Playing the Race Card When the Deck is Stacked With Jokers

Harold BellContributor IIIMarch 7, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 18:  Alexander Ovechkin of Russia skates during the ice hockey men's preliminary game between Slovakia and Russia on day 7 of the 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 18, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As a person of color in America, I don’t blame all whites for the racist environment that we now live in. Racism will be here as long as there are different colors of people. The only solution to the problem is to make everybody one color, even then people would find something to dislike. The reasons for disliking the other person could be for being too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, blue eyes vs brown eyes, etc.

Evidently, there is a gene that most if all of us are born with that makes each individual a competitor. This can be a dangerous gene in a world where the only color that really counts is GREEN-a dollar bill is king.

My lesson in racial tolerance came about because of the white faces and mentors I encountered early in life such as President Richard M. Nixon, Strom Thurmond, Red Auerbach, Angelo Dundee, Hymie Perlo, and Jimmy Connors. They all played roles in my early mental development as a person of color and sports talk show host (Inside Sports).

They helped shape my thinking along the divided racial lines in America. Thanks to their influence, I closed out my sports talk show with a phrase I coined “Every black face I saw was not my brother and every white face I saw was not my enemy.” It was a tough lesson, but it is a lesson that I have never forgotten.

There were times some white friends and associates would become too comfortable and words would slip out, but I understood. There are times some whites don’t know when they are being racist (Jimmy The Greek, Howard Cosell). 

For example, former Boston Celtics stars Sam Jones, Jim “Bad News” Barnes, and I were riding around town one summer day in the 1980s making pop calls and found ourselves on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest D.C. We were in the neighborhood of Celtic coach Red Auerbach and we decided to make a surprise call on him. 

Red and his wife Dotie, who are class acts lived in a gated community and you had to go through a security check point to get to their condo. I was a familiar face to the guard so he waved us on through. The security desk called up and announced us and we caught the elevator up to the apartment. 

Dotie was standing in the door waiting for us. She invited us in and told us Red was out at Woodmont Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland playing cards. She was having lunch and asked her assistant to fix sandwiches for us, but we said no thank you.

We had time on our hands and decided to ride out to Woodmont and surprise Red. Not a very bright idea.

The attendant ushered us into the clubhouse where Red was seated at a card table with several other members.  He looked up and spotted us and muttered “Damn, I can’t get away from you nigg—and he never completed the word. He kept on playing like nothing had happened and we made like we never heard anything. We stayed for lunch and had a great time.

On the ride back to town, Sam, Bad News, and I laughed about the almost choice words by Red. We realized we had evaded his space and he temporarily lost it. We crossed off the slip of tongue as being human. Sam remembered how Red had admonished Celtic great Bill Russell in practice for using the "N" word.

White folks have never been black, so how could they know when they are being racist? And they don’t have a copyright on racism. I know some blacks who are off the hook and are some of the biggest racists in their own community, light skin vs dark skin and African vs American blacks. We can be our own worst enemies.

In one a recent response, I said “B/R would be a great vehicle to discuss race in sports.”  We can run but we can’t hide.

This brings to mind a column written by Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon, who wrote about NFL Hall of Fame player Bruce Smith before he ended his career in Washington. He was complaining about racism in the city of Buffalo, home of the Buffalo Bills. Despite his status as one of the NFL’s best players, he often felt the sting of racism in the city and he wanted out.

In his column, Wilbon quoted me saying on Inside Sports “Harold Bell said trying to outrun racism in America is like trying to outrun the moon and sun.” 

Nothing has changed and it still holds true today.  

Wilbon’s biggest problem is he likes to sit on the fence and fall to one side or the other depending on the topic. There is never any consistency and he has mastered the art of saying nothing to offend anyone unless it is safe.

For example, when Washington Wizards' “Shooting Star” Gilbert Arenas was being dragged through the burning coals of public opinion, he double-teamed Gilbert with community activist Rev. Al Sharpton trying to get him banished from the league. 

Gilbert’s choice to bring four guns into the Wizards' locker room was on the verge of being labeled “weapons of mass destruction.” His show of weapons for whatever reason was definitely not a ‘Kodak Moment’ for Gilbert or the NBA. 

I am still trying to figure out why Wilbon had to solicit support from Rev. Sharpton; he is a man of dubious character.

Rev. Sharpton has a tarnished history of his own, his tongue is anything but gold when it comes to the truth, and “you don’t throw bricks when you live in a glass house.” I found his advice to NBA Commissioner David Stern to make an example of Gilbert was out of his league. Have you heard the latest “Shout Out” between Rev. Sharpton and radio and television personality Tarvis Smiley? Gilbert Arenas should take notes.

My question is where were Wilbon and Rev. Sharpton on Martin Luther King's birthday when ESPN’s Mike Greenberg co-host of "Mike & Mike in the Morning" referred to Rev. King as “Rev. Martin Luther Coon King?” 

Where were those great Black sports writers a B/R reader mentioned in a response to my last column? Their computers must have suddenly ran out of ink and black talk show hosts' microphones suddenly went eerily silent. John Thompson, an ESPN Talk show host of dubious character, led a brief discussion, but discovered he was out there by himself and dropped the topic like it was hot potatoes."

Have we forgotten radio shock jock Don Imus and his depiction of the Rutger’s women’s basketball team? He was suspended for one year for describing the black players as “nappy headed hoes.”

Rush Limbaugh was kicked to the curb by NFL owners for speaking ill of the skills of Donovan McNabb, the black quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. They thought the observation of McNabb's QB skills had racial overtones. Limbaugh was hoping to become a part owner and member of one of the most exclusive “Good Old Boys Clubs” in America-the NFL.

Wilbon’s partner on ESPN's PTI Tony Korhisner, was recently suspended for two weeks for making fun of NFL Sportscaster Hanna Storms' clothing and red boots. Greenberg called Dr. King a COON, he never apologized and he is still front and center on ESPN radio and television!

Korhisner is overrated as a sportscaster and was definitely in over his head on Monday Night Football. Unlike Wilbon, he will take a stand on something, and never sits on the fence waiting to be pushed to one side or the other. He is the more consistent of the two, which is not saying much.

To show how wishy-washy Wilbon is, on March 3, 2010 he wrote a blog titled, “Ovechkin needs to be checked.” Alex Ovechkin is the face of hockey in the nation’s capitol and has single handedly turned the Capitols' franchise around. The signing of Ovechkin has made the Capitols a contender for the Stanley Cup every year he has been in the league and a Washington Capitols ticket is the hottest ticket in town.

Wilbon points out that Canada’s Sidney Crosby is a better and more accomplished player. He cites that Crosby at 22 years old has already won an Olympic Gold Medal, a world championship, and the Stanley Cup. 

His beef with Ovie is that he is a bully because he shoved a female fan’s camera in her face in Vancouver and he broke the camera of a man asking for an interview. Wilbon claims there is video of each incident. So what?

Check out the next statement by Wilbon as he says, “How this has gone largely un-discussed and is nearly annoying as Ovechkin’s churlish behavior.”  Wilbon sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

He even hints that Ovie is a dirty player when he says “his opponents have wondered whether his knee-on-knee hits are accidents. His own coach, Bruce Boudreau, wondered this season whether his star was out of control.”

Wilbon even compares Ovie with Gilbert Arenas: “The worst thing Ovechkin can have around town is too many apologies. Look where it got Arenas.”

His next observation, I had to read over three times to make sure I was reading it correctly. He says, “Some how, Ovechkin’s lapses in judgment (or disregard of civility?) went largely unnoticed. Ovechkin is damn lucky he’s not black and playing basketball.  My bretheran in the national and local media would have put on their Sunday church robes and preached him to death by now. We’d have read about those thug basketball players and such.” Come on Michael Wilbon, keep it real.

I cannot believe Wilbon played “the race card” with Ovie and never got around to playing the same card with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg.

His bretheran in national and local media? I hope Wilbon is not talking about Michael Smith, Kevin Blackistone, Jason Whitlock, Bill Rhoden, Terrence Moore, and Stephen A. Smith. I still have yet to read their columns on Mike Greenberg referring to Dr. King as a “coon.”

Wilbon’s colleague at the Washington Post Dan Steinberg took issue with him on the same day in his blog. 

Steinberg says, “I know this does not belong in the sports section, but hey, it was this or a rant against my colleague Michael Wilbon for writing that ‘Crosby is so far ahead of Ovechkin right now, Ovie would need a telescope to see him'.” Steinberg reminds Wilbon that it was less then a month ago that Wilbon dubbed Ovechkin ‘the best player in the NHL.’ 

How wishy-washy can one columnist get?

Washington Post Columnist Mike Wise disagreed with Wilbon on his column written about what lead up to the death of Redskins player Sean Taylor. Much like his buddy Tiger Woods, Wilbon ain’t listening to nobody either.

It looks and sounds like the Washington Post sports department is in disarray. John Feinstein is the latest columnist to call Wilbon out. They are all saying what I have been saying for years: he has no credibility!

In 2008, Michael Wilbon had a heart attack. I e-mailed him a note wishing him a speedy recovery and told him I was looking forward to seeing him back on the sports landscape as soon as his health would allow  I also advised him to slow down and stop trying to be a know-it-all. I also said, “You might find this e-mail hard to believe since I disagree with some of your observations in the world of sports, it is nothing personal.” 

This was his response:

“Harold, I don't find it difficult to believe at all...I know you take shots at me all the time...But I also remember the guy who when I was new and didn't know didly who sat me down and talked to me and had me on his radio show and taught me who the good guys were among the local high school coaches...I remember all of that...I don't understand why you take it personally when people disagree...people are supposed to be able to disagree and still get along...But I don't ever forget you and your wife Hattie reached out to me when I was 22 years old and didn't know anything and anybody...Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean it undoes all the other stuff...I appreciated you reaching out then, and even more now...Thanks”...MW

Michael’s response saddens me. In the 30 plus years I have known him, he has never written, or verbally discussed his displeasure with me disagreeing with some of his columns. What I understand and Michael does not, is that I am fair game for criticism when I put my written thoughts in the public domain.

When Michael writes a great column, I make sure he knows how much I enjoyed reading it (as I do with other columnists). When we encounter each other on the streets of D.C. or in a pressroom, he smiles and makes small talk about his latest book with Charles Barkley, his $1,500 suit or how is Hattie. 

A lie will change a thousand times, but the truth never changes. “The race card” is not an option or a crutch to use when you are trying to cover-up short-comings or BS. 

Michael Wilbon, it is about time you man up.

It is beginning to look and sound like Wilbon is the knucklehead.


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