Last week I wrote a column about folks’ attitudes toward race and their slothful reliance on “stick to sports” when someone in sports, or someone writing about sports, dares speak about more serious issues. I figured it might prompt a reaction.
It prompted an avalanche both pro and con.
Let’s address some of the letters I received with the hope we can all learn some things along the way. I’m not printing folks’ entire correspondences, but I’ll give you the gist of each one.
I’ll start with the best I got...
“Good column. Sadly that’s a minority view in Oklahoma. It is getting better but we still have a ways to go.
“I’m an almost 59-year-old white male who, because of my job, has traveled throughout the U.S. My first trip as an adult to the Deep South, Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1985, opened my eyes to a world I didn’t think still existed.
“I’m glad the athletes are thinking and standing up for what they believe in, but they should also be prepared for repercussions for their actions…
“This is a terrible time that we’re in now and I truly don’t know the answers to it. I am a blue collar worker who transitioned to management later in my career in the pipeline industry. I also served eight years in my small town as mayor…
“So I also know how slowly change can come about. Just when you think you are making strides, someone pulls out the rug from under you.
“I may not agree with every part of your article but it’s from the heart and you are speaking to it from firsthand experience. You are going to catch hell from some over it but I’ve read your columns long enough to know you are probably used to that. Keep up the good work.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done. Whether you agree with me is your right. Reaching out is your right.
Doing so in a reasonable, measured tone is a choice.
Thank you, sir, for your choice.
Email from Ethan: “I moved to Tulsa this year and before that ventured my way to Oklahoma from Texas to attend school at OU. What I’ve learned about the state of Oklahoma is there are a lot of issues that still remain, but I have also seen great strides and met good people.
“You help me believe that there is still hope in this everlasting fight against social injustice.”
Thank you, Ethan. We have made strides. There are great people here.
We need more of both, however, to truly progress when it comes to racial barriers and inequities.
Email from Tim: “For those of us you claim to be uninformed, I believe we just see things differently.”
In the column I said those who yell “stick to sports” are uninformed. That’s true. Because if all you have to counter is an old, tired battle cry, your mind is too closed to be informed.
Email from Garland: “Preach on, righteous bard.”
I don’t know if this was a compliment or a slap dripping with sarcasm. Thanks, Garland... I think.
Email from Tracy: “Having spent 38 years in law enforcement, I want to challenge you to get your eyes opened about what law enforcement work is all about. I urge you to contact Tulsa PD or Tulsa County Sheriffs Office for a ride along. God willing you’d be with a great officer who will make sure you go home to your wife and children when your shift is over...
“Shame on you and all your NBA heroes you worship for passing judgment on an officer after you watched 20 seconds of the video of the James Blake shooting.”
1 – His name is Jacob Blake, Tracy.
2 – I know there are countless great police officers who protect this country. I have encountered several myself.
That should not mean the law enforcement industry, in light of things that are happening and the movement that has broken out as a result, can’t reevaluate its management and treatment of African Americans while on the beat.
Email from John: “Understandably, you provide some background for your opinions. I have my own based on growing up playing sports in East St. Louis, Ill. – hardly a white dominated area. But we didn’t feel the need to sing Ebony & Ivory with our brethren because we didn’t actually see racial distinctions.
“It’s liberals that see that stuff. Congratulations on inflaming racial divisions.”
It isn’t liberals that see that stuff, John, it’s humanitarians.
Also... Folks, we’ve got to stop using our own experiences as convenient cover to scream: “That isn’t the (fill in your town, city or country) I know!” Maybe you lived in a snow globe, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us did.
Email from Ben: “What do you think the NBA players did when the NBA/China issue came up? They turned a blind eye and would not discuss with the media because it affected their pocket book. The media let it go and did not press the NBA.
“What’s happening in Hong Kong is horrible, but the NBA stars care more about their $$$ than the people in Hong Kong. Issue in America and issue in China, while different, are the same. Both dealing with people and treating them right. From my perspective, NBA hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
The NBA’s response to China’s abysmal human rights record is a problem. There is some hypocrisy in play.
But since it is not the problem at issue, we shouldn’t water down the NBA’s racial justice rally because the league has come up short with regard to China/Hong Kong.
Email from Linda: “You say exactly how I feel. I am a 78-year-old white Broken Arrow woman and I am an avid sports fan, especially of college football...
“Some of my family members were incensed about Colin Kaepernick and others kneeling during the national anthem. They thought these athletes were unpatriotic. I told them, ‘How else can they get any attention from unaware, mostly white people that don’t notice brutality inflicted more often on Blacks? BLACK LIVES MATTER, as all lives matter.”
The anthem issue is back on the front burner. Linda is among those who gets it.
Email from Debbie: “I really appreciate your comments in the column. The ‘stick to sports’ attitude is just another dehumanization of Black people and athletes.”
“Stick to sports” dehumanizes anyone who cares enough to address racial and social issues. It might not be in a job description, but it is a fundamental right of citizenry.
Email from Randall: “These athletes have 4-6 months a year when they are not on TV or in the national spotlight. It’s not like they don’t make enough money to take out an ads in print or digital media to make their feelings and opinions known.”
Tell me, Randall, what’s more effective: Striking during the NBA Playoffs, when all eyes and minds are on the athletes you speak of, or taking out an ad during the offseason when eyes and minds have wandered elsewhere?
The timing of the strike is what made it such a monumental moment, and why it rendered “stick to sports” forever useless.
Email from Valerie: “I loved your column! Put me on any list for activism with you.”
Thank you, ma’am. I’ll keep you updated.
Email from David: “The thing your column ignores is many who say ‘stick to sports’ will just no longer participate. I think most everyone agrees the athletes should have a voice, but when they attend or watch sports, they are in escape from reality mode and they aren’t going to pay to hear political statements.”
I would advise fans to recognize that the line between sports as escape mechanism and sports as reflection on our reality has blurred for good. The sooner you recognize that, the easier it will be to accept it, and to still get something out of attending or watching games.
Email from Mary: “I am so proud of every NBA, WNBA, MLS and every other team that is standing strong on the issue.”
My column focused on the NBA strike, so I am pleased that Mary included those who followed the NBA’s blazed trail.
Email from Maxwell: “Terrific column today. It needed to be said.”
Thank you, sir. Let’s hope it won’t need to be said again.
Email from Fred: “As I was driving around yesterday, I remembered so well the ‘stick to sports’ mantra from some prominent people. ‘It’s entertainment and you get big bucks for it. Do your job.’ Lost a lot of so-called friends whenever I disagreed.”
I’m in your corner, my man, if it helps.
Email from Jo Anne: “Best column you’ve ever written. I would love to see another one with recollections from your former teammates, both Black and White, about their experiences during their formative years.”
Thank you so much, Jo Anne. Not sure how much more I share about the Whippets. It remains a very personal experience. Snapshots are OK. We’ll see.
Email from Rusty: “I graduated high school from Northwest Classen in OKC when not a single Black student was enrolled. But I played some hoops at the junior college level and living in the athletic dorm with both football and basketball players taught me some valuable race relations lessons. Even refused service when trying to buy Pearl beer with one of my Black buddies.”
Thank you, Rusty, for the perspective.
Email from Hugh: “Thank you for your heartfelt and important commentary on sports in society. Seems like we are taking two steps forward and one back over a long period of time. Power wants to hold onto power, no matter how misdirected it is.”
There is probably a much broader application to Hugh’s remarks about power, and a much broader column to write.
Email from Tom: “Your column today is why I log into the Tulsa World. Thank you!”
Your comment, Tom, is why I write.
Email from Mike: Actually, Mike shared his submission to Reader’s Digest once upon a time. Check it out:
“The summer of 1960, my father got me a construction job. I was 17 and white. The eight-man crew was all Black. Dallas was segregated with ‘Whites only’ signs on restaurants, water fountains and bathrooms.
“The crew, mostly married with family, treated me great. We drank the same water, used the same bathrooms and I survived. Sometimes after work we would pool our change and I would buy cold beer (the liquor store was whites only) and we would kick back together.
“Three years later when MLK spoke in Washington, I realized we both had the same dream.”
Email from Garry: “I was born and raised in Broken Arrow. My father owned a grocery store, was on the school board and fought in the Pacific in WWII. My grandfather fought in Europe in WWI. I am a veteran of Vietnam, was wounded, decorated and permanently disabled...
“I read with interest the columns you write in support of athletes that do not seem to understand the history of our country to defend people’s right to freedom. They do not seem to understand what we and our country have done to protect those freedoms. You applaud athletes that use the disrespect of the flag as a tool to push their agenda.
“Let me be perfectly clear. If the athletes have an issue, I am good with them discussing their position and reaching an agreement with whomever they have an issue with. But to use as a symbol that which we fought to protect is disrespectful to every person who brought those freedoms to them.”
Thank you for your service, sir. I am honored that you took the time to express your opinion so earnestly.
I would contend that the freedoms you, your father and your grandfather fought for manifest themselves in various forms, including the freedom to protest peacefully. Kneeling during the national anthem, to me, is such a protest.
Email from Shaun: “I don’t consider myself a sheep (the term in the column for those who continue to cry “stick to sports”), but I will admit that I’m troubled by what’s going on in the real world and the sports world. It’s a sad commentary on society that the sports world has to speak out about social inequalities. That is what is frustrating.”
I appreciate your honesty, Shaun. I’m actually proud sports is helping lead the racial and social movements, but I see your point.
Email from Bill: “Today’s column was one of your best: passionate, timely, courageous and prophetic.”
Appreciate that, sir. I don’t know about prophetic. I fear we'll continue to see more of "stick to sports."
Email from Marshall: “I grew up in a small Oklahoma town and played football in grade school and junior high. Schools were segregated. There was only one where Blacks attended. I was tailback behind the son of a leading citizen. When it came time to play Attucks, the man informed my coaches he would not let his son play.
“Coached asked if I had any objection. I said, ‘Nope, none at all.’ I started, did well and became starting tailback the rest of the season. Because of the way I was raised, I never did understand the prejudice of that man, again a leading citizen of the town.”
Thank you, Marshall. Reminds me a little of Hugh’s comments about power.
Email from another David: “This lazy sheep won’t miss you or your paper when you’re long gone.”
That’s fine, sir. I won’t miss you either.
Email from Carol: “Let’s hear it for the Whippets! Great column. Cuts across all races, all sports, all lives.”
Thanks for the shout-out, Carol.
Email from Larry: “You may lose a few readers over today’s column. Good riddance to them.”
Yeah, I suppose. I just wish we could read something we disagree with, give it some thought and decide to keep reading regardless.
Email from Anonymous: “I don’t believe one word you said in today’s column about Tulsa being a segregated city.”
I’m going to guess Anonymous here has never stepped foot north of Admiral.
Email from Ted: “We all could humble ourselves and treat each other with respect. Which is in my opinion how we can help improve racial and even political tensions. Calling people names like sheep or lazy isn’t helping.”
Ted has a right to scold me. I guess I’ve reached my breaking point on people disrespecting athletes, as well as writers who cover athletes, with their vacuous “stick to sports” BS. I don’t know how else to describe them any longer.
Email from Marcy: “Your confidence in your manifest exceptionalism is breathtaking to behold. I could only pray nightly to be so imbued with your innate ability to unfailingly discern which opinion matters and that which invites profound disdain from your learned perch.”
Marcy, yours is among the most inspired “screw yous” I’ve ever received.
Email from Dan: “I have thought about writing you several times over promoting the left wing agenda in the sports page. I expect to read bias news from your progressive paper but it shouldn’t slop over into the sports section.”
Maybe it’s me, but I still consider being labeled “progressive” a compliment. That is what we’re all about, isn’t it? Progress? I’d like to think so.
Email from Ken: “Bravo and thank you for your column. I always wondered how a sports guy who grew up in Tulsa has such a progressive world view. Now I know. The Whippets!”
Ken, let me tell you something... Never sell two things short – sports guys or Whippets.
Email from Steve: “The values that athletes are fighting for – inclusion, diversity, justice, acceptance of others regardless of color – are American values. Unfortunately, too often they’re not mainstream values.
“No better place to work on mainstreaming these values than the sports page in Tulsa, Oklahoma. No better time than right now. Thanks for adding your voice to that cause.”
First round’s on me, Steve.
Email from James: “How does ‘anti-American media lackey jackass’ sound? PCBS has to stop. Politics has no place in sports. Stick to sports – hee haw – stick to sports – hee haw – echoes in your head.”
Must admit I got a half chuckle out of James' letter.
Email from George: “My children, now in their 50s and 60s, grew up in the Tulsa area and played all sports from T-ball through high school and my wife and I attended most of the events. Their teams were all integrated and we never heard any racial slurs from parents or fans... You must be a lot older than my kids or your story is BS.”
I’m slightly younger than your kids, sir, and I assure you what the Whippets went through was no BS.
Email from another John: “Some of us sheep are wondering what the statement that ‘this much change’ can accomplish, pragmatically. Some of us acknowledge that there needs to be change, but disagree that the real problem is systemic racism...
“Stick to sports makes sense, if you can’t really accomplish anything. Alternately, awareness alone is not going to do it.”
With all due respect, sir, “stick to sports” makes zero sense. And while I agree that statements ring hollow if nothing is accomplished, we have to start somewhere.
Movements that effect meaningful policy change can start with something as simple as someone speaking out, or taking a symbolic stand.
Email from Mark: “Why in the world would any coach for any sports program want to surrender himself to you for an interview? So that you can pull every negative controversial thing that you can into your opinion columns?”
No, Mark. So that any coach who has a lot more on his or her mind than games and practices might share that.
Then we can all read the column, appreciate that coach for being human and join that coach in contemplating how things are, and how things ought to be.