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Original Issue


Having been the student body president of the University of Texas at El Paso (1967-68), I can truthfully say that the facts in Part 3 of The Black Athlete—A Shameful Story accurately reflect the situation on the campus. I am ashamed that my fellow students and I did not do something about what we knew to be true. But, because even the smallest effort was effectively beaten back by the administration, the athletic department and the town, the few concerned and aware students eventually became very cynical and resigned to the fact of our powerlessness. I apologize to the black brothers across the country for not having had the courage-beyond being called a "nigger lover"—to do what must be done. Maybe the students still at UTEP and everywhere else will now have the necessary courage to do their part in radically changing a biased, prejudiced and corrupt intercollegiate athletic system, not only for the black athlete but for everyone who is exploited by an athletic department.
El Paso

Since I am a member of the faculty at UT at El Paso, this must come as a surprise, for the general feeling here is "Why pick on us?". However, I feel impelled to thank you for doing from the outside what cannot be effectively changed from the inside.

Since almost every "imported" black athlete has taken his basic speech course with me, I can testify to his feeling of loneliness "in an alien world." I have listened to them speak, but I must confess that even I did not really understand the depths of their un-happiness until I read your article.

Much as I enjoy being a spectator at all sports, I cannot help but feel that there is a great deal wrong with a system that exploits athletes—both black and white. I hope that SI will continue to point out the weaknesses of our system, and the injustices suffered by those who participate.

Thank you for helping us to see ourselves as we are—not as we say we are.
El Paso

Jack Olsen has presented a very interesting series. But he becomes so carried away with building a case against the UTEP officials that he resorts to overexaggeration and, in so doing, presents one paradox after another.

On one hand he seems to be criticizing everything about UTEP except its sensational colored athletes. On the other hand it was pointed out that UTEP "was the first institution in Texas that had a colored athlete," and that this near-miracle was accomplished without catastrophic consequences and by coaches who are "mostly Southern types" and by an athletic director who confesses, "I was born in the South."

The colored athletes "were suckered into coming here" is the theme of much of this installment, but Olsen winds up by saying the nine colored track stars who had their scholarships removed plan to return to UTEP next fall with or without scholarships. This would be mighty strange action by a group which, according to Olsen, "almost unanimously" regards UTEP as a ghetto.

In another example of Olsen's overstatements, he says emphatically, "If the Negro refuses to confine his dating to the handful of black women in El Paso, he might find himself on the next train out of town." The paradox here is that Olsen goes on to cite case after case where colored athletes have dated white girls in El Paso without being put on the next train. I also doubt that Olsen convinced many readers that "only a handful" of the 10,000 or so colored people in metropolitan El Paso are women.

I believe, as do many people here in the South, that UTEP officials have seriously tried to advance that day when Southwestern society fully accepts colored athletes. Maybe their mistake (if they made one) was in pushing too hard too fast for that day. In spite of what Olsen and some of the colored athletes say about the UTEP officials, I admire them for having this dream, and for trying the best that they knew how—right or wrong—to attain that dream.
Huntsville, Ala.

Scattered throughout your articles are two contradictory sets of circumstances. In one instance the athletes complain that they are spending too much time fulfilling their athletic-scholarship requirements to adequately carry out their classroom work. On the other hand, the story contains references to card playing, hours spent at the back tables of various student hangouts and attempts at interracial dating. It seems to me, as I review my collegiate activities, that time spent in preparation of classroom assignments left very little time for boredom.
Glendale, W. Va.

I do not wish to assume a defensive posture, nor do I wish to be critical of the first two articles in The Black Athlete series. In my experience over two decades of coaching track at North Carolina College I have learned the truth about the plight of the athlete—black and white—in the predominantly white university.

My major objection is the sweeping generalizations made about black athletes and their coaches. Although the examples cited may be many, the number involved represents a very small percentage of the black athletes participating in sports. By far, the vast majority of black athletes have attended "predominantly Negro" institutions and have been taught and continue to be taught by concerned, well-prepared coaches. These coaches are full-time faculty members, many of whom hold doctorate degrees from many of the nation's best universities.

Hundreds of black athletes at the predominantly Negro institutions have been guided through four years of participation and graduation. These fine men, and, I might add, many black graduates from white universities, have been and now are engaged in a wide variety of careers—college presidents, physicians, bankers, lawyers, teachers, scientists, etc.—and are making outstanding contributions to their communities and to society. It is a disservice to the significant segment of black athletes who do have a normal college and university experience to place them in a general bag with all black athletes—dropouts, athletic bums and similar nonacademic types.

Maybe your title should have been: The Shameful Story of the Black Athlete at Some Predominantly White Colleges/Universities.
Durham, N.C.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is in error in reporting that Mickey Cureton made a recruiting trip to the University of Oregon. Cureton was not recruited by Oregon and, to our knowledge, has never been in the state.
Director of Athletics
Eugene, Ore.

•A garbled transmission moved Mickey Cureton 1,500 miles. He did visit the "U of O"—but it was the University of Oklahoma, not Oregon.—ED.

As a former Big Ten football player, and a Negro, I am gratified to find that SI has seen the injustice which is prevalent in collegiate athletics.

I quit the football team at the University of Michigan after my sophomore year because of what I felt were discriminatory practices by the coaching staff. In the first two weekly scrimmages of spring practice I graded 100% on my performance ratings. On reporting to practice at the beginning of the third week, however, I found that I had been dropped from second string to fourth string at my position, defensive cornerback. Ahead of me were a fourth-string quarterback who had been tried out briefly during the scrimmages and another cornerback, both white players. I had higher grades than both during the scrimmages, but it was I who was demoted.

I had seen the signs of this discrimination long before my demotion. When it came I merely quit the team without complaining. I felt then as I feel now; if they didn't want me to play, I didn't want to play for them.

However, I am fortunate in that I could just walk out when I wanted to do so. Most of the Negro players on the team are on scholarship and depend upon the scholarships to stay in school, as you have already reported. I was not on scholarship, and I am not dependent upon anyone for monetary aid. Therefore, I could not be controlled socially and academically, as many of my friends are.

If fans will only continue to read and believe what these articles in SI are saying, the spotlight will be on those who control the futures of so many. Then, maybe, it will be more difficult to be unjust.
Michigan '69

Everything you say is true. Too many colleges have been giving their Negro athletes a "full boat" to oblivion. Too many Negro athletes come to college only to find that if they are to be a part of that college they must give up their race identity.

At the University of Oklahoma last year, 27 Negro athletes presented a list of grievances that flabbergasted the alumni and students. As one professor remarked, "I never thought we had any problem here." And this is a natural attitude, for Negro athletes at large universities are seen only on the court and gridiron and then fade back into the dorms.
Norman, Okla.

God bless you, Jack Olsen, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. I only wonder how many people will believe you.

I happen to know what you write is a fact, because you hit close to home. I am married to one of the "all-black starters of the Texas at El Paso team who defeated the all-white team of the University of Kentucky for the NCAA basketball championship." You are right, the victory was a shallow one.

As you stated, my husband has not graduated, but I am happy to tell you that his story will not have as sad and hopeless an ending as did those of a couple of his ex-teammates. Although he is now struggling to establish himself and a home for us, eventually he hopes to pick up where he left off in college. It won't be easy, but he has the intelligence and the determination. The important thing is that next time he will succeed in earning his degree because he will be doing it for himself.
Gary, Ind.

Gunnar Myrdal, the well-known Swedish economist, when asked to comment on the President's riot commission report, had two major criticisms, and I quote one as follows from Forbes, April 1, 1968: "...It concentrates on the Negro problem. If you look on that isolated...problem of the underclass, you're not being sensible. Negroes are only one-fourth or one-third of the poor. All the poor have to be helped, rural as well as urban. The worst enemy of the Negro is the two-thirds of the poor that is not Negro. To concentrate on the Negro will make those people madder than ever. Concentrating on the Negro also offends...the lower middle class. The fact that a third of the poor are Negroes is a technical matter."

This man predicted our present race problems 25 years ago. He is recognized as a student of the American Negro problem, and his thoughts deserve attention.
Delray Beach, Fla.

If it's worth anything to profoundly move a rich white boy, Mr. Olsen certainly did it. I feel kind of presumptuous speaking from a white eastern-college point of view. I just hope there are some black students left we whites haven't completely destroyed spiritually who will accept the support of white students who are sickened by what black people still must live with.

I plan to show Jack Olsen's article to every phony, condescending "good citizen" and every bigot I know. And I know quite a few.
Princeton, N.J.

I am filled with a sense of anger and pity. Anger at those of us who place more value on a championship team than the concepts of individual compassion—pity for the plight of the Negro athlete you describe. What price glory?

You have presented a clear understanding of the reasons for the recent revolt of the Negro athlete. He now has my full support. We as a nation, or the alumni of a university, cannot take pride in the accomplishments of athletes treated in the manner you describe.
Norristown, Pa.

These articles bring out the fact that you cannot say what medicine, or sports or pink polka-dotted dresses have done for the vermilion people, because, when you are dealing with human beings and a thing which a human being has created, the only kind of relationship that is possible is symbiosis.

The reason for this is very simple. Man has created something for the use or enjoyment by or for man. It doesn't matter what your bone structure is, or your skin color might be, you are a human being. Therefore it is only fair to say that every man who contributes to a sport must derive something from it. Whites and blacks and many other races have done this, not just the blacks.
Eastchester, N.Y.