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Blacks In Sports: What Did We Learn?

One Great Season

The OGS "Blacks In Sports" series that we hope you enjoyed last week was an eye-opening one for us.

We conducted 10 telephone interviews that averaged 45 minutes in length. That's 7.5 hours of listening to stories, memories, opinions, highlights and lowlights from the lives of 10 African-American people who are or were in some way involved in sports. OGS is very thankful for all of their help.

Long before OGS was OGS, we did a "Blacks In Sports" project nearly 20 years ago, but we still had no idea what to expect from sources this time around. We were originally planning to do five parts on: the teen phenom, the college star, the pro athlete, the coach and the executive.

But after the first couple of interviews, we shifted to focus less on people and more on issues. That's where our sources were able to tap into their experiences and observations and offer opinions. Had our interviews not evolved in such a way, it would have been more of an anecdotal series when we were looking for feedback and analysis instead.

As you'd expect with a collection of 10 separate interviews, we got a wide range of reactions to our questions. Some said they feel today's black athlete appreciates those who paved the way before them. Others don't.

Some think young black athletes believe the best way out of the ghetto is sports, and that subsequently education has become an afterthought. Some disagree.

Some think race was a factor in the hateful backlash against LeBron James last summer. Others do not.

Working on that particular piece — "Part III: The Summer Of LeBron" — was the most interesting and educational for us. It taught us that "race is in the room" does not mean "racism is in the room." Mere awareness of race is not the same as racism. And that awareness by itself shapes how we see things every day. There was near unanimous agreement of that fact among interviewees who were asked about it, though there was a range of opinions on whether racism was behind the outrage that followed King James' decision to leave Cleveland.

Another unanimous point was that relationships are key for black coaches and executives. "Critical" was the word most often used, in fact, and it helped tell the story of how important networking is for blacks aspiring for their first job or even for veteran guys looking for their next one. Because black coaches have smaller networks — thanks to being denied opportunities for so long — once-fired guys take longer to catch on again somewhere else than it takes for their white counterparts.

Where we weren't afraid to step off the perfectly objective trail once in a while to express support for an obviously logical point or opposition to an unjust reality, our overall aim with the project certainly wasn't to choose a side. We hope the "Blacks In Sports" series just gave you something to consider, especially if you weren't thinking about it before. And if this is a topic you've previously studied, we're hopeful that we opened your eyes even more.

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Reader Comments (4)

John, this was an enlightening piece of writing. Since I was a classmate and teammate of O.J., I was particularly taken by his thoughts and experiences. Your interviews really did bring out the untold or lesser known stories.
I am looking forward to your Indian-Americans in sports series: the one paragraph edition. Congratulations!

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