Black Athletes

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Black Athletes

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry could easily have been fired this week, but he will continue to coach at the Academy. All he received was a strong reprimand from school officials. When his Falcons went down hard to Texas Christian University, DeBerry blamed the loss on a dearth of minority players at Air Force. Reporters pressed him on his comment and DeBerry didn't hesitate to expand his stance, that he needs more African American players to win. DeBerry says he's learned a thing or two in his 22 years as head coach at the Academy, one of which is, &quotAfrican; American kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run extremely well."

These words from the very same coach who a year ago was forced by school officials to take down the Competitors' Creed he had posted in the locker room. The Creed reads, in part, &quotI; am a Christian first and last... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." School administrators told DeBerry the prayer smacked of religious intolerance. He didn't get it but he obeyed orders. Now they're telling him his remarks of this week smack of racial intolerance. He doesn't get it but he has again obeyed and apologized.

What if the Houston Astros, who lost the World Series last night, in a sweep of four straight games, blamed it all on the fact that they're the first World Series team in over 50 years without even one African American player on their roster? Are the Astros sitting down today in the front office, planning trades, with the express purpose of bringing more African Americans onto the team? If anything, they should be looking to the team who swept them, the White Sox, who have a Venezuelan manager, and are even known in the Chicago community as Las medias blancas. But the Astros aren't looking to fill their roster with Latinos. They are looking for individuals with talent and desire at each position.

Coach DeBerry confuses race with culture. Athletes often pursue a particular sport, even a particular position, because of cultural influence. For instance, back in the early 1970's, one in four players in the Major Leagues was black. But over the past 30 years, the media spotlight and the huge crowds attending both NFL and NBA games have attracted young African American talent. Hip-hop music blares during time-outs at NBA games while Take Me Out to the Ball Game is still the tune at the Major League parks. During those same 30 years, baseball invested heavily in year-round development schools in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and other Latin countries. Meanwhile, word spread throughout African American teen communities that baseball is slow, totally uncool, and you'll never get to be a star as you would in football or basketball. Today, fewer than one in ten Major League Baseball players are black.

The NBA's Most Valuable Player last year was Steve Nash, not only a white guy but a fairly small white guy. Black players throughout the league praise Nash not only for his fierce competitiveness, but for his athletic quickness to the basket. White kids see Steve Nash and believe that professional basketball could be their future. Just as black kids see Tiger Woods and now know that professional golf is an option for them. But, to use the DeBerry race analysis, you'd take from these two athletes' successes that you should get more white guys on your basketball team and more black guys on your golf team.

Years ago, I went to the interior of Borneo to make a documentary on the Dayak Indians. We followed the hunters sprinting and scrambling through the rain forest, chasing lightning-quick wild boar. The Indians ran with long wooden blow pipes through which they would spit poison darts with such accuracy that they would kill the boar with one shot. I have been on the field at NFL games and I assure you no American football player has ever run as fast, darted as deftly, as those Dayaks. If Coach DeBerry is going to be racist, what he should really hope for is not a team of African Americans, but a squad of Dayak Indians.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad