Sports And Racism In Small Town U.S.A.

By Fred Mason
Updated: April 3, 2007

NOTE: Back in October of last year, Fred Mason penned an article for BASN entitled “Does Racism Still Exist?”. He spoke of an incident that he encountered while covering a high school game in North Carolina. In today’s piece, Mr. Mason talks about the reaction to the previous article and what he’s experienced since then.

Racism Stop ItNORTH CAROLINA — I wrote a post many months ago about a situation that happened in my town in North Carolina during the high school football season, to which I actually got a lot of emails.

Many of them were very constructive and supportive, some were, for lack of a better word, ignorant. But since August of 2006 to now, about April of 2007, I have learned a lot about sports, my town, and me as a black man.

I wish to maybe impart some of that with you, especially those who are in the media business, maybe some of you have gone through some of what I have, and to those who have not, to maybe be prepared.

I guess first things first, anyone who feels that they need to make a cheap comment about “that’s the way it is” or “you have to deal with it”, then you need to stop reading right now.

I don’t need small minds who can’t help see solutions, and I got a bit of those when I wrote my first post here about racism during a high school football game in Wilson, N.C.

The point of my writing here is to share what I have experienced, and to also look for answers, as well as inform other guys and women like me who may also be in other small towns across the USA and are finding how difficult it is for a black person to be represented in the towns they live in. Difficult…but not hopeless.

We successfully carried 16 high school football games and two high school basketball games for a local radio station here in town, but it came at some eye opening experiences.

As the Executive Producer of sports, I am responsible for nearly everything it takes to get a radio broadcast on the air. And in small radio, I mean EVERYTHING.

When we signed to do these sports, I was really excited about being able to bring local sports back to our town, but one thing I found immediately was that in years past, there was literally no black businesses being represented in the commercials.

Why were we not playing any black businesses when about 75% of the boys on the football field were black, and about 80% of the boys on the basketball court were black?

This bothered me, because it wasn’t like Wilson was all white…there were some of us that owned businesses here. So one of the first things I had to do was to go out and look for small businesses, and literally beg them to let me cut a spot (commercial) for them, and if they could not afford to pay, I will run it free for one game.

I made it a point that if I am going to be doing these games, then we have GOT to get some representation of our community, even if it cost me. We carried one black owned family restaurant the entire season, making it a promise that it would be played at least once a game.

As the only black person involved in this process, I felt it my responsibility to make sure that whatever we do in these games, there must be at least one black business somewhere in our commercials.

I don’t ever expect a white person to fully understand what I am saying, but at the same time I cannot convict any who does not comprehend what I mean as well. Our lead announcer is white, and all his sponsors were white, so I cannot be too upset, we needed sponsors whether they were black, white or blue.

But I also learned something that deeply disturbed me too. Nothing new in sports, it’s just that when it hits home it is more disturbing. A lot of white players on the team didn’t get there because they were good…it was because daddy wined and dined the head coach at a fancy steak joint, and he magically got the starter’s position on the team.

You might think I am kidding….but unfortunately that is too true.

Inside my tenure doing these ball games, I got to talk to black parents and it felt good hearing from them how good it was to see “one of us” in such a position.

But I also heard from their own lips the many terrible stories of how good black students on teams were replaced for sub par people because “mommy and daddy” were prominent in the town. Like one father told me, it ruins that kid’s chance to go to college if that is his only option.

Think about that. A good black athlete might only have ONE shot at college, through sports (and don’t get on your high horse about grades…not everyone is a genius).

That kid might be a great basketball player, but if some rich dentist wants his kid on that same spot, thy will be done. This happens all over our country folks, not just here in N.C.

I hear these stories and I get sick with rage. Our kids are clearly being denied a chance to go to college because some rich daddy wants his kid in the same spot to get a scholarship to a college that the parent could probably pay for himself anyway….long live equality.

Throughout the course of our football season, I saw more and more, in small pieces, of what the underbelly of high school sports was about.

Blacks in my town had very little say, because even though the U.S. census says there are just as many of us (blacks) as them (whites), we had almost no voice in high school sports.

The incident that happened at one of the high schools where a white cheerleader skipped over me and my assistant (both black) and served everybody else in the press box was the post I wrote about before, and got a ton of responses, from both ends.

I wonder how many of you that disagreed really know what racism is, and what you REALLY would have done. But I learned even more from one of our last football games, the post season game in Bertie County.

It was ironic that this game was actually a rematch of our first game of the season, and our lead announcer had made some comments about how this school was “one of the worst teams to give him info about the teams”.

He really let this school have it, and when we were going to visit them, he told me to see if I could get a roster for the team. No problem. Then we got to Bertie…I had no idea that it was a BLACK high school. Hot damn!

The environment felt like I was at Shaw or Central, or Fayetteville State U. The band was throwing down, the fans were getting really excited, I almost felt like I was home.

My lead announcer complained about almost everything, including why there was another radio station covering the game.

We got up in the press box and all I saw were black men…my peers, and I felt great being around them. I think our two white announcers might have felt out of place, to be surrounded by so many of …

Our rival radio station was there calling the game, but the black guy working there was a HUGE help to me, shouting down to me scores of other playoff games.

It was like we knew we had to look out for each other. I made very sure to let him know how much I appreciated his help with us.

But before our pregame, my lead announcer got upset because his lead music didn’t come on when he wanted to, and refused to go on the air.

I had to make a quick adjustment and bring on a break, and during the break he scolded me with his booming voice, telling me that we need to do better, and we have to do this and that.

I want you to think a second, how would YOU feel being belittled in front of your peers, by a white man….

Not because I was wrong, because I wasn’t. The fault lied in the station, but for me to say that would hurt the feelings of that nice lady back at the studio that was doing her best.

And at that moment of rage, if I said anything to that man, it would not have been nice. Better to swallow my tongue and move on.

And some of you don’t like that. Some of you would have said “you should have set him right, since you are the executive”. True, but if your mind isn’t in the right frame, you will say something you regret…the GAME comes first, that was my job.

And I think every black man in that room might have felt a little sorry for me, not for pity, but that I had to endure this man wrongly making me feel like I was two inches tall. But I got over that, and we did the game.

Now get this, remember the thing about rich daddies getting their sons in the game?

The Bertie game, vs. Hunt High, was down to the last possession. Hunt has the ball, and a guy that is one of the best running backs in the state.

The quarterback WAS a black guy who did pretty well, but today, they moved him to cornerback and put in a white quarterback…who just happens to be the son of a dentist.

Hunt’s got the ball and driving with less than a minute to go, a score and they win. With one of the best running backs in the game (a black guy too), Hunt opts to throw the ball…with a quarterback that had NO receptions the entire game.

One pass. One interception. Game over.

I talked with some parents after the game, and a lot of people were saying that the quarterback should have never been moved, but the coach wanted to please the parent who wanted their son in, maybe to have the glory of the final drive and maybe get some video to send to a college. But by doing that, they lost the game, and maybe more than that.

Maybe they lost some class for not playing the best players, rather than the richest players.

To be honest, I didn’t feel too sorry for them losing, I was glad that Bertie won. I was not ashamed to feel pride for this black high school, even though they did beat our home team. I was cool with that. It was probably one of the best games I had seen all year.

Retribution? Probably not, but like I said, I was cool with it.

There clearly isn’t enough time to share all I have went through, and learned through this season. Even now, we have two sponsors that have not paid us yet for those games, two white owned business that the lead announcer brought in, but has not paid.

We have tried all kinds of things, but apparently we aren’t getting through to them. You know the old joke, “if I was white, they would have paid on time”.

I say all these things to first say that there is still a very ugly and disturbing side of racism in high school sports, and it never really went away, regardless of what others say.

As the executive producer of sports, I have been judged more on my color rather than what I can really do, and it can make you sick.

But let’s not assume that I am just whining…the point here is to share this with you so you can be prepared when it happens. I also say these things because it has not forced me to quit under any circumstances… some of you got the wrong impression from my previous post.

We don’t live in a perfect country, because we still have racism embedded in every community, especially in our local sports. But if there is going to be a change, it has to come from someone who is not afraid of a little challenge.

Why not you?

Maybe in where you live, you might be the only one who can.