In the Game for 09-16-09

The worlds of sports and politics are invariably intertwined in a multifaceted, complex and convoluted mixture that is in the words of jazz legend Miles Davis: a “Witches Brew.”

On one hand, sports are entertainment and an escape from the doldrums that permeate peoples’ everyday existence. Yet on the other hand, sports entertainment presents itself as a much too serious endeavor for too many.

Politics unquestionably is the vehicle that generates laws and govern our everyday movements through humanity.

Sports are an unquestionable vehicle that galvanizes entire communities, towns and even countries into a collective discourse that move many into civic, regional and national pride.

Long before America admitted, recognized or documented that its segregation policies and laws, both unwritten and written, were racist – sports took center stage.

When Jack Johnson won the World Heavyweight boxing title in the early 1900s, most African Americans could not live, work, marry or compete in sports activities with their American brethren. It took another 40 years before Americans could embrace or acknowledge African American athletes.

In 1936 and 1938 two men changed many perceptions and some perceived prejudices – albeit not the educational, political or the economic plight of most African Americans. They were Jesse Owens and Joe Louis.

Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany on eve of World War II debunked Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy rhetoric, making him a national icon and world figure.

Later in 1938, Louis knocked out German legend, Max Schmeling, moving him past just a boxer to a true American hero.

Whether either of them wanted it, they became political figures that represented an entire race. Many of our White brethren in America embrace Louis and Owens – White and Black, rich and poor.

After Louis’ and Owens’ break through, Jackie Robinson furthered the cause of the African American in the United States as he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 – a significant moment in race relations that Louis helped forge.

Like bacon and eggs, socks and shoes, grits and butter . . . sports and politics, like it or not, have always walked hand in hand.  So, I think it is safe to postulate that Barack Obama becoming the country’s 44th and first African American president, was cleared in part by athletes whose courage, heart, determination and talent helped the country move through the slow, violent, tedious and painful process of desegregation.

Hall of Fame slugger, Hank Aaron, who experienced first-hand the ugliness of racism as he chased Babe Ruth’s hollowed home run record, told a reporter that he was just overwhelmed when Obama won. “Every time I see him on television I just smile because he represents me,” he said. “No matter how I look at it, he’s me. For the first time you can see this country becoming the kind of
country that we all are very proud of.”

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