Last Vestige of Explicit Racism in Collegiate Sports: Message Board Bigots

Villanova Fan: These idiots would loot and burn sh!t up every day of the week if they could get away with it.  Acting out of revenge for the shooting lets them do it for now…. 

Villanova Fan: they have no pride in their neighborhoods.  that is why inner cities look like they do.  if they cared about Ferguson they would have protested peacefully and tried to honor the life of the dead.   NAH lets burn our own city to the ground, that will solve everything.

Villanova Fan: [Officer Darren] Wilson should get a medal. Who knows how many future murders he prevented.

Temple Fan: North Philly should drop down on their knees and thank God every day for temple. without temple, North Philly would look like it does now west of 18th to 30th and east of 10th to the EL.”

Temple Fan: [Temple University] should have moved out of the city years ago. Can’t educate a bunch of dumbasses.

Temple Fan: I am originally from South Philly. Over the last 15 years the blacks forced me out. Guess we are even.

Alabama Fan: I notice they name Pittsburgh as a prospective team” he wrote. “Pittsburgh has FOUR fine negro players. Other eastern teams have negro players. SO if anything did come-in the way of an invitation we want to be sure to insist that no negroes be allowed in the game. 11/17/1952

From the moment Europeans landed on the the North American continent in the early 1600’s, a majority of them expressed profound and deep-seated hatred of Black people.  Over the next 350 years, it was socially acceptable, politically expedient and financially beneficial to express, and act upon, white supremacist and racist sentiments in virtually every area of American life.  However, since the late 1960s and early 1970s overt racism has been steadily displaced by more subtly racialized narratives. This process is clearly observable in realm of collegiate and professional sports. In Philadelphia, college sports message boards have emerged as the last refuge for openly racist scoundrels.

Things have gotten better over the past 6o years or so… That fact is undeniable… White supremacist racists used to stand on front porches, in center square, on the steps of City Hall and courtyards of State Houses with megaphones in hand and, from the top of their lungs, call for the exclusion and repression of Black student-athletes.


Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin

On December 1, 1955 Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin threw down the gauntlet when he declared,  “The South stands at Armageddon. The battle is joined. We cannot make the slightest concession to the enemy in this dark and lamentable hour of struggle. … One break in the dike and the relentless seas will rush in and destroy us.”  Georgia’s governor, a self-avowed white supremacist, proposed to “forbid the athletic teams of the university system of Georgia from participating in games against any teams with Negro players or even playing in any stadium where unsegregated audiences breathe the same air.”   Overt, explicitly racist sentiments and formal exclusion of Blacks from competition were rooted in prevailing notions of white supremacy and commonplace within collegiate sports from the turn of the century through the 1960s.

Of course, the north did not escape the scourge of race-based segregation on the courts and fields across college campuses.  Philadelphia is a college hoops town. You are literally born into it. Just as the sons of the Confederacy are born into lifelong SEC football allegiances. In the City of Brotherly Love, college football, despite the valiant and long-standing efforts of Temple, Villanova and Penn, just doesn’t resonate. We just don’t care if these programs qualify for the Pat’s Cheesesteak or the Dwight’s Southern Barbecue Bowl games. Those with a passion for college football tend to adopt Penn State, Notre Dame or some other BCS proxy.  For the most part, Philly prefers it’s football on Sundays, after several rounds of libations and we’d much rather watch guys that are paid millions collide headfirst into one another on the gridiron.

Philadelphia_Big_5_logoBig 5 Hoops, on the other hand, is always a major focal point for Philly sports fans. Indeed, many local hoop heads have begrudgingly accepted Drexel, led by Southwest Philly’s Bruiser Flint, as a member of what is now referred to the City 6.  Over the past 60 years, Philadelphia’s Big 5, featuring LaSalle, Penn, Temple, Villanova and St. Joseph’s, has evolved into a highly competitive tradition unique to Philadelphia. Every year, for the past sixty years these schools have laced ‘em up and went toe to toe in hotly contested battles for pride and local bragging rights.

Officially introduced to the world on November 23, 1954, the Big 5 was, from the outset, deeply immersed in prevailing notions of white supremacy and the resulting racial discrimination was a prominent stain on Philadelphia’s college basketball culture. Nonetheless, it could have been much, much worse.  It wasn’t like Alabama, Mississippi or Johannesburg.

At the dawn of the Big 5, Apartheid-like Jim Crow segregation reigned supreme across the American South. However, in the Northern and Western parts of the country there were a few limited opportunities for Blacks at some major predominantly white colleges and universities. At the professional level, African-American athletes were just beginning to gain access in the major sports. Overall, 167 years after the Founding Fathers set out “to form a more perfect union” White supremacy based racial discrimination was very real.

LaSalle 1954 Champs-page-0LaSalle University, 1954 NCAA Champions

The Philadelphia Big 5, like most U.S. institutions and organizations privileged white people over African-Americans, peoples from the Americas, Asia and the Arab world. Under the prevailing white supremacist system, white privilege and racial oppression were two sides of the same coin. This, unfortunately, was the American way.

For some, college basketball resides in realm of recreational activities and is generally considered to be far removed from real world issues and their often ugly consequences.  Nonetheless, Big 5 basketball programs grew in popularity across racial and ethic boundaries in last half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. In some important ways, racial developments within Big 5 programs mirrored the altered rhythms of everyday life as Philadelphia grappled with vexing issues of racial inclusion and pronounced demographic shifts.

LaSalle 1955 NCAA Finalists-page-0LaSalle University, 1955 National Finalist, 1st year of the Big 5

As Philadelphia’s social, racial and political order shifted and changed over time, explicit racism within Big 5 basketball waned.  I have been privileged to gain insight into the racial dynamics of the Philadelphia basketball community from those who stood on the front line.  Every November through March from 1979 til 1983, I spent at least 2-2.5 hours, six days a week, in the gym with Big 5 Hall of Fame member Alonzo Lewis.  Pictured above, Alonzo was the only Black man on some of great LaSalle teams of the mid to late 1950s.  He was one of the first Blacks to play in the Big 5.  Mr. Lewis was my teacher, my coach and, became after graduation, my friend.

Unlike Philadelphia schoolboy legends, John Chaney and Claude Gross, who came along 3 and 4 years prior to him, Lewis was given an opportunity attend and play at one of the local white colleges.  Chaney and Gross, despite the fact that both were named MVP of the Public league in 1951 and 1952, respectively, didn’t get a sniff from the Philly schools.  They were victims of Affirmative Action and rigidly enforced racial quotas.  Philadelphia college programs were either all-white or had maybe one Black player.  Talented players like Chaney and Gross were routinely passed over in favor of lesser white players.  Like the old American Express tagline, “Membership has its privileges.”   Gross, along with the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, was an important part of the first all-Black YMCA national championship team in 1953 (pictured below).

Wilt Claude  The 1953 National YMCA Championship Team from Philadelphia

Years of listening, listening, listening and a little discussion with Lewis and Gross, has helped shape my understanding of the role of sport in Philadelphia’s racial relations.  They provided two distinct perspectives, one “made it” to college and the other a victim of staunchly enforced racial quotas (90-100% white males).  Form them, I learned that athletic achievement has very real social consequences.  For a Black man, status as a star athlete provides a certain level of respect to which most Blacks, and other suppressed minority groups, aspired.  Black athletes are considered, more or less, full citizens.  This understanding of citizenship helps explain why so many Black parents continue to have faith in the transformative possibilities of athletics, despite numerous setbacks over the years.  Through basketball, Black boys can become somebody.

For the past three or four decades watching increasingly integrated Philadelphia college basketball… in reading the accounts of Dick Weiss, Bill Lyon, Dick Jerardi and the under-appreciated Donald Hunt about the games… and in discussing the performances of Gola, Rodgers, Kennedy, Anderson, Goukas, Durrett, Brooks, Simmons, Macon, Nelson, Lowry, Galloway and Wyatt afterward, Philly sports fan drew tremendous entertainment value from Big 5 competition.

Of even more significance is the fact that Philly sports fans of all races and ethnic backgrounds have also used local college basketball as a shared cultural language to help them understand their world.

This was not always the case.

Temple 1938 NIT Champs-page-0Temple University, 1938 NIT Champions

Over time, Philadelphia’s Big 5 has been an agent for positive social change.  Over time,  playing field has become fairer. . . the Big 5 has helped break down social divisions and boundaries.

Over the past six decades things have changed considerably.  As you can see on the above picture, Temple has gone from an all-white basketball program to virtually all-black.

Temple Elite 8 Teams-page-0Over the past half century, while the rosters of college football and basketball programs experienced profound demographic shifts, the frequency and intensity of overt racism in most public spaces has decreased significantly.

Some shit you just can’t say publicly anymore.  Despite the hue and cry from critics of political correctness, that’s a good thing.  White supremacy needed to be reigned in.

In 1958, defeated Alabama gubernatorial candidate said, “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”  Four years later, Wallace was sworn into office while standing on a gold star marking the spot where, a century earlier, Jefferson Davis took his oath as  president of the pro-slavery Confederate States of America.  During his inaugural address, Wallace proclaimed the following:

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Governor Wallace proved to be an extremely astute observer of white American voters during this period.  Keeping his promise to “never be outniggered again”, he swept into office with 96% of the vote in the 1962 general election.

Since then, things have changed considerably. Retribution for openly racist public statement is swift and harsh.  This is especially the case in the world of college and professional football and basketball where the overwhelming majority of participants are Black men.

A litany of cases have established a very clear precedent.  Keep that white supremacist racist shit to yourself.  The general public doesn’t want to hear or read it.

Howard-CosellHoward Cosell

In 1983, legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell was dismissed from Monday Night Football for  referring to Black players as “monkeys”.  Referring to Redskins receiver, Alvin Garrett, Cossell said “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?” He used also used the same monkey allusion when he said “Look at that monkey go,” with respect to the Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk.

al-campanisAl Campanis

In April 1987, Dodgers executive Al Campanis was fired for telling Ted Koppel that he thought blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager” in baseball and articulating doubts as to whether blacks even desired management positions in the sport.


Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder

Eight months later on January 16, 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired by CBS for publicly stating that Blacks were naturally superior athletes, at least in part, because they had been bred to produce strong children during slavery:

“The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade… the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid …”

Marge SchottMarge Schott

In November 1992, Charles “Cal” Levy, a former marketing director for the Reds, stated under oath that he’d heard then Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott refer to then-Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker as “million-dollar niggers.”  Schott scknowledged  the “million dollar niggers” comment and said she was joking.  Around the same time she stated that she felt that Adolf Hitler was initially good for Germany and indicated that she did not understand how the slur “Jap” could be offensive.

During the same season, a former executive assistant with the Oakland A’s, Sharon Jones, said she heard Schott state: “I would never hire another nigger. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger,” before the start of an owners’ conference call.  On February 3, 1993, she was fined $250,000 and banned from day-to-day operations of the Reds for the 1993 season. Donald SterlingDonald Sterling

More recently, in April 2014, then Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after private recordings of him making racist comments were made public.  Sterling was forced to sell the franchise after recording were made public in which he stated to his girlfriend,  “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games”.

danny-ferry1Danny Ferry

In September 2014, it came to light that Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry described Luol Deng in the following manner: “He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry  implied that all persons of African decent are two-faced liars and cheats. He was placed on an indefinite leave of absence by the Hawk organization.

Clearly, social norms have emerged whereby it is inappropriate to make explicitly racist statements within sports centered contexts.  The aforementioned racist statements and the swift severe  consequences are indicative of informal understandings that have emerged to govern individuals’ behavior within the world of sports.

These postings of these “fans” run counter to the progress Philadelphia’s colleges and universities have made in the area of inclusion and diversity, especially in athletics.  Jay Wright, Fran Dunphy, Phil Martelli, John Giannini, Jerome Allen and Bruiser Flint run programs that are beyond reproach in this regard.  Each program prominently features Black players on a regular basis.  These young men are often touted as the face of the Athletic programs and in some cases become representatives of the institution as a whole.

The overwhelming majority of fans support and embrace the players as Owls, Explorers, Hawks, Quakers, Wildcats and Dragons. Nonetheless, there remain a few holdovers from a much darker earlier time in American history.  For the pointed white hood is no longer needed to preserve anonymity.  The most vile posters use pseudonyms to  protect their anonymity.

 So what can be done?

The prominence of racist discourse on Temple and Villanova fan message boards suggests that this is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the athletic departments need to engage with football and basketball supporters and work with them to reduce an anachronistic anti-other that retains a  place in the everyday discourse for some of the alums and supporters. Cultivating a respectful and tolerant attitude toward Blacks and Black communities will likely present a challenge when confronted by subgroups of racist white male sports fans that continue to find outlets to express racist discourse overtly and covertly.

Some might feel that such an approach is an encroachment upon the free speech of racists.  So what, let them continue their mean spirited divisive rants against Black athletes and Black communities.  What’s the worse thing that could happen?

Well… we don’t have to imagine. We can just take a quick stroll through the not-to-distant past….

patrick-ewingPatrick Ewing, Georgetown

In January 1983 at the Palestra, Villanova fans held up several similar signs.  One bedsheet read “[Patrick] Ewing Is An Ape.”  One Villanova fan wore a t-shirt that read, “Ewing Kant Read Dis.”  While Ewing jogged on the court for pregame introductions, another Villanova fan threw a banana peel on the court.  That’s where this kinda shit ends up.  It needs to cease.

How should Black collegiate and professional athletes respond to racial taunts and epithets?

I’m not saying they should go all Ron Artest on ’em… But, I would understand. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: