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Race and Sport in the 1990s

Progress has been made in breaking down racial barriers in American athletics, especially on the fields and courts; but too many positions in sports management still have 'Whites Only' signs on the doors

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IN 1987, 40 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball, white America believed that sport was a place where equal opportunity existed.

However, Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis changed all that in April 1987 with his remark on "Nightline" that blacks might not have "the necessities" to be big league managers or general managers. The sports press, which rarely surfaced stories on race in sports, finally took a penetrating look at the situation.

There have been changes since that often quoted broadcast. Leadership in sport is partially responsible for what has gotten better. It now seems that a new, more humanistic sports system is possible with the reinvigorated NCAA Presidents Commission, the work of the Knight Commission, Dick Schultz's leadership at the NCAA, and that of David Stern and Paul Tagliabue at the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.

But racial tensions have increased in the 1990s. These are frightening issues for minorities in this country. Our children have learned to hate. The Reebok Foundation and Northeastern University commissioned a Lou Harris survey of youth attitudes toward racism in September 1990. The results were shocking.

A majority (57 percent) of high school students have seen or heard racial confrontations with overtones of violence, significantly more than had been previously believed. These incidents were not isolated to any particular area and were commonplace in the nation's high schools.

One in four students say they have been the target of an incident of racial or religious bias. Almost half (46 percent) of the blacks surveyed said this.

When confronted with a racial incident, 47 percent of students would either join in or feel that the group being attacked deserved what it was getting. Only one in four would tell a school authority. Encouragingly, a core 30 percent of high school students say they would intervene to stop or condemn the incident.


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