It’s time to “Break It Down!”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
As you know February is Black History Month. For 28 days Americans of African descent will be feted honored, and buffeted with an array of historical retrospectives ranging from Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, founder of Chicago, to Barack and Michelle Obama, two of the most famous Americans to call the Windy City home. But that’s not all. Over the course of the month a variety of groups and individuals will be making an effort to elevate a truth that has never been fully told, and that is too often flatly denied.
According to a study completed by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, The National Basketball Association (NBA) was 74.3 black during the 2015-16 season, and 81.7 percent of the players were people of color. The study determined that 18.3 percent of the League’s players were white (including Europeans), while 22.3 percent were international. That translated into 43 white Americans spread across 30 NBA teams. However, eight teams did not have a white player at the start of that season.
On the basis of the preceding summary, it may sound as though the NBA is ground zero for the emergence of the black nouveau riche in America. That might be one way to look at it. Another view might be that it is an oasis in the midst of a sprawling desert of despair for many black folks. The reality is the preceding statement is many African Americans’ truth.
From time to time someone with a commanding profile steps up, takes a megaphone and shouts the truth from the mountaintop. Enter Gregg Popovich, an NBA icon. You may know Pop as the Head Coach of the 5-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, or as the guy who hired the first full-time, salaried female Assistant Coach in NBA history, or as the next Head Coach of Team USA, the Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. Is that high profile enough for you?
During the month of February, the NBA celebrates Black History Month in a variety of ways. The league honors trailblazers like Earl Lloyd, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton and Chuck Cooper for breaking the league’s color barrier in 1950. Individual teams look back at their respective pasts. Players wear special gear, including sneakers and warm-up shirts to commemorate those who have come before. For the primarily African American league, the month of special activities serves as recognition of, and acknowledgment that the giant steps the NBA has taken toward international success and prominence have come as a result of strength, sacrifices, and contributions of a great many people, on the court and off of it, over the years.
In addition, they also call to the forefront of our minds how much further we all have to go. That was the aspect that Coach Popovich was most interested in discussing when he was asked about his thoughts on Black History Month, Monday, prior to a game between the Spurs and the Utah Jazz.
Popovich is known as a no-nonsense, give short shrift to mundane post-game interview questions kinda guy. He’s also quite well-known for speaking his mind on pertinent social issues of the day. Given the latter, it was not at all surprising that just a couple of days ago; he framed the importance of Black History Month in stark, blunt truth terms:
“I think it’s pretty obvious,” he told reporters. “The league is made up of a lot of black guys. To honor that and understand it is pretty simplistic. How would you ignore that? But more importantly, we live in a racist country that hasn’t figured it out yet. And it’s always important to bring attention to it, even if it angers some people. The point is, you have to keep it in front of everybody’s nose so they understand it still hasn’t been taken care of and we have a lot of work to do.”
As implied above, Popovich, who matriculated at the Air Force Academy, and who served five years in the military, has frequently voiced his displeasure with the state of affairs in the U.S. political system and broader discourse — has spoken about the importance of recognizing that many of the issues central to black history in the United States aren’t really “history” at all. Translation…they are not relegated to the past; rather, they are very much present day concerns.
For example, Coach Popovich said last February:
“Well, it’s a remembrance, and a bit of a celebration in some ways. It sounds odd because we’re not there yet, but it’s always important to remember what has passed and what the black population is experiencing now. It’s a celebration of some of the good things that have happened, and a reminder that there’s a lot more work to do.
But more than anything, I think if people take the time to think about it, I think it is our national sin. It always intrigues me when people come out with, ‘I’m tired of talking about that,’ or ‘Do we have to talk about that again?’ And the answer is, ‘You’re damned right we do.’ Because it’s always there, and it’s systemic, in the sense that when you talk about opportunity, it’s not about, ‘Well, if you lace up your shoes and you work hard, then you can have the American dream.’ That’s a bunch of hogwash.
If you were born white, you automatically have a monstrous advantage – educationally, economically, culturally, in this society and all the systemic roadblocks that exist, whether it’s in a judicial sense, a neighborhood sense with laws, zoning, education. We have huge problems in that they are very complicated, but take leadership, time, and real concern to try to solve. It’s a tough one; because people don’t rally want to face it.
In all likelihood, that includes many NBA fans, and no doubt, many Spurs fans, who might appreciate Popovich’s gifts as a coach and executive, but might not look so kindly on his assessment of the U.S. as a “racist country.” Regardless of whether all those watching, listening to, and/or reading his words share his viewpoint, it doesn’t appear that Coach Popovich is going to be dissuaded from espousing the legit truth, anytime soon.
Love it or hate it, that’s the good news. “America The Racist: Yeah, It’s Black History Month!”
I’m done; holla back!
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