Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hall of Fame Should Honor Indiana's Garrett

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hall of Fame Should Honor Indiana's Garrett

Article excerpt

The new Jackie Robinson biopic "42" serves to remind us that there was a time not long ago when black athletes faced the most horrific, demeaning experiences in their determination to overcome the senseless prejudice that pervaded American sports at nearly all levels.

For youngsters today used to African-American superstars, it must be hard to believe decisions once were made to exclude some of the greatest talent available based simply on their race. Fortunately, there were among those who run baseball, and for that matter other sports, people who regarded this travesty as not only an injustice but also a stupid business model.

Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers certainly was pre-eminent among those, gambling that the pervasive racism that had marred his sport -- which, by the way, had been aided and abetted by baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis of Georgia -- could be overcome quickly with the inevitable success of the right player. Nothing trumps base motives quicker than winning. Rickey decided on Robinson, an educated young man who was multitalented in several sports and who had the character and toughness to survive.

But the same commitments were making their way to the forefront of other sports about the same time. Major college basketball in 1947, when Rickey and Robinson were assaulting the unfair policies of the national pastime, was nearly as white as baseball. The Big Ten, a citadel of basketball, had not one single black on its teams. No one among the league's athletic directors or coaches or presidents was willing to challenge an unspoken agreement to keep it that way. That is, until a bright young man with many of the same qualities as Robinson appeared on the scene.

William Leon Garrett had led his Southern Indiana high school to the coveted state basketball championship, become Mr. Basketball of Indiana (one of the first), and was a talented high hurdler and baseball player. Most important, perhaps, Garrett was an excellent student who had shown the capacity to deal with the racial taunts, slurs and injustices that often greeted him by just making opponents pay with losses. Indiana University president Herman Wells and his noted coach, Branch McCracken, encouraged by insurance genius Nate Kaufman, decided the time had come to break the barrier. …

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