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How Basketball Weighed in on Racial Integration

On Friday we watched the film, Glory Road, the 1966 story of how the integrated Texas Western basketball team defeated Adolph Rupp’s all-white Kentucky Wildcats. At a time when schools in the Southeastern Conference refused scholarships to black students, Don Haskins shook up the world by coaching the first team in NCAA history to win a title with five starting black players.

Young Haskins had seen racism first-hand when his teenage friend, Herman Carr, was denied a chance to play college basketball simply because he was black. Recalling the event that forged his understanding of 1940s racial realities, Haskins said, “When I left and went to college at Oklahoma A&M, Herman couldn’t go anywhere. I felt bad. We worked together at the feed store. I drank out of the white water fountain, and he drank out of the other one. It bothered me.” When Haskins arrived at Texas Western in 1961, the school already had some history of recruiting black athletes. Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, a holdover recruit, was on Haskins’ first team. Still, Haskins intensified the issue by intentionally recruiting and starting many more black players than had ever been done.

As a result, the game between staid and traditional Kentucky and upstart Texas Western provided a chance for Haskins to both win and make a statement. He played only black kids on a day when bigots still said publically that people who were not white were inferior. Now, many historians say it was the most important basketball game ever, a key turning point in integration and increased equality in athletics.

If we knew in advance what events were pivotal, which moment would be our most important, we could prepare, get ready to do the right thing. But it does not work that way. Haskins knew the issue was important, certainly, but it was only retrospect which revealed that night as the turning point in the fight for respect for black athletes.

None of us know what turning points this next year will reveal. So how do we prepare so that we respond well when the situation presents itself?

From a sermon by Glenn Durham, Remembering God This Year, 6/7/2010

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