By Gary Norris Gray, Staff Reporter
Sports used to be a safe haven for Black athletes, not anymore. African Americans athletes mastered and continue to master the game or position; they improved their skills with each passing year in spite of the racial overtones.
These athletes once again had to be better than average, better than their white counterparts or they would not play the sport they loved. When this happened the powers that be, the rulers of the game changed the rules trying to impede the steady progress of Black athletes in all sports.
Here are just a few examples of how Black athletes changed the games and continue to show their greatness under fire.
In the game of golf only a few people of color dared walk into the club house let alone walk the golf course. Charlie Stafford the first Black professional golfer and Lee Elder the first Black champion would break the modern day color barrier in winning tournaments in the United States, while John Shippen in 1896 played in the U.S. Open tying for sixth place after a storm of protest and possible boycott by white golfers.
Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods now carries the torch of Shippen, Stafford, and Elder, changing the golf world in just twenty years. Woods became the most powerful golfer in the world with his long tee shots. Woods was the reason for the golf channel, fans wanted to see him play. Fans wanted to see him crush the other golfers on Sunday afternoon.
People who never watched golf were now doing so because of this man from Stanford University won big. Woods smashed record after record with his long drives to the greens. Mr. Woods was so powerful he made The Masters’ in Augusta, Georgia, “Tiger proofed” the golf course, making the distance to the holes longer.
What Mr. Woods did, was force other golfers to enter a weight room program and bulk up their muscles. Something other PGA golfers had never done. The professional KLGA Korean Female golfers, The Seoul Sisters, knew this fact years ago and they too dominated the LPGA Tour like Woods.
The tennis world did not know what to do with these two young Black teenagers (Serena and Venus Williams) twenty five years ago. Mr. Williams their father and coach did not enter these young women in tennis school like most young tennis professionals. This upset the tennis intelligencia because these two Black girls were flying in the face of the unwritten rules.
There was a reason for that. The Florida Tennis Schools and the U.S. Press Corps. could not undermined Mr. Williams’ lessons of assertiveness and positive play on the court. Using Venus and Serena’s power strokes to pin the opponent to the back line.
This strategic tennis learning tool was not taught to young Black players in tennis school up to that point. Was this done on purpose? Nobody knows or will admit it. Mr. Williams made sure his daughters understood and never forgot the lesson.
The Williams Sisters changed the history of women’s tennis following in the footsteps of Black legions, Lucy Diggs Slowe who won the first Black female to win a title, Ora Washington from Philadelphia, and Althea Gibson the U.S. tennis champion.
The William Sisters broke the rules of wearing certain attar on the court raising the question, what difference does it make what you are wearing on the court just as long as it was not a distraction. The William Sisters broke the all white tennis gear look of long ago with colorful hair beads and cat suits.
The tennis world reacted with body shaming Serena because of her size yet there is a Mainland Chinese tennis player named Ying Ying Duan that looks just like Serena, nothing is said.
The Williams Sisters has set the stage for upstarts Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, and Taylor Townsend to continue Black greatness on the court. The future is bright for another woman of color to change the rules of tennis.
In one of the most dangerous sports on earth a young Black English man has taken the lead with six national championships, he cannot get the respect or honor from fellow drivers or Formula 1 fans. If he were Caucasian he would now be a national hero in Great Britain, the United States, and Western Europe. They would be naming streets, stores, drinks after him.
The gentlemen’s rule of racing is being challenged by a man of color.
Hamilton’s success has to eat his words and walk away from some of the confrontations on the racing tracks. Hamilton must follow the rule be quiet (Black Man) when you know the other guy has cheated on the race course… Be quiet when a driver cuts you off at a curve, be quiet when that driver gets a full second start, only to be caught at the end of the race.
When Lewis Hamilton wins the national title and then have to confront drivers who don’t like him, day in and day out because he is a good strategist on the track, that he has a great pit crew, and a good car company (Mercedes Benz) behind him. Hamilton just wins.
The racing world refuses to shower him with praise because he is not one of them. Lewis Hamilton is only one World Championship behind the great Michael Schumacher from Germany who did not have to deal with the mental games on the track that Hamilton deals with daily. Hamilton does not make excuses he just wins.
The game of basketball today does not look like the game Mr. Naismith had envisioned eighty years ago. Current players are now over seven feet, can run faster and jump higher, dunk the ball in the basket with one hand and are people of color.
Philadelphia Warrors center Wilt Chamberlain was scoring 50+ points per night in the early 1960 Chamberlain scored 100 points against the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pennsylvania that was the breaking point. The NBA had to do something so they expanded the lane to sixteen feet in 1964.
The NBA changed the lane in 1951 from 6 feet to 12 feet but big centers continued to abused the lane and nobody could defend seven footers. Chamberlain just forced the issue again with his 50 point average.
Chamberlain improved on centers 6-10 George Mikan-De-Paul University and seven foot Bob Kurland from Oklahoma A&M skills. Mr. Chamberlain moved as close to the basket as possible receiving the ball from the guards for a layup, push shot, or dunk.
Chamberlain also changed the way the NCAA ruled on missed free-throws in 1956. The NCAA banned dunking after a missed free throw in which Chamberlain always had problems making. The ball would hit the basket and bounce back to Chamberlin where he would stuff it back in for two points. That rule was changed forever.
Then came a young man from New York City who attended the University of California at Los Angeles Lou Alcindor-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Alcindor was dunking on everybody in 1966 and once again could not be stopped. Number 33 buried people under the boards so the NCAA adopted the Lew Alcindor Rule- a player cannot dunk for a score from 1967-1975.
The result of this rule was Jabbar creating a deadly hook shot called the sky hook in his last year at UCLA and his first years in Milwaukee, which nobody could block because of Kareem’s wide wing span.
The Hardship Rule upset the apple cart in the middle 1970’s. Young Black High school players wanted to get paid to play the game they love. These young men wanted to support their families in the process.
The NBA stated that any player had to be four years removed from his high school graduating class these young men tried to get around this rule. Center, Spencer Haywood finally challenged this rule and got drafted in the ABA’s Denver Rockets in his second year at the University of Detroit.
Haywood won his case in the Supreme Court one year later and signed with the NBA Seattle SuperSonics, it was not over the other teams did not want him to play until court action. The Supreme Court stated that the NBA violated the Sherman Antitrust Act suppressing trade or commerce which was illegal.
In 1974, Philadelphia’s Darryl Dawkins and Atlanta’s Bill Willoughby-ABA-Denver Nuggets-NBA-Atlanta Hawks were the first two high school players drafted right out of high school. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers is the last 18 year olds from this right out of high school group. The group that included Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and Tracy McGrady.
The players union and the NBA are now locking horns with the 20 year old age limit. If these young men can go to war for the country at 18 why can’t they earn a living playing basketball? Thus came forth “The One and Done Era,” which the University of Kentucky has perfected.
These young men now attend college for one semester, one quarter, one year and jump to the NBA; this has to be fixed because college coaches like John Calipari use these men to earn championships without these young adults earning an education. This is exploitation on both sides and needs to stop.
The NCAA is currently dealing with the current wave of players who play one year in college to jump into the professional ranks. Duke’s Zion Williamson now earns cash with the New Orleans Pelicans with a shot at winning the Rookie of the Year Award.
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian, Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston, Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor Pad Network, Disabled Community Activist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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