Friday, January 13, 2006

Glory Road, plus 40

Dan Wetzel, co-author of Don Haskins' memoir Glory Road, writes about what the opening of the Disney movie meant to the men who made history as the first NCAA men's basketball team to start only black players. The most notable point in Wetzel's column: the racism the players faced during their run to the NCAA title was minor compared with what they dealt with AFTER winning, especially from the establishment:

Sports Illustrated, ever the limousine liberal of sports magazines, proudly boasts that it never even mentioned race in its championship story, like it was some evolved, color-blind medium. It conveniently forgets that the week before it built an entire preview of the Final Four around race.

And SI must want to forget that in 1968 it published one of the most scurrilous stories imaginable, an "exposé" of the Texas Western program which concluded that the players weren't real students, that El Paso was a viciously racist city and that rather than being a hero to blacks for giving them a rare chance at an education, Haskins and the school "thoroughly and actively exploited black athletes." It went on and on.

The players actually received educations, and were (and are) respectable men:

Harry Flournoy [ ] is a sales representative in Southern California and the father of eight. He is just one of a team full of success stories of the so-called exploited black players.

[David] Lattin played in the NBA before becoming a public relations man and the owner of several businesses. [Willie] Worsley became a coach in Spring Valley, N.Y., and works with the Boys Choir of Harlem. Orsten Artis is a retired detective in his hometown of Gary. Willie Cager became a coach and runs charitable foundations.

Bobby Joe Hill worked as an oil executive in Texas before passing away in 2002, never making it to see his overdue day in the sun, although his college sweetheart and wife, Tina, heart-wrenchingly brought a framed picture of him to the movie premiere and hugged it throughout.

"I am just so proud of what kind of men they all became," Haskins said. "Great men. Great fathers."

As for Coach Haskins, the players have not forgotten him either:

"The best thing to ever happen to me," [Neville] Shed said. "He is a great, great man."

"I owe it all to Coach Haskins," Worsley said.

Read it all.

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