THE COUNTDOWN tothe 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first day in the major leagues(LEADING OFF, page 6) was unfortunately shot through with the inevitable angerand melancholy that comes with every moment of racism in sports.
Don Imus was alittle boy the day Robinson broke baseball's color line. Sixty years later, ashost of a nationally syndicated radio show, he was mocking the Rutgers women'sbasketball team as "nappy-headed hos." Rarely do you hear such nakedracism (as opposed to code-talking or show-off political incorrectness) butthere it was, dominating the news in a vortex of argument among athletes,politicians and pundits over not only racism and sexism, but also hip-hop, freespeech, shock radio, civil rights, Borat and God.
The one sure thingas the volume rose was that Imus was going down. Troubling was the whiff ofself-promotion that settled over everyone involved—except the Rutgers' playersand coaches. Almost unknown despite nearly winning a national championship, thedepth of their character began to show when Aditi Kinkhabwala's first storyabout the controversy appeared on SI.com, where she writes a weekly column. Inthat piece we learned that junior point guard Matee Ajavon's mother cleanedhouses until she had enough money to bring Matee and her sisters to the U.S.from Liberia; that freshman forward Myia McCurdy is a science whiz and formerGirl Scout; that junior guard Essence Carson, who last summer lost thegrandmother who raised her, plays four instruments and writes poetry.Kinkhabwala, who interned at SI and now also covers Rutgers sports for TheRecord of Bergen County, N.J., stayed on the story, and her exclusive reporttaking you inside the Scarlet Knights' meeting with Imus leads the magazine(page 16).
In an obviousirony, the fallout from Imus dampened the reaction to the declaration by NorthCarolina attorney general Roy Cooper that the three white Duke lacrosse playersaccused of raping an African-American woman were innocent in a case so chargedwith racial content that it has left Duke scarred and reeling. The rush tojudgment by ethically impaired prosecutor Mike Nifong shredded many lives as isunderlined by Rick Reilly's column on former Duke coach Mike Pressler, who wasforced to resign before his players were charged (page 82).
What would JackieRobinson think of all this? Writing about Robinson for SI.com last week, seniorwriter Phil Taylor suggested that the Hall of Famer "would undoubtedly havebeen heartened that the outrage over Imus's comments has crossed racial andethnic lines." Then Taylor laid out an obvious truth: "Jackie Robinsondidn't tell the public about the content of his character, he showed it, overtime, through the way he behaved." The women of Rutgers are following inhis footsteps on that same high road.
To readKinkhabwala on the Scarlet Knights basketball team, go to SI.com/rutgers; toread Taylor on Jackie Robinson, go to SI.com/taylor.