In this debate and crisis, sports belong on sidelines


Behind the smoke of the fire this time, we see the outline of two nations under God, divisible.

How much liberty and justice?

It depends on your nation.

White America sees undeserving blacks taking the only available jobs. Sees blacks insisting on equality but actually seeking favor. Frowns as blacks forsake Martin Luther King's colorblind society and become, nearly unanimously, color-obsessed.

Black America sees white policemen rage, unsupervised. Thinks white conspirators plant the drugs just as they decry the drugged-out "ghetto." Feels whites showing their contempt in ways too ingrained for whites to even realize.

You might wonder where Sports America falls, among all this.

It fell though the cracks Thursday night.

The Los Angeles Clippers didn't play the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't play the Philadelphia Phillies.

The expanding riot that followed the Excessive Force trial (wrongly called the Rodney King trial in the white-dominated media, even though King was technically not on trial) did what the Loma Prieta earthquake, back in October 1989, could not. It also proved more powerful than the beginning of Desert Storm. It stopped sports for the only valid reason sports should be stopped -- for the safety of the players and the customers.

Perhaps you think Our Heroes in Sports America can extinguish the fire this time. Maybe your starstruck eyes still see their relevance.

Hah. You need a gate clicker to open their eyes. How can you expect a major-leaguer to spread wisdom, around the charred tTC edges of the Harbor Freeway, when he puts a price on his autograph?

Sure, there are exceptions. Dave Stewart. Magic Johnson. Byron Scott. But they aren't role models, nor should they be. The role model is named Dad. Lots of Dads have left lots of homes, starved into shame by the murderous corporate downsizing and the death of the American factory. When Dad is gone, the hero becomes the nearest guy with the money and the beeper.

Caution: This is not to say that the athlete is worthless. Many athletes have miraculously lifted themselves out of the districts that burn today. They are among the most determined and dedicated people in America. They are great entertainers and examples, to be treasured. They are not overpaid.

They are just remote, that's all. They barely exist as people. They are Rotisserie names and trading card pictures. They are the same as Dr. Cliff Huxtable and, for that matter, Batman. Until they show up live and in person, by themselves and with hurt in their eyes, they don't mean anything.

Sports is a place where blacks and whites, nominally at least, do business together. There are black managers, black coaches, black owners, black broadcasters, black referees (without affirmative action). And black and white players, dressing and playing together.

But they are not singing "Ebony and Ivory." Not for the most part. Most team buses and airplanes are as segregated as a Mississippi schoolhouse in the '40s. By mutual choice.

This is probably natural and harmless. Not so harmless are the stereotypes, parroted by athletes, managers and media:

Blacks can't play quarterback -- Jeff Blake, East Carolina's Peach Bowl hero, was picked 166th by the NFL. White guys aren't athletic. Black guys use drugs. And white men can't jump.

Look into the fire this time, and you realize what a silly amusement park sports has become. Real big issues. Charles Barkley whines that the Philadelphia 76ers won't hire 12 blacks, instead of 11. Don Baylor says Milwaukee was racist in hiring new manager Phil Garner, instead of Don Baylor. Al Campanis and Jimmy The Greek babble on like slaveholders.

Even John Singleton, the director of story "Boyz N The Hood," tried to link the Simi Valley verdict to the Mike Tyson rape conviction. "They did it to Latasha Harlans, to Tyson," Singleton said. Wait a minute. A jury, without the benefit of videotape but with several pounds of good old-fashioned evidence, found that Tyson did it to Desiree Washington.

Can we get real?

Shouldn't the same sensitive Clippers who boycotted practice on Martin Luther King's birthday (to hasten the dismissal of coach Mike Schuler) cease all NBA playoff activities until the last fire is doused?

When are athletes going to know racism when they see it -- namely, in college? Where a disproportionate number of black football and basketball players do the dance, sell the tickets and never get paid? Where the NCAA rules them ineligible if they don't make an ever-increasing score on a Scholastic Aptitude Test written for suburbanites?

In a few days the curfew will work, and the guardsmen will rule, and they'll play their games again.

And Sports America will return, in one piece.

Amid two nations.

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