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Category Archives: Athletes

Race: The past is never dead, it is not even past

In this season when a black man is running for reelection to an office I would have sworn he would never be elected to in the first place and the inevitable talk of race and racism has erupted in full force, encouraged by things like bumper stickers that exhort white citizens not to “re-nig in 20012” or to put the “White back in the White House” , I just watched a special on television about Ole Miss and its football team in 1962, the same year James Meredith was admitted to the university amid riots and protests and with armed federal marshals defending him.

Many young folks of all races think the images of riots, police brutality, dogs been turned loose on children, people being beaten, hit with water hoses, etc. are images of a bygone era, one that was awful, but is over. Having lived in the South now for about 10 years I can tell you there are still remnants of that era although the weapons that are used to deny opportunities are much more subtle and much more insidious and much tougher to fight. For example, the mascot of Ole Miss is the Rebel, named after men from the college who volunteered to go fight for the Confederacy, many of whom were killed or wounded in battle. The mascot honors them. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who would find it ironic that black students and players would not have a problem honoring someone who was fighting to keep their ancestors as chattel property. But, I will write another blog about the perceptions of some Southern blacks that I find puzzling.

I went to a Southern Research 1 institution in the spring of 2003 with great expectations of what could be accomplished there in the area of race. They claimed to want more black faculty, a better climate for racial and ethnic minorities and lots of other things. That did not prove to be true. What they wanted was a cover for the maintenance of the status quo. Ergo, I found out quickly I was not going to ever fit in, not really. Oh, I had my fans, quite a few I can immodestly say, but I was not willing to be nice about what I saw as social injustice. And they were not willing to change.

The past ( and that is a paraphrase of Faulkner–one must give the citation or be accused of plagiarism) is not the past. The past influences the way black people experience life every day. We no longer sit in the back of the bus, but we have to endure things like white people trying to tell us what is racist and what is not, attempts to convince us that racism is dead–even though we know it most certainly is not, and efforts to encourage “color blindness”, in other words let’s pretend everyone is white.

A poster on Facebook recently reminded me of the motto of the US E Pluribus Unum–from many, one. I am not sure if he is uninformed or naive or just stupid. America has never been a melting pot, and the “one” has almost always been white, male, rich  and straight. Let me say right now that I have absolutely nothing against white, male, rich, straight folks. I have quite a few friends who fit into that category, some of them quite beloved. But, to pretend that America has ever been a place of equality for all is a fool’s tale told by a liar.

Ole Miss today still has Confederate flags around, still has Confederate statues of “heroes”, as does my campus for that matter and no doubt still has some lingering racial problems. The author of the piece I watched, basically an apologist for his beloved state, admitted that last year the Chancellor had to intercede because some of the students were chanting ” The South Shall Rise Again!” before a football game. I am sure you know that Ole Miss football, like all division 1 football has quite a contingent of black players. Who do you suppose the crowd of students was directing their comments to?

I recently went on a job interview for a VC ( Vice Chancellor) postion at another Southern University–why? Because I am crazy I think, or an eternal optimist. I will not get the job, I know that because I refuse to pretend to be someone I am not. The same scenario will play out that has happened to me several ( more than 3) times before. The committee will select me, the people who came to my open forum will adore me ( one woman , a black professor approached me after my public talk, grasped my hand, looked me in the eye and earnestly said “God sent you here.” ) and the Chancellor will over rule them all.

I am not obsequious enough or grateful enough or humble enough for the Chancellors and Presidents of the South. I do not know my place. I know my stuff, I could work quite a bit of change, given the authority, but there lies the rub. They do not want change. The past is not dead, it is alive and well on campuses all over our favored land, and not all of them are in the South I must hasten to add. Black faculty numbers continue to be miserable at the vast majority of campuses, and even the campuses that have a large population of black undergrads rarely translate that to their graduate and post doctoral ranks. The past is not dead.

Racism will never be gone from America and certainly will not be gone from education until the majority, read white, decide not to tolerate it period. Like the other sins of sexism and homophobia and classism, racism exists because the majority culture tolerates it, often acting like racism is just a social gaffe like farting or burping loudly, something you personally might find distasteful, but that is best handled by turning your head and forgetting pretending you didn’t see or hear it.

The football players from Ole Miss were nostalgic about their time in 1962, and, of course, expressed their horror at the actions of the white students at the time, even though one of the players admitted to throwing a Molotov cocktail at one of the soldiers guarding the building Meredith was in. The entire tone of the program “Ghosts of Ole Miss” on ESPN was a paean to how the football team had pulled together to go undefeated that year. The narrator said, ” Having seen the worst of Ole Miss ( the riots) it was time to show them the best.” I snorted with laughter, if he thought that all white team was the best athletic talent in Mississippi then or now he is sadly mistaken.

And there lies the problem, looking back at your past you want it to be pretty, pleasant, made up of good memories, so we engage in euphoric recall. Not just whites, blacks do it too. Recently on Facebook some of my era friends were posting about how great their junior high and high school years were in Xenia. I had to rain on their parade. We were integrated in junior high and only two of us–none of the ones talking about their lovely time, were allowed to take honors classes. Not only that we were not represented in any way in the student government and most of the clubs I belonged to might have had one or two at the most other blacks. I was on the very large scholarship team with only 3 other black students and we struggled to get a black cheerleader chosen. In addition the basketball coach at the beginning of our school years, Kaylor, refused to start more than three black players no matter how goo they were.

I enjoyed high school and people, teachers and students, treated me well, but most of my black classmates from East Jr. Hi, disappeared academically and socially at the white school. Who knows how their futures might have been different if they had not had the opportunities denied them to achieve more academically? It was not their intellect that was at fault, it was the view, sadly still present in much of education, that black people are not as smart as white people.

Someone , not a friend, but a friend of a friend, shared a right wing article with me with the position that if Barack Obama does not win re-election it will not be because he is black. I do wonder how many times we have to hear a lie to make it the truth? Being anti-Obama does not make you a racist, but that does not mean that a significant number of those who are against Obama far more than they are for Romney are not racists.

America has never dealt with race effectively or honestly. In Canada they have Anti-Racist Education. We have Diversity Training which can range from soul-food carry-ins to Community Seders. Diversity means nothing, we are a diverse people we don’t need lessons in diversity, we need lessons in how to treat each other and even more importantly in learning about each other’s realities, culture and history. . What we need to call it is what it should be about Anti-Racist, Anti-Homophobia, Anti-Misogynistic, Anti-reinventing history to make you and your ancestors look good Education.

The past is not dead, it is not even past. That quote is never truer than when applied to race in this country.

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Tales of Xenia: I’m talking baseball!

I am sure I have already written some about sports in Xenia. It was an important part of our family history. My oldest son, Michael came out of the womb wanting to play ball, any kind of ball. Being a study nerd myself, and proud of it, I wanted a thin-necked, be-speckled, little geek. Although Mike was and is quite intelligent, and was a very good student, he was a born jock. His class of 1986 may still be the last class to have won the league in football, baseball and basketball, and he was a star on all three teams. His 21 year old daughter, Marrisa, told me not long ago she is hesitant to go into some places in Xenia because she is accosted with cries of ” Are you Mike Newsom’s daughter??”

My husband, Wayne, did the typical dad thing, coaching Mike in football and baseball and basketball when he was in elementary  and continuing to coach him in baseball into his high school years. During those years, when the baseball season went on and on, transitioning from the cold and frost of the early school season to the heat and dust of the late summer, we met and interacted with and, yes, befriended, some people we would otherwise never have met, and a few one had to be embarrassed to know.

There was the couple, both divorced, who had found each other in their middle years who could not seem to keep their hands off of each other. They would sit in the stands and watch the games until the fires of love began to burn too strong and then they would go get in their car and , ahem, shall we say cuddle. Because their heads were not visible above the seats the cuddling no doubt took something out of them and they, therefore, had to frequently lie down evidently until they regained their equilibrium.

It would have been easier to ignore if they had not had a bad habit of getting out of the car and adjusting their clothing on their way back to the stands. Generally speaking they tried to disguise their forays into mid-day intimacy by pretending to go to the concession stand. It was rare, however, that either of them came back to the stands with anything other than a new hickey. Ah love!

He had a son who played on the same team as Mike, she had two younger children, a girl and a boy.  One Saturday, at Bob Evans Fields ( where if the games went late and they started slaughtering the pigs you had to explain to the small children the pigs were making those noises because they were having a party) her son, Tommy was playing with some older boys waiting for their turn to take the field and one of the boys hit Tommy in the head with the baseball bat. A nice spray of blood ensured and all of us mothers rushed over to attend to him. This, of course, led to questions of “where is his mother?” His mother was at the time busy doing the horizontal hula with his step-father in the back seat of their car, which was parked under a tree some distance away. One of the mothers, Peggy, a total innocent, turned to the little girl, the sister of Tommy and said, ” Go get your mother!” The rest of us, more worldly moms shouted ” NO!” in unison and one of the mothers volunteered to go get the mom. We did not want the daughter, about 6 at the time to learn the facts of life in quite that manner.

Another of our co-parent couples in the baseball cabal were obviously alcoholics. Nice people, funny, jovial, salt of the earth types, but partiers to the core. They never showed up for an early morning caravan to some Babe Ruth League game in a distant town without a shaker of bloody Marys which they tried to push on everyone else, wanting some company. Their best friends, another hard-drinking couple with a son on the team, usually were the only ones who joined them. Because we had several good church folks in the group these four who I will call the Bakers and the Marshes were often frowned upon, but it did not intrude on their good time, fueled no doubt at least in part by the fact they were pretty much blotto most of the time and oblivious to the scorn directed at them by the righteous.

One year the baseball group decided to attend the Greene County Fair to celebrate the end of a successful year of baseball. We would take the kids, make a day of it. In order to do that we decided we would all pull our cars into the infield of the race track, take a picnic lunch and enjoy the races and let the kids run around, ride rides, play games and visit the arcade.

The Bakers and the Marshes rode together, packed their food together ( including a few shakers of Bloody Marys of course) and generally hung out together. We all brought lawn chairs, blankets and coolers, ready to enjoy the day and the evening at the races. Nothing like a day and evening at the Fair.

All was going well until Mr. Baker began to show the signs of having had too many of the cups of spirits that they were dispensing out of the trunk of the Marshes’ car. Because it was not legal to have liquor in the infield, or anywhere on the fairgrounds, they had been discreet and keep their drinks out of sight of the rest of us, although the increasingly slurred speech and loud talk made it rather obvious that it was not kool-aid they were going behind the car to get.

After about the third race Mr. Baker began to announce rather loudly that he had to pee. Everyone tried to quiet him down, we were kind of there as a group after all and half the town came to the Fair in those days. Because we were in the infield you could not just cross the track any time you liked, you had to wait until there was a break between races to cross, unless you wanted to risk getting run over by a pacer or a trotter.

Getting very red in the face Mr. Baker finally announced he was going to ” whip out his one-eyed trouser snake ” then and there unless he was allowed to cross the track and go to the bathroom. Mr. Marsh took him in charge after seeing all the disapproving glances he was getting from us and the other infield denizens. He drew him away from the area where most people were sitting and we were afraid he was taking him to a darker area of the infield to pee.

It turned out Mr. Marsh knew more, and was more sober, than we gave him credit for, shortly after he drew his friend away, the race ended and they were allowed to cross the track to the bathroom. The trip out was uneventful, but the trip back hit a snag. They took too long in the bathroom and the next race was about to begin, which would mean they would have to wait for at least that race and the aftermath of horses trotting around the track to cool off to come back.

They did not want to do this. Mr. Marsh, a tall blond man, decided he could jump the railing that surrounded the infield. Mr. Baker, a much shorter, mostly bald man, decided he could too. Perhaps he could have had he been sober. We saw them start across the track, not at the approved crossing spot, which was already closed off for the race, but further down the track. They jumped the fence in front of the grandstand and hustled across the track, trying to make sure they beat the starting gate car.

We saw them reach the infield, saw them climbing the railing, and then Mr. March appeared on the other side of the railing, coming up the ditch beside it. He was smiling jauntily and almost made it back to the group before he realized what we had noticed already. Mr. Baker had disappeared. Turns out he had cleared the railing, but being shorter and drunker, he had fallen into the ditch and could not get up.

Needless to say upon hearing that his injuries were only scrapes and bruises and nothing more the laughter of the group almost scared two of the horses into breaking stride. Mr. Baker not only had to be scraped up out of the ditch, because an EMT crew was stationed in the infield in case of injury to the riders, they insisted on putting him in the ambulance and examining him. His querulous voice could be heard far and wide declaring ,” It is not my head, it is my goddamn knee! Look at my goddamn knee! Leave my head alone!” The boys and girls who had come back to the infield for food, or money, got quite a kick out of the entire event. I hope it taught them that alcohol and horse racing do not go together, but I am not sure that the lesson took, it was, after all, darn funny!

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Athletes, Xenia

 

Tales of Xenia: Xenia High Sports

When I was in high school at first  the coach’s name was Bill Kaylor. Mr. Kaylor did not think that playing more than two black people at the time was a good idea. It did not make any difference how good they were, how tall they were or how productive they were, he would not start a team with more than two black players. Occasionally he might put three in during a road game, and on rare occasions he played three at home, but he generally stuck to his “two is enough rule.”

I know a lot of younger folks who do not really know the racial history of Xenia will find it amazing that even in sports racism reared its ugly head frequently, but it did. I have already written about how we called the league we were in, the WOL, the White Only League, since virtually none of the other high schools we played had any black students. Springfield South was virtually the only exception.

I remember going to football games in high school where black boys would carry the football down to the one or two yard line and the coach would then give the ball to a white boy to carry it into the end zone on the next play. That way the white boys, like Beals would get the stats, even though they were not nearly the athletes some of the black boys were who were doing the lion’s share of the work.

The black people grumbled and complained, but it was part of the way things were. White folks were going to do what white folks did and it was going to advantage white folks. Not much we could do about it but acknowledge it to each other and commiserate.

But, I digress, back to basketball–after all my Tarheels are playing those nasty Dukies tonight. I was in the stands at the Field House, for all the home games while I was in high school and probably most of them for years afterward . The Field House was a venerable and quite impressive facility, at least I always thought so.

So I was at the game the night the entire East End was holding its collective breath. Old Coach Kaylor finally retired, I think it was before my senior year and  the new coach was named Rollie Barton. Rollie  did not share Kaylor’s racist attitudes and played the boys he thought were the best players.

Shortly after I graduated in 1966 the rumor ran through the East End like a whirlwind that, having both the Byrd boys, Mike and Ray, Rollie was going to start five black guys, the first time that would have happened at XHS.

My husband and I always bought season tickets and were virtually the only black folks in our reserved section. We arrived at the game early, making our way down to our seats which were in the third row from the floor on the left hand side of the facility, not far from the stage. My son, Michael, who would later be a star three sports athlete at Xenia High, was two or three years old and with us for the game.He was learning to count by twos by keeping score of baskets. He was obsessed with sports even then and the easiest way to make something academic relevant to him was to link it to sports.

The horn sounded for the game to start and the visiting team was announced first. When it came time to announce the Xenia team virtually all of the people older than 12 in the audience were on the edge of their seats. The rumor about Rollie starting five black boys was not confined to the East End.

First player is announced, he is black, second player is announced, a Garner, and although he is bi-racial and could pass for white, he is to us and identifies as, black, the third player is announced, black, the fourth player is announced, black  player, by now anyone who has any knowledge of Xenia basketball knows that the only person left to be announced is one of our best players, Ray Byrd, unless Rollie is punishing him or afraid to break the taboo, this is going to be an historic night.

The announcer, I swear, hesitates when announcing  ” for Xenia, starting at guard……. Ray Bird.” The traditional black section of the Field House, that nearest the front door, goes wild. I am sure the people we were playing, I do not remember who the opponent was, wondered what all the hoopla was about. Then again it being the WOL, perhaps their own eyes provided all they needed to know.

Black people in the late sixties, early seventies did not have a lot of victories to celebrate in Xenia. We were rarely hired for city jobs, the police force, the fire department, the banks, they law offices, as store clerks, as teachers, but for one night at least, at the venerable Field House we were part of history.

Oh, and we won the game too.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Athletes, Race

 

Tales of Xenia: YRC

My oldest son Michael was virtually born wanting to play, watch or otherwise engage in some kind of sport. I had hoped for a little pointed headed nerd son, primarily to dispel some of the stereotypes about blacks not being intellectual, but to paraphrase an old Jewish proverb, Woman plans and God laughs. Mike from the time he could walk wanted to ball up socks and shoot them into the trashcan or play catch with stuffed animals. He was, is and always shall be obsessed by sports.

Fortunately, he was also a good student, so all was not lost. Nevertheless I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in stadiums, arenas, fields, etc., from the time he was four until he finished college and beyond, watching him play something. His father was a grade A enabler. He coached Mike in football and baseball, the latter into his teen years.

The baseball experience was my least favorite for a variety of reasons. First, baseball season starts sooner than Ohio thaws out. I mean, sitting in snow showers watching teenagers throw a small orb around for hours is not something any mother should have to do. Second, it is a boring game–okay I am ready for the abuse, go ahead. In football ( my favorite) there is strategy, there is something happening virtually all the time. In basketball, my second choice, it is repetitive, but it at least takes place inside. Football is outside but in the fall. Besides, there are great memories of cold football games, huddling under blankets and cheering on your team.

In baseball nothing happens for minutes at the time besides scratching and spitting. I used to be certain that the baseball gods had it in for me. About once a year someone would give us Reds tickets and we would mount a safari down to the bowels of Cincinnati to watch older men scratch and spit.  Besides checking to see if any of the drunks were actually going to fall out of the upper stands and watching families trying to keep their children from bankrupting them at the souvenir and concession stands I was totally bored. So, of course, virtually every time we went the game would go into extra innings.  Sigh.

But I digress. The baseball organization in Mike’s playing years was YRC. From April to September we were part of a nomadic bunch of very diverse people who went to baseball games all over the Miami Valley and beyond. I can truthfully say that I met some of the most interesting and fun people I have ever known while we were in our baseball days, I can also say that I met quite a few people I would not want to speak to me in Walmart in front of other people. But, for the most part, even though some of them were, shall we say earthy, they were a great bunch of people.

So we would either go out to the fields next to Bob Evans–if the game went too long you could hear them killing the pigs, not exactly family friendly–or caravan to some other exotic field to indulge in the nation’s past time.The YRC fields were a triumph for Xenia, not necessarily known for recreational facilities, particularly for kids–Shawnee Park aside.

The general scheme was to go out to the field for most of the day. If your kid only had one game someone else you  knew had a kid that had a game before or after. So, you packed up your lawn chairs and cooler and went out. Nikki and Chris, being much younger than Mike would simply run wild with the other herds of children, some of whom were dropped off about noon by their parents and not picked back up until dark. No matter how nicely I dressed the younger kids by the end of the day they were amazingly grimy. Nikki was fond of candy necklaces, which she would both wear and eat, meaning her neck and upper body was a great area for the ever-present dust to settle in the sticky remnants. I forbade candy necklaces but she knew too many people at the baseball park and had no trouble obtaining them surreptitiously.

On one occasion one of Wayne’s player’s  sister walked too close to older boys having batting practice before their game. This was a little doe-eyed girl whose mother dropped her off with her older brother every game day and never came back for either of them until it was almost dark. Sometimes we had to stay with them because everyone else was leaving the park and we did not want them left out in that relatively remote area alone. Because this was pre-cell phone days we tried to call the mom from the concession stand phone, but there was no answer. Ergo, there was no one to tend to the rather large goose egg on her forehead but me. We put ice on it, but it was still impressively large and split down the middle. One of the team members’ dads was a paramedic and he said he thought she should be checked out. That meant someone had to ride in the ambulance with her. As the coach’s wife ( they did not tell me I held a formal office until that day) I had to go with her. Her mother was finally tracked down and came the hospital eventually, but I have often wondered how those children did with a mom who seemed to be willing to leave them to their own devices so often and seemingly with such interest.

Once when Mike was around 12 years old  there was a tournament in Hillsboro Ohio, about 45 miles from Xenia. If we won we were to play again early the next day, so it was decided that if we won the game we would spend the night in Hillsboro, dividing the boys up amongst our  various hotel rooms. I should have known it was going to be an eventful trip when one group pulled up with shakers full of Bloody Mary’s for the trip. All I could do was decline to join them and hope that the curving road to Hillsboro did not present an insurmountable challenge for them. We all made it to the field and settled in for the day.

To the chagrin of our boys one of the star players, the pitcher for one of the other teams was a girl. The boys-at the age where their ideas about girls were undergoing some changes–were at first amused and later outraged as the young woman– her name was Carla, struck out player after player. The boys were openly cheering for the team she was facing, even though they did not know any of the boys on that team. The mothers, in a rare show of feminist solidarity, began cheering for Carla and her team.

Carla’s team won and after we dispatched our opponent we found out that we would play her team the next day. A relatively subdued group of young men adjourned to the hotel, with the sobering thought that they would have to face her the next day.

The next day dawned bright and sunny, after breakfast we loaded all of the boys up for the trip to the field. Arriving at the field the boys got down to batting practice and practicing their catching skills. You could tell that this game was more important to them than other games, they had to strike a blow for their gender!

The game began and the parents from both teams, who all had to sit in the same stands, made polite small talk and expressed our hope that both teams would do well and play a good game. That, of course, began to break down a bit when the game actually got rolling.

Around the 3rd inning I thought I must be having a stroke or something, the ground seemed to be moving on its own. A few minutes after I had that odd feeling the stands, which were metal, began to rumble. We were having an earthquake. The pitcher’s mound was obviously shaking and they stopped the game to see what was transpiring. It turned out a rare earthquake had, indeed hit southwestern Ohio. It did not do a lot of damage, a few broken windows and dishes rolled off of shelves and smashed but other than that it was more exciting than dangerous.

The game resumed and Carla retook the mound. Despite the hurculean efforts of the young men from Xenia, girl power took the day. It was a quiet ride back up the road to Xenia.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2010 in Athletes, Xenia

 

Race Potpourri

When I was in the classroom I always encouraged my college students, and sometimes my high school students, to do their own research, not to take my word, or anyone’s word as gospel. Now I am going to invite my blog readers to do the same thing. This is football season, when you are watching the games–especially the college ones, but the professional ones as well, listen to the commentary and see if you can find a difference between the way players of color and white players are described. This is easy research, all you need is a scrap of paper with two columns, “white” and “of color.”  Write down the adjectives used to describe them by the commentators , who are overwhelmingly white. (A topic for another blog–why is it that sports writers and commentators, unlike players are overwhelmingly white?), in the appropriate column and report it back to this blog. If it is what has been documented before ( if you want an article I can send you one) you will find that white players are described as leaders, intelligent, bright, while players of color are described as talented and fast and big. In other words the white players have positive characteristics they have developed with effort, while the players of color just happen to have been born superior physical specimens. Rather takes me back to the 70’s when I was teaching high school and one of my white male students named Jim assured me quite earnestly that the reason many black males were so skilled at athletics was that slaves were bred to have an extra muscle in their legs. I asked him what would happen if a white woman and a black man had a baby? Would the child limp since he only had a special slave muscle in one leg? I was not a reverent teacher, and never tried to treat my students like they were dumb or unable to understand sarcasm.

Okay, assignment two ( it is hard to stop being a teacher I find) Watch the television news ( I know this can be painful) and those ubiquitous true crime shows and see how many times a blond woman is described as beautiful, even when she is nothing of the sort. It is fascinating. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and since my youngest two grandchildren have blue eyes I have come to appreciate blue eyes more, but come on people, some folks would see an orangutan with blond hair and declare her beautiful. Let me know what you find out here too please.

Okay, class dismissed! 🙂

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Athletes, Education, Race