The most recent edition of Sports Illustrated features a very interesting article regarding the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, as the nine brave black students were called, and the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas back in 1957. The reason the article is in Sports Illustrated is because the story is actually about the little known story of the boys on what was then considered to be possibly the best high school football team in the country, obviously an all-white one, and how the events swirling around Central High impacted their lives and their quest to extend a record win streak. It is an interesting look at another side of this historical event and what the writer tries to get across, and does to some degree, is how hard it was for so many of the white kids during this time of just wanting to fit in and be accepted, to do anything but keep their mouths shut and go along with the sentiment of the crowds clamoring for blood outside the school. Indeed this had to be incredibly difficult for these young boys, who certainly did not want to end up on the wrong side of the anger of the throngs of adults, including their own parents, threatening anyone who dared change their way of life. The underlying question being how many of us, especially as teens, would have stood up and taken a stand against that level of hatred, when the safest tack was to do nothing.
It is an interesting question. There is a part of me that agrees wholeheartedly with the writer and his clear sympathies with those boys whose historical football feat was being overshadowed by the political and social upheaval going on around integration and the troops patrolling their school grounds. And yet, it is also hard to overlook a situation where people, of any age, turn a blind eye to not only injustice but outright brutality. And let’s be not mistaken, what the Little Rock Nine endured was brutality pure and simple. Frankly it is hard to feel a great amount of sympathy for a ruined football season, when you see pictures of little girls walking through legions of military troops with guns at the ready, all surrounded by crowds clamoring for their life, literally.
And at the same time reading the article does remind me that the stupidity of racism does not just hurt the object of the venom, but also the people who spew it and act on it, as well as all of the people who do nothing to step up and try to make a difference. There is no doubt that the young men of that football team were harmed tremendously by the outrageous and vicious bigotry that they witnessed from their own parents and neighbors. They were harmed not only because racism is a contagious sickness that many of them fell victim to, but also they were harmed because for those who choose to stand by and do nothing, to go along with the crowd, or even to stand in the shadows and keep a low profile, there is no escaping the deep, impossible to ignore knowledge, whether admitted or not, that what was going on at that time, was simply not right. Proof of the damage done even in this way was evident in many of the old men interviewed for the piece, who to this day were haunted not by what they had done, but more importantly by what they had not done, had not said, to either be a friend to one of those black children who so needed a friend, or said to any of their own peers who did take active roles in making the simple act of getting a decent education so difficult for any of those nine innocent children.
But do not get me wrong, I do have empathy for people caught in situations like this. And I do believe it is especially difficult for teens. But even when it comes to my own kids, I have to tell you, I intend to make sure they understand that the bar is high when it comes to stepping up and doing the right thing in the face of injustice. The stakes are just too high, not only for them but for all of us. Stepping up is indeed hard, but not stepping up is a cop out. We all have much too much at stake.