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Billy Reed: Dream worth pursuing is black athletes with good education, fully part of whole society

For as long as I can remember, and that’s longer than most, people in the sports world, including myself, have been proud of our history of integration. We point to the likes of Jesse Owens, the African-American star of the 1936 Olympics, held in Hitler’s Nazi Germany; Joe Louis, the heavyweight boxing champion in the 1930s and ‘40s; and Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

The way society has evolved, basketball, both college and pro, has become the sport of choice for most African-Americans. The majority of major-league baseball players and horse-racing jockeys are Hispanic, and football, both college and pro, may have as many great white players as African-Americans.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

Professional hockey, NASCAR, soccer, and individual sports such as golf and tennis remain largely the province of whites. Nobody cares much about boxing anymore. It has gone the way of the dodo bird, and good riddance. The so-called Olympic sports are a mixed bag. Blacks still dominate track-and field, but can’t be found anywhere near the swimming pool.

I don’t mean to disparage what sports has contributed to integration and civil rights. However, it must be pointed out at this particular time that the sports world has been guilty of hypocrisy and its own kind of racism.

Going back to the days of Vaudeville and minstrel shows, America always has accepted African-Americans as entertainers. But once the applause dies away and the lights are dimmed, the entertainers, be they in sports or show business, become second-class citizens again.

The same white fans who enjoy watching them perform have not accepted them as neighbors. They don’t care about what the lives of black entertainers are like off stage. We don’t mind them making a lot of money, but many don’t want them to use that money to buy their way into white society. Many white fans don’t care about them as human beings, but only as commodities.

Consider the corrupt business of college basketball and football recruiting. A lot of white fans spend far too much time speculating on where talented youngsters, many of them black, are going to, ahem, pursue their dogged quest for an education. But when was the last time you heard these recruiting nuts talk about a player’s family, his or her grades, or his or her choice of a college major?

Never, that’s when. It almost seems they would prefer blacks to remain uneducated because the next thing you know, you’re going to have a lot of Barack Obamas running around, determined to change the status quo.

College and university presidents are the worst hypocrites of all. Long ago, they sold out academic integrity for sports dollars and glory. They claim is what the alumni and big donors want, but that’s a lame excuse. They could have done away with this one-and-done nonsense by again making freshmen ineligible for varsity competition. Then more talented players would go straight from high school to the pros, like LaBron James, and that would be a good thing for all concerned.

Muhammad Ali — a man of peace and love.

We must never forget what Owens, Louis, and Robinson did for America. Their legacies are eternal. We also should never forget the teachings of Ali, who changed his name from Cassius M. Clay Jr. to join the militant Black Muslims but then evolved into a man of peace and love. At every stage of his life, Ali spoke truth to power and he would never stop fighting racism, injustice, prejudice, and immoral wars.

Ali’s beliefs cost him a lot of money, but he was never about money, unlike those black entertainers today who have become like their white counterparts in caring mostly about their investment and 401K accounts. They seem to have forgotten the masses of African-Americans who battle racism every day. I looked for them among the protestors who were outraged by the sights of innocent blacks being murdered by rogue white policemen. A few of the black entertainers may have shown up, but not many.

So we all have work to do. Whites in the sports world must begin looking at African-American entertainers as human beings first. Black stars must demand their educations and become leaders in every aspect of society. Fans must stop patting themselves on the back and hiding behind the legacies of African-American pioneers. The media must accept responsibility for its role in perpetuating the status quo.

The key is education. It’s the best way to combat racism. White America has no fear of an African-American who can do little more than dunk a basketball. But it does fear blacks with an education. They don’t accept the status quo. As Robert F. Kennedy famously said, “Some men look at things the way they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I look at things the way they should be and ask, ‘Why not?’”

Even today, that’s a dream worth pursuing.

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  1. Scott Kremer says:

    Good afternoon, Mr. Reed.
    I appreciate this column for the point is makes about how Black athletes have been valued within general society, but wish you delved deeper into the problem with the NCAA and Athletic Scholarships.
    I have long argued that Universities and the NCAA should provide true Degree Funding Scholarships so that a student athlete may play their four or five years of eligibility, yet still have a scholarship to complete a degree. A scholarship that does not guarantee both time and funding to earn a degree eventually denies the student athlete the scholastic benefits of a scholarship. A degree, rather than practice for the NBA, should be the desired result of a university experience. The NCAA creates enough wealth that a scholarship should offer both adequate time to play a sport and earn a degree, if both cannot be accomplished within the same five year period. I am not in favor of paying players for playing while in school, but I do expect the schools to pay for the athlete’s degree. Either allow an athlete who will not proceed to a professional athletic career to complete their degree, or hold in escrow an adequate amount to fund a return to school so a former student-athlete may to complete a once-promised degree.
    I submit this as a 55 year old white male who has long argued for NCAA reform.

  2. Billy Reed says:

    Thank you. I appreciate you reading KyForward.

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