I want to raise an important issue that’s been crowded out by the headlines.
Many people are upset about the whole idea of affirmative action or otherwise taking specific note of the needs of Black folk. For many, that seems completely new, like we never did that for anybody before. When I was a kid, the two parties in New York carefully balanced their tickets with Protestants, Catholics and Jews for statewide offices. To many, that seemed OK because everybody involved was “White” and only Blacks noticed their absence. Few remember now that people had been referring to Jews, Italians and Irish as races, and Southern Europeans and semitic peoples were not the least shamed by their swarthy skin. The world changes – now everybody but Blacks are white and the Blacks are the new kids on the block.
Norman Rockwell did the famous Four Freedoms posters for American war bonds in World War II, and the iconic covers for the Saturday Evening Post, a national magazine, including the sweet picture of the doctor putting his stethoscope on the little girl’s doll. Rockwell also painted Moving Day, depicting the arrival of a moving truck with Black children and their baseball equipment opposite a group of similarly equipped white children, the two groups standing there not knowing what to say. “Play Ball” was the obvious answer.
Sports used to be about learning teamwork. We learned to cooperate, help each other for the sake of the team, and we did it together with kids of all backgrounds. I’ll never forget taking a cab with some friends to a demonstration in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City against the war in Vietnam. The cab driver was pretty obviously unhappy with us – he realized the four of us were carrying candles to light at a well-publicized demonstration. I remember turning the conversation to the Mets. The Mets had never made it out of last place, but this year, 1969, they were fighting for the championship. Mayor John Lindsay, was literally campaigning for re-election from the Met dugout. It seemed like the whole world was for the Mets – at least in New York City. The change on our taxi driver’s face was obvious – how could such nice Mets fans be against the war!
Some of you may remember Pee Wee Reese, the long time Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop and captain. In 1947, when the Dodgers brought Jackie Robinson up as the first Black major league ballplayer of the twentieth Century, some Dodgers groused about having to play with a Black man. Reese got up at a team meeting and told his teammates they weren’t going to win in spite of Jackie – they were going to win because of Jackie. In fact, the Dodgers became the dominant team in the National League for the rest of Jackie’s career. As Jackie aged and skills declined, a Dodgers manager benched him, but the team played poorly. It fell to Reese to tell their manager his teammates wanted Jackie on the field. Jackie was restored to the lineup and the Dodgers won the pennant again.
Sports matters and teamwork matters, and it matters to America. We cannot make a greater America by fighting and killing each other, by wasting our energies kicking each other off the team of America the way that white supremacists want us to do. We can only destroy the country we love.
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.