Sports more about team than race

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Is there racism in sports? Of course. It permeates our society. It can’t be denied or ignored. The recent incident of Petaluma students showing what appears to be a white supremacist hand sign in a school publication photo serves as a reminder that we, as a society, may have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go in achieving true equality in our society.

I, admittedly, know more about what is going on with our local sports teams than I do what is happening in the classroom and school grounds, but I do know that there are, and have always have been, racial divides in our society, and Petaluma and Petaluma schools are not immune from this reality.

I don’t know what they call themselves now, but a few years ago, there was a sometimes vocal group of white teenagers called “The Hicks,” who were openly white supremacist. There were also a couple of misguided Hispanic groups that liked to think of themselves as “gangs.” Because Petaluma is really not very diverse, these groups have always been relatively small.

In local sports, players are judged much more on their abilities than they are on the color of their skin or their cultural traditions.

Mostly, if you can block, tackle or run, hit treys or throw strikes, you are accepted.

Players talk a lot about “team” and “family.” I believe they really believe in what that means. They walk the talk. It is one of the beauties of sports. You have your teammate’s back no matter what his/her nationality or ethnic background.

But, teams are made up of individuals. In football, there are about 40 individuals from different backgrounds, families and cultures. That means they are a reflection of those backgrounds and families. Of course, there can also be immature individuals in any group.

From what I can tell, racism on Petaluma sports teams is a subtle thing, based more on cultural differences than on skin color, and even then problems are minor. Most athletes are bound by a team bond and loyalty that is far stronger than prejudice and race issues.

That doesn’t mean sports are clean and devoid of racism. We live in a society where it does exist, but it is much more likely to manifest itself in the stands than on the field or court.

There was a very ugly incident at a Petaluma High basketball game a few years ago when student fans taunted an Elsie Allen player with overtly racist and obscene shouts.

That incident was quickly handled by the school administration just as the most recent situation was quickly dealt with by both the school and district administrations.

But, the fact remains you can’t legislate against attitudes, poor judgment or stupidity.

Petaluma schools don’t have a lot of diversity on their sports teams or in their student bodies. Diversity is something that should be celebrated and appreciated. To note that it should also be accepted shouldn’t have to be said.

The truth is that not everyone is created equal — some people are faster, better shooters and stronger than others, and it has nothing to do with the color of their skin, their ethnic background or their culture.

(Contact John Jackson at

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