THE BLACK ATHLETE
As a member of the daily sporting press, I would like to commend Jack Olsen and the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for the beginning of what promises to be a revealing, shocking and moving look at the Negro in American sports (The Black Athlete—A Shameful Story, July 1 et seq.). Olsen's work promises to be one of the most important sports documents written.
Perhaps it's time that members of the daily press, like myself, took a hard look at the racial problems in our own spheres of influence. Examples: the insidious quota system which poisons many professional and collegiate teams, the reluctance of traveling secretaries to room Negro and white ballplayers together and the refusal of the powers to recognize the legitimate heavyweight champion, a Negro, because of his political and religious beliefs.
Perhaps we can substitute, "What can I do?" with, "When do I start?"
I'm white. The message in the first installment of Jack Olsen's series was a long time coming from any national medium, sports or otherwise. Better late than anticlimactic, so a measure of thanks is in order. Going back 15 years, I remember two exceptional Negro football players at Penn State being openly referred to by student body and faculty alike as "eighth-semester sophomores." (Both were lucky enough, and good enough, to have extended NFL careers after "graduation.")
July 14, 1968
I would like to see more black athletes majoring in education—my education. Olsen's piece is exemplary of the kind of classroom aid these black teachers would need to get through to most of us, the thickheaded majority.
ROBIN C. NELSON
Jack Olsen's new series, in its excellence, forces one to look into the entire structure of amateur athletics. His criticisms apply, too often, to all athletes, though more so to black athletes.
Many of the current ills go back to high school athletics. Since it is largely supported by local taxpayers, the only justification for high school athletics is that it be educational. If something is to be educational, it must change or reenforce young people; it must make demands. Too many high school coaches let boys feel that the sport needs them more than the boys need the sport. Too many coaches rationalize keeping a boy "on the team," because they say it will get him a scholarship or teach him some values. Any true values must be transferred into daily living, otherwise they are empty and hypocritical. There is already too much emphasis on "getting"— getting a scholarship, getting an award, getting into college (even though this may not be a student's greatest need).
The sports world has shown that black and white can achieve together; it can credit itself with no more. Black and white also get hurt by the same kind of selfish thinking on the part of leaders in athletics and in institutions.
In a survey that I conducted 10 years ago most university presidents indicated that they justified athletic proselytizing as being necessary in order to compete and to pay off stadium construction. Can't we expect higher purpose from our universities? Can't we expect better moral and academic preparation of teen-agers by community schools and leaders?
White Plains, N.Y.
Congratulations on your contribution to the myth of the Almighty White Man. As they say on the sports pages, us white folks can do it all. We forced Don Smith to steal jewelry and toys instead of books; we made Robert Buford play pool instead of learning English, which he doesn't like; and we warned the black people of Rayville, La. that there would be trouble if they tried to speak the language like their cultured, white neighbors. Yes, we did all of that, and now we feel guilty as hell about it.
And anyone who has the temerity to suggest that it is presumptuous for the Almighty White Man to express such guilt when he could not possibly have done all that he claims to have done, well, that person is just going to have to suffer through the next four, breast-beating installments, right?
UP DOWN UNDER!
After reading your report regarding the way the Australian public reacted to Lionel Rose winning the bantamweight championship of the world (The Original Aborigine, June 24), I would like to add a few comments. You say there was "Dancing in the street, kissing, shouting and singing." It was obvious that you know nothing of the character of the people who live here. If you tried to kiss an Australian chap, he would cither kick you in the rear or belt you on the ear—whichever was the nearest. As for singing and shouting, Australians are far too casual. A few "Good on yer, mates," a few bets on the result and quite a few beers to celebrate is the limit.
Now to some sporting facts. From a population of some 10 million spread over an area big enough to take in at least eight European countries—including the United Kingdom—we have produced two recent world boxing champions and have won the Davis Cup in tennis a great many more times than the Great U.S.A. over the last 15 years. We have won more than our share of Olympic gold medals per hand of population. The Rugby League team just beat France 20-2 to win the World Cup.
You probably think from reading this I am dinkum Australian. Actually I emigrated from Scotland 18 years ago, after serving for three years in the British navy—during which time I visited America. Having met your people and having found them to be like most people—good blokes—I would like to extend them a welcome to this great country. Someone once said, "Go West, young man." I would like to say, "Come East," no matter what age you are. You will never regret it.
Please notify me if you print this—being a Scotsman I'd hate to buy a copy for no reason.
Enfield, South Australia
HEART AND SOUL
Now that your newscompanion has identified Soul (TIME, June 28), may I send a nominee to SI?
Ted Williams got Soul.
And the Sound of Soul? Why, man, fans heard that in any ball park Ted was batting in, only we didn't know whut it wuz.
Thank you for Hitting Was My Life (June 10 et seq.).
As a fan who has sat in Fenway Park's left-field seats for 20 years, I would like to say something as a representative of the Williams hecklers. Though we booed him, swore at him and threw things at him, we all recognized Ted for what he was, the greatest hitter (clutch or otherwise) of all time. Teddy Ballgame can play on our team any day!
ASSAULT ON BATTERY
Baseball's greatest failing is the dominance of pitching and the decline of the .300 hitter (The Season of the Zero Hero, June 17). But instead of putting the blame on night games, travel and the slider, or further penalizing the pitchers for doing what they are paid for, let's penalize the hitters—or rather, let's force them to hit.
In games of June 13-15 major leaguers amassed 1,692 at bats, and scored 178 runs on 421 hits, for a cumulative average of .249 (box scores from a couple of late West Coast games were not available). One more statistic: there were 291 strikeouts! If we could cut down on the number of strikeouts, more hits would be produced; but the hitters would rather forgo singles and doubles in order to swing for the fences.
Subtracting the strikeouts from the times at bat (431 hits in 1,401 times the ball was hit) yields an average of .300. In other words, when bat meets ball, all of baseball hits .300. But can baseball legislate these extra hits? The best hitters will all agree that bat control is an essential factor in good hitting—but bat control almost vanished with the onset of small, lightweight bats. The solution, then, is to pass a rule specifying minimum bat weight and diameter, thereby forcing many hitters to use a heavier bat, forget the roundhouse swing and concentrate on making solid contact with a shorter swing. The obvious result is more hits, while the natural long-ball hitter would continue to produce the home run (heavier hitters use heavier bats, anyway).
E. M. FIENBERG
I do not doubt that the big mitts, bigger parks and tall grasses hinder the batter, but I do feel the large parks could help the hitters if they didn't try for the long ball. Outfielders must cover more ground in a large park, which means that a lot more balls would fall untouched. Thick grass will make infield nubbers harder to pick up. The mitts do rob hitters, but why should they complain? They're the ones who use them.
JOHN G. POPP
To help even things up for the batters, they could give the grass a crew cut, make outfielders catch barehanded, move the pitcher's mound to the outfield, outlaw the curveball, fastball, knuckleball and slider and outlaw hair oil. Please don't outlaw the home run.
Maple Ave. 'Possums