We are fast approaching college basketball’s March Madness tournament, one of the best times of the sports year, especially if you are a Kansas Jayhawk fan (take that, all of you conference-jumping Mizzou Tiger chumps).
To understand the power of sports to heal, to unite, and, yes, to divide us, or at least reflect the divisions among us, I direct you to today’s USA Today:
Here’s the photo attached to the story:
It is hard to believe that only 50 years ago it was a big deal in America when a white college basketball player would shake the hand of a black player. In fact, as the story notes, in order to play Loyola of Chicago in that NCAA Mideast Regional, the Mississippi State team,
had to rush out of Starkville just to get to the tournament in East Lansing, Mich., defying a state injunction designed to stop the game. In 1963, teams from Mississippi did not play integrated opponents, even in the Mideast Regional.
Loyola went on to win a most improbable NCAA championship in 1963, largely because its coach dared to put four black players on the floor at the same time. He apparently valued winning over massaging the sensibilities of anxious and insecure whites.
Which reminds me of when a friend of mine, who coached basketball at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, told me that he got some pushback when he first put what some considered to be too many black players on the floor. Today that same college has a museum in its Fine Arts Center dedicated to Gordon Parks, the famous African-American photographer, writer, and film director, who was born in Fort Scott. That’s progress.
In any case, read the USA Today story and see, despite all the problems with money and exploitation, what a force for good athletics can be in the lives of young men and, these days, in the lives of young women. It’s a fantastic story.