What Sports Can Teach Us About Race

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By all accounts, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono is white.

And Kris Jenkins, who made the most clutch, buzzer-beating shot in NCAA Tournament Championship history, is black.

But when Arch made the perfect pass to Jenkins with just a second to play in a tie game, he didn’t see his teammate’s skin. Instead, the only colors he saw were Nova’s blue and white.

When the team and coaching staff dog-piled on the court, they didn’t segregate themselves by color or ethnicity. Instead, they celebrated as family. And fans around the country, rooting for their teams, frequently did so with strangers – many of a different color – who quickly became their friends, as camaraderies developed that transcended race, creed and ethnicity.

It was as if the stories depicting racial divisions tearing America apart, as seen on the news virtually every day, didn’t exist.

Was this just a fleeting moment of civility, when watching March Madness made people forget that they’re "supposed" to dislike others whose skin is different than their own? And now that it’s over, and the euphoria has passed, will we all go back to our "normal," narrow-minded views of how we perceive those who are different?


And for good reason.

Americans don’t have a racial problem. America does. And there’s a world of difference.

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Sports can teach us a lot about life, and even more about ourselves. We learn from a young age (political correctness notwithstanding) the value of winning graciously and losing honorably. We learn that team – working together unselfishly so that goals can be met – trumps the all-about-me individual more concerned with personal glory than achieving success.
We learn that losing doesn’t have to mean failing, and that coming up short is the best motivation to picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and getting right back out there, smarter, wiser, and humbler. We learn that from the ashes of our mistakes comes the opportunity for rebirth – the unique human ability to change, adapt, and overcome so that we can better ourselves, and those around us. We learn that through grit and sheer determination, no obstacle is insurmountable, and that underdogs can rule the day. And most of all, we learn that seeing others through colorblind eyes always generates the most success.

Sure, playing in front of millions is reserved for the very best, and truth be told, the very lucky. But the values that make teams great don’t change depending on the level of play; they are the same for pros and youths alike. And they also hold true for our families, communities and workplaces.

So if we understand these principles, why is the racial gulf widening?

Because not enough people have the courage to stand up and be counted when it matters most. Make no mistake. It’s hard to be a voice of reason when that means going against some of "your own" when racial debates arise. Many fear being labeled a racist, a bigot, or sell-out, so remain quiet when they should be speaking out loud and clear.

So the agenda-driven extremists on both sides win.

After all, in the absence of rational voices, the fringe always gets the headlines. And the racial wars become a self-fulfilling prophecy because that’s what Americans see.

And that’s the saddest thing of all, because with each successive generation, the racist tendencies of both blacks and whites – and they were very real just a few decades ago – continue to dissipate, as Americans’ tolerance and progressiveness (small "p") replace such divisions.

Sure, there will always be those who are prejudiced. That’s human nature, but in America, that minority continues to shrink, as coworkers, teammates and neighbors evolve in their racial sensibilities.

And that’s why we can’t let the extremists win.

Truth be told, most of today’s "race wars" have nothing to do with centuries-old rivalries or slavery, and everything to do with self-imposed stupidity. The real tragedy is that all of it would be avoidable, if we just used a little common sense.

There are solutions to the race-relations problem. But too many of America’s leaders on both sides lack the courage to embrace them due to a misplaced fear of "offending." So while the nation increasingly burns, we will once again hear all the rhetoric – some inflammatory (kill cops), and some politically-correct fluff ("heal the wounds" and "begin the process of reconciliation") – while the wrong actions are too often taken, resulting in even more enflamed tensions.

Instead of bold leaders willing to state the truth, no matter how much flak they receive, we have race-baiters obsessed with self-promotion and enrichment, placaters who think appeasement is the answer, and social engineers who want racial double-standards codified into law.

The result is chaos and sometimes violence, with the gulf widening, to the delight of the dividers, but to the detriment of we the people.

We can’t have double-standards and expect relations to be "normal." They won’t be. Ever. Resentment builds, tensions flare, and things eventually explode.

When are we going to wake up and realize that appeasement doesn’t work? That double standards are wrong? And that attempts to solve racial discontent with solutions rooted in race will continue to backfire?

Racial discrimination, in all its forms, must be battled.

But unfortunately, selective discrimination on both sides, from policing to the workplace to professional sports, has been deemed acceptable, even trendy, by America’s elites. Far from creating racial harmony, as its advocates naively believe, selective discrimination is the flashpoint in the powder keg of America’s race relations.

If we ever hope to eradicate racial tensions, "equal opportunity for all, special treatment for none" must be our motto, with race merely an afterthought.

America’s uniqueness makes it the envy of the world, where even its most downtrodden can overcome adversity. But that must never come because, or at the expense, of race. When it does, we all lose a part of what makes us so special, our common bond: Being Americans, and ultimately, members of the only "race" that matters: the human race.

Against the odds, and defying all expectations, the Villanova Wildcats won because they showed their true "colors" by never forgetting who they were, and what they fought for. They never stopped believing, and their stunning achievement will be remembered for generations to come.

In depicting how racial divides can be overcome, the classic true-to-life movie "Remember The Titans," set during the Civil Rights era, ends with the narrator stating: "People say that it can’t work, black and white. Here, we make it work every day. We still have our disagreements, of course, but before we reach for hate, always, always, we remember the Titans."

For this generation, let’s remember the Wildcats!

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].