... And Speaking of Hops

It's also basketball season, so we've got that going for us!

Here's some commentary I was inspired to write this past President's Day on a basketball forum. It's no longer available on that forum, so I'll share it again in this one.

"Obama and Basketball"

This was the first Presidents Day I can ever remember actually wanting to celebrate. During the Presidential campaigning I figured that politicians were politicians, and regardless of their race. However, the outpouring of goodwill that Ive seen starting with the Inauguration of Obama has truly reopened my jaded heart.

Im "feelin it"!

I watched a couple of documentaries that aired this Presidents Day about the "Smith and Carlos" incident at the 1968 Olympic Games. Their protest really captures the essence of the inequality that still exists in everything from multi-national corporations to high school sports.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos made a statement: Fairness matters on the track, in the gym, and to the ends of the Round Ball we call Planet Earth. We dont need a human race where the rich can only get richer. The rules should favor no one, and when in doubt everyone should favor the rules. And if the rules arent achieving a favorable balance, then "change em out, change em out".

It isnt obvious when you look at photos or videos of the Smith and Carlos demonstration that the white athlete on the silver medal platform was a willing accomplice to the black athletes. Click on the name Peter Norman below the photo in the Wikipedia article below.

What happened to Peter Norman of Australia after the 1968 Olympics was almost as tragic as the saga of Smith and Carlos in the States. Australia was very much racist during that time period, as many black GIs found out when they took furloughs to Australia during the Vietnam War.

The African-American contingent of athletes at the 68 Olympic Games announced that there would be some kind of message sent to the world about what was happening in the States in terms of ongoing discrimination. But when their cries were surmised, everyone acted as if surprised. Beneath eerie Olympic skies, no one could believe their eyes. Hallowed games had been compromised. The champions were despised, and they in turn rejected a lesser Olympic prize. In America there were few debates. Who had set the right example? It was George Foreman with his flagellates.

Smith and Carlos were nothing but ingrates, lucky to go free and not become team USA inmates. But the message of Smith and Carlos we have at last realized. These two came in the name of love to testify, these two came to represent:

Martin Luther AND Malcolm X,
Fist raised, head bowed,
Humble, but just as proud.
Angry with a bitter sadness,
Good behind their super-badness,
Both praying and cursing The Hex.

Smith and Carlos were not actors. GEICO did not hire celebrities to tell their story. The Pose was not well rehearsed if at all. But the symbolism was both powerful and sophisticated. It was equally misunderstood. It took 40 years of wandering in a black and white wilderness of sin before their message to the world could make it across. They left Mexico City in 1968 and did not return until 2008 when the two medalists were officially invited to walk around the same track where they once flew, and stand again together with nothing more to prove.

In government and business, people and companies that bend and break the rules are generally rewarded. High schools that get around the rules generally prosper as well, especially in a climate where governing officials have to "swallow their whistles" due to legislature inaction.

We can't fix the country here. We probably can't even fix high school basketball. We definitely can celebrate the progress of electing a black president and being able to say that America is now just America. Black and white we're in this game together and whether or not there will be any personal bail-out calls awarded to us by the new set of elected referees.

We don't have to necessarily agree with Obama to recognize the achievement of his election. And we don't have to agree with his plan of how to "right the ship" (and admittedly he hasnt thus far demonstrated much change we need). There are still some analogies to be made between the way the nation is going and basketball. Basketball is a microcosm of America and America is a microcosm of the world. Both the world and the sport of basketball are now dominated by The Bigs". Getting rid of Big Business (or big ballplayers) may not be a solution or even a possibility. But, if a healthy and fair balance is not achieved, then eventually another "Smith and Carlos" must rise up and "shock the world" back to its senses. And lets hope that those who do act for real change have the courage, commitment, and class of Smith and Carlos.

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