As a tribute to the memory of one of the finest sportswriters that this area has seen, Kwame McDonald, I thought I would devote my return column to a sports story of mine that depicts the picture of sports in the past and today.
The story starts back in the 1950s, before the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was when many of the most talented athletes in the country were denied the opportunity to participate in the highest levels of sport because of the color of their skins
Below the Mason-Dixon Line, this denial was accomplished by law. And, with few exceptions, the northern states, by custom, accepted the southern states’ apartheid regulations.
Collegiate athletes therefore were relegated to African American colleges, which were, for the most part, located in the South. And although many of them offered excellent academic programs, few had the funds to offer the scholarships that could entice the most gifted athletes.
It was during that era that I remember watching one of my football teams compete against one if its archrivals, and at half time a White spectator started a conversation. He was simply amazed at the caliber of the athletes.
“If these athletes are ever integrated into our White colleges, as some of your people are agitating for, the South is going to dominate college sports,” he said. “Most of the Black colleges are located in the South, and the natural talent and speed that we are seeing here today would dominate the Notre Dames, the UCLAs, and those other northern schools.”
As I listened, I couldn’t help but think how unfair it was that this gentleman could attend our games but we were prohibited by law from attending the White college games because of the mandatory separation of races in the South.
I was forced to re-live that conversation and others of that ilk when the ratings of college football teams came out for the year. Of the top 10 teams rated, seven of them were from colleges of the deep South. Moreover, all of them had a disproportionate number of African American players on their first team.
The number-one and number-two teams in the nation were southern teams — Alabama and LSU. Both of these teams were loaded with Black players, including quarterbacks.
If the old fellow who made those predictions on a cold seat back in Greensboro, NC in 1952 is still alive, I would like to congratulate him for his prediction and insight. But I am sure that he didn’t join the picket lines or sit-ins at Woolworths lunch counters to help make it happen.
When one takes the time to look back, it’s amazing how things change over the years, not only in football and other sports, but in life itself. But there are always seminal moments that lead to those changes. No moment or series of moments could possibly be more important or pivotal than the great Civil Rights Movement and leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Anyone who lived in the South prior to that time has to be aware of that movement having been the greatest social revolution in the history of this country.
Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to [email protected]