Think of Sports Before You Think of Hate, I Believe It Would Help
EDMOND -- Let me start with this, I'm not a racist, but I'm prone to be selfish. Honestly, either one is bad and can be dangerous, depending on your position and influence.
What has happened in our nation this week with regard to George Floyd is not just regrettable, it is disgusting. It was out there in the open for all of us to see. Unfortunately, there are acts of violence, people cheating others, cruelty in many ways and inflicted on so many by so many others that we don't see. Our world has a lot of meanness and a lack of understanding and caring as part of its makeup.
I know this, I'm better in the areas of relating to and understanding different people than my parents were. Both my parents were raised in rural Oklahoma and had limited exposure to people of different race or backgrounds. My mother used words that shouldn't have been used and that, fortunately, is something I never picked up.
My children are even better than I am in acceptance and relationships with people of different backgrounds and cultures. I am so proud of that. I'm not extremely political, never thought of getting too involved in the political process. I believe in God, but I'm not overly religious. Besides my family, I would say the most constant aspect of my life has been sports. I was not very talented athletically, but I played and I threw myself into it. That allowed me to be moderately useful.
Sports is my business now, and other than the first two years out of college when I worked as a television news reporter, it has always been a part of what I do. Sports has given me way more than I deserve and I'm very grateful for all of it. It has given me understanding and love for others as teammates.
It started here for me, at Marsh Junior High School in Dallas, Texas, in 1973. The first day of school I walked from my house on Boca Bay Drive over to Crown Royal Drive and up the hill to the school. And as I walked up, eight yellow school buses drove up, stopped and unloaded on the west side of the school. This was the first year of desegregation in the Dallas Independent School District. All I knew were the buses came from West Dallas and the kids getting off the bus had dark skin, African-American is the proper term, but I didn't know that then.
Honestly, all I was thinking about that day was athletics, period. My last class of the day and the first day of football practice.
We walked into the locker room and there were two football coaches: David Dooley, a white coach, and Willie Wofford, a black coach. Looking around the room there were some 45 kids and about 60 percent were white; kids I had grown up playing with. And the rest were black and I'd met maybe one or two earlier in the day in classes.
I didn't care who was who. My first job was to show the coaches that I wasn't afraid, that I would hit anybody, and while I wasn't very fast, I would do whatever I was told. That is the way kids like me get to play.
I was a linebacker and in my first drill I went up against Raymond Turner in a tackling drill. Raymond was my height, leaner, but stronger and much faster. What Raymond didn't count on was my determination. When the whistle blew, I came flying out of my two point stance and threw my body into Raymond. Not because he was black or I didn't like him, but because I was afraid if I didn't make a big first impression that I would spend my football season watching more than playing.
Raymond misunderstood my enthusiasm for hate. And on the first day of Dallas schools mixing black and white in the classroom and on the athletic fields, he could be excused for the misunderstanding. The rep ended with me on top of Raymond Turner and him throwing punches to get me off of him. I wasn't shy and threw punches back. Coach Wofford pulled us apart and asked Turner what his problem was.
"This $%#@ started it," Turner screamed. Coach Wofford looked at him and said, "He was right that I started the drill doing what I was supposed to."
Before Coach Wofford could finish his directive, Kyle Woods, another player from West Dallas looked at Raymond and said, "Ray, it's football and he tackled your butt. That is what he's supposed to do. Now, it's your turn to tackle his butt."
Believe me, Raymond took full advantage of his turn in the drill. It was as hard as I'd been hit in my previous four years of playing football, maybe combined.
I met a lot of new teammates that season, guys like Brain Emerson, Raymond Prado, Mike Morley, Chris Fairchild, Mike Quinn, James Dwelle; but they were all from elementary schools near mine. I met Raymond Turner, Kyle Woods, Billy Kelly, Alfred Swindell, Alex Wright, and many more from a part of town that I'd never seen.
I remember about the second or third week of school we had a practice that got called in the first hour, there was a massive thunderstorm and a deluge of rain. We went in because of the thunder and lightning. We stayed in and off the field because of the puddles and what grass we did have on the practice field would have been gone. After watching some film -- yes, back then it was film on a projector -- the coaches said we could go home and the bus riders could stay in the gym and wait the hour and a half for the buses.
I looked at Raymond Turner, who now had become a friend out of mutual respect and playing the same position; and Billy Kelly and Kyle Woods and said, "Hey, come with me and we'll go to my house and get something to eat and mess around."
We walked the 10 minutes to my house and I will never forget the look on my mom's face when we came in the door. I'd never seen that. I remember hearing her conversation with my dad that night about the three friends that I had brought home. It's not her fault, it was the way she grew up. I'm positive that all three of the guys realized my mom's fear, apprehension, whatever it was. They never said anything.
I'm thankful for Raymond, Kyle, Billy, and the decision in Dallas to desegregate the DISD when they did. I'm not perfect with regards to different kinds of people, but thanks to sports and the importance of teammates. I'm better for it and at an early age I discovered some lessons that have lasted throughout my life.
I think it was former New York Jets and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath who is quoted as saying, "Football taught me that life is a team game."
I would agree with Joe. It taught me the same thing. I wish we all could come to that understanding. In this life there are good people, bad people, all kinds of people. They come in all shapes, sizes, and color of skin.
We will make friends, we will chose to distance and not open up. That is OK, as long as you respect each other. If you remember life is a team game that will help. You need to do your best to be aware and to keep your eyes open and your mind clear.
Sports has taught me that you need others. And the color of their skin or what part of town, state, or country they come from doesn't matter. Having teammates is a great feeling. Having enemies for no reason is not.
My feeling is we need sports for more than just entertainment. We need our sports as an example of how to get along. That is the important lesson I learned in the fall of 1973 and it's a lesson that has lasted a lifetime.
Besides on that Saturday practice after that teams first and only loss that season, I remember Coach Wofford and Coach Dooley running us until we puked. It's funny when you are experiencing that together as a team, you really don't care what the teammate next to you looks like. Just that he is there to lean on when you think you're going to collapse.