Race Controversy Shows Sports’ True Colors

So apparently some Klansmen found their way onto the USC football team.

For those of you who missed it, a Facebook group with an element of the football team known as "White Nation" out to "protect the Aryan race" has caught the attention of major media outlets, and has offended a number of students.

Of course, let's forget that the "White Nation" tag came as a compliment from a black coach that several black players have stepped up to defend the inside joke, and that Clay Matthews, Jr., who started the group, has a black roommate. After all, USC has sensitive ears to protect, and a reputation to uphold as a university, right?

John Wooden once said, "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

He was a hell of a smart man. I not only don't have a problem with what this revealed about the Trojans' character, I embrace it. Players and coaches are so comfortable with the race issue (more volatile than plutonium elsewhere in society) that they can jokingly fling around these barbs without anyone being offended or hurt.

If only the rest of society were so enlightened. Then again, sports have taken the lead before.

Rosa Parks was arrested for riding in the front of a bus in 1955, and Civil Rights were illusions until the 1960s. Jackie Robinson broke into Major League Baseball in 1947. Sports have always been ahead of the curve. In them, you are judged individually on a relatively tangible, indisputable basis; your performance between the lines. The rest is just background noise.

Not that race in sports is a non-issue; problems certainly remain. Sports are just ahead of a society not ready to candidly deal with race in such a manner, and way too focused on the background noise.

One USC student offended by the group page said the players need to better understand their position as public figures, quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying: "It's not a joke ... when he makes it sound like he's against an entire race ... I was in disbelief."

Another started a group to raise awareness of Matthews' racist beliefs even after Dallas Sartz, a Facebook friend and Aryan Nation member, told her it was an inside joke, according to an earlier story in the Daily Trojan, USC's student newspaper. "I posted the group so that they would know that (the White Nation group) is inappropriate," she said.

Thank you for the lectures, oh sage-like 20-year-olds. Yes, the team needs to keep its crude racial acceptance behind closed doors.

Don't get me wrong. Posting the group online was a certifiably brain-dead decision. With the Internet, you have to be driving-with-a-cop-behind-you careful. Athletes especially should know this, because they are public figures, like it or not. People aren't ready for this kind of humor or candidness. And sure enough, at least one Facebooking high school genius apparently "thought of the school differently" when he saw the group.

To any potential Trojans scared away by this story: good riddance.

As a USC student, I want my future fellow alumni capable of perspective and reading between the lines. I've little time for mindless political-correctness; the idea that policing and expunging potentially inflammatory statements from public record is a more important sign of progress than interracial joviality. Worry about true racists that know better not to publicly say anything, not jokers who don't know when to stop laughing.

Brushing tensions under a mat does nothing; at some point, you have to get your hands dirty to get the issue cleaned up. Sports force participants to deal with each other, to work together. This is evident on the USC football team, and likely countless other teams.

Now, we shouldn't promote public controversial racial comments, racist source or not. But bystanders are better off not letting statements throw them, like an athlete ignoring jeers from a hostile crowd, as opposed to self-righteously crusading like Kyle's mom in South Park every time someone pokes at USC's sensitivity with a needle. Stupid people will be saying stupid things until the end of time, athletes included.

Fortunately, many people get it. USC professor Todd Boyd, a pop culture critic who specializes in media and sports, told the Los Angeles Times he interpreted the Facebook page as "an internal joke, not mean-spirited," adding, "I doubt a white guy, playing major college football with so many black guys, holds racist beliefs."

The sports world in general might not be devoid of racism, but he does have a point; Sartz and Co. would be more black-and-blue than white if they were those types of people.

And it goes both ways, too, as noted by Todd McNair, the black coach who came up with the "White Nation" moniker.

"I gave them a nickname," McNair told the Los Angeles Times. "I call the black coaches on our staff the Brojans. Brothers and Trojans. We're the Brojans. Playfully. Because the locker room is colorless."

Good enough for me. Now to work on the world outside of it.

Comments and Conversation

March 21, 2007

J. Sapone:

Thanks Kyle. Your article is right on. I attended USC and have a child attending now. It is as “colorless” as any environment I’ve ever been in. It was that way in the 70’s and continues that way today. It is one of the things that I love abour ‘SC.
Your article is the first that I’ve read to point out that below the initial story, is a story of greater significance and importance. That is that the ‘SC football team really has racial harmony. Something that we all could learn from.

Fight on!

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