After last week’s “Tripple Overtime Takeover,” where Coach Kilby laid into me like a comedian into Justin Bieber during a Comedy Central roast, I vowed to never again slander his beloved New England Patriots, a model NFL franchise, or his beloved Tom Brady, a model NFL… model, or his beloved Bill Billichick — who, considering his keen fashion sense and always animated demeanor, should really consider modeling.
But despite my ego looking a lot like an overly-ripe Asian-pear after it’s been haggled over at an Italian market, and being that it’s Black History Month, I decided to take a page out of Dr. King’s book when it comes to forgiveness.
Instead of retaliating, lashing out at Pats owner Robert Kraft about his recent comments regarding Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — which since last week I suddenly have no problem with — instead of that, I decided to actually write something that might mean something for once, and to honor some of the black athletes who have made their mark in “white sports.”
By “white sports,” by the way, I am, of course, speaking statistically, rather than stereotypically. I’m talking about sports like golf, where there are fewer black players on the PGA tour than there were in 1976 (CNN, 2010); NHL hockey, the only sport to garner headlines like “NHL Aims To Include More Minority Players To Expand Fan Base” (NPR, 2015); and squash, a sport that’s getting dangerously close to being more white than Oprah Winfrey (“Tripple Overtime,” like five seconds ago).
In doing some light research about black history, to my surprise, it turns out that there are actually a few things that someone could do to you that are worse than hijacking your weekly sports column. But I also stumbled on some pretty notable black athletes who broke the mold in their respective “white sports,” and here they are:
• Tiger Woods (golf)
If the movie “Caddyshack” is any indicator, then, even in the ’70’s, the golf world was more or less dominated by rich white people who behave exactly like Rodney Dangerfield.
But, unlike Rodney, one of the sport’s greatest of all time has always managed to get more than his fair share of respect. Not only is Tiger Woods one of the game’s best players, but probably its most famous, too — even though, according to my research (Google), it seems that Arnold Palmer was actually more than just a drink mogul.
Tiger isn’t 100 percent black, with his father also of Chinese and Native American descent, and his mother a mix of Thai, Chinese and Dutch, but he sure ain’t Rodney Dangerfield either. And anyway, this here’s America, ain’t it? Nobody’s 100 percent nothin’ anymore.
As a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to golf before Tiger burst on the scene. But I remember watching him put on the green jacket after winning the Master’s in 1997, and asking my dad what that meant, and paying a lot more attention from there on out. Like most kids, I didn’t really care whether Tiger was black or white or Chinese or whatever else, I just cared that he was good.
• Kyle Harrison (lacrosse)
Unfortunately, there aren’t any unintentionally borderline-racist movies for this one, aside from “American Pie.” But considering that it wasn’t only the lacrosse scene of that movie reminiscent of a Hitler Youth program, and considering what they did to that poor unsuspecting apple pie, the reliability of the source is at the very least, questionable.
I can tell you with certainty, however, that in games as a player, fan and now reporter, from the days of the Baltimore Thunder indoor team, to the Baltimore Bayhawks when Major League League launched in 2001, to pretty much every Ocean City Lacrosse Classic, countless other tournaments, World Games, and even battles in the back yard, I seldom saw a black lacrosse player.
Like pretty much never, actually, did I see a black lacrosse player… aside from one: Kyle Harrison. Sure, there were black players before Harrison, including Hall of Fame Cleveland Browns’ running back Jim Brown, who, in addition to football, played college lax at Syracuse, but if you ask me, none of them compare to No. 18.
I remember seeing Harrison play for the first time in high school, when I was a freshman and he a star senior. No one could touch him. He was magic then and even more so in continuing his career at Johns Hopkins, ending up a three-time All-American, winning the McLaughlin Award as the nation’s top midfielder twice, and honored as the National Player of the Year with the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2005.
Interestingly enough, I found out that Harrison’s father, Dr. Miles Harrison, played on the first all-black NCAA lacrosse team at Morgan State — which, slightly less interestingly, was around the same time that Dangerfield and them were filming “Caddyshack.”
• Jarome Iginla (hockey)
This one was a tie between Iginla and Jesse Hall from “Disney’s: The Mighty Ducks.” But since, from the best that any of us can tell, Iginla actually exists in the physical universe, and since Jesse did kind of have a temper and frequently accused his teammates of being “cake-eaters” — an obvious slight but exact meaning unclear — I figured Iginla has the slight edge.
There aren’t many black players whose names are synonymous with the NHL or hockey, but Iginla is probably as close as it gets — even if his real full name is actually of particular note as “Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis” Iginla (seriously, that’s really it), and despite the fact that he’s won an Art Ross Trophy (points), two Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophies (goals) and two Olympic Gold Medals.
Even with the accolades, Iginla finds himself in the same situation as Jesse did with the Ducks after his cake-eater brother quit — a black hockey player in a white-dominated sport on a white-dominated team.
When it comes to there ever being a black hockey player with the same notoriety as Wayne Gretzky, or other famous hockey players whose names I can’t remember, the NHL’s plan to “Include More Minority Players To Expand Fan Base,” may still be further off than 2015 NPR headlines would suggest.
In fact, if “D2: The Mighty Ducks” or “D3:The Mighty Ducks” are any indicators, aside from that team from Trinidad and Tobago, there’s a chance that hockey could get even whiter should the writers decided that having a girl on the team instead might be more interesting for the sequels.
• Jack Johnson (boxing)
I’d actually be harder-pressed to name a white boxer these days with the sport being every bit as diverse as a Fruit of the Loom commercial. In the 21st century, “minorities” like Kimbo Slice and Manny Pacquiao are the stars of the sport — demanding outrageous “pay-per-view” prices every time they fight
In 2016, everyone knows exactly why Evander Holyfield only has half an ear on one side, in addition to being able to do a pretty spot-on Mike Tyson impression, and there’s even a black “Rocky” now.
But back in the early 1900s, boxing was kind of… well, kind of like golf, or Oprah’s book club, maybe. It was dominated by rich white folks and literary types, like Ernest Hemingway, who talked of the good ol’ days in the ring and his friends who boxed at Princeton and Harvard, fighting guys with names like “Spider Kelly” and “Lefty Phillips.”
Enter Jack Johnson. The dude was a rock star before there was even rock-and-roll. The black Elvis, practically, from what I’ve inferred — doing things the way no one had ever done them before and, whether it was good or bad, everyone having some kind of opinion of him because of it. He wore tailored suits, and even dated white women… like, a lot of white women (a big “no-no” in those days, even if it had been just the one).
The Galveston Giant was the first-ever black heavyweight champion and, in true Elvis-like fashion, set the world on fire and triggered riots across the United States after news spread that he had handed James Jeffries the first loss of his previously-undefeated career (apparently this was also a pretty big “no-no”).
• Jesse Owens (track and field)
As you can imagine, 1936 Germany tended to be kind of a racist place. So when Berlin played host to the 1936 Olympics, Hitler wanted to do all this racist stuff, even though he was pretty busy with, like, propaganda and memorizing the steps for synchronized marches and stuff, so that he could showcase the whole Third Reich/Aryan race superiority thing that he was always going on about.
But Jesse Owens sure made ol’ Adolph look like a real frankfurter when he racked up four gold medals at the games, leaving German sprinters behind like day-old sauerkraut in the 100m sprint, long jump, 200m sprint and 4x100m relay.
The performance earned Owens a top spot on the podium, where one of Adolph’s flag-waving der dummkopfs still made sure to pledge his allegiance for the photo op, despite there now being cause for some serious doubt regarding some of that propaganda.
There are, of course, so many other examples worth mentioning. Just to start, there’s the integrated USC football team that took down an “American Pie”-caliber white Alabama squad in 1970 and inspired the Crimson Tide to start allowing black players themselves; Tony Dungy becoming the first black NFL head coach to win a Super Bowl; and the most well-known example of Jackie Robinson changing Major League Baseball forever.
But even though I couldn’t possibly mention them all, much less go on filter in some obscure movie references into actual historical fact, I’m relieved to find out that, in 2016, there isn’t a whole lot of significance when it comes to a sport being 51 percent white or 49 percent black, or in the case of the NHL, 99 percent Canadian.
I’m also relieved that sports have been there during some of the darker times of both American and world history, because it’s pretty obvious that, while everyone playing the same game has never been able to completely stop hate or racism or war or whatever else, it’s always been able to at least get us going in the right direction.