and coaches have taken their opportunities for granted.

I'm tired of athletes and managers taking every little criticism as an attack on their race. Willie Randolph is a manager in New York City, the most rabid sports city in America. Like everyone before him, he is expected to win, and when he doesn't fulfill his expectations, the media will criticize him, because he is not winning. It has nothing to do with being black.

Another prime example of this was the Imus controversy. I do agree that what Mr. Imus said about the Rutgers women's basketball team was racist and uncalled for, but I believe he did everything he needed to do to keep his job.

It's unfortunate that other people such as Reverend Sharpton feel differently, and because he refused to yield and accept a sincere and heartfelt apology at face value, a man lost his job.

The bottom line here is that, the race card has been overused in athletics and society. What gives a person of color more rights over anyone else just because of the color of their skin? We need to push for equality among all races.

Until that happens, people of power that are not a minority are going to continue to be walked over.

Race gives you an equal opportunity to get a chance. It should not be used as a crutch to force people to give in.