Amount of Racism Still in Basketball Senseless

By Courtesy of the Gateway By Chris O'Leary
Updated: September 15, 2006
CANADA—There are certain places that you never expect to find certain things. In life, you sometimes come across pairings that befuddle you—groupings that go against every fibre of rationality and common sense that you just assume the rest of the world has. Yet, there they are, rubbed in your face like the girl you crushed on all through high school who inexplicably dated a goon from the Bantam AA hockey team that sat next to you in Social 10 and spit tobacco on the floor. That happened to a friend of mine once.

The pairing I’m talking about, though, is one that’s much more serious, far less likely and for some reason, prevalent nonetheless. The unlikely duo: basketball and racism.

This of course, stems from a story out of Ryerson’s the Eyeopener, where five players quit the women’s basketball team, fed up with head coach Sandra Pothier, who allegedly made countless culturally-insensitive remarks to her players.

I might be quoting the old/naïve school in saying this, but in my years of playing and being around the game of basketball, I thought the game was supposed to transcend race. We live in a world that’s consumed with racial issues, but to me basketball has always been something where the colour of your skin takes a back seat to your abilities once you get on the court.

I learned early on, however, that there was plenty of space left on the car with this train of thought.

I’ve heard high school coaches talk about using black players as an intimidation tactic; I’ve seen this tactic work on opposing teams; I’ve seen refs in every level of ball get whistle-happy when a black player checks into the game. Sadly, those aren’t the only stories I can reel off for you.

Over the summer, I was watching the championship game of the NBA 3on3 tournament, formerly known as Hoop It Up. The team that won featured former Bears Robbie Valpreda, Cody Darrah and two Calgary Dinos in Ross Bekkering and his older brother, dunking phenom Henry, who has become an Internet legend for a now famous video of his dunking ability that’s made its way around the world.

While watching the final, I looked around the court and saw a number of familiar faces: university athletes, people I recognized from pickup games on campus, and a guy I had met last summer, who I had interviewed at the World Masters Games. He was playing against Henry in the final. After Henry handled the comp on the court, this guy came off the court and said to his wife, “What a great white athlete.” So much for athletic ability overshadowing colour. So much for sports bringing people together and teaching us that, at least on this one basic level, we’re not that different. It seems, like more often than not, whether it’s a coach allegedly waxing stereotypical on shortcomings of the black community, or a random guy making comments about what an outstanding white person Henry Bekkering is, the only thing that’s transcending in basketball lately is ignorance.