Viewpoints: Sports can also help us confront racism

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014 - 12:00 am

As we consider the private racist conversations of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who thought it wise to disparage Magic Johnson and others for being black, we might take a moment to remember that it was another sports executive, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who helped to challenge racism in professional sports in 1947.

By signing Major League Baseball’s first African American player, Jackie Robinson, Rickey broke an important color barrier, gave all Americans a rookie of the year to cheer for and incidentally made it possible for Rickey’s team to recruit subsequent baseball standouts of color at bargain prices.

Sometimes it pays to be the first. It could be argued that Rickey remains the most appreciated baseball executive in American history (and not just because he was the first to mandate that his players wear batting helmets). I expect that this week Donald Sterling will find out what price he will pay to be the least appreciated professional team owner.

Another incident of racism in sports from last week also attracted attention because of a creative response.

Evidently during a La Liga soccer match Sunday, someone threw a banana on the field in front of Dani Alves, who plays for FC Barcelona.

I don’t understand such acts of racism, nor do I care to delve into the motivations or symbolism of such an act, but certainly any of us might feel anger or humiliation at being jeered in such a way. Rather than getting upset, however, Alves grabbed the banana, took a bite, and then took his corner kick.

Speaking of the attitudes of some soccer fans, Alves later said, “We have suffered this in Spain for some time. You have to take it with a dose of humor. We aren’t going to change things easily. If you don’t give it importance, they don’t achieve their objective.”

The six-second clip involving the banana has been viewed on YouTube and Vine tens of thousands of times since, reminding us that the equanimity of the L.A. Clippers players, Jackie Robinson or Dani Alves (my new favorite soccer player) is sometimes necessary to confront entrenched racism without being confounded by it.

Andy Jones is a lecturer in the University Writing Program at UC Davis.

Read more articles by Andy Jones

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