I grew up in Ohio in the 1960s. In Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, football was and remains today a religion. I was lucky enough in the late ’60s and early ’70s to play for two state championship high school football teams and one NCAA Division 3 Championship football team. My high school team was completely segregated—Upper Arlington, and my college team was one of the 1st to be completely integrated—Wittenberg University.
It was during this time that the social milieu of our country was changing rapidly. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Viet Nam War were very much becoming a reality on College Campuses in the Mid-West. Rosa Parks, the integration of all-white institutions of higher learning in the South—the 1st Black football player played in a South East Conference football game in 1967—Nat Northington for Kentucky, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were the backdrop and nidus of campus unrest that resulted in the confrontations of campus protestors—not all of them students, and National Guardsmen at Kent State and Antioch College in Ohio.
When I reported for 5 weeks of pre-season summer practice at Wittenberg by the end of our 3rd practice on our 1st day I was so exhausted and tired and homesick I didn’t know if I could stick it out. We had our 1st full scrimmage on the third day and I looked up in our huddle and there were 4 Black faces playing with me on the offensive side of the ball. Those practices and scrimmages were hard grueling work and as the pre-season practices wore on I found myself playing on the scout team and pretty much getting manhandled by superior and older varsity players—I was a freshman.
When we “broke camp” to play our 1st game and because of our shared experience we were truly teammates and everyone black-white, Polish, Scotch Irish (“Hillbillies”) had overcome a difficult situation—together. Many of us are still friends and that shared experience remains the bases of our mutual respect and admiration for each other.
The only other places in my life where I have witnessed true respect across racial, sexual, ethnic and cultural divides have been in the military and in the civilian operating rooms where I have worked. If you are on a ship, an aircrew, or in the infantry, your life is in another’s hands. I spent 16 years in the Navy as a physician and surgeon and the only thing that mattered to me about my scrub team or the people that helped me take care of my patients post-op was their competence and their work ethic. I believe I have seen subtle forms of bigotry in the medical community when physicians have made their religious views—Jewish and Christian, known to their colleagues, but this has always been done in none clinical environments and almost always involved administrative and political issues—abortion and end of life rights of patients.
In my opinion, in order to have a community where mutual respect is the norm, there must be shared work, shared values and shared common goals and experiences. These aren’t things one learns in a book or assimilates in an 8-hour sensitivity training session.
We misuse the terms discrimination and disparity. Defining differences and disparities amongst individuals is not wrong. In my football huddle, there were lineman that were very different in their skill sets than running backs and receivers. They had a disparity of talents and the coaches had to discriminate how best to deploy their individual skill sets. Because we all have different talents and life experiences how those are deployed in different settings should be a function of the setting where those talents should be used. Should the NBA be required to have 65% white players and 15% Hispanics and 15% blacks? Should they not be allowed to discriminate based on height and athleticism? How is it different for the South East Conference to not allow Black Players in 1966 than it would be for that same conference to require that 65% of their players be white today—currently 58% of SEC scholarship players are Black.
When Nat Northington played his 1st game for Kentucky in 1967 and when Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell 1st played for Alabama they weren’t recruited to satisfy a condition of diversity. They were recruited because they were the best players Alabama could find. And because of them, everyone on the team was made better—whites and blacks. They were recruited because of their skill set not the color of their skin. Diversity was the result not the cause of their success.
In Medicine and Law and the STEM disciplines, we are seeing improvements in diversity. Particularly in the arena of basic sciences and Medicine, this move toward diversity should be the result of talents and skill sets brought to the workplace and not be caused by a policy that doesn’t put skills, talents, and experiences at the head of the cart.
Improving math and reading skills and funding teachers that can improve those skills will produce a more diversified student body and workforce. Let’s spend our money on teachers, and coaches that teach those skills and not on diversity specialists that see diversity as a means to an end and not the end resulting from the fulfillment of potential. Disparity is quantitative and because we are all different there will always be disparities.
Discrimination is qualitative and is harder to define and is evil when used to limit an individual’s talents and skills. It can be a force for good when it maximizes abilities, talents, and life experience resulting in improved opportunities. Deciphering between the various types of discrimination and the difference between discriminations and disparities is very important when discussing these issues.
As the SEC celebrates the 50 year anniversary of integrating their football programs, let’s not forget the lessons learned as we march forward to a more inclusive world.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” “Love thy neighbor as thy self”
Are we still allowed to teach those virtues in public schools today?
These two statements should be the bases for any study of diversity or inclusiveness.