Monday, April 16, 2007

"No longer can we stand in the dark"

As I'm sure most of you have heard, a man on the campus of Virginia Tech University went on a killing rampage Monday morning, killing 33 V-Tech students and injuring several more.

It was the worst school shooting in U.S. history - even worse than Columbine, Colo., in 1999.

And, in a way, it was probably tied to sports. Believe it or not, a lot of national issues can be connected to the sports world.

In most cases, the individuals who commit heinous crimes like these are people who have been shut out or have locked themselves away from mainstream America. They don't read the news; they don't have conversations with friends about various issues facing our country; they don't have many friends, period.

In one word, they are lonely.

We need open dialogue
The last two and a half months have been both groundbreaking and depressing when it comes to race relations in the sports world.

On the first Sunday of February, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith became the first black men to face off in a Super Bowl. That was a huge milestone, and as much as people said it shouldn't have been made a big deal, it was. It couldn’t be ignored (and shouldn’t have been).

More recently, as in the past two weeks, things have not been so felicitous. Don Imus spoke out on his CBS Radio show, calling the Rutgers University women's basketball players' "nappy-headed hos" after the Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee in the women's basketball national title game.

Then, just this past week, all the charges were finally dropped in the sexual assault case against three Duke University lacrosse players - all white - who were accused last spring by a black woman from North Carolina Central University of sexual assault. The case caused an uproar in Durham, a city with much racial tension, motivated Jesse Jackson to make an appearance, and many of us in the media were quick to jump on the alleged victim's side. After all, who could possibly like three privileged white men over a young black woman working as a stripper to pay for college.

Mike Nifong, the former Durham County District Attorney, certainly felt that way, going to ridiculous lengths to try to prove a case that held no water. He withdrew from the case in January following a charge by the North Carolina bar of making misleading and inflammatory comments to the media about the three athletes. Later, he was charged with withholding evidence from defense attorneys and lying to the court.

Obviously, he had an agenda, which he relentlessly followed despite no evidence that the three young men were guilty.

While the situation in Durham is resolved, the three indicted men will always have a shadow hanging over them. They won't be able to forget about the past year.

The Rutgers' players, on the other hand, have an enhanced image because of Imus' comments. Last week they, along with their coach C. Vivian Stringer, held an hour-long press conference to denounce Imus' comment and present themselves as anything but "nappy-headed hos."

Sure, it would be nice to think that everyone in this country knew Imus was full of crap. But let's be honest: There were probably people who tuned into the press conference thinking that they'd see a bunch of young women talking like the uneducated rappers that pollute BET and MTV on a daily basis. Those people were probably shocked by what they saw. But more importantly, maybe they were educated. Maybe they realized that 1) Imus often says things that are baseless and 2) The majority of college athletes, both black and white, are educated young adults who represent their universities to the best of their ability (no, not all college athletes leave early for the various pro sports drafts).

And they have humility. This was evidenced by the coach and players accepting Imus' apology, even though I doubt it was sincere. This was also shown by them saying they didn’t want Imus to lose his job. Unlike Nifong, Stringer and her players had no agenda other than to show the nation who they are: Dignified, multi-talented young women with good hearts.

While Imus' comments initially sparked a controversy, now the only remnant of the case is that he no longer holds his job. And he's expected to meet with the team on Tuesday to discuss what he said.

Hopefully his views will be changed by what Stringer and her players have to say to him.

Positive dialogue. Needed dialogue.

Lying begets negativity

Thank goodness the San Francisco Giants' doubleheader against Pittsburgh was rained out on Sunday. If not, Barry Bonds would have taken the field wearing No. 42 to "honor" Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball 60 years ago from Sunday.

The day was a marvelous one around the country, as several players and even a couple entire teams honored Robinson by wearing his No. 42, which was retired from the league in 1997.

But Bonds' wearing No. 42 would have almost single-handedly ruined the day because Bonds represents absolutely nothing that Robinson did. While Robinson always did what was best for his race, Bonds has lied countless times about taking steroids. While Robinson never put himself above his teammates and opponents, despite the magnitude of his accomplishment, Bonds has always put himself on the ultimate pedestal, bringing his own brigade of trainers into the locker room and isolating himself from teammates.

Most importantly, Robinson put himself out there, didn't hide anything. Bonds only cares about himself and breaking Hank Aaron's home run record. After that he'll probably retire to a life of solidarity.

Aaron has repeatedly said recently that he would not be on hand to see Bonds break his record of 755. He's made excuses about travel, but it is obvious that he doesn't want to be there because he believes Bonds' numbers are tainted. He was on hand in Los Angeles Sunday night to honor Robinson, so it is obvious he can hop on a plane. But only when it's to honor one of the game's true heroes.

Bonds, as Jeff Pearlman's book cover reads, is the "Antihero." If he had come out five years ago and admitted his steroid use, he probably would have been forgiven by now. Many of us would be cheering his race at history this season.

But, no. Bonds is not a fan of open dialogue, except to say that he'll only talk about baseball. And that's a shame. He could have been a "Hero."

So what now?
So here we stand, as a nation, mourning the deaths of 33 young, bright individuals at Virginia Tech. It is still unknown what the motive(s) of the shooter was. I'm not going to make any conjectures.

But one of this country's main issues causes much of this unnecessary violence.


People make assumptions about other groups of people. Maybe they see an isolated case that portrays a black athlete as a thug (say Pacman Jones), and from that one, single, isolated incident, they come to the conclusion that black football players are criminals.

In Durham, it worked the other way. The three white lacrosse players were condemned and repeatedly bashed because of their race and background. They were portrayed as spoiled, racist young men who thought they could take advantage of a poor black stripper.


As a college student, I know for a fact that nothing can resolve these kinds of situations better than open dialogue. People with differences can either ignore each other and continue to hold onto their deluded perception of their counterparts. Or they can get together with those in the other room and discuss their beliefs.

That's what Stringer and her players are giving Imus the chance to do on Tuesday. It might actually bring about some positives.

Now - more than ever - we need to be open with each other. It's unrealistic to believe that was can simply ignore race, and sexual orientation, and all the other touchy subjects in this country. Maybe in the future, but for now we need to talk with each other about what angers us, about what forms our views of one another.

And about what drives a man on a college campus to go on a killing rampage.

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