“Through a Glass Darkly” : Sport makes teams, not segregation

For years I’ve marveled at how sports can deflate racism. The movie “42” reminded me of that power.

Racism is based on ignorance. It’s a self-perpetuating malady, because racists separate themselves from the group for which they have contempt.

Racism isn’t often changed directly by laws, speeches or philosophic discussions. But activism, compassionate religious teaching and civil rights laws helped set up the mechanisms for progress.

What undoes the ignorance of racism is the education that comes with getting to know people of other races.

Having grown up in a segregated school system, a segregated church and a segregated community, I saw how little opportunity there once was for mingling with people of another race.

Black people and white people were separated in social, religious and athletic activities.

An attempt to integrate the public swimming pool in my parish resulted in the local powers shutting it down.

My high school wasn’t integrated until I was a junior. When it was, school officials immediately did away with extracurricular activities such as school dances. They even separated classes by gender in an ill-disguised attempt to keep black boys away from white girls.

It wasn’t until college that I really got to know any black people. I quickly found individuals who were much like me with the exception of skin color and a few cultural differences.

I realized how many wonderful people I had been missing in my life. Many of them were learning the same thing.

Later, in the military, I witnessed bonds form quickly as people of different colors worked together for the same purposes. What mattered wasn’t skin color, but ability and personality.

I saw the same thing in sports teams on which I played. Prejudices seemed to erode when people worked as a team.

Over the years, jeers turned to cheers among sports fans as their allegiances to teams helped overcome racism in which they had been steeped.

During a decade of coaching youth baseball, I put together integrated teams and saw it foster changes in attitude among players and their families.

Watching the movie “42” last weekend was an absorbing look at the roots of social change in pro baseball.

Some of the players on the 1947 Dodgers reminded me of people I’ve known. Deftly, the movie shows gradual changes in the characters, except for a couple whose hearts remained hardened.

The tenaciousness of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey in creating change is worth remembering, as it was in the movie and on baseball fields during Jackie Robinson Day this week

And like hearing sports fans cheer for players irregardless of color, it was heartening to hear members of the movie audience — both black and white — applaud as the credits began to roll.

Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to banderson@theadvocate.com.