The Louder, the Better

By Bob Schaller
Updated: March 7, 2005
Martiza Correia

The louder the better.

Whispers or even continued silence won’t help African-Americans make a bigger splash in the world of swimming. In fact, two of America’s top black female swimmers say the push needs to resemble more of a crusade.

“We can start by having an honest dialogue with one another,’’ said Alison Terry, an Olympic Trials swimmer and former World Championships competitor. “That’s one of the hardest things for people, because they don’t want to have that honest dialogue. They don’t want to look at that. You have to look at where we’ve come from. A lot of people don’t understand that.”

Both Martiza Correia and Terry are hoping the media seizes upon this story – the emergence of black men and women swimmers in a sport long dominated by white athletes – and run with it.

“The media is there to expose everything in this world,’’ Correia said. “Black history is something very important, and the media needs to pick up on that. The media can do so much more for African-Americans in our sport, giving exposure to athletes trying to make it, as well as the pioneers who gave us this route.’’

Correia had no problem talking about what it meant in 2004 to be the first black woman on the U.S. Olympic swimming team. She said that’s “just another step” toward getting people to open their minds and not just get used to, but expect seeing, black swimmers, be it at the local club team or on the Olympic team.

“I think it’s just a project that is going to take time,’’ Correia said. “You’re going to need those people who will step up and take the spotlight.”

Terry credits Correia with not backing away from the glare of the spotlight when she broke the color barrier.

“I don’t think black swimmers have an obligation to speak out – that’s their choice – but I think it is very valuable when they do,’’ Terry said. “The ones who reach that level usually understand the responsibility they have and the good they can do. To be honest, I didn’t hear or read a lot about Maritza being the first (black) woman to make the team. I thought (the media) could have done a lot more than that. What we need to realize is that a lot of the first black men or women to do something and break a barrier often struggled their whole life, and fought and even died for us to be doing what we are doing today.’’

Advancements of African-Americans in other sports has Correia believing that her breakthrough in swimming is just the tip of the iceberg and that more successes – and more involvement – will follow suit.

“We also need black athletes to be more aggressive and open to other sports, not just the NBA and NFL,’’ Correia said. “Look at what Venus and Serena Williams did going into tennis, and how important Arthur Ashe was for us in that sport. Or look at Tiger Woods in golf. It can be done. It’s just going to continue to take people to stand up.’’