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April 29, 2014

BEAM: The playbook of life

— On quite a few young men’s social media pages, a motto appears: Basketball is Life. My son wrote this very sentence as part of his introduction on Instagram. At first glance, I scowled. The saying seems simplistic, naïve almost. Basketball is a hobby, an activity to pass the time or, if you’re lucky, to obtain a college scholarship. Life is made up of experiences, of beauty, of relationships, of love. One shouldn’t equal the other, especially in the mind of a fifth grader.

Late last week, the men who play for the Los Angeles Clippers proved me wrong. Basketball, it turns out, can be microcosm of life, even the hateful, disgusting aspects of living some choose to disregard.

Our lesson begins with a recording TMZ obtained. The entertainment website claimed the tape was of a man it identified as Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling chastising a former girlfriend for, among other things, being seen and photographed with an African-American man. Fingers had been pointed at Sterling before for other racial rhetoric and allegations of discrimination by both an assistant coach and the U.S. Department of Justice. If genuine, the recording provides corroboration to those accusations.

As should be expected, the recording sent a shockwave through the NBA. Players and advocates spoke up and condemned the recording. Even Sterling’s own team got in on the action. In a silent stand against the claims of racism, Clippers’ players wore red T-shirts reversed inside out during their warm up for an NBA playoff game. In a city known for its diversity, the team came together briefly as one. The casual observer wouldn’t have deciphered the protest. But for that moment, the men stood removed from and in defiance of an owner that holds their contracts, and, to a degree, their future.

If the recording TMZ obtained of Sterling’s prejudiced rant proves authentic, a truth has once again been brought to light. Not only can basketball be life, but Racism is Life. Day in and day out, some in our society try to ignore this. Proof is offered almost like a church tithing to remedy a sin. Our president is African-American, they proclaim with an air of disdainful delight, as if electing Barack Obama washed away the long laden prejudices of our nation. We have overcome, they say. We have prevailed.

Stories like the one above prove otherwise.

Dayna Overton doesn’t need any more examples. As an African-American, he too has experienced racism up close and personal. After graduating from Jeffersonville High School in 1993, the gifted athlete played football for the University of Michigan and San Diego State. Later, he’d get drafted in the Arena Football League.

For Dayna, bigotry in a league known for breaking color barriers is nothing out of the ordinary. Through high school and even still today, comments, many of which were negative from both white and black observers, had been made about him for dating women of a different race. A couple of white men, he said, chastised white women for “lowering their standards,” while some African-American women argued that dating other races was wrong and disrespectful since they hadn’t experienced their struggle for equality.

Taught by his mother to love everyone equally, Dayna shrugged off the condemnation.

“Really, Sterling just got caught saying something that is pretty common. Since I date white women, this has been often said,” Dayna said. “I’m not saying all white men are racist, but we need more topics in grade school to break through these social barriers. We need to educate all children with the education of all races to help better understand differences.”

If anything, that’s a positive that has come out of this sad debacle. My kid loves Chris Paul, and follows the Clippers obsessively. Sterling’s alleged comments allowed us to discuss what is wrong with that type of thinking, and that racism does still exist even today.

At the same time, my son also witnessed how America responded to the incident. Prejudice in any form will not be tolerated. In those reactions, hopefully my baller will learn the best ways to stand up to prejudice, and find a way to promote equality and understanding for everyone.

After all, basketball, for a fifth grader, is life.  

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

 

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