Sports

What We Talk About When We Talk About Race And Sports

Florida State fans cheer Rashad Greene after a 74-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Clemson in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sept. 20. In college sports, African-American student athletes and white student audiences are the norm. Commentator Frank Deford asks why this dynamic does not make us more squeamish. (Mark Wallheiser/AP Photo)
Florida State fans cheer Rashad Greene after a 74-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Clemson in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sept. 20. In college sports, African-American student athletes and white student audiences are the norm. Commentator Frank Deford asks why this dynamic does not make us more squeamish. (Mark Wallheiser/AP Photo)

(NPR) – There is no doubt that race, ever sensitive in sports, is most sensitive in basketball. Given the history, this is perfectly understandable, for when African-Americans began to appear on the court in larger numbers, there was resentment, even quotas.

To many whites, men of my vintage, men I knew, there was a sense that their game was being stolen. It was a very visceral racism.

But, of course, talent outpointed prejudice, and eventually, it was simply accepted that basketball was predominately a sport played by black athletes. Still, the subject of race yet inhabits basketball more, and sure enough, it’s flared up again — although this time about the race of spectators.

First, of course, there was the bizarre case of the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, who declared, on a taped phone message, that he didn’t want a lady friend consorting with black people at Clippers games.

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