I love sports for a myriad of reasons. One of them is this: I think sports has done more to attack racism than any other societal entity, excluding those Christian churches willing to defy the societal and individual sins of prejudice.
I can think of a number of examples including:
Jackie Robinson and Branch Ricky collaborating to break baseball’s color barrier.
USC playing the University of Alabama in football in Birmingham in 1970, when Sam “Bam” Cunningham almost single-handedly destroyed the Crimson Tide. Suddenly, Tide fans were motivated to break the racial barrier.
However, my favorites are those innocent moments when a young child looks to an athlete of a different race as a role model. I speak from experience. When I was a boy, I loved Roberto Clemente. (As an adult, I view him not only with affection, but with respect for his humanitarianism.) I had posters of Julius Erving and Hank Aaron on my bedroom wall.
Sports make the color barrier melt, not because of the decree of Scripture or government, but because of the desire to become like the athlete.
It was in this vein, I read a line that caught my attention. James Hirsch, in his newly completed biography of Willie Mays, tells about a Little League baseball game played in Texas a few years ago. On one team was the grandson of a Ku Klux Klan member. A fly ball came his way and he made the catch. With great joy he shouted, “Look at me! I’m Willie Mays!”
Something powerful happens when the son of a member of the Ku Klux Klan enthusiastically and publically imagines himself—to be a black man.