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Sports Serves Racial Reconciliation As Balm For 2020

Al_HikesAZ via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

There’s very little that many of us will take from this dumpster fire of a year. Most people I know have already purchased a calendar for 2021 in joyous anticipation of ripping the one for 2020 off the wall.

Of course, such a move is only symbolic. The year ahead of us appears primed to deliver some measure of pain and suffering, but, if the fates are kind, 2021 will bring more than its share of joy. And if there is sorrow, we may be able to share it with people we love, as opposed to this year, when so many of us are cooped up alone and afraid.

If there is a positive to be taken from 2020, it is that this may be the year when we as a nation began, on some level, to come to grips with the great national tragedy of our racial and cultural divide. 

It seems we’ve actually tired of seeing people of color suffer and die for no other reason than the hue of their skin or the language they speak. Not all of us, but a growing number.

As is often the case, that reckoning seems to be starting in the locker rooms, playing fields and front offices of our athletic teams.

The first sports breakthrough of the year came in July when, after seven decades of carrying the most onerous nickname in all of sports, the NFL franchise in the nation’s capital dropped the slur for the temporary moniker of the Washington Football Team.

You can argue that the decision by team owner Daniel Snyder came at financial gunpoint and in the midst of turmoil, but, at least it happened.

Last week, news emerged from the Midwest that the Cleveland Indians would drop their 105-year-old team name in favor of an unspecified, but almost certainly less offensive one.   

Team owner Paul Dolan declared that there was no reason for the team to continue to have a name that is divisive, and he’s right.

Of course, Dolan’s forthright declaration would carry even more heft if the decision was effective immediately.

Instead, Cleveland will keep the name for one more year, just long enough to sell as many t-shirts, pennants and memorabilia as possible in a “we’re getting right morally and making a buck while we’re at it” sale.

Perhaps the biggest effort to get right came as Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced last week that the sport will officially recognize the Negro Leagues as major.

That means that the exploits of legendary players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and Baltimore’s own Leon Day and so many others will take their rightful place along side heralded and White players of the last 100 years. 

We’ll have more to say about this decision in the coming days, but suffice it to say that this development is a shot in the arm and long overdue. 

There’s no question that the matter of racial reconciliation is far more significant than changing team names and recognizing stats.

But the journey has to start somewhere, and sports right now seems like a good place to take those precious first steps.


And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.