Race, Religion Jump To Front Of Sports Page

By Courtesy Of The Pueblo Chieftain By Joe F. Cervi
Updated: November 22, 2005

COLORADO—In the world of sport, where talking trash and making fun of mothers is commonplace, there are two taboo topics – race and religion.

Both made the cover of this sports section this week and no one made reference to either. At least out loud.

Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry brought up race – and it nearly cost him his job. He tried, in vain, to show differences between black and white athletes. His comments stirred the one pot that gets stirred every year or so. And then the topic slowly disappears until someone else in power makes another ignorant statement in public.

Pat Eberhart is the new men’s basketball coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He is the first African-American head coach in the school’s history, yet he doesn’t view himself as a pioneering black head coach.

“I don’t even think about it, really,” Eberhart said. “I am here to coach, and I think I would be the same coach, and the same person, regardless of the color of my skin.”

Of course, the minority is the majority in Eberhart’s game. No one ever counts the number of black athletes on a basketball court. In fact, it’s more rare to find gifted white basketball players at the college and professional level.

Even so, Eberhart broke new ground this week at CSU-Pueblo, whether he was trying to or not.

Pueblo West senior Christie Zinanti is, without question, the toughest athlete in Pueblo. She pitched two games in the district playoffs, and four more in the state tournament, with a broken arm. Of course, she won all six games helping the Cyclones to successfully defended their Class 4A state championship.

Zinanti, agonizing over her future for months, decided as late as last Saturday night, that she would accept a scholarship offer from Brigham Young University.

The school, owned and operated by the Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons, is church-heavy. And not just any church, but the LDS church – one of the more restrictive, or more strict, religions around.

The Zinantis are not Mormon. And they are fully aware that there is a certain stereotype that accompanies the BYU Cougars insignia.

Consider Christie’s options: She had offers at UNLV, the original Sin City; Texas Tech, where Lubbock is one of the premier party towns in Texas; or CSU in Fort Collins, otherwise known as Fort Fun.

Or she can attend the cleanest campus in the country, where the darker aspects associated with college life – sex, drugs, alcohol and debauchery in general – are frowned upon.

Snoop Dogg and the “Girls Gone Wild” crew couldn’t find Provo on the map if they tried.

Rather than be tempted to cruise the Strip in Vegas or cowboy up in Lubbock, Zinanti will train at altitude in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains. She will play under some of the best coaches in the country and at facilities second to none. Oh, yeah, she also will receive a top-notch education.

“What better environment would you want your kid in?” Christie’s father, Bob, asked earlier this week. “Debbie and I were surprised, but we couldn’t be more excited. BYU is a great place, and she will have every opportunity to succeed.”

Bob did admit, however, that his daughter will have to be strong when it comes to the inevitable labeling.

“There is so much ignorance about BYU,” Bob said. “I told Christie she’s going to have to learn to deal with stuff like that. But this was 100 percent her decision, and if you know her, I’m sure she’ll be able to handle that stuff.”

Race, religion and sports. And athletes, coaches and parents who know how to deal with them. Now, that’s historic.