Saturday, April 07, 2007

Revealing Character

"Sports doesn't build character, sports reveals it." - John Wooden

First, I'll gladly admit that I feel I have a dog in this fight. Don Imus, media celebrity, slandered much of women's basketball with racist, sexist comments that do not emanate from clear-headed, intelligent Americans. I won't repeat them, you've heard them already. As a coach of girls' basketball and a parent of former players, I'm offended by Imus' ignorance.

I can only say that our family learned a lot, about basketball and life the wonderful summer that my twins played for Shawanda and Eric Brown's Lady Dolphins, based out of Dorchester. They never felt that they were taking a chance, integrating white, suburban girls onto a formerly all black inner city team. They simply addressed the families, one of whom asked a question about problems. Eric, a muscular Boston firefighter, replied, "there won't be any problems." And there weren't. These girls, shared everything, from practice to playtime, hotel rooms and travel, hopes and dreams, and racial discrimination as a southern breakfast joint refused them entry.

They learned about basketball, but far more about culture, and the team played against some of the best black and white players, yes 'tough girls', some with tattoos, at the AAU Nationals. And they shared memories and dreams, and many still communicate, from colleges like Stanford, Molloy University, Salem State, and Dartmouth. Anyone who doesn't think these girls are tough, and respect that toughness, doesn't have a clue about sports.

But what does this have to do with the Red Sox? The most popular player on the team, David Ortiz, doesn't have a prejudiced or mean bone in his body. Even as he struggles early in the season, Sox fans will have nothing but optimism and kind words for him. Other players, like J.D. Drew will find their identity. But stories are out there about a few players cursing out fans who deigned to ask for an autograph, or one player who belittled and mocked a learning-disabled child at an airport. Maybe they learned from their mistakes, and maybe management has them under the microscope. Somehow I doubt it, because of course, sports reveals character.

So while my respect for Imus simply evaporated, and my contempt for him escalates, I don't simply root for laundry. Tim Wakefield's charity work deserves recognition, as do the contributions of many of the players, from the Shade Foundation, to the Jimmy Fund, and more. But celebrities, while as Charles Barkley said, are not necessarily role models, have the opportunity to demonstrate the kindness, charity, and maturity that can build character in those who identify with them.

I hope that Don Imus doesn't get fired. Not only for the possibility of character redemption, but to stand as an example of how not to do it. Don't be him. Accidental juxtaposition of racial and sexist slurs don't just happen, they evolve from life experiences. And we should strive to teach our children well, and repudiate celebrities and our contemporaries who cross the line...simply because it is right.

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