Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Glory Road"

Regarding this feel-good movie about the first all-black basketball team winning the 1966 NCAA championship: I have no interest in seeing the movie. Apparently my suspicions -- that this was going to be a Disneyfied they-all-lived-happily-ever-after depiction of a tense racial environment -- were correct.

The victorious team arrives at the El Paso airport and is greeted by enthusiastic fans befitting the return of any champion. Clearly, their achievement enlightened whites, including a once-reluctant campus community, regarding the capabilities of blacks and destroyed the rational of anti-black racism.

However, several of the black players remember their return differently. Two years after the game, cerebral and feisty point guard Willie Worsley told a reporter that after the airport reception, a parade and a banquet, “that was about the end of it. We were never campus heroes. We were never invited to mixers or anything like that.” Before and after that game, the predominately white university community, including the coaches and administration, made it clear to the black players that they were there to play basketball and garner the little known school athletic prestige and revenue, but to do little else. Worsley stated that he and the other black players continued to be treated like “animals” by their white coaches, teammates and others at the school. “You play basketball and that’s it. When the game's over, they want you to come back to the dormitory and stay out of sight.” The racial discrimination that black student-athletes experienced at Texas Western, however, is absent from Glory Road.


In 1968, Worsley and teammates David Latin and Willie Cager were among a number of black student-athletes at the school who revealed to Sports Illustrated a litany of racial prejudices condoned by the athletic department and university. For instance, blacks continued to be assigned segregated housing on campus and during road trips, could not rent housing in several well-to-do white neighborhoods surrounding the campus and were denied the routine and extralegal financial and summer job assistance doled out to their white teammates. Additionally, they were harassed by white students and coaches, including Haskins, if they dated white co-eds. They also complained that several members of the administration, including athletic director George McCartney, openly referred to them as “niggers” and made them the butt of racial jokes. In the film, McCartney is portrayed as a liberal ally of the basketball program.


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