Courage: Not Just a Game

Two stories today about shameful history and courageous men.

Charlie Sifford, the first black player allowed on a PGA tour, has passed at age 92. Breaking par, as a caddy at age 13, he was not allowed to play in the PGA until it dropped its white’s only rule in 1961.

“In 1952, he was allowed to play in the Phoenix Open in an all-black foursome that included the former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. When the golfers arrived at the first hole, they found that someone had put excrement into it.”


Tiger Woods has called Sifford “one of the bravest men ever to play this sport.”



Val James, alive and writing his autobiography, Black Ice, helped break the color barrier in another very white sport – professional hockey.  He was the first American born black player in the NHL and endured abuse from Americans and Canadians for years.

Warren Skorodenski, a former Springfield, Mass., Indians goalie who spent parts of five seasons in the N.H.L., recalled Springfield fans yelling racial slurs at James and throwing so many bananas on the ice that linesmen collected them during stoppages of play. A few fans, he said, dressed in Ku Klux Klan-style hoods.

“It was disgusting,” said Skorodenski, who is not mentioned in the book. “To be in his shoes, I just couldn’t imagine.”

In Salem, Va., in 1981, a CBS News crew filming a report on James recorded fans chanting a racial epithet at him. A producer interviewed a proud teenager who brought a watermelon to the game for James. Gallagher shared a copy of the report with The New York Times.

“There is the only way I can explain it for people who don’t understand that feeling,” James said. “Let’s start with women. What’s the worst thing you can call a woman? Imagine having one of those words thrown at you every three seconds for 60 minutes. Now multiply that 40 road games a year.”

NY Times

Foul Brained Footballer Asks for Help

In an abrupt change of direction, Richie Incognito, who infamously poured a stream of pornographic wishes and curses onto team mate Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins, driving Martin into therapy for depression, has now checked himself into a facility — after smashing his own $295,000 Ferrari with a hammer.

He claims his mother and dad “understand” it.  I for one bet that if his mother saw her son’s sick ranting she would be sick herself, and would have encouraged him to get help, even before the Ferrari incident.

[From earlier post: Here is the report.  Jump to page 13 for a small sample of what happened. “Offensive language” doesn’t begin to cover it. This is extremist thuggery, under the cover of boys will be boys. ]

And more at Miami Herald

and ESPN

Sick Behavior in the NFL

Oh,man!  When the Richie Incognito — Jonathan Martin episode hit the news in October 2013 it was a little hard to know how bad bad was.  Name calling, racial slurs, derogatory comments, sure. But what?  Now we know. And we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Incognito and two team mates are sick jackals.  If not protected by the team and league one or more surely would have been shot for the vile abuse heaped on others — and not just Martin.

Here is a Washington Post article on it

Here is the report.  Jump to page 13 for a small sample of what happened. “Offensive language” doesn’t begin to cover it. This is extremist thuggery, under the cover of boys will be boys.

The Miami Herald only uses the word ‘implicated’ to describe what the report says about the vile actors.  No brave statement like Dallas newscaster Dale Hansen on ABC made the other day regarding Michael Sams and the NFL.

One more nail in the coffin of my — and how many others?– interest in this manly sport, seeming less manly every new discovery.

The lack of coverage in the majors is noticeable. USA Today at least is willing to read and to comment

The harassment wasn’t simply a byproduct of Incognito’s mind. It came from within the walls of the organization. That’s the most damning finding. It wasn’t just one rogue player – the team, in fact, stood strongly behind Incognito. This was a culture of hostile treatment embedded within the walls of the Dolphins facility.

USA Today

On Michael Sam, Straight From the Heart of Texas

For more about Sam — and the road he’s run, see here.

But Sam has never had it easy. He grew up about 40 miles southeast of Houston near Galveston Bay in Texas, the seventh of eight children. Three of his siblings have died and two brothers are in prison. He lived briefly in the back seat of his mother’s car, and his relationship with his family remains complicated: When he visits home, he usually stays with friends.




Racist Fans Lose Game

Had no idea.  Simply had no idea this was common place in European, and especially Italian soccer.

The lightening rod for all the bigoted bile in the swamps of Italian fandom has been African-Italian star Mario Balotelli. Born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents, the electric Balotelli has had to endure racist chants, songs calling for his death and, from the time he was a teenage sensation for Inter Milan, people throwing bananas at him in bars. In 2012, he said, “I will not accept racism at all. It’s unacceptable. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them.”

On Friday, a public act of resistance against racist chanting, led by a Ghanian-German midfielder, has become a catalyst to mobilize opinion, and action against the ugliness.

Imagine for a moment banana peels raining down on the head of Miami Heat basketball star LeBron James when he takes the court. Picture Vikings running back Adrian Peterson having to hear fans sing songs calling for his death because of the color of his skin. It’s difficult to visualize in US sports* but such scenes have become a normal feature of European soccer. Yet perhaps, in one moment of fury, the page may finally be turning on this ugly state of affairs. In a bracing display of courage, star midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, of the legendary Italian club, A.C. Milan, displayed all the frustration that’s been building among professional soccer players of color in Europe over the last two decades as they’ve endured all manner of toxic, racist garbage when they take the pitch.

In the middle of a “friendly match” against the club Pro Patria, a mini-mob in the bleachers repeatedly tossed bigoted bombs at the non-white players on AC Milan’s roster, and Boateng decided he’d had enough. He picked up the ball right in the middle of play and punted it directly into their section of the stands. Boateng then began to walk off the field in protest. Here is where, in a matter of seconds, the turn of events shifted from shock to wonder. As Boateng stormed to the nearest exit, the Pro Patria fans, instead of jeering, cheered him for his actions. Then the referees called off the rest of the game and his opponents on Pro Patria walked off with Boateng, shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity. The announcers could only utter a word in Italian easy to translate: “Incredible.”

Dave Zirin in The Nation  more in The NY Times and ABC News

Ferlinghetti Declares for the 49ers

Unexpectedly, Lawrence Ferlinghetti made an appearance on the NY Times sports pages today. Of last weeks 49ers victory over the New Orleans Saints:

“That was the greatest end of a game I’d ever seen,” Ferlinghetti said in a telephone interview, proclaiming himself a renewed fan of the 49ers, at least while their playoff run lasts. They will host the Giants on Sunday in the N.F.C. championship game.

 But since he hasn’t composed a pome about football and is more likely to about the other football, which most of the world plays, take a moment and enjoy himself reading Baseball Canto.  It will tickle your politics as well as your game cock.