By JON LAMOROUX
Let us not forget that February is Black History Month and that we, as sports fans, have a lot to be grateful for.
For some reason, Black History Month always makes me think of Jackie Robinson. Not Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Sojourner Truth, Jesse Jackson, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Colin Powell, or Langston Hughes, though I, humbly, write their names here, with praise for the great work they each accomplished.
John Roosevelt Robinson embodies the entire spirit of what Black History Month is all about; a reverent reminder of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. His admittance into Major League Baseball, and the accompanying verbal abuse, changed the way we, as spectators of sports, view , not only the game, but the world we live in.
Think of how our world has changed since the emergence of black sports heroes. Michael Jordan was more than a great ball player- he was a cultural icon. Jordan introduced middle-America to the NBA and there are millions of shoes, starter shirts, warm-up outfits, long shorts, and gym bags to prove it.
Sports were, largely, populated by white men. Then, whether white people were ready for it or not, suddenly a street attitude and element emerged into the games and we have never competed the same way since.
Not only has it changed sports, it has infiltrated the lives of the common people. The black element in athletics has filtered into the way we talk, dress, act, sing, dance, celebrate, and, of course, perform.
Julius Erving was the first to bring showtime to the NBA. You may remember his huge afro and red, white, and blue, ABA basketball, displaying stunts that had never been seen before. Dr. J begat Jordan, and Jordan begat life as we know it.
Baseball, as mentioned, had Jackie. One who is sorely overlooked, is Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League. He played for the Cleveland Indians and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Though he did not blaze the trail first, he left large footprints for followers to walk in.
Then there is the Negro League. Back, when blacks weren’t allowed to play white professionals, they were given their own league and traveled the country in a manner similar to a circus side-show.
Imagine a black Babe Ruth and you have Josh Gibson. Gibson hit more homeruns than Ruth, or the penultimate, Hank Aaron. Imagine a black Sandy Koufax and you have Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in history. Paige finally made his major league debut near the end of his career. When he did, he became the oldest rookie in history. Sadly, Josh Gibson never had that opportunity.
Football was graced with the likes of Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and O.J. Simpson. Before these men became notorious for other ventures, they were the leading rushers of their time.
Some critics say that, the emergence of the street element in sports, has stifled the academics of each sport. Many players’ careers mirror that of Simpson’s. They are famous for the skills and abilities, but infamous for their image and behavior. However, as long as there is adherence to history, and a dedication to taking the games higher, sports will never fail.
BYU’s legacy of black athletes is, unfortunately, nearly whitewashed. Thankfully, we have a Jeff Chatman, a Brian Mitchell, a Jamal Willis, and a James Dye, in our past. Possibly the most prominent black BYU athlete is Frank Fredericks, who won 4 silver medals in the ’92 and ’96 Olympics for his home country of Namibia.
“I don’t think of myself as a black athlete,” says Fredericks. “I come from a place where black and white has caused a lot of trouble. I am grateful to have learned from a place like BYU.”
Blacks have set the standard for most sports. From Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, and Jesse Owens to Bill Russell, Muhammed Ali, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the rest of us, black or white, are just trying to keep up.