Monday, February 5, 2007

Who cares if the coach was black?

More than four decades ago, Martin Luther King said he prayed for a day when people would "not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Yet last night, we saw the race card being played again -- at the Super Bowl; and how the reporters kept driving home the fact that this was the first time a black coach (Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts) had led his team to the national football championship. (It would have been a first had the Chicago Bears won, as Lovie Smith is also black.) To put the emphasis on "black" or "African-American" is, quite frankly, putting an asterisk on the event. Like it would matter if the guy was white, but because he's black it really doesn't count.

This reminds me of the battle four decades ago between Yankee's teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris to see who would overtake the home run record of Babe Ruth. It was announced by the baseball commissioner, Ford Frick, that a record would only be "real" if it was accomplished within 154 games, the length of a season during the Ruth era -- it was later extended to 162 games by the time the Mantle / Maris marathon was on. Of course, Maris surpassed the 60 run record and got to 61 on the 162th and last game of the season. The record shows that Frick later had a change of heart and the 61 home run record would be acknowledged as the official one, but for nearly two decades after the Exempt Media put an asterisk beside Maris -- i.e. 61*.

Why did they do this? My belief is that most of the then baseball writers were WASPs and absolutely hated Roman Catholics and "foreigners" and did not see them as "real" Americans. Maris, whose real name was Maras, was born in the United States but he was a Roman Catholic. His parents were Croatian. The fact a Roman Catholic was in the White House by 1961 didn't help matters -- it only served to stir up the hate; not just among the press but among baseball fans who sent continual hate mail to Maris. They saw Ruth's record as sacrosanct and if anyone deserved to break the record it was Mantle, not an "ethnic Papist."

While there are still some strong anti-Catholic quarters in the States, most of the bigotry on that count is gone and it's hard to imagine Roman Catholicism not having a major part in American life. So why should the same double standard apply to blacks?

Dungy and Smith aren't black coaches, they're coaches -- period. Yes, it's hard not to notice one's skin colour; but as long as one tries to lead a good life and attempt to have a successful career, isn't that all that matters? Besides, both coaches said last night that what matters isn't that they're black but they're Christian and it's their faith that guides them.

The press needs to step back for a while and look at themselves. Most of the rest of us try to live by Dr. King's dream. It's time for the media to do the same. Report on race if hate is a motivating factor. But don't try to diminish someone's accomplishments just because they're a particular skin colour, or religion, or sexual orientation. It's insulting to our intelligence -- especially that of the white majority.

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1 comment:

Simon said...

How can a game last so long. Every couple of seconds it stopped for about a minute. Crazy.