Racism is still alive & kicking in sport

sideline commentary

Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

The sports world is abuzz after Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said black NFL quarterbacks are judged more harshly than white quarterbacks in an interview Tuesday on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

According to the Globe and Mail, McNabb said black quarterbacks “have to do a little bit extra” because there are relatively few of them, adding “people didn’t want us to play this position.”

There are six starting black quarterbacks among the 30 NFL teams.

McNabb has a point here. He has been criticized heavily for his comments, with many pointing out that the pressure on him has more to do with his poor recent performance than with any racial issue. Regardless of his performance, there still seems to be a racial issue at play, evidenced by the support McNabb got from teammate

Brian Dawkins.

Dawkins said he felt McNabb’s comments were valid.

“On a whole, that’s a fair assessment,” he said.

These statements are highly disappointing for the NFL, and for North American society in general. Racial equality in sports has been a problem for centuries, and appears to be an issue that cannot be put to rest.

As a case in point, consider baseball. In 1867, the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first governing body of baseball in the U.S., rejected an application to join from the Philadelphia Pythians, a club comprised solely of black players. Black players were largely kept out of the majors for the next 80 years, with only minor exceptions such as Jimmy Claxton. Claxton played one game in 1916, but the revelation that he was part black led to his quick dismissal. Segregation continued until April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

On April 15 this year, Major League Baseball had a massive celebration of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the major leagues’ colour barrier. Over 200 players chose to wear Robinson’s number 42 to honour his achievement.

However, the feel-good anti-racism atmosphere was severely diminished in June when Detroit Tigers’ slugger Gary Sheffield’s allegations that Major League Baseball discriminated against black players in favour of Hispanics were published in GQ Magazine. A month later, Sheffield appeared on Real Sports and accused Joe Torre, his former manager with the New York Yankees, of being unfair to black players.

Sheffield said Torre treated black players more harshly by dressing them down in front of their teammates, while white players were criticized in private in Torre’s office.

“I’d see a lot of white players get called in the office and treated like a man. That’s the difference,” Sheffield said. Whether Sheffield’s comments are exaggerated or not, it would appear there’s some degree of truth in them. Former teammate Kenny Lofton supported Sheffield’s allegations.

“All I can say is, Sheffield knows what he’s talking about,” he said.

In any case, the truly sad thing is that race is still a major issue in baseball, 60 years after Robinson broke the colour barrier.

Football and baseball are by no means the only sports where racism still rears its ugly head, and the U.S. is certainly not the only bastion of prejudice. Soccer is one of the worst offenders, particularly in Europe.

In Britain in 2004, ITV commentator Ron Atkinson

resigned after making a racist remark about Chelsea player Marcel Desailly that was accidentally broadcast on the air. Atkinson is reported to have called Desailly “a fucking lazy nigger.” Atkinson also resigned from his post as a columnist for The Guardian as a result.

Last year in Germany before the World Cup, at a match between Hamburg’s FC St. Pauli and Chemnitz FC, visiting Chemnitz fans stormed Turkish-owned stores chanting “Sieg Heil” and waving imitation Nazi flags. Some shouted “We’re going to build a subway from St Pauli to Auschwitz.” In Spain last year, Real Zaragosa fans began making monkey-like chants whenever Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o touched the ball, and even went as far to throw peanuts onto the field when he scored.

This August, American international DaMarcus Beasley was allegedly subjected to racist taunts while playing for Scottish club Rangers in a Champions League match against Montenegro’s FK Zeta. The BBC reported that Zeta’s supporters are said to have made “monkey chants” against Beasley and a teammate, Jean-Claude Darcheville. The incident is currently under investigation by UEFA, the governing body of European soccer.

As evidenced by these examples, racism continues to be an issue in professional sports, as much as we would like to think that we live in an open, pluralistic society where people aren’t judged by the colour of their skin or their country of origin. In sport, it shouldn’t matter what you look like, as long as you can go out and perform at a high level. Unfortunately, it seems there will always be those who see the skin colour rather than the athlete.

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