The new Disney
film "Glory Road" tells the story of a basketball game that put
sports in the middle of the civil rights movement. But it also
recalls a time when the ordinary actions of coaches could unwittingly
transcend sports and make a mark on history.
to the legacies of the two Hall of Fame coaches at the heart of
"Glory Road" is how each dealt with the system of Jim Crow.
Texas Western Coach Don Haskins didn't show up on the El Paso
campus with dreams of becoming a white Martin Luther King Jr.
field a competitive team, he committed the revolutionary - some
said suicidal - act of recruiting seven African American players.
"I am not interested in color," he often said. "I'm interested
in winning." [Editor's note: "Jim Crow" laws barred African Americans
from access to employment and to public places such as restaurants,
hotels, and other facilities. In the South especially, African
Americans lived in fear of racially motivated violence.]
attitude changed as his team traveled the country and faced Confederate
flags, racist graffiti and hostile, violent crowds of mostly white
men. By the time the 1966 NCAA championship game with Kentucky
came around, Haskins had told his team of seven blacks and five
whites that he would play only blacks. Not only because this gave
his team the best chance of winning, but because it was time to
make a stand against Jim Crow.
field a competitive team,
coach Don Haskins committed the
revolutionary - some said suicidal -
act of recruiting seven
African American players.
Road," Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp is portrayed less as racist
than as befuddled. The truth is far less Disney. Unlike such other
legendary Southern coaches as Alabama's Bear Bryant, Rupp was
unrepentant for any role he may have played in entrenching Jim
Crow. He didn't recruit an African American player until 1970.
overcame his loss to Texas Western, especially after he had vowed
that "five Negroes" would never beat his team. Some have disputed
the contention that Rupp was a racist, calling him a product of
his time. But what is not moot, as "Glory Road" author Dan Wetzel
wrote, is that Rupp eventually referred to the Miners as "a bunch
of crooks." In a Louisville newspaper interview, he said Miners
star David Lattin was a criminal recruited out of Tennessee State
Prison. In fact, Lattin had transferred from Tennessee State University.
Haskins and Rupp defined the intersection of college basketball
and civil rights, other coaches made social marks that became
part of their legacy. Clarence "Big House" Gaines coached Winston-Salem
State University from 1946-1993. His 1967 squad, led by future
Hall of Famer Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, compiled a 31-1 record
and became the first predominantly black school to win an NCAA
basketball title - the Division II crown. Named that year's NCAA
college division basketball coach of the year, he showed such
people as John Thompson and Nolan Richardson that coaching basketball
was not a white-only profession.
it's difficult to imagine a coach
in any college sport playing such a
historic social role. NCAA basketball is
a multibillion-dollar business, and
coaches are as disposable as Kleenex.
coach Dean Smith played a large part in desegregating not only
athletics at the University of North Carolina but also the city
of Chapel Hill, the site of the campus, when he recruited Charlie
Scott and integrated the Tar Heels basketball team. Smith was
derided and even lynched in effigy for his efforts, but his move
later became another item on his resume of greatness.
it's difficult to imagine a coach in any college sport playing
such a historic social role. NCAA basketball is a multibillion-dollar
business, and coaches are as disposable as Kleenex, spending as
little time on campus as some of their players. It's
not that there are no issues of historic importance. There is
the question of whether college players should be paid for the
revenue they produce, or of defending Title IX and women's sports
in general. An ordinary coach who took a stand on these issues
might find himself without a job.
is a select class of coaches so secure in their jobs that they
are practically basketball pontiffs. North Carolina's Roy Williams,
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Maryland's Gary Williams are among
them. These guys could take a stand and walk in the footprints
of Haskins. By doing so, they could create a legacy that extends
beyond the court.
Dave Zirin's new book, "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance
in the United States," is now in stores. You can receive his column,
Edge of Sports, every week by emailing edgeofsports-
[email protected]. Contact him at [email protected]