Sports, Race, and Fatherhood part 2: Surprises, Determination, and the Black Box

Olympic figure skater Surya Bonaly performed her way through many racial and cultural barriers.

 

Being on paternity leave for 7-weeks allows for ample time to bond and grow with your new child; see, smell, and experience a full range of poop; and continually search for a link between sports, race, and the broader spectrum of societal issues. Sports, Race and Fatherhood is a 4-part series which highlights my experience as a first-time father, as I make meaning for myself and my daughter of a number race and gender issues in athletics.

Part 1: Elation, Sleeplessness, and Serena Williams

 

For some reason, people think it’s cute when babies throw up all over the place.

I know this because there are videos flooding the internet celebrating the ability for tiny little humans to profusely regurgitate food and fluid. I can’t seem to find however, the same enjoyment from people when their baby excretes waste out the other end. I am a full 11-weeks into this parenting game and have quickly realized that Cali is full of surprises; her favorite one by far is soiling anything in her path; she strikes very quickly and painfully. Price and newness of the object be d@mned.  

Cali likes to relieve herself just like any warm-blooded human being. She even gets the “oh man this is great” face that so many of us are familiar with once we find that toilet that’s just right. Changing her is a process. Since her onesie has become merely a continuation of her diaper, I am forced to get rid of everything. Once I finish burning her clothes, I focus on the diaper. At this point, I’m thinking there cannot be that much more left in her, and what’s not contained in the diaper has been soaked up by the now-torched garments. And she’s only 11 pounds! But alas, Cali is full of surprises. Her backup tank of poop is full, locked, and loaded. Once I open the current diaper and move it an inch, the new diaper, the changing table, my daughter, my Playstation 4, the toaster, the TV, my wallet, the lawn, and my pride have all been sullied.  

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Is this her “I’m happy” face, or her “I just took a dump all over your house” face? Both I guess.

Excrement aside, I love how Cali engages with her new world. She demonstrates this early ability to not let rules (even from her parents) or barriers contain her. This is possibly an inherited characteristic because her mother is a planner–a very detail oriented woman who is blazing her own path in an industry dominated by White men. Her father, well he plays fantasy sports year-round, and fast forwards T25 when the workout gets too difficult. Cali is determined. She doesn’t want to sit still at any moment. If you hold her upright, she tries to walk. If you put her on her stomach, she swings her arms and legs with ferocity, going nowhere but definitely on a mission.

I started to think more about my determined daughter after reading my friend’s article written on Very Smart Brothas. Dustin Seibert’s Abridged Guide to White People Sh*t offers a list of activities and items that aren’t typically discussed or experienced regularly in the Black community. I’m sure Dustin and many of our friends created our own version of this list many times over in college. But now as an adult and father I contemplate the White People Sh*t label differently.  

The first oh-so White activity on Dustin’s list ironically, was a sport. Lacrosse to be specific.

The sports arena has largely been one that allows some doors to be open to people of color and others to be purposely closed off. Today however, people of color have the option to engage in these endeavors, but accessibility and relatability still keep some sports very homogenous. Sports like lacrosse, crew, polo, and sailing are definitely seen as some of the sports for “rich people (read: white people).

To be clear, I don’t know any Black people playing these sports, but I would love for Cali to explore some of these White terrains.

The existence of “White sports” today is still very concrete. Many decades ago, sports were deemed “White” because they literally were. People of color were forbidden to play on the same fields, courts, and arenas as White Americans. Currently sports are “White” due to myriad other reasons, discussed at length by Denene Millner in her article Black People and ‘White People Sports’:  

“If we must talk about the color divide in sports, then, well, let’s go there. Let’s talk about the exclusion of Blacks—and hell, Latinos and Asians and every other person of color, for that matter—from the golf greens, tennis courts, swimming pools, row boats, ski slopes and ice rinks. Let’s talk about why [it’s] so cost-prohibitive for mere average people to participate in these sports in meaningful ways. Let’s talk about the racism people of color face when they do try to play. And yeah, let’s talk about how Black folks tend to dominate those sports if they do manage to slip in.”

The faces of professional basketball in the early to mid-1900’s? Scary right?

The barriers that people of color face to participate in sports such as volleyball, soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, and golf are pretty straightforward. While prolonged racism exists as an underlying reason, other factors like overwhelming associated costs and lack of exposure play an even larger role. Volleyball Mag highlighted three major impediments to increasing volleyball’s diversity. “The players and coaches Volleyball interviewed…said the sport’s lack of diversity isn’t caused by racial tensions or prejudice toward African American players. Rather, other factors are at play, they said. Issues like money, role models, and access to the sport.”

Is not caused by racial tensions huh? Not sure if I believe that, but please continue.

“‘This has nothing to do with race,’ said former UCLA middle blocker Nana Meriwether, a two-time All-American and the reigning Miss USA. ‘I was often the only—or one of a few—African American players on my teams and I never felt any prejudice toward me. It was all positive.’

Ok, while I get the fact that everyone may have been nice to Ms. Meriwether, excluding race from this conversation is asinine. The mere fact that you were the only Black person on your squads has everything to do with race, racism, and the inability, or complete lack of effort to instill diversity into its sport. Black people sensing that a sport isn’t “for them” is almost 100% due to race and the effects of prejudice.

The article does highlight volleyball’s efforts to attract more people of color, but does shine a lot on another major reason their sport, along with many other sports, struggle with diversity. “African Americans who don’t have access to volleyball at school must join private clubs to receive the training, coaching, and experience needed to become competitive players. But those “pay-to-play” clubs are expensive. Fees often start around $1,000 and can soar thousands of dollars higher. The average club player in Dallas pays $5,000 [per year].”

Put plainly: n*ggaz be broke… AND that sh*t is too d@mn expensive.

Do you really want to pay thousands of dollars to play a sport when no one on your team, and no one you play against will look like, or possibly relate to you?    

While I disagree with Nana Meriwether that “race”(ism) had nothing to do with her sport being primarily White, we do agree that racism and all of its branches are not the only reasons that Black people are not heavily involved in fringe sports. Americans typically conceptualize their existence in terms of colors. And these colors, Black, Brown, White, etc represent our racial demography, which lends itself to dictating where we live, what foods we eat, and what activities in which we engage. For Black Americans, this conceptualization, this reality, has been shaped due to hundreds of years of oppression and exclusion and created the constraints of the box that contains the Black experience. Black people do ‘X’.  We own ‘X’ as a part of our “culture” (whatever Black culture truly is), and those actions that stray away from ‘X’ are not within the contents of the Black Box.

The Black Box exists as a result of oppression and discrimination, and currently functions as a reminder of privilege (or lack thereof) and exclusion. For most of Black America, the box was created by working with limited access to opportunities throughout history. What sports you choose to play has become part of the contents and the boundaries of the box. Basketball, track and field, and football exist within the Black Box, while crew, and golf are on the periphery.

In his 2012 article, William Rhoden stated that Black women represent 50.6 percent of college basketball players and 28.2 percent and 27.5 for indoor and outdoor track and field. Insisting that Title IX misses the racial diversity mark, he stated that Black women are “all but missing in lacrosse (2.2 percent), swimming (2.0), soccer (5.3), and softball (8.2).”

I love basketball, but I do think about how great it would be if Cali chose the path less traveled, similar to champion figure skater Surya Bonaly. I discovered Surya’s story on ESPN, and watching her brief 13-minute mini-documentary about her struggles and successes is definitely worth your time.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=13416371  (I would embed the video if ESPN wasn’t so regulatory)

Bonaly worked hard to master the on-ice backflip, but had to fight even more off the ice to earn her respect as a Black woman in a “White sport.”

Surya faced racism, and struggled to exist in a world where no one looked like her, and even acknowledged that, had she been White, more endorsements would have come her way. Even through all of the difficulties, she knew she was an example for other Black girls to become figure skaters.

I am not wishing that my daughter suffer through discrimination, isolation, and possible segregation to prove a point. I also understand that my daughter being able to train extensively as a figure skater would signify its own level of financial privilege. My hope is that as “White” sports become more accessible and inclusive, people of color will continue to push those boundaries and become regular participants. I pray that Cali has the boldness, the fortitude to see herself as a trailblazer, an example to other Black women, and has the ability to escape out of any box–Black, White, or otherwise–anyone tries to place her in.

Those statistics which Rhoden referenced above are a large part of the reason that the Black Women in Sports Foundation was founded in 1992. Four women, one of which–Tina Sloan Green–who was the first Black head coach of Temple University’s Women’s Lacrosse team beginning in 1973, decided this was a necessary organization to diversify the types of sports in which young Black women participate. They recognized that it is not always a matter of ability, but rather a lack of access and often times finances. They are still doing great work today, which is awesome since Black girls that excel at lacrosse (and other non-typical sports) have a high likelihood of earning college scholarships.

In the coming years, Cali will have some real choices to make; they will be bigger than whether she is going to take the pacifier or not. She will get to choose (with some input from mom and dad) portions of her life that will ultimately determine the type of woman she will become. It is my hope that the determination she shows now when trying to stay awake and attempting to crawl herself off the couch will be the same quality that allows her to want to try equestrian sports in addition to the long jump, and choose her own parameters for her Black Box.

She might even choose to eliminate the box altogether. If she doesn’t sh*t all over it first.

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