Racism in Sports

Red Line Editorial commissioned Carrie to write a book called "Racism in Sports" as part
of an educational series targeting middle-school students. Unfortunately, the book was
never published due to an internal change in leadership at the publishing house.

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

On Feb. 4, 2012, the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, New York's professional basketball team was struggling. The Knicks were behind by 10 points at the end of the first quarter, already deep into a multiple-game losing streak. While playing at home in Madison Square Garden, the team's head coach Mike D’Antoni was so desperate that he looked way down his bench. With nothing to lose, he decided to play his third-string point guard for the first time that year.

Seizing the opportunity to prove his worth, Jeremy Lin played the best game of his life. He scored 25 points, nearly doubling his previous career high, with seven assists and five rebounds. After leading his team to a 99-92 victory over the New Jersey Nets, Lin recognized that the win was a team effort. “We played hard, and we played together.” That game sparked a much needed seven-game winning streak for the Knicks. Lin scored more points in his first five games than any other player NBA history. “Linsanity” was born.

So what exactly was Linsanity? Why did Lin's strong play over those two weeks become such a huge story that he was featured on two consecutive Sports Illustrated covers? Why did NBA league officials struggle with supplying enough Jeremy Lin merchandise because items were selling out in minutes? How did this winning streak so quickly become a worldwide sensation?

While his excellent play was a surprise coming from a bench player, it was Lin’s race and cultural background that made him a instant celebrity. He was a Taiwanese American from suburban Palo Alto, California who graduated from Harvard. As a result, he brought an entirely new image to what it could mean to be a successful professional basketball player. By playing in the nation’s largest city and media capital during an otherwise slow period in sporting news, he showed the world that an educated Asian American could play well enough to earn a starting spot with the mostly urban black players in the NBA. His moment of glory made him an inspiration for Asians across the country and abroad.

According to the Merriam-Webster Student Dictionary, the definition of racism is “1: belief that certain races of people are by birth and nature superior to others, and 2: discrimination or hatred based on race.” With Linsanity, both definitions became a part of the story.

Compared to other races, Asian Americans were not considered to be able to excel as basketball players due to their stereotypical small size, quiet disposition and academic drive. Lin was not drafted by any college program, despite being named the Bay Area’s high school player of the year in 2006. After playing well for Harvard, NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged that Lin’s race and Ivy League background were the reasons why he was never drafted by the NBA. Right up until his shining moment, Lin was living day-to-day on friends’ sofas, always aware that each day he showed up to play could be his last. Exactly one month before his big break, he tweeted “Every time I try to get into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I’m a trainer.”

When Lin was playing for Harvard, he spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008 about the racism he faced. “You don't get respect for being an Asian American basketball player in the U.S.” “It's a sport for white and black people.” “I hear everything: ‘Go back to China. Orchestra is on the other side of campus. Open up your eyes.’” “I'm an easy target because I'm Asian. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, but it's part of the game.”

Even in the age of political-correctness, the media continually used racial overtones when talking about Lin’s fantastic play during those two weeks. He was called “The Linja,” the New York Post used the headline “Amasian!” and the MSG Network aired a fan’s sign showing Lin above a fortune cookie with the words “The Knick’s Good Fortune.”

ESPN.com’s headline “A Chink in the Armor” created the most controversy with its insulting double meaning to describe the end of the winning streak. While the phrase means a dent in a warrior’s protection, the word “chink” is a deeply offensive word for a Chinese person. The headline was posted online at 2:30 a.m. and was quickly taken down. But with social media and the internet catching on to the published racial slur, ESPN fired the writer and punished other employees over the incident.

The race-related dialogue surrounding Lin became so common that it was spoofed on Saturday Night Live. The skit showed a roundtable of sports commentators calling Lin’s success a “Linvasion,” that they’re “Lin Love” and that he’s “sweet, not sour” among others. The message of the skit was to show a racial double standard. It was okay to freely mock Asians, but completely unacceptable to make similar jokes about African Americans.

While people like to think racism is a thing of the past, Linsanity proved it’s still very much alive and well. At the same time, those two weeks served as a reminder of how sports advance society against discrimination, bigotry, ignorance and insensitivity.

The winning streak proved the value of teamwork, that a group of people of all colors, shapes and sizes can win when they learn how to work well together. The fan and media reaction forced people to talk about the uncomfortable topic of racism head-on. It was a valuable lesson about the harms of prejudice and the rewards of open-minded inclusively.

Lin was yet another minority to break barriers through his performance, perseverance and integrity. His remarkable moment in the limelight encouraged Asians around the world to believe for the first time that they could play basketball well. The fact that Lin was financially rewarded for his achievement proved how far we have come when compared to pioneers of the past.

Through sports, great progress has been made in overcoming the obstacles of racism in society. While there is still work to be done, athletic accomplishments repeatedly prove the benefits of tolerance and equal opportunity for all.

Sidebar 1: While Jeremy Lin was the first Asian American basketball player to become a national and international phenomenon, he was far from the first Asian to play in the NBA. In fact, the very first non-white to play in the National Basketball Association was a Japanese American from Utah named Wat Misaka. He played for the New York Knicks for three games in November 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson became the first black player in Major League Baseball.

Sidebar 2: Part of what made Jeremy Lin so attractive to his Asian fans around the world was that he appeared to be just like them. While his 6-foot-3-inch height is tall for the average person, he still looked like a normal guy. The most famous Asian to play in the NBA before Lin was the third tallest player in league history from Shanghai, China. At 7 foot 6 inches tall, Yao Ming played an All-Star career for the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2011.


OUTLINE SUMMARY

CHAPTER 2: Golden Glory to Controversy (The Olympics)

Individual Olympic events provide an opportunity for athletes of all races and ethnicities to compete at the highest level. As a result, it was the sporting event that generated America's first non-white national heroes. Jim Thorpe (an American Indian from Oklahoma) and Jesse Owens (an Alabama-born, Ohio-raised African American) are the most notable trail blazers who became legends for their dominating Olympic accomplishments in the 1912 and 1936 games.

However, both also faced especially harsh punishments with regards to making money from their achievements. Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic records and gold medals following a scandal regarding his amateur status, and Owens struggled to make any money from his success. In sports as in life, money equals power, and while these two extraordinary individuals established the gold standard in Olympic triumphs, they also faced controversy in the aftermath of their success in ways that can be attributed to racism. An endorsement controversy issue also followed Japanese American skater Kristi Yamaguchi's gold medal win in 1992.

Sidebar 1: Other individual Native American medalists Louis Tewanima (Hopi) and Duke Kahanamoku (Hawaiian) in 1912 and Billy Mills (Sioux) in 1964

Sidebar 2: The story of how Cassius Clay (before he became Mohammad Ali) threw his 1960 Olympic boxing gold medal away in anger after being denied service at a whites-only diner, and whether or not the story is true

Primary Source Sidebar A: The black power solute by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand of the 1968 Mexico City games that became a lasting symbol of the Civil Rights Movement


CHAPTER 3: Crossing Color Lines (Baseball)

Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in the Major Leagues in 1947. Playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he faced harsh discrimination, inequality and racism, and he paved the way for other black players to follow in his footsteps. A supportive ally was Hank Greenberg, the powerhouse veteran slugger in his final season who was also the game's most successful Jewish player to date. Greenberg faced harsh anti-Semitism throughout his career, which overlapped the Holocaust, and could identify with the struggles of being targeted by vicious bigots who attended the games.

Midway through the 1947 season, the Cleveland Indians drafted and immediately began to play Larry Doby, who became the first black player in the American League. He and Robinson spoke on the phone often to support each other throughout that first season. Robinson went on to win Rookie of the Year on the Dodgers’ National League pennant winning team. The following year, Robinson and Doby were no longer the sole black players on their teams. Roy Campanella was called up to play for the Dodgers, and Negro League star pitcher Satchel Paige became the oldest rookie in MLB history when he was hired to play for the Indians. That year, the Indians would go on to win the World Series, with Doby and Paige on the field and Greenberg working in management.

There were specific reasons why Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby were picked to be the first players over more established Negro League players like Satchel Paige. The Dodgers and the Indians also chose different approaches in integrating their teams. Another key point is how the support of white teammates like Greenberg and Pee Wee Reese were instrumental in the acceptance of black players in the major leagues.

Short Sidebar 1: Background information on the Negro Leagues

Short Sidebar 2: Latinos in baseball, primarily Puerto Rican legend Roberto Clemente's challenge at facing discrimination by American whites (for being black) and not being accepted by African Americans (for being foreign)


CHAPTER 4: Game-Changing Games (Basketball and Football)

Team sports force players to learn how to work together, and they also highlight conflicting philosophies and divides between opposing teams. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, key college basketball and football matchups proved to be essential moments toward the desegregation of athletics throughout the country.

The wave of change began with the Junior Rose Bowl of 1955 when an integrated team from Compton, Calif., beat an all-white team from Mississippi. That loss motivated segregationist Mississippi government officials to launch the state's "unwritten rule" that their colleges could not play any team that was integrated. From 1955 to 1963, any team from Mississippi that did well enough to compete nationally had to withdraw from the NCAA tournaments and bowl games if their competition included any people of color. 1963 saw the "Game of Change" when the Miss. St. basketball team had to sneak out of their own state and go against a state injunction so that they could play Loyola (that had four black starters) in the NCAA tournament.

Three years later in 1966, the most symbolic game of the Civil Rights Movement took place during NCAA basketball championship between Kentucky and Texas Western. The all-white Kentucky team was coached by a vocal Southern segregationist, while the integrated Texas Western team was dominated by black players and led by a coach who seized an opportunity to make a difference. He chose to only play his black players in that final game, and they went on to win the national championship.

University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant had wanted to integrate his football team for years, but faced stiff opposition from Alabama officials. In 1970, he found his opportunity by inviting the integrated University of Southern California team to play. The strong performance by African American Sam "Bam" Cunningham led USC to such a convincing win that Alabama officials and fans let Bryant integrate Southern football.

Short Sidebar 1: The integration of the NBA, from Harold Hunter and others in 1950 to Bill Russell in 1957 who went on to win 11 titles in 13 years for the Boston Celtics

Short Sidebar 2: The integration of the NFL


CHAPTER 5: Outsiders in for the win (Tennis and Golf)

Due to their country-club origins, tennis and golf have long traditions of being less welcoming to those who are not of the white upper-class. Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in both tennis and women's golf, leading the way for other African-American superstars, most notably Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods and sisters Venus and Serena Williams. But they each faced obstacles as they fought against stereotypes and institutionalized racism in their individualized sports. Examples range from Gibson's and Ashe's cultural training, segregationist obstacles and groundbreaking wins at the white-dressed Wimbledon, to Wood's growing up on golf courses at clubs that did not allow black members, to the angry crowd that targeted the Williams sisters at the 2001 Indian Wells tennis tournament. All five had an awareness of how their performances and accomplishments pave the way for other outsiders to feel as though they could belong within these traditional white sports.

Short Sidebar 1: Lee Trevino, the Mexican-American golfer known as the "Merry Mex" who used humor as an effective tool to minimize the cultural and socio-economic divides he felt from his upper-crust sport

Short Sidebar 2: Michael Chang, the tennis player who changed the perception of Asian-Americans in professional sports


CHAPTER 6: A New Century's Sensitivities (Current conversations)

One cannot have a discussion about racism in sports without looking at how athletes are talked about in the media. While sports writers can be vocal supporters of racial equality, they can also fuel the fire of ignorance and insensitivity. From historical examples of how Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente was mistreated by the press to recent controversial comments from white radio personality Don Imus and black broadcaster Bryant Gumbel. Fan pushback also plays a role, from gold-medal-winning African American gymnast Gaby Douglas's hair to racial incidents at NHL hockey games (like banana peels being thrown on the ice to provoke black players).

Another contemporary issue involves the discrepancy between the percentage of minority players in professional team sports compared to those who are team leaders, coaches and management. The NFL's Rooney Rule changed the game, and statistics from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) compare the current racial makeup of the NBA, NFL and MLB (as well as the WNBA, MLS and NCAA Division 1 major team sports). And the NHL's international makeup creates different dynamics with regards to diversity.

Primary Source Sidebar B: Racial-influenced mascots which critics consider to be caricatures of oppressed cultures, primarily the protests against American Indian mascots including the Braves, Indians and Chiefs as well as the long legal battle with the Washington Redskins compared to the evolution of how other professional team mascots have evolved

Short Sidebar 1: The integration of the NHL

Short Sidebar 2: FIFA's official policy against discrimination in international soccer


PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

BOOKS:
"Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe" by Kate Buford (2010)
"All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe" by Bill Crawford (2005)
"Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics" by Jeremy Schaap (2008)
"Jesse Owens: An American Life" by William J. Baker (1986)
"I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson" by Jackie Robinson as told to Alfred Duckett (1995)
"Larry Doby: The Struggle of the American League's First Black Player" by Joseph Thomas Moore (2011)
"Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend" by Larry Tye (2009)
"Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" by David Maraniss (2006)
"The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss" by Charles W. Eagles (2009)
"Champions for Change: How the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Their Bold Coach Defied Segregation" by Kyle Veazey (2012)
"And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Kentucky, Texas Western, and the Game That Changed American Sports" by Frank Fitzpatrick (1999)
"The Big Dance: The Story of the NCAA Basketball Tournament" by Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport (2012)
"Turning of the Tide: How One Game Changed the South" by Don Yeager (2006)
"Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters" by Cecil Harris (2007)
"Born to Win: The Authorized Biography of Althea Gibson" by Frances Clayton Gray (2004)
"Days of Grace, a Memoir" by Arthur Ashe (1993)
"On the Line" by Serena Williams with Daniel Paisner (2009)

ARTICLES:
"Linsanity: Jeremy Lin's rise to stardom." Charlie Rose, correspondent. Pete Radovich, producer. 60 Minutes. April 7, 2013.
"Asian Americans remain rare in men's college basketball" by Bryan Chu, Special to The Chronicle. San Francisco Chronicle - SF Gate. Dec. 16, 2008.
"Linsanity Began One Year Ago Today" by Will Leitch. New York Magazine. Feb. 4, 2013
"Jeremy Lin 'SNL' Sketch Takes On Racist Linsanity Jokes, Media Commentary" by Michael Klopman. The Huffington Post. Feb. 19, 2012.
"The Old Guard Welcomes the New Guard" by George Vecsey. New York Times. Feb. 14, 2012.
"True baseball heroes: Jackie Robinson, an African-American, and Hank Greenberg, a Jew, shared a special friendship as two men who endured years of unimaginable bigotry" by Stephen H. Norwood, Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman. Daily News (Los Angeles). April 6, 1997.
"Hank Greenberg's Minor League Teammate: 'I Never Saw a Jew Before'" by Harold Friend. Bleacher Report. July 27, 2011; sourced “Hank Greenberg a Hero to Dodgers’ Negro Star.” New York Times. May 18, 1947. P. S5
"A game that should not be forgotten" by Dana O'Neil. ESPN.com. Dec. 13, 2012
"December 31: ¡Arriba Roberto!" by Steve Wulf. Sports Illustrated. Dec. 28, 1992
"The Gates Open: By admitting a black, Birmingham's Shoal Creek led a quiet revolution" by William Oscar Johnson. Sports Illustrated. Aug. 13, 1990
"14-year-old Tiger Woods interview" by Trans World Sport. November 1990.

WEBSITES:
espn.go.com
www.wordcentral.com
www.watmisaka.com

DATA SOURCES:
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES)

CHAPTER 1 LINKS:
Lin talking about teamwork
Merriam-Webster definition
David Stern comments
Lin’s tweet on Jan. 4, 2012
Lin at Harvard with high school background
SNL sketch
Wat Misaka
Yao Ming

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