That’s especially true in sports, where athletes are among the nation’s most prominent African-Americans but less visible in management. During a discussion on the scarcity of minority head coaches in college football, a question from Twitter was posted on the overhead projector: “Are there bad [assistant] coaches who keep their job because they’re black?”
No one on the panel addressed that question, but it demonstrates the divide that still exists. It also reminded me of my experience when I moved to southwest Florida for a columnist position in 2000.
My first column was on former NBA star Rick Barry — then coach of the now-defunct Florida Flame — and the subjects varied greatly over the next few months. In roughly my 40th column, the topic was black quarterbacks.
“That’s all you ever write about!” wrote one reader.
Several months passed before I broached race again. And sure enough, the charge came again: “That’s all you ever write about!”
My theory? In seeing my picture affixed to every column, some readers affixed “race” to every column … without even realizing it.
The symposium’s namesake, the late Washington Post sports columnist, was fearless in tackling questions of race. He championed integration for Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson arrived, and constantly zinged Marshall’s foot-dragging as Washington was the last NFL team to integrate.
Povich wrote lines such as: “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.” In another column, he noted “the Redskins colors are burgundy, gold and Caucasian.”
I think he would’ve been proud of Wednesday night’s panel, while encouraging us to fight on. Because there’s still more work to do.