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Bird Brown: No place for racism in the sports world

My family has always been around the sports world since the first day I can remember being on this earth.

My grandfather and other relatives worked taking tickets and watching the gate at the Old Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators and Washington Redskins among other teams and events. Watching the Redskins and University of Maryland basketball (if you could find them in the 3-4 channels we had back then) was, in many ways, our weekly church service.


My mother earned 12 varsity letters during her three-year high school career. When home from his stints abroad for his role in our army, my father occupied much of his spare time playing basketball and softball and coaching each of us in whatever sport we were interested or participating in at the time. My brothers, sister, and I were all fairly athletic and spent much of our youth either participating in organized sports or playing sports with our neighborhood friends.

I remember the first time that I saw sports as something other than a source of recreation and competition. During the 1968 Summer Olympics, U.S. Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists during the national anthem in order to bring awareness to human rights issues.


It was long considered the most overtly political statements in the history of the Olympic games.

I remember how upset my parents and many other adults of the time were at the sight and me not really grasping what was going on.

Not long thereafter while we were watching the 1972 games in Munich did the idea of sports and politics really take on a serious note. While watching coverage of the games, the TV cut over to Jim McKay, who walked us through the days long situation that turned in a massacre where members of the Black September Organization kidnapped and murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and a West German police officer.

Politics has continued to play a part in sports well into my adulthood, most recently the Colin Kaepernick protests that literally brought the NFL to its knees.

I have mixed feelings on using protests in sports to bring attention to your cause. On one hand, it drives me crazy that we use something that provides entertainment and recreation to so many and spoils that enjoyment. On the other, especially at the professional level with the amount of viewership that all of the major sports enjoy, it’s hard to find a better way to bring attention to the injustices that we face in this world.

One of the things that we have no room for in the sports world is racism. I really thought that at least in sports we had moved away from the senseless comments and gestures toward people who are not like us, but I guess that I have been proven wrong again. Although there are situations that rear their ugly heads in sports here in the U.S., like the most recent fight between Steelers and Browns players that one player said began as a result of a racial epithet but international soccer seems to be where all of the hate has landed.

Recently, in a European championship qualifying game in Bulgaria, English players were subjected to incessant racial abuse to the point where the game had to be stopped twice to warn the fans that the game would be canceled.

Even the Bulgarian team captain pleaded with his own fans to stop the behavior.


In Italy, Inter Milan’s Lukaku and Fiorentina’s Dalbert, and Kessie of Verona all have been subjected to on-field bullying. Social media has given bullying wings, with most recent recipients including Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham. Brazilian national team player Dani Alves actually had a banana thrown at him by a Villareal fan.

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He responded by picking up and eating the banana.

I’ve played sports my entire life until my life (and replacement parts) got in the way. Although there have been a few situations that I feel could have elevated to this level of abuse had my teammates decided to take exception to it, rarely, if ever did that come from within. Mostly, this type of behavior comes from the fans on the outskirts, ones that use their “involvement” in the game to spread their messages of hate, not the athletes who grind and battle day in and day out with each other.

The athletes for the most part have each other’s backs.

A large majority of the population — both in sports and in society — are appalled at racist behavior but we keep giving attention to those that spew hate. How do we get rid of this type of behavior in sports? A lot of this comes from the ills we face in society that we see plastered across the news outlets, both in print and electronically, on a regular basis.

Do we protest? Boycott? Show through our actions and deeds that we support tolerance and revile racist behavior?


Last Thursday at the Ravens game, as it is every week, there were people of all walks of life, color, creed, religion, and socio-economic status that could care less what the players on the field or the fan in the seat next to them, looked like other than who they were rooting for. They all shouted in unison the fans’ credo of, “Have fun, root hard, show respect for the fans around you, but ... Don’t Be a Jerk.”

Because in Baltimore, they’re all purple.