The Chad-Shani tempest at Turin is instructive as an update on racial etiquette in Olympic sports. Speed skater Chad Hedrick haughtily criticized his erstwhile opponent for forgoing U.S. team pursuit to concentrate on making his-tory as an individual in the 1,000-meter race. By winning the gold medal, Shani Davis became the Jackie Robinson of speed skating and, along the way, rebuked the conceited Hedrick as a white spoilsport with a personal sense of entitlement. Indeed, the Davis triumph is a continuation of the lesson Black athletes have been teaching since Robinson took one for the team by stoically enduring terror from Dodgers fans and opponents to prove that he could indeed play major league baseball, the “white man’s game.”
In the ’06 Winter Olympics it was revealed for all to see that Blacks can’t play, well, curling. It may well be an aversion to the broom. Did you see a single Black curling? Case closed.
That Olympic curling is lily-white has nothing whatever to do with racism. This exclusivity, however, makes it a sure-fire bet to be the next hot club-sport craze. This pure Anglo-Saxon game is played on ice and Blacks just happen not to be “ice people,” as Professor Leonard Jeffries maintains. Eons under the tropical sun not only curled their hair but thinned their blood. They simply cannot tolerate the freezing temperatures on the ice arena floor. Brrrrrr!
Besides, as discovered in the pioneering work of that great geneticist
Al Campanis, African-Americans just don’t have the necessities for ice games. This Campanis theorem, as subscribed to by talk-show sports fans, holds for hockey as well as ice skating. “Sun people” can’t stand the cold so they stay out of the ice arena. Besides, their calves are too small. To say nothing of their ankles. Ever see Black guys’ ankles? No way these joints can withstand the centrifugal force of cornering on the ice oval.
Naaah, ice skatin’s definitely a white man’s game.
Back in the ’40s, everybody knew this about baseball, same as at the turn of the millennium with ice skating. Skaters like Chad Hedrick were born to their entitlements. The “sun people” played basketball contentedly on their side of town. Blacks had more speed, less pain, more brawn, less brain. This impure approach was kept on the playground and off college campuses until deep into the ’60s. First, there was a trickle of Blacks into college hoops. Then greedy, ambitious coaches broke the covenant and placed winning above white entitlement. In ’66, a traitor out of Texas Western College took an all-Black team to the NCAA championship—and won. Basketball fell to the Black hordes.
All was not lost. White boys still had golf, tennis, rugby, ice hockey, tiddledywinks and the Winter Olympics. That was before Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, sort of, and most definitely Cherie Davis. This Chicago mother hooked her 6-year-old son on speed skating by feeding him quarters at the city rinks. Jeered by hoop-playing “sun people,” Shani Davis stuck with ice skating. When the talent of the wunderkind proved irresistibly world-class, the speed-skating federation stepped in to put down this Black mother-son rebellion. Cherie was a handful. She accused the lily-white federation of running the sport “just like Augusta National Golf Club.” Her son’s sponsorships dried up. Skating was not to go the way of basketball. The pressure drove Davis to live in Calgary to skate in peace.
Since winning the 1,000-meter and edging Hedrick in the 1,500, Davis has been celebrated as a pioneer as well as demonized by Hedrick supporters, some media and nasty fans. Welcome to territory familiar to Jackie Robinson, who had pitchers throw at his head, base-runners slide murderously on him, all while his teammates stood idly by.
Chad Hedrick knows nothing of the terrible price Davis had to pay to lace up his skates at the Winter Olympics. This selfish oaf is insulated from concerns other than his narrow sense of racial entitlement, blind as he is to the real lessons of black American history. That great sucking sound is the yelping about speed skating as the latest lily-white sport to be breached by a Black athlete. Relax, Chad, there’s always curling.
Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is an investigative reporter, columnist and associate managing editor for Newsday.
By Les Payne