Friday, August 21, 2015

Don't make a race issue out of this

     "Mr. Parish, although a worthy consideration, would not be a 'close call' with Terry Bradshaw if the hypersensitive racial climate was not a reality, thanks to our beloved potus."
Robert Parish, "The Chief," had a career
that was hard to top (photo from Getty Images)
     Read that Facebook comment above, and what does it say to you?
     That Robert Parish was nowhere as good as athlete as Terry Bradshaw? That he only is so highly regarded because he is an African-American? And that it is President Obama's fault?
     That's how I read it. And what else do I read? That it's an offensive remark. Yes, I do.
     There's no place for it here. It's an ignorant comment. It's a comment that belongs in the past. Unfortunately, it's in the present. And that stinks.
     The background: A week ago when the Louisiana Tech Football page on Facebook posted a congratulatory note about Terry Bradshaw being selected No. 1 in The Shreveport Times' poll of the greatest athletes with Shreveport-Bossier ties, I posted a comment saying it was a close call between Terry and Robert at No. 1.
     I made the same statement in the first blog piece I wrote about The Times' poll and my vote in it. I didn't name Bradshaw and Parish then because it wasn't time to reveal my vote, but they were clearly Nos. 1 and 2 for me in that poll.
     And, not necessarily in that order. I can make a very good case for Parish being a greater player than Bradshaw.
     I would have had no quarrel if the rest of the panel had decided to put Robert at No. 1. I think that much of both guys, and I was proud to have played a small role in their careers (compiled their stats when they were in high school and college, wrote about them for various newspapers).
     But, damn, let's not make this a racial issue.
     Race had absolutely nothing to do with the way I voted in this poll, and I'd like to think it had little or nothing to do in the way I wrote about athletics or the way my papers covered them.
     My theory: Best to try to be color blind when it comes to athletics.
     Of course, there were times when I was accused -- one way or the other -- of leaning toward one race. I'm sure that's happened to a lot of writers at a lot of papers. Ask my friend Buddy Davis how often people in Ruston, La. -- home of Louisiana Tech -- chided him for his coverage of nearby Grambling State University athletics.
     I've written about race and my coverage in athletics previously, about the days when high schools and college programs integrated. Earlier this year I wrote a four-part series on the first black athletes in football and basketball at Louisiana Tech. I enjoyed doing those, talking to some of those former athletes.
     And so, it was a bit stunning -- and disappointing -- to see that comment on a Louisiana Tech page. I know the name of the person who posted it, but it's not worth posting for you.
     But (1) I think it reflects badly on Louisiana Tech, where he apparently has ties to the school, and that's too bad because Tech, like a lot of universities, has done a good job mixing its black athletes with the whites; (2) it is not at all fair to Robert Parish and (3) why bring President Obama into this?
     I think, I hope, Louisiana Tech has come a long way since the May night in 1968 when I heard cheering -- enough to tee me off -- when the death of Dr. Martin Luther King was announced on television in the dormitory. 
     On Parish, he -- like Bradshaw -- played on four championship teams in the pros. Robert's high school and college careers were sensational, and he played more games than anyone in NBA history. He played 21 years in the NBA and was chosen as one of the all-time top 50 players.
     The only reason I gave my No. 1 vote to Bradshaw was he was the MVP in two Super Bowl victories, and Parish did not earn that type honor in the NBA Finals. But I can argue that on a game-to-game basis, Robert was more consistently a star than Terry and certainly for much longer.
     In a blog piece last week on The Times' top-20 greatest Shreveport-Bossier athletes poll, I criticized the exclusion of Willard Brown, a baseball star of the 1930s, '40s and early '50s, mostly in the Negro Leagues. But I don't think he wasn't in the poll because he was a black player; I think he wasn't in it because voters weren't aware of how good he was, and his ability -- some felt -- was hard to measure.
     Without a whole discussion on race -- I don't profess to have any expertise; I am a sports writer, not a social commentator -- it's obvious we still have a tremendous racial divide in this country.
     Sure, we have come a long way since the 1950s and '60s when I was a kid, but you see the many situations in the news today -- Ferguson, Mo., New York City, Baltimore, white cops killing black people (as in nearby Arlington, Texas, recently), a black man killing a white cop in my hometown -- and we have plenty of problems still.
     Blame President Obama? Too easy. When is the President, any President, not blamed for everything by one party or another, by one race or another?
     The anti-Obama sentiment, sadly, crosses racial lines far too often. At least that's what I see on Facebook, and I don't like it. It's acceptable to be critical of one's politics; it's unacceptable to be personally hateful. I can't go there.
     There are athletes I think are punks, it's because they act or talk like self-centered fools. But it's not a black-white-Hispanic thing, and some of them even play for teams I love. But hate? No, they're people, with families -- and fans -- who love them.
     Back to the comment at the top: When, exactly, since the 1950s when black people seriously began standing up for themselves, have we not had a "hypersensitive racial climate?"
     Abrasive, pointed, uncivil remarks don't do anyone any good.
     I would suggest the world, and America, would be a better place if we were color blind. That's just too idealistic. Reality says we should keep working on solving the racial divide, not split it open.
     To make a racial issue of a newspaper poll that was fun to think about and discuss, a poll that is innocuous but debate-worthy, that's just really out of place. It's not fair.
      Don't diminish Robert Parish's career. Better to recognize -- and not be ignorant -- that "The Chief" was every bit the equal athlete, if not better, than "The Blond Bomber."


  1. Very well put. I was stunned by your comment that people cheered when MLK was killed. I was in Memphis when he was killed and it was horrific. The south needs to grow up and join the rest of the civilized world.

  2. From Alice Richardson: I taught Terry and I taught Robert [at Woodlawn]. They both were talented in their sport of preference, and they both were extremely polite and courteous students.

  3. From Ross Montelbano: I have to give the guy credit. He is 100 percent correct, there is a "hypersensitive racial climate" and he is living proof. Anyone who watched the play of Robert Parish, his importance to the Celtics and the love and admiration of those that he played with and thinks that is why he was chosen so highly in the rankings, is definitely "hypersensitive racially." Good response, very professional. Most of us would have just called him an idiot.

  4. From Robert Steckel: Whatever their accomplishments on the field or court, I've always thought of both as decent human beings doing their best and as personality opposites, Terry just aww shucks and out there and Robert a person of quiet dignity.

  5. From Pat Booras: Two of the greatest athletes/competitors in the history of American sports. Both from the same city/same high school, for crying out loud, just a few years apart. A hundred years from now, they will still rank near the top of their respective sports.
    In the end, they were very similar -- great players who were first and foremost team players. But do not be mistaken, if their team needed a great performance at any time, these two guys delivered often. Anybody who watched/watches sports can see this easily..
    Hail to No. 12 in football and No. 00 in basketball. Easy to admire both equally.

  6. From Rachel (Van Thyn) Smith: Well put, Daddy! It's sad that this still happens in 2015.

  7. From Patrick Locke Sr.: It really boils down to NFL vs. NBA. Most regular NFL games, by themselves, draw larger TV ratings than NBA Conference Finals games. So it is logical that TB rates over the Chief.

  8. From Lonnie Dunn: Excellent blog. I thank you for shedding light on the darkness.

  9. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: Well stated. We do need to be color blind most of all. We could also use to be age blind, gender blind, size blind, etc. Accept everyone as they are.

  10. From Jim Robinson: Great blog about Robert. I wonder how many people other than me and Ken Ivy know that when we walked into Rapides Coliseum in 1971 we were told we would not win the state basketball championship because of the makeup of our team. The person who told us just happened to have been one of the officials in our game that night. We did not win that year; we won the next year in 1972. I also wonder how many people knew that in 1971 and 1972 there were still restaurants that would not let us sit down in and eat with an integrated team. I thought nothing of putting Robert and the other guys in my car to take them home after a late-evening practice, but I got looked down upon by others for doing it.

  11. From Mark Murov: Good post. I am, of course, a loyal supporter of this president, even when I disagree with his calls. The amazing thing to me is not that there is such enduring racism and hatred (not that I accept or excuse it), but that so many people are unashamed to perpetuate it openly. The Onion headline at the time of the 2009 inauguration was, “Black Man Gets Worst Job in America.” President Obama has been pretty cool in many ways, and I especially admire how he sticks with his responsibilities and doesn’t go for the bait when people engage in these ugly attacks.

  12. From Ken Sins: Right wing hatred of the President is mostly about race, not ideology. There's a lengthy list of his accomplishments over the last six-plus years. If he were a white guy from the Chicago burbs named Barry O'brien, his approval rating would be in the 60s.

  13. From Tommy Youngblood: It is sad, stupid, unfortunate that this person has remained grounded in the '50s. They obviously still think like we were taught at home by our parents. I thought like that. As my youngest son developed into a fine basketball player, we frequently played, traveled and had sleepovers with black kids and parents. You learn that they are great people and goofy people. Some are slow and some are really bright. Some will be great parents and some will become bad people like their parents. Kind of like white people. I would no more allow someone to insult those kids that we knew than I would allow such talk in our home.
    Does anyone still think we ought to have two societies like those days? I do not think Obama is a good President, but not because he is black. I can't stand a lot of politicians. Anyway, I have responded to a blog for the first time ever so congrats on firing me up. And your thinking on Bradshaw and Parish was correct. MVP is hard to get.

  14. From Jimmy Russell: Both were great athletes. I really do not know who would be No. 1, but either would fit for me. Maybe it is a dead heat. Terry did OK in high school track with the spear, too.