ESPN explores race relations


Thanks to Stevie Wonder and many others we have just commemorated the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day, and in recognition of ESPN’s remembrance of that special day it recently concluded a noteworthy survey of sports fans on race in sports.

The conclusion of the detailed report notes that while American society has made huge strides in terms of racial equality over the past quarter century, the survey clearly shows that we still have a long way to go. The perception of racial equality in White and Black fans is hugely different.

A Hart Research Associates survey pooled sports fans (1,213 Whites, 435 African Americans) and unfortunately the results were predictable, and if it had been implemented in the 1930s we would have gotten the same results.

The White database doubled the perceptions and belief of racial equality, belief that equality has been achieved in American society, including sports. African Americans say Blacks have fewer opportunities for positions of power in sports:

The fact of the matter is African Americans empowered as owners of a pro sports franchise, athletic directors at a major Division I universities, NFL head coaches and head coaches at a major BCS schools is dismal and does not reflect the participation on the fields of play.

One of the main themes in ESPN’s television narrative was do sports unite or divide? The input was much better in this category as 72 percent believe sports do more to unite people across racial lines.

That I’d have to agree with as I covered Olympic Games, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Final Fours and many other championship sporting events, and I’ve seen nations, countries, states, cities and county areas galvanize in unprecedented terms behind teams. Players from one’s neighborhood and local universities and professional teams can and have driven people to a joyful frenzy.

One disappointing result for me was how Blacks and Whites viewed the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview, not hire, one minority candidate for senior operating posts and coaching positions. The survey noted the 57 percent of African American fans think the rule will be needed for years to come, while 20 percent of White fans think it is necessary.

The biggest and most disconcerting gap manifests itself in how Blacks and Whites viewed media bias in its treatment of Black athletes versus White athletes.

Overwhelmingly African Americans believe the media is biased and unfair in its treatment and presentation of African Americans. Whites surveyed believe there is no media bias. Wow!

I  believe that while it is not always rooted in racism, there is a inability of different races to view life through anything but their own prism. Now I understand that all this does not apply to every Black or White person because there are some genuine individuals that live life and view life through a non-jaundiced human microscope.

However, in relation to the masses it unfortunately seems we are becoming more polarized than ever. Two third of Whites would bury Mick Vick in quicksand if they could. Many have also put LeBron James in the same hate category because he exercised his earned right to be a free agent.

No matter that James has never been busted for drugs, beat up any ladies, and never missed a plane.

Indeed, it has been was 46 years since Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, spoke passionately about his dreams and hopes for equality in the United States.

Without a doubt sports has broke the rock solid barrier of racism long before education institutions, housing, government and neighborhoods did.

When Jack Johnson won the heavyweight title in the early 1900s he was firmly put in the crosshairs of racism as they changed laws to get him arrested for marrying a White woman. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in America’s favorite pastime (Major League Baseball) and Jesse Owens claimed three gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games with Hitler watching in serious pain, King and other future civil rights leaders were just babies.

Indeed, I would have to project that the progress of race relations in this hostile America for too many for too long was pushed forward by the blood, sweat and tears of many African Americans on the playing fields long before they were even granted the right to vote. Of course, I know there were many pushing the race debate, however, they did not have the visibility of a Joe Louis.

Leland Stein III can be reached at

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