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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...OPENING A PANDORA'S BOX AT MIZZOU

                                    by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Six years ago, when doing research for book projects as well as feature stories that have appeared in past seasons on the pages of TGS Basketball, we were in Indianapolis to chat with Jerry Harkness, a former All-American hoopster and star performer on Loyola-Chicago's 1963 NCAA title winners. Harkness was a fascinating interview for reasons that went beyond basketball, especially for his up-close view of the turbulent 60s and exposure to the leaders of the civil rights movement, which in that era would operate its Chicago Freedom Movement out of the Windy City in the mid 60s as part of the alliance led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

And while Don Haskins' subsequent Texas Western team a few years later would make headlines because it started an all-black lineup, the 1962-63 Ramblers were also trailblazers, regularly starting four black players for HC George Ireland during an era in which the color composition of a lineup was newsworthy...if it wasn't predominantly white, that is. Loyola's team of color was thus a lightning rod and subject to occasional controversies, as well as having to endure the segregation practices of the day, which included treks to the South, where Loyola would occasionally travel for games. In those days, hotels in places like New Orleans or Houston were segregated, so Loyola had to find different accommodations for the black players on the team. Which usually meant homes in the black neighborhoods of town.

Asking Harkness how difficult that must have been to endure, Jerry simply smiled and shook his head. "No, no, no, let me explain," said Harkness, smiling as he wagged his index finger and began to recount some specifics of an era that had never been previously acknowledged by the mainstream sports media.

"Believe it or not, we had a ball," said Harkness of the accommodations. "When we arrived, the whole neighborhood got involved. They loved having us, and it became a big party on the block. We had lots of food at almost every house. All of the girls from the neighborhood wanted to hang with us. Music everywhere. Man, we had some fun. When we would finally meet up with the rest of the team at the game, the white guys had no idea of how much fun we had. They thought that staying in their hotel was cool. The black guys just kind of smiled when they talked about watching TV in their hotel rooms and all of that. We knew we had a blast in the neighborhood, but we let those guys think they had all the fun."

Having never heard of tales such as those from the era, I asked Harkness why no one had ever written about that angle of his experiences from the South. "Because no one asks," said Harkness.

The point of relating the Harkness interview is that with a little extra drilling, the Loyola '63 story suddenly revealed all sorts of different storylines and curiosities that greatly enrich and enlighten that particular tale. We only wish the national sports media might have done some of the same probing during the recent controversy at the University of Missouri, whose football team threatened to boycott last week's game vs. BYU unless school President Tim Wolfe stepped down and other issues were addressed related to reported racial incidents and other grievances on campus.
 
Politically and socially-motivated boycotts and sports are not strange bedfellows. In the past, the Olympics have often been the staging ground for such controversies. Prior to the 1968 Mexico City games, American black athletes briefly considered a boycott as organized by Dr. Harry Edwards (right), in those days a young visiting professor of sociology at his alma mater San Jose State who wanted to use the Olympics to demonstrate that the civil rights movement in the USA had not gone far enough. The boycott never officially materialized, but a message was nonetheless delivered at the medal ceremony for the 200 meters by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their famed "black power" salute. At Montreal in 1976, African nations numbering 28 pulled out on the eve of the games as a protest against the participation of New Zealand, whose rugby team had recently conducted a tour of South Africa (then banned from the Olympics due to its apartheid policies of the day). Of course, the USA boycotted the 1980 Moscow games in protest of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan. And four years later, the Soviets and 13 other Eastern bloc countries would boycott the Los Angeles '84 Olympics citing security concerns, though most informed sources believe it was just payback for the USA boycotting Moscow in '80. College sport has not been immune to similar developments (we have written about a few of those, including Wyoming's "Group of 14" from 1969 that was featured in a past Mountain West TGS website retrospective), but has for the most part usually remained above such frays.

But this commentary is not as much about recounting past boycotts as it is to point out once again an abdication of duty by much of the American sports media, which reached immediate and predictable conclusions regarding Mizzou which seem to have been based upon knee-jerk responses to subject matters that even twinge upon political and social correctness.

The Mizzou storyline hit and exploded so quickly that the sports media had to react fast and would effectively stumble to get in front of one another to praise the Tiger football team and marvel at this new power that college sports could have upon desired social change. Many journalists at Yahoo Sports were among those who couldn't write their stories fast enough as they seemed to race another one to see who could post the most puff-pieces in the shortest amount of time.

Few sports journalists stepped back, however, even for a moment, to examine who and what they were actually condoning. For that, publications like the Wall Street Journal tasked themselves to put a more responsible spin on developments at Mizzou, and raise the very disturbing possibilities that political activists and professional agitators with narrow agendas were likely right in the middle of the Mizzou controversy and had found a perfect and unsuspecting new vehicle (in this case the school's football team) to manipulate. As has been subsequently reported, there was a lot more going on at Mizzou than the Yahoo Sports columnists and others even bothered to acknowledge, yet as far as we can tell none has backtracked on their original opinion pieces even one iota.

For enlightenment, we advise all to seek the WSJ's pointed November 11 editorial entitled Bonfire of the Academy to get a far more-informed analysis of events at Mizzou than anything offered by a mainstream sports media that are conditioned to accept whatever progressive narrative might, in their minds at least, apply to the subject at hand. If the nation's sports writers were really listening, they might also be shocked that sorts such as Alan Dershowitz (right), the famed former Harvard law professor and as progressive as they come, offered a scathing indictment of Mizzou's threatened football boycott and subsequent capitulation by the administrators, as well as actions of other schools and students that he believes are moving to destroy the First Amendment with blatant censorship behavior that borders on fascism.

We simply don't have many great sportswriters these days like Red Smith, who used to show admirable courage when challenging the Establishment, or Shirley Povich, or Jim Murray, or Blackie Sherrod, or Dave Kindred, or Sandy Grady of Philadelphia, who likely would have warned readers that the events at Mizzou have opened a Pandora's box and given the political activist and professional agitator a new and wide expanse to manipulate. College sport has never been innocent, but if we're not careful, it is now about to enter even more dangerous territory. (A continuation of this storyline will appear in our next issue of TGS Basketball, available online Thursday night.)


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