A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Billy Reed: Still reeling from mob at Capitol and thinking of those who make a difference

Here at the start, I must admit that I am still reeling at what I saw happen Wednesday afternoon in our nation’s Capitol building. I will never get over the sight of Americans fighting other Americans for control of our revered temple of freedom. It was sad beyond belief.

But it also renewed my resolve to use any forum I have to speak to my fellow Americans, especially the young people, about the importance of preserving our cherished freedoms, especially the necessity of a free press to speak truth to power.

I am proud of the way that such news organizations as The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN have stayed true to their principles and ideals even while under attack from the forces that would strike down our democracy in favor of a dictatorship.

They have proved that good journalism is still alive and well in the age of social media. Our universities and colleges now must undertake the formidable task of teaching young people how to find good journalism among all the imposters that seem to dominate the internet.

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.

A few weeks ago, I devoted this space to lauding one of my former employers, Sports Illustrated, for giving its Sportsperson of the Year award to four athletes who have stood up for social justice and compassion.

So last week, when Mark Story of The Lexington Herald-Leader kindly sent me a ballot to vote for the newspaper’s Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award, I decided to follow SI’s example by voting for athletes and coaches who have excelled in their sports, certainly, but who also have stood up for social justice and equality.

Here are my top five picks:

Rhyne Howard, University of Kentucky women’s basketball player. Besides being an All-American on the court, she was a highly visible spokesperson for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Mark Stoops, UK head football coach. His team won another bowl game, but he set himself apart from others in his profession by letting his team boycott a practice to protest police violence against unarmed African-Americans. He also led a team march across campus to promote social justice.

Scott Davenport, Bellarmine men’s basketball coach. Besides closing BU’s history in NCAA Division II with a final standout season, he led the program into DI as a member of the ASUN Conference. He talks to his players often about doing the right things, both off and on the court, and that includes getting involved in community causes and activities.

Jeff Walz, University of Louisville women’s basketball coach. A native of Ft. Thomas, Ky., and son of former UK quarterback Roger Walz, his team was a national championship contender and he continued being a spokesperson for women’s rights.

Dana Evans, U of L women’s basketball star. Like UK’s Howard, she excels both on and off the floor. She is the epitome of a Jeff Walz player and a leader in more than just basketball.

I’m sure there are many others and that makes me both happy and hopeful. The sports world does not exist in a bubble. I’ve always believed that more athletes, especially those in the professional ranks, should spend less time counting their money and more time being a force for good in our society.

Until the past few years, most of sport’s advocates for social justice and equality have been African-American. I’m talking about Jesse Owens, star of the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Berlin; Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947; Bill Russell, who led San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA basketball titles in 1956 and ’57; and American sprinters Tommy Davis, John Carlos, and Lee Evans, whose bowed heads and clinched-fist Black Power salutes on their victory stands turned the 1968 Olympics into more than just an athletic competition.

And, of course, there was Louisville’s Muhammad Ali, who used his forum as world heavyweight champion to inspire people of color around the world. When he refused induction into the U.S. Army in 1967 on moral grounds, it made him at once the most loved and hated athlete in the world.

The latest reform movement began, more or less, when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem, a silent and peaceful protest against police brutality.

He lost his job with the 49ers because of the resulting furor, and has struggled to find a new home ever since. But today, even many who once viewed him as a villain now understand and appreciate his message.

Happily, a lot more white athletes seem to be joining their black teammates in the fight for justice, freedom, equality, and voting rights. Coaches also have sided with their players against the forces that would deny them their freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

And let us say this to our high schools and colleges: It is essential to make civics classes a required part of any curriculum because it’s the best way to eradicate the ignorance about our system of government that so many Americans have demonstrated in recent years.

I believe classes also should be taught about racism and why it’s so wrong. We have not made nearly as much progress in that area as many of us believed before the police killings of unarmed blacks that galvanized the nation last summer.

The good news is that there is no problem America can’t solve if we address it with a unity of will and purpose. We need to make all the talk about “coming together” more than just empty rhetoric. We must come together for a common cause as we did when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

I hope and pray the sports world can be a leader in this battle. I think the players and coaches will find they will get paid for this in ways far more important than money.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment