Racism: a problem, not a tool

Sometimes sportswriters just can’t satisfy everybody.

Here in Prince William, the complaints come from all angles. The folks at Potomac say we cover Hylton too much, and vice versa. The people from Gar-Field say there’s too much Woodbridge on the front page, or it’s the other way around. Fans of girls sports say they don’t get as much coverage as the boys, and the smaller sports say the same about football.

It’s something we accept as par for the sportswriting course. You try to be fair, if not balanced. Some parents and coaches may never be satisfied, but at least they care.

But when someone took a shot at us this week via e-mail, implying that we don’t cover a particular school’s basketball team adequately because its coach is black, that marked a new low.

I thought the previous low had been when an area football coach — a guy I like — was passed up for job openings this past summer, and went to the press to proclaim that it was race that kept him from being hired. He had less experience in the classroom and on the football field than the coaches who got the jobs.

I wanted to take the particular coach to task then, but the issue became moot when he moved out of area, and had a successful season anyway.

Those accusations faded away easily for me, but I stopped wondering how the folks being called racist felt when those shots were thrown my way.

I don’t take it personally. But I should have been sickened.

Here we sit, during Black History Month, and not long after observing Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, and this is what we’ve come to? Whenever we don’t get our way, are we black folks going to scatter accusations of racism at everyone in sight, until someone pays lip service to our desires? Is that what we want, folks to cower from threats of being called racist? Or do we truly want them to understand where we’re coming from?

It seems people aren’t even required to think before calling others racist. You couldn’t just come out and call someone a rapist — you’d need to back it up with evidence. But racist? No problem.

But it leaves behind a problem. Every time someone tosses out an unfounded or speculative accusation of racism, it cheapens the real occurrences. If we’re calling everything racist, the folks who need to hear it are less inclined to listen when we try to combat people’s prejudices, or tangible problems like racial profiling. And, if nothing else, there needs to be avenues for dialogue when it comes to understanding others.

Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby would spin in their graves if they heard people using hollow claims of racism to get the things they want. Fritz Pollard and the starters for Texas Western’s basketball team — now those guys endured racism. After what they went through, we owe them and the road they paved a little more respect.

The main thing those folks wanted was to be treated equally, to be judged on their merits. Putting pressure on people by taking advantage of how afraid they are to be called racist isn’t helping anyone.

In Virginia, we’re hardly three decades from separate water fountains, train stations and schools. If they’d come along a generation ago, racist practices might have kept Dan Lawray from coaching basketball at Osbourn Park, Mike Madison football at Brentsville or Mike Wright baseball at Gar-Field.

Now, we judge those guys by how they coach, not how they look.

Athletics has always been ahead of the curve, a place where boundaries present in society are blurred. Sometimes sports provide not only the first interaction in life between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Middle Easterners, but the only interaction.

Let’s not squander the progress we’ve made in understanding each other by using racism as a tool to further goals.

Keith McMillan covers sports for the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at [email protected]

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