Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Tony Becca | The black power in sport

Published:Sunday | February 26, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Usain Bolt
The Williams sisters, Venus (left) and Serena.
1
2

Once upon a time, when the masters of the world were lily white, and when, if you were black, you were told to get in the back, or something like that, the men who played sports and who were crowned champions in sports and celebrated as the greatest were also all white.

Those who were not white men - like Jack Johnson, the black man who was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world in the early 1900s, and Jim Thorpe, the American Indian who was hailed as the greatest athlete the world had ever seen and who won the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games before he was stripped of the medals - were few and quite far between and were treated with scant respect bordering on ridicule.

It was such that during my time as a little boy, when men like Wally Hammond and Don Bradman in cricket, Stan Matthews and Ferenc Puskas in football, Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmer in golf, Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano in boxing, Rod Laver and John Newcombe in tennis, Lindy Remigino, Bobby Morrow, and company in track and field, ruled the roost. I almost believed not only that sport was the white man's playground, but that black men could not play sport.

The problem was that when I was a child, I thought as a child. When I became a teenager, however, I thought as a teenager, and when I heard about black men like George Headley and Learie Constantine challenging white men like Bradman and Hammond, when I read where Herb McKenley, Arthur Wint, George Rhoden, and Les Laing beat the world, I began to think differently.

And when I became a man and saw people like Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott, Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, and Subhash Gupte on the cricket field, I realised that black men could play sport, and given the opportunity, or taking the opportunity, they could play as well or better than white men, as is the case today.

 

THE 'BROWN BOMBER'

 

Joe Louis, the 'Brown Bomber' who destroyed Max Schmeling and flattened Billy Conn, Ezzard Charles, and Jersey Joe Walcott of boxing fame, started the charge, and so did men like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron of baseball fame; Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe of tennis; Jesse Owens, Willye White, and Wilma Rudolph of Olympic fame; the West Indies cricketers, who surprised England and the world in 1950; and the Indian cricketers.

In contrast to when I was a child and all the stars were white, and all the records, or world records, were held by whites, today, almost all the stars are black men and women and the records, or almost all of them, in most sports, are held by blacks.

In fact, today, from around 1950 or so, blacks are now seated in the front row of sports achievements.

Starting with Ramadhin and Valentine, Worrell, Weekes, and Walcott, and others such as Allan Rae and Gerry Gomez of cricket, black men have been going from strength to strength.

The champions and top performers in almost every sport, in the four corners of the Earth, are black men.

In football, there are men like PelÈ and Garrincha; Maradona and Eusebio; John Barnes; and others like Roger Milla, Samuel Eto'o, Jay-Jay Okocha - The African Maradona; Asamoah Gyan, Didier Drogba; and a host of others from Africa.

 

Williams sisters in tennis

 

In tennis, there are the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena; in golf, there are Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods; in basketball, there are Michael Johnson, Ervin 'Magic' Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and LeBron James, Cheryll Miller and Lisa Leslie and a whole lot of others; in baseball, there are men like Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and David 'Big Papa' Ortiz and many others; and in boxing, there are such greats as Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Fraser, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns. Marvin Hagler, and Jamaica's Michael McCallum.

In cricket, there are men like Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Virat Kohli, Kapil Dev, Hanif Mohammad, Imran Khan; and in track and field you have men and women like Jim Hines, John Carlos, Don Quarrie, Hasely Crawford, Asafa Powell, Mo Farah, and Usain Bolt; Jackie Jonyer-Kersee, Cathy Freeman, Gail Devers, Merlene Ottey, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and now, Elaine Thompson.

Blacks are now visible in sports like motor-racing, with Lewis Hamilton, showjumping, ice-skating and bobsleigh, and gymnastics, but it is in sports like basketball, football, and track and field that they are most dominant.

 

Made for black people

 

In many ways, it is like these sports were made for black people.

An Olympics 100 metre race, men or women, or a 10,000 metre race, men or women, would leave one to wonder what has happened to men like Remigino and Morrow, or men like Emile Zatopek, LasseViren, or Vladimir Kuts, and also to women like Fanny Blankers-Koen.

Times have changed. Time was when Robinson and his kind were barred from participating in baseball because of the colour of their skin, and when one like Tidye Pickett was barred from the 1930 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, also because of her colour.

Today, as we remember those times with the celebration of Black History Month, it can be said, boldly and without fear, that black sportsmen and sportswomen now rule the world in many sports and that in Jamaica, there are quite a few of them, including Elaine Thompson, the fastest woman in the world, and Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet and of all time.