This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Howard Bryant, a senior writer for ESPN and the author of nine books, including Full Dissidence: Notes From an Uneven Playing Field and The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism. Bryant shares how his experiences as a student, baseball fan, and sportswriter growing up in 1970s-era Boston have shaped his understanding of race relations and sports. He discusses celebrated American athletes who have broken barriers, from Jackie Robinson and Celtics legend Bill Russell to the Williams sisters and Tiger Woods. Bryant describes how these pioneering athletes were treated, and how they handled their celebrity status. He also offers thoughts on how the multi-billion-dollar professional sports industry is addressing larger racial disparities.
Stories of the Week: In San Francisco, a recall election ousted three members of the Board of Education, after a period of remote learning challenges, controversial school renaming process, admissions policy changes, and other issues. Democratic strategists are raising concerns about their party’s weak positioning on education issues, which will likely continue to play a major role in this election cycle.
Tweet of the Week
Videos: “You can pick up on patterns of words or phonemes and graphemes that match together to make certain words, and you use more skills than you think you do when you first start,” a 4th grade teacher said. https://t.co/2WbJMxAmtb
— Education Week (@educationweek) February 21, 2022
Education, traditionally a strength, has Democrats on their heels
In Landslide, San Francisco Forces Out 3 Board of Education Members
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] GR: Listeners. This is Gerard Robinson. Welcome to another wonderful session of The Learning Curve. Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to cohost with someone else who you’ve already heard from, and this week I get a chance to co-host again. My regular cohost Cara is trotting around the earth, and so we want to make sure her and her family’s got a great time.
[00:00:39] But we always want to make sure that we get great people on here, uh, , to talk to our guests and to also talk to you. And so of course, we reached out to Kerry McDonald who has been with us before and Kerry, welcome back to The Learning Curve.
[00:00:52] Kerry: Oh, it’s great to be back with you, Gerard. Thanks for inviting me
[00:00:56] GR: or things for you.
[00:00:58] Carrie: Things are doing great. my [00:01:00] primary work is with a foundation for economic education. The country’s oldest free market think tank. And I just launched a new podcast, the liberated podcast, which is a weekly podcast on, education related issues that kind of connect to free markets and individual Liberty.
[00:01:16] GR: Well, I’ve definitely retweeted, several of the posts that you sent out and you always keep things really interesting. So when we talk about polls, we also talk about stories and, , I’ve got one story of the week and you’ve got one as well as our guests. I’ll let you kick us off with telling us, the story that.
[00:01:33] Kerry: Sure. So my article I thought was really interesting for us to talk about today is from the Washington post and it is entitled, education. Traditionally, a strength has Democrats on their heels. It was, posted on February 22nd. It looks like, and it really, I think describes some of the challenges that democratic.
[00:01:58] Are confronting and will continue to [00:02:00] confront over the coming months, , in terms of re-election campaigns or, , getting into office. And this was made clear, certainly when we all saw, Virginia governor Glenn Yuncken, , when the gubernatorial race they’re running on a platform of parents matter, , as the kind of contrarion to his opponent who was sort of downplaying the role of.
[00:02:23] In the classroom and education. And I think Democrats are realizing that they have an uphill climb here, in kind of sidelining parents. And, they’re kind of strategizing what they can do about
[00:02:34] Howard: it. As you
[00:02:35] GR: know, both of us are big proponents of parental opportunity, parental choice. And as you mentioned, Virginia, of course, I live here in Charlottesville, supported the governor, also supported, our now Lieutenant governor.
[00:02:47] And the attorney general parents matter, but when you really want to see how much they matter, go after things they think are important. And so in Northern Virginia, when there was a big push to change the entrance [00:03:00] requirements and to Thomas Jefferson high school, arguably the best public high school in the country, when they began to tinker with, what I would often call color coding classrooms, for purposes of equity.
[00:03:11] Legitimately, we should have questions and concerns about equity and opportunity, but it was done in a way that made parents across the racial and economic barriers. Say something about this just seems like you’re trying to cook the books and we don’t like it. And so with that, Also with the fact that Virginia was one of the top five states, to open up their public schools for the least amount of time, , with millions of dollars point in it just made people think differently and ask different questions.
[00:03:39] And so I think what we saw here in Virginia, , is an example of what we may see in other places. And in fact, that leads me to my story of the week, , from the New York times. And it’s focused on the, we call of three school board members in San Francisco. Now let’s go back a year. And when you think of San Francisco, you think about, , the [00:04:00] progressive things, school boards done, you think about the opportunities to try to give low-income students.
[00:04:05] You talk about the city being very progressive and yet when they decided to move forward with a, a plan to say, we’re going to change, the requirements to create a lottery system in order to allow students to go into low high school. my friends who graduated from law would never want me to say that I’m comparing low.
[00:04:25] To Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. But what I will say is that low is arguably one of the best public high schools in the country. Like a Thomas Jefferson. it’s a merit base, system to get in. And they were tinkering with that again, for issues of equity, like a low high school, where approximately 50% of the students are Asian Thomas Jefferson high school.
[00:04:47] even a larger percentage. And so you had that taking place, plus as an, in Virginia, at least in San Francisco, they were not opening up the schools as fast as people would have wanted, even when they were [00:05:00] given a green light by the authorities to do so. And then when you couple that with crusade by some of the members to change the names of some of the schools, understandably some of the names were, are affiliated with horrible aspects of American history.
[00:05:16] And he said, we should change that we should move forward. Will you bring these three things into play parents ask two simple questions. Number one, I hear what you saying, but what are you doing for my children and their education right now? And there wasn’t much, they saw really taking place.
[00:05:31] And number two, they said, well, you as an elected board, What are you going to do to try to change the dynamics of how we move forward? And after a law campaign, three board members were ousted. And to put it in perspective, when you look at the fact that you’ve got, you know, 70% of the voters who turned out and said, listen, we want to recall the members out of the.
[00:05:54] 499,771 registered voters, [00:06:00] 128,862, , were counted and they basically supported the, we call 74, uh, 4% for one candidate and moved 70% for the others. Uh, the board of supervisors would not have to certify the results. those three board members will be replaced by the. the mayor will appoint three new members and then of course there’ll be an election coming forward.
[00:06:19] And so this is just another example of families deciding not to wait for politicians to make decisions for them. they decided to, , vote with their actual vote and to do some things there. So , it’s a big shakeup in that system. this has been the year. , I would say within the last year and a half of school board, uh, recall efforts more than we’ve seen in the last 10 years.
[00:06:43] So San Francisco is an interesting story. And even when we talk about San Francisco as a school system, there are some great things are taking place in this school system. We overlook the fact that there are over night. Private schools in San Francisco that you have approximately 22,000 students in private [00:07:00] schools.
[00:07:00] You have, again, a little more than 55,000 in the school system. Most of them, , many of them, students of color, and so in a place that promotes equity opportunity and equality. Then seem to really pan itself out in the city and the voters have spoken.
[00:07:15] Kerry: Yeah. And I think you’re right. It was a breathtaking recall of those three school board members in what is considered a very left leaning progressive city.
[00:07:24] But yet. Similar themes to what we were just talking about related to the Virginia race and, certainly other democratic races coming up that parents are frustrated, particularly with ongoing coronavirus policies in schools, they want more of a voice. they want school board members to be accountable and to be focusing on the issues that really matter to them.
[00:07:47] And so, you know, I think it would be certainly an interesting campaign cycle. This.
[00:07:51] GR: I remember some years ago when the tea party, , started to make its rise in local state and then national politics,[00:08:00] , speaker Pelosi referred to it as AstroTurf, and then ended up becoming a real grassroots movement. when you take a look at this current recall, there are some people who are saying.
[00:08:09] These aren’t real parents who were fired up. These were really , hedge fund, , executives, , these were millionaires. These were moms and dads, some who didn’t have children, the public school, who are the ones that put up money to support taking neighborhoods for a better San Francisco or other initiatives.
[00:08:29] And when I heard you hear people say that, I said, well, Hey. Even if you don’t have a child in your public school system, you’re still a tax payer. And so you’re paying into that system. Even if you have children in private schools, you also can still vote for someone on the post-school board and in California, which is a big, not only, , it’s a referendum state, you often put things before voters, to do so.
[00:08:49] People from the left and the right put millions of dollars into campaigns every year. In fact, Just recently, with Gavin Newson his, we call race. And so I just find it interesting [00:09:00] when certain groups of people lose, we say it’s money. When they, when we see its voters,
[00:09:06] Kerry: right. And I, again, I think that if politicians continue with this strategy of demonizing parents and, , , painting them as something that they’re not and, you know, criticizing their motives and that sort of thing, it’s just going to backfire, on these politicians.
[00:09:23] GR: The work that you’re doing at your think tank and of course, what you’re learning with your own research and your podcasts, what are you hearing parents say? Are they feeling empowered just across the board. They still feel that their attack where it’s just somewhere in the middle.
[00:09:36] Kerry: Yeah. You know, I’ve been really interested in the flood of education, entrepreneurship that has emerged over the past couple of years.
[00:09:45] Parents demanding more options, wanting various alternatives to an assigned district school, and then entrepreneurs stepping up to create these new options and provide more choices for families. And of course, we’re also seeing it on the [00:10:00] policy side too, with school choice legislation, expanding in many states.
[00:10:04] And there being a lot of momentum for that. And I think we’ll continue to see that. So the combination of education, entrepreneurship, and legislative changes that it expand school choice policies at the state level, think are really going to be a win for families across the country.
[00:10:19] GR: I had an opportunity to travel to Milwaukee, last fall blues, September.
[00:10:24] To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Milwaukee parental choice program. at that, well still is the, urban based, pro-choice school voucher program in the country. I say urban based because as we know, some new England states in fact have had, you know, pro-choice programs, going back to the 19th century, what was so enlightening to me, I would all, maybe, maybe it’s frightening to me where the number of young people that say.
[00:10:49] 25, who, when they heard about, you know, the role that a Polly Williams played As movement, African-American Democrat, state representative, single mom who had one [00:11:00] time was, a campaign person for Jesse Jackson in the eighties when he ran for office, , it was her partnering with, , a Republican governor partnering.
[00:11:09] With other Democrats and some Republicans to say, we want to make this happen. And they were shocked to know ane that there was actually bipartisan support for vouchers at the beginning. And number two, that in fact it was a group of parents who actually pushed for this to happen because in their world, They think what they hear now about parental empowerment is actually new.
[00:11:29] When in fact it’s been going on for decades on both sides of the fence, but at least as it may remains with , , the modern, I would call the modern school choice movement. Many of them really are shocked to know that it used to be bi-partisan and that there was actually a parental voice in this.
[00:11:46] Kerry: And again, I think , that over the past couple of years, , as parents have been frustrated with school closures and remote learning and unpredictability of, , their children’s classrooms, that’s really, , inspired parents to become more [00:12:00] involved and maybe to look at school choice, when they wouldn’t have previously, they would have made a thought it was a political, angle or not know much about it, and then kind of living it over the past couple of years and saying, gee, my school’s closed for in-person learning.
[00:12:15] Wouldn’t it be nice if I was able to take my tax dollars elsewhere, for example, you know, that kind of, , personalization of school choice, I think has really captured a lot of parents attention.
[00:12:26] GR: Are there some lessons that you think you and I should share? The entrepreneurs who are now involved in the work, uh, families who may be new to the movement, any thoughts , , from our experience that we could share for them to have them avoid some of the pitfalls that we may have seen when we initially got.
[00:12:44] Kerry: That’s such a great question, , for entrepreneurs, I think it’s spotting needs and a demand from parents in specific areas, and then imagining these new possibilities and new solutions beyond perhaps what we think of as conventional schooling. I think that’s one thing,[00:13:00] , that this coronavirus response has triggered is really looking at education beyond schooling and seeing all of the different ways that it can be done.
[00:13:08] I think for example, Startup here in the Boston area called Kai pod learning that participated in the prestigious Y Combinator startup accelerator program in Silicon valley and has some, , investment backing there. And they’re doing some really great things about bringing, , Students together, multi age, kind of a micro school environment in these sort of commercial storefront, , areas with adult facilitators, but the students bring with them an online curriculum or, , some kind of virtual learning system that they’ve created or that they’ve purchased, or perhaps even one of the public ones.
[00:13:42] And then. With other students during the day in these spaces that are facilitated by adults, that, the adults create these enrichment opportunities for kids. And so it kind of breaks down some of the barriers that we see with remote learning, some of the, , separation that students might feel some of the loneliness [00:14:00] That back into kind of a real learning space, but still customizable with kind of the benefits of remote learning. So I think we’ll still continue to see more of those kinds of, , innovations and entrepreneurship. And then the key really, I think for policy makers, , is to remove barriers. Entrepreneurs in general, and especially for education entrepreneurs, lower regulations and, encourage this growth of education alternatives throughout, various
[00:14:27] GR: states.
[00:14:28] I agree. the thing that I would share with entrepreneurs and parents is not to take a legislative victory for granted. legislature has change, either because a change in party or you can still have members of the same party in power, but they can change their point of view. I mean, to think today that you have, Democrats in DC and in state legislatures.
[00:14:52] Arguing to either stop the momentum for charter schools or to try to get rid of them altogether, would have been thought of as [00:15:00] heresy. We think about the fact that, president bill Clinton was the one who helped to create, it became charter school week, the office of charter schools and the department of ed.
[00:15:09] It was in fact in your state, Tom Birmingham, California, Gary Hart. , Mr. Young in Minnesota, it was Democrats. In fact who helped lead the charter school movement and played a strong role in open up those doors of opportunities to family. We’ll fast forward, , today, 30 years later in not looking the same.
[00:15:29] So I would definitely say don’t rest on your laurels because a governor signs, a bill, you have to remain tenacious and follow what’s going on. That means you have to go to all the board meetings, if you can great, but work with organizations, , advocacy groups that actually follow this work because that’s one of the things that shocked me 30 years, , into this work that some of our friends, have become enemies.
[00:15:52] And some of our enemies have become friends and that some people who believe parental choice was important 15 years ago, [00:16:00] think it’s a albatross.
[00:16:02] Kerry: Yeah, I think that’s why it really points to the need for culture change and really kind of reaching the hearts and minds of parents because you’re right. You know, politicians change, political momentum, sways, different directions.
[00:16:15] And so it really is about, showing parents the real benefit of education choice.
[00:16:21] GR: Absolutely anything else you want to share with our listeners? That’s on your mind, maybe even not the article that you read, but something else you want us to know before we go to our guests.
[00:16:31] Kerry: No, I’m really excited for our guests.
[00:16:33] Of course, I’m a Bostonian, a lifelong Bostonian and a sports fan here. So be great to talk to.
[00:16:40] GR: Yeah, listeners, the him, that she’s talking about going to join us. It’s Howard Bryant. He is the author of nine award-winning books focused on sports, , particularly. And so we’ve got some questions for him.
[00:16:54] Look forward to bringing them on board. Now you grew up in Boston. I grew up in Los Angeles, big Dodgers [00:17:00] fan. So that part I won’t hold against you. I’ll try to stay away from some of the, uh, west coast, questions, but, look forward to having him and I look forward to us tack TIMI for that part of the show.
[00:17:09] Absolutely. Okay. We’ll be right.
[00:17:41] Well, I’m so excited to have Howard Brian joined us for a conversation. How it, Brian is the author of nine award-winning book. Full distance, no Trump, an uneven playing ground all the way to books about sisters and champions. The true story of Venus and Serena Williams [00:18:00] illustrated by Floyd Cooper and he’s contributed, essays to 14 others.
[00:18:04] He’s been a senior writer for ESPN since 2007 and has served as a sports correspondent for NPR. It can addition Saturday, since 2006, previously Howard Brian worked at the Washington post, the Boston Herald the record in, Hackensack, New Jersey and the San Jose mercury news. The fact that we’ll also going to add the Oakland Tribune.
[00:18:28] In addition, he’s appeared in several documentaries, including baseball, the 10th inning and Jackie Robinson, both directed by Ken burns and major league. Hank Aaron, which was produced by Smithsonian and major league baseball. Howard, thank you so much for
[00:18:45] Howard: joining us now. It’s my pleasure.
[00:18:46] Thank you for that.
[00:18:47] Kerry: Howard, I’m going to kick us off with some questions. , you grew up in Boston in the 1970s. I’m born and raised in the Boston area and also a big Boston sports fan. Grew up. I grew up in the [00:19:00] south shore in Weymouth. Yeah.
[00:19:01] Howard: We used to play. Probably when we moved to Plymouth, I’d played at Plymouth, Carver, and we played Weymouth with north and Weymouth, south that’s right.
[00:19:10] Kerry: Well, when I was there, , consolidated back to Weymouth high, so yeah, I graduated in 95. Yeah. But , the old colony league and. Yeah, good memories. So your first book is shut out a story of race and be baseball in Boston. Would you share with our listeners some of the history of abolitionism, ethnic conflict and deeply troubling race relations that sets the larger context for understanding Boston, the red Sox and race, as well as your own personal experiences, being a student baseball fan and sports writer in.
[00:19:49] Howard: Sure. Well, I think that one of the things about that book that has always appealed to me and it appealed to me at the time, which is why I wanted to do it was I think when you grow up black in [00:20:00] Boston and you’re a baseball. So much of your fandom is rooted in the history of the red Sox that the red Sox were the last team to integrate in 1959 with Pumpsie green.
[00:20:10] And not only that, but they could have been the first, they had an opportunity to the first chance to sign Jackie Robinson in 1945. And didn’t do it. So not only did they miss out on Jackie Robinson, but instead of becoming the first, the pioneer, they became the last, which was, Infamous for that franchise.
[00:20:27] And in between they had opportunities to sign numerous great players, including they had the first shot at Billy Mays in 1948. And so these stories played on top of each other and. As time went on. As you know, I grew up in the seventies and even then the red Sox did not really have a high number of black players.
[00:20:45] Race was always central. Of course, during that time you had busing as well happening with the, public schools of the racial imbalance act. And all of this to me had always been written through the lens of.[00:21:00] Everybody, but the black people who had to live it, it was about whether or not the folks in Southie felt aggrieved or whether or not judge Garrity.
[00:21:08] His ruling was fair or not fair, whether or not Tom Yaki was a racist. And all of these things didn’t take into account the humanity of the players, of the African-American players who had to live in Boston or the African-American kids who had to go to those schools and deal with what was taking place or the black face.
[00:21:27] Who had to make these decisions like my family, about whether or not they were going to put their kids in that environment. And so you grow up and you become a journalist and this is eating at you. And one of the reasons I became a journalist was the idea of watching a basketball game or watching a baseball game, and then reading the story in the Boston globe the next day or the Herald.
[00:21:48] And you say, well, that’s not what I remember. So I love the idea of being able to say what I thought happened last night. And. How I want it to represent these different pieces of history. And so that was [00:22:00] really Genesis of that book. And I think that one of the interesting things about that project was learning everything that was taking place in between, and that there, the red Sox, the red Sox have always had a prominent place in the history of race and major league baseball.
[00:22:17] But they really weren’t that different from any other team at that time. I mean, the Yankees were just as racist as the red Sox. So with the tigers in the Philadelphia Phillies, they weren’t really unique. What made them unique was even when the game began to integrate, even after Jackie Robinson and after Willie Mays and Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson and all those great players, even then the red Sox still, when everybody else was moving forward, the red Sox stadium.
[00:22:44] And they’d stayed behind as a franchise. The red Sox were sued twice by the Massachusetts commission against discrimination for not hiring any black employees. both I believe in 1951 and also in 1959. So this history was [00:23:00] deeply embedded in the franchise and it made rooting for the team. A very curious experience.
[00:23:07] Kerry: we can dig deeper into this. You’ve mentioned Jackie Robinson. Of course he’s among the most celebrated sports figures in American history. Could you discuss his infamous tryout with the Red Sox in April of 1945 and how he and other black players, including Reggie Smith, Jim Rice, Dennis oil can Boyd and
[00:23:27] Mookie Betts were treated in Boston. And why?
[00:23:31] Howard: I think that tryout is one of the great moments in baseball history, because it shows you that. It always frustrated me when people would refer to baseball integration as the color line as if it were this immutable space that somehow was like broken.
[00:23:46] And instead integration had been a conversation. It had been an issue that had been going on, obviously since the 18 hundreds, since black players were kicked out of the game in the late 18 hundreds. And so everyone has had known what was taking place. And everyone [00:24:00] knew that, integration or segregation in baseball was very much in line with the increasing segregation and Jim Crow that was taking place across the country.
[00:24:08] And so. You come out of World War two and world war two is the fight for freedom world war two is the referendum that freedom triumphed over fascism. And that this was , a Titanic struggle for the human spirit. And yet this is how black people are being treated in the United States. And so the entire idea, not just in.
[00:24:32] the military, because let’s not forget that during this Titanic struggle for freedom. The United States military is segregated. They’re not an integrated unit until 1948. And so how long could you keep this society separate? How long could this last while these other events are taking place around the world and while the United States is positioning itself as.
[00:24:55] the Victor, as the difference maker in terms of the direction of [00:25:00] world history. And one of the areas where you saw this meritocracy needing to be corrected was in sports. Something as simple as sports as ridiculous as a baseball game. And you could see why this was so important because if these players could play together on the same thing, If they could travel together, if they could shower together, if they could eat together, if they could room together, then why can’t they go to school together?
[00:25:29] Why can’t they live in the same neighborhood? , so on the one hand, sports may seem ephemeral, but on the other hand, it’s extremely important because if these things can take place on a daily basis, then why can’t they take place in a daily basis in our everyday lives? So the red cell. We’re the first team to have an opportunity that integration simply because of one person has a door, much.
[00:25:47] Nick, a Boston city counselor from west Roxbury who had the temerity to demand that the red Sox lead in terms of living up to Boston’s history as one of the great integrated cities in the 17 [00:26:00] hundreds, as the place where you did have integrated schools early. to live up to Boston’s revolutionary war history, even though Boston was a loyalist city, but so be it.
[00:26:10] And, um, and the red Sox brought in three players, Marvin Williams, Jackie Robinson, and Sam Jethro on April 1945. And they hit a few balls and they wore red Sox uniform. So there’s, I wish there had been a photo of it where Jackie Robinson actually was wearing a Boston red Sox. And they hit a few balls and then they said, thank you very much.
[00:26:33] And none of the players ever heard from the red Sox again, and Jackie Robinson took that bitterness to his grave. Sam Jethro, as it turned out, ended up integrating in Boston. Anyway, five years later. With the Boston Braves and ended up winning rookie of the year. So he was the first. So he was in that trout in 1945.
[00:26:50] I ended up playing in Boston with the Braves before they moved to Milwaukee. And then of course now they play in Atlanta. So the deep history of race and [00:27:00] integration runs right through Boston, whether we want it to, or not, especially when you look at Boston’s history of abolition and part of that, that legend of Boston, part of that legacy of Boston, , people wanted to hold onto.
[00:27:12] And that, first 18, 17th, 18th century history, they wanted that to translate into the 20th century then of course it really didn’t. And so it’s interesting when you’re a longtime Bostonian, you know, the difference between what we grew up reading in the textbooks, and then what the history.
[00:27:32] Kerry: Really interesting.
[00:27:33] You know, we’ve been talking a lot about the red Sox, but let’s shift gears to the Celtics. One of the greatest athletes in Boston sports is the south X basketball legend bill Russell. Could you talk a little bit about his experiences playing in Boston, the late 1950s and sixties, and why even today there, you know, we have this modest statue downtown, but there seems to be little dedicated to bill Russell’s historic achievements and his.
[00:27:59] Yeah. [00:28:00] Yeah. Well,
[00:28:01] Howard: because this is the thing. , on the one hand, you have to think about what was taking place during this time. So on the one hand, in the 1940s, the 1945, you have the red Sox tryout. The red Sox don’t integrate the red Sox. Don’t integrate until 1959. The Braves integrate in 1950, but they move after the 1952 season to Milwaukee, the Celtics have read our back as their coach in the late fifties, they bring in bill Russell, they draft the trade for bill Russell in the 1956.
[00:28:28] And the Celtics become a dynasty and the Celtics not only become a dynasty, but the Celtics become leaders. If you contrast the red Sox and the Celtics, the red Sox have this miserable racial history and the Celtics. On the other hand, when eight straight championships, bill Russell wins 11 championships in 13 years, the Celtics break , the unspoken taboo in the NBA of always having a majority number of white players on the court.
[00:28:52] You always had to have. Three to two at the very least, or at the very, yeah, at the very moment, the very most, and that our back has five black [00:29:00] players on the court at the same time. So he breaks that unspoken rule red, our bag breaks the rule of having, at least the first black coach, the hires bill Russell in 1966 to be the first black head coach of the major sports.
[00:29:11] So on the one hand, you’ve got this terrible racial history. On the red Sox side and then across town over at north station, you’ve got this pioneering spirit with one major problem. Most fans didn’t want to watch black players and they didn’t really love basketball, basketball.
[00:29:27] Wasn’t a big sport at the time. And bill Russell had a miserable time. Living in Boston had a very, very difficult, difficult experience in Boston, in terms of how he navigated the city. He used to refer to it as a flea market of racism. And so, and I’m very, very proud guy. And so he was not going to be conciliatory toward the city.
[00:29:47] The city had brought. He won his championships and he had his relationships and then he left. And so that negotiation, that relationship had has been 60 years of attempted [00:30:00] reconciliations and silence in a lot of ways. I think things have obviously calmed down now, but for most of the time you looked at somebody, bill Russell was the greatest champion that this country has ever produced in terms of championing.
[00:30:14] ’cause before he came to the Celtics. He’d won back-to-back championships in college and an Olympic gold medal in 1956 in Melbourne. So this great champion was never really celebrated in Boston. And it’s only been in the last 20, 25 years where you could even see a little bit of a.
[00:30:31] GR: And the wonderful books that you’ve published. You’ve not only focused on baseball and basketball in Boston, your hometown, but you’ve also talked about sports, , across the area, including, what we’re looking at in terms of. A school and, NCA sports. So when I think about sports today from youth to high school, to college, even to the pros, it’s really a multi-billion dollar business and has got a wide appeal amongst pretty energetic fan base.
[00:30:59] The media [00:31:00] will cover it sports. The high school sports, , find its way into our popular culture. Could you talk about the current state of the NCAA and professional sports regarding which leagues are doing a better job than the other and addressing larger racial disparities or even concern it’s about, what does it look like in our national debate?
[00:31:19] Howard: Well, I think that if you go and look at the history of it, I think that sports is always going to be important. And at some point it became America’s religion. If you go back to the 18 hundreds, nobody cared about, I mean, baseball was a sport, but it didn’t matter. I mean, baseball and cycling and walking these in, horse racing later on would become these sports.
[00:31:41] But when you start looking at it in terms of how to become American, you have really three waves. And I think the first wave is. The immigration era where you have this great exit is coming from Europe during the industrial revolution of Italians and Jews and poles and Germans. And how did those kids become American?[00:32:00]
[00:32:00] Their parents didn’t speak English, but they became Americanized by playing sports, by playing baseball in the street and boxing. And in the rest of it, this was the pathway Americanizing for those first generations of immigrants. And the second way. Is the integration error. Once again, when you think about the large American institutions, the institution of sports integrated before all of them sports integrated before most schools sports innovated before the military sports integrated before television sports integrated, before journalism integrated before all of it.
[00:32:31] And so, and especially when you’re looking at it from an inter-collegiate, , perspective, The predominantly white institutions, they weren’t looking at the HBC use for their doctors and their scientists and their lawyers. They wanted their ballplayers. So still at the, root of it all was the, use and utility of the black physical body.
[00:32:51] And that’s really the area where you started to seize the colleges integrate. And then of course you get to this third era, [00:33:00] which is the economic. And now that starting in the mid seventies, when you start to get free agency and baseball, and then obviously as the money gets bigger and all of the sports, the money also gets bigger in college sports.
[00:33:10] And as the money gets bigger and bigger. You see a change in the priority. And one of the arguments had always been in the integration of the athlete was that this was going to be a pathway for these black students, student athletes. They like to call them to have a broader experience, to be exposed to more and to get an education.
[00:33:31] And that there was a trade taking place. You were a physical prowess for the opportunity to be. a college campus. And now you look at it today and we know that a lot of these players aren’t being educated at all. They’re there to make money for their universities. And so that mission in so many ways has been lost.
[00:33:53] And you think about this from the standpoint now where the debate is, whether or not we [00:34:00] should just pay the players. and it’s a good argument to have considering that. the NCAA that college football and college basketball are so incredibly lucrative. And so you’re starting to see some of this change, but while it’s changing, you also have to say whatever happened to educating these students, whatever happened to educating these players.
[00:34:16] And so have we simply given up on that piece of it, and now we’re just going to admit that the players are there to earn they’re there to work, but they’re not, they’re totally.
[00:34:28] GR: good point. You mentioned student athletes and. I think of someone like Arthur Ashe, you played at UCLA tiger woods played at Stanford. the Williams sisters, in Compton playing sports, but mother and father making sure they take their, , academics pretty seriously. They’ve all been pioneering players, in a respective sport.
[00:34:49] And we also think about what that means in terms of. What’s sometimes in our communities call a bear in the cross for the race. Would you share your views about how these athletes were [00:35:00] treated, lessons learned and maybe even how they managed or mismanaged their status as celebrities in American
[00:35:07] Howard: culture?
[00:35:08] Well, I think that what you have. When it comes to black athletes and you see it. I talked about a lot of this in my 2018 book. The heritage, this responsibility that the black athlete has that they’re not supposed to have. And that’s the goal to me at least, is that one day they won’t have it, that black people are the only people in this country who relies so heavily on people who hit a ball with a stick or who put a ball through a hoop or who can run really fast.
[00:35:36] And. This all goes back to this deal that had been made during the 20th century about the ones who made it. The athlete is the one who made it and the athlete is the one who made it even more so than the entertainers. And the difference between. Prince and Michael Jackson’s and Diana Ross’s and beyoncé’s and count bases of the world is that you didn’t need a movement for them to [00:36:00] perform.
[00:36:00] They could always perform for white people. Go back to the cotton club, go back to the, go back. Even earlier into the 18 hundreds, black people have always performed for white people, but sports, you needed a movement sports. You actually had to have a physical movement that led into the civil rights ever even Martin Luther king used to say, you know, that Jackie Robinson was the beginning of the civil rights movement.
[00:36:20] And so because of that, there’s this responsibility that the black athlete has had to bear that cross. And I always refer to the black athlete. They are the most visible, the most successful and the most influential black employees this country’s ever produced. That is not always a compliment, but it is true.
[00:36:38] because this country has spent so much time using sports as the antidote to racism that. Places is it fair? But if my 40 time is faster than yours, if I score more runs than you, if I score more points than you, I get to win, then, that is supposed to be pure. Even though we know in sports, that’s not the case either, [00:37:00] but that has been the argument that sports could provide for us this pathway to what color blind list.
[00:37:05] It really doesn’t exist. But that’s why it’s so important. And that’s why we spend so much time looking at the Serena Williams is of the world and looking at the LeBron James of the world and hoping that they use their platform as we hear so often now the Colin Kaepernick’s that they are the ones who provide for us a level of visibility that really isn’t fair to them, but it is what it has been.
[00:37:30] This is what has been created. And to me, goal really shouldn’t be imploring the black athletes to constantly, you know, speak for black America. But that one day they can just play ball and let’s leave it to other people who are in better positions to lead us
[00:37:49] GR: a great point. In fact, that made me think of a question. When you talked about the black athlete, earlier. Let’s just go to school and just play sports. You’re not truly a scholar athlete. [00:38:00] And we overlooked the fact that our community has got a lot of examples of Scott, our athletes. I mean, I think of someone like, Chris Howard, who is a president of Robert Morris college.
[00:38:10] He went to the air force academy road scholar, doctorate from Oxford. And now he’s a college president, but he was a Campbell award winner when he was in college. And even if you go. Back in time, as you talk about history, you made me think about, uh, Dr. Roscoe brown, who is president of community college in New York, Tuskegee airmen.
[00:38:28] But you know what Biff for Jim brown, he was actually the one who was a major lacrosse player and later became a scholar in his own. Right? How do we close that gap? Or maybe open up the door to opportunity to talk about true scholar athletes, both men.
[00:38:45] Howard: Well, I think it’s a priority. It’s not just a black party.
[00:38:47] It’s a priority period. And what are your priorities? What are your values? What do you respect? And I think that we are completely as a country enamored [00:39:00] with. Lottery, this sort of capitalist lottery that one day you can be famous. I mean, that is not a, that is not even a racial designation. That’s what we all do.
[00:39:08] Everyone wants to play this lottery and, but the stakes are higher when you have less and black people as, uh, as a people have. So this magic bullet, the one who made it is the narrative that we all gravitate toward. And it’s very tiring. It’s very tiring to people in the black community who were like, Hey, this is not all there is.
[00:39:27] And think about what we’re doing to the people who don’t make it. And this whole idea of this narrative being dead or in jail. Well, if I weren’t for sports, I’d be dead or in jail. Well, if that is the case after all of these decades, That being able to bounce a ball is still your best chance. Then we failed.
[00:39:47] We failed miserably and yet that is still the prevailing narrative. And that’s why we pay so much attention to sports, not just because we’re entertained. And it’s amazing to watch Patrick my [00:40:00] homes or to watch Lamar Jackson play football. It’s because this is still the way outside. And it’s very tired and it shows you just how much institutional political failure,
[00:40:16] GR: Well, thanks to the work that you do, both in book, form essays, op-eds but also, , in movies, you’re starting to at least get us thinking us across the board on what it means to be American, what it means to be great, what it means to be a genius, both on the court and off the court, but also realizing that if we can’t get some of this right.
[00:40:38] Outside of sports, then we’re putting so much on the athletes to do, which is unfair to them. But thank you for your, intellectual ism, your humor, your wits, and your common sense approach to issues that are often tough for people to talk about. Thank you for the work you’re doing and,
[00:40:53] Howard: keep it up.
[00:40:54] No, it’s my pleasure. Thank you.[00:41:00]
[00:41:27] Kerry: So the tweet of the week, Gerard is a tweet by education week on February 21st. And I don’t know if you’re into. At all, but my kids are definitely into this new word game. , it’s daily activity and exercise that they have a lot of fun with. And so education, we tweeted out video saying you can pick up on patterns of words, , that matched together to make certain words and use more skills than you think.
[00:41:57] You do when you first start, this was a, for a [00:42:00] fourth grade teacher said that these teachers are using Wordle to teach phonics in their classrooms. So, just a really exciting, creative way of using what is right now, kind of a cultural trend to, , make learning better in the classroom.
[00:42:14] GR: Well, thank you for that tweet of the week.
[00:42:16] And for educating me, I will now take a. And next week’s guest is Linda Chavez, who is a senior fellow at the national immigration forum and the author of, out of the Barrio toward a new politics of Hispanic assimilation. Carrie, again, thank you so much for joining me as a co-host this week really enjoyed what you had to share from your story, but also the advice.
[00:42:40] That you share with all of us about not only entrepreneurship, but about parental choice, but just really to keep us thinking about what I believe is one of the most important social movements in the last quarter century. So glad you were
[00:42:52] Kerry: here with me. Always a pleasure, Gerard. Thanks again. Take
[00:42:55] GR: care, everyone.[00:43:00]