White teammate recalls getting the benefit of the doubt on team with Black players
Originally, I wrote a completely different version of this for Black History Month. It is from the perspective of a Caucasian who has taught and coached Black teenagers. I have had one, or two, Black teammates on several of the teams I played on growing up.
But I have also been a minority of one on two otherwise all Black, or brown, teams.
The first was the Rochester Steelers, a semi-pro baseball team that played out of Genesee Valley Park. Among its top players were the Sutton brothers, Jesse Dowdell and Ike Walker, a teammate of Jerry Grote’s on the Auburn Mets before Grote got called up in 1969 and Walker quit professional baseball because he thought he was a better catcher than Grote. Our coach, Bosie “Slim” Thomas, Jr. and I thought Ike may have been right.
The second otherwise all non-white team I played with was Henri’s Inn, a slow pitch softball team here in Albion. Its coach, Arelee Ellis, referred to as “Boss Hog” by his players and friends, recently died down South. Among the better players on that team were Billy Witherspoon, Angel Rosado and Nate Little. Billy is still a good friend known by most as “Bogard”, while Nate went by “Tap”.
Let me attempt to give you something more to think about.
I have seen discrimination in some very ugly forms. James Neal, a Black teammate, had a relative beaten to death in the 1950’s in the South. A high school basketball teammate, Willie Torrance, was benched in his junior year, even though he was scoring over half our points, supposedly because, “He doesn’t care about defense”. The deal with Jerry Grote’s Auburn teammate may have been another.
One of my Black baseball players at Kendall was intelligent, articulate, athletic, decent, respectful, had artistic ability and looked like he could have been in the movies. I had to talk him back from despondency outside the counselling office one day—as nearly as I could tell—mainly because his Blackness made him feel unworthy. There were tears in his eyes while we spoke.
When I played for those two, otherwise all Black or brown teams, I never felt discriminated against. In fact, I might have claimed the reverse. It was my impression that I was always given the benefit of the doubt and, if anything, discriminated in favor of. The guys always had my back and stuck up for me. They tended to make excuses for my screw-ups.
Take from this brief description of my experience interacting with those of different skin color what you will. Though it is likely unnecessary to say, but I can only marvel at it.
Yours in all sincerity,
Gary F. Kent