Today's BCS National Championship game in New Orleans will feature a rematch of the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University. It's difficult to get excited about what the sports media has dubbed the “Game of the Century,” when it is a replay of an earlier “Game of the Century” that proved less than thrilling . . .
Back in 1969, the original “Game of the Century” was played between two all-White teams from the University of Arkansas and Texas University. (At the time, Blacks made threats of violence and disruptive behavior if the Razorback band played “Dixie.”) Almost 43 years later, the championship game will feature two, more or less, all-Black squads, and it will be played in the Super Dome, a stadium intrinsically linked with the anarchic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Black refugees raped and murdered one another on astroturf.
One wonders whether the football-crazed alumni and student body of both schools will think about these incidents while watching the Tide and Tigers battle for the national title. One wonders whether 'Bama boosters will think about the bankruptcy of Jefferson County, home to 72-percent-Black Birmingham, and what this will mean for the future of their state. One wonders whether LSU fans will worry about the growing rates of almost 100-percent-Black violent crime in New Orleans, or similar situations near their campus in Baton Rogue.
Likely, all that matters to them is that the Tide or that the Tigers pull out the victory and grant either school a year's worth of bragging rights. It's unpleasant to dwell on reality.
Back in 1955, Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin worked to stop all of this from transpiring, when he attempted to bar an all-white Georgia Tech from playing an integrated Pittsburgh team in the Sugar Bowl. Time magazine reported the following:
"The South stands at Armageddon," brayed Griffin to the regents. "The battle is joined. We cannot make the slightest concession to the enemy in this dark and lamentable hour of struggle. There is no more difference in compromising the integrity of race on the playing field than in doing so in the classrooms. One break in the dike and the relentless seas will rush in and destroy us."
We learn in The Missing Ring, a book by Keith Dunnavant on the 1966 Alabama football team, that the Sugar Bowl would become the bowl game for the still-segregated Southeastern Conference (SEC), of which the Tide and LSU are members. The fact that the SEC remained segregated until 1969 ('Bama wouldn’t integrate until 1971) cost the 1966 Tide squad a national title, though they went 10-0. Writes Dunnavant:
“Around the same time, Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray—who once famously lampooned the Sugar Bowl as “the White Supremacy Bowl”—suggested the folks in Alabama change the lyrics to “Dixie,” ever so slightly; “. . . do the folks keep segregatin’ . . . till I cain’t win no polls.”
The 1966 'Bama squad featured a team of all-white student-athletes, including famed quarterback Kenny Stabler and wide receiver Ray Perkins. But it was the whiteness of the team that prompted college football writers to award the national title that year to Notre Dame and Michigan State, though they had tied in a regular season match-up.
As Dunnavant relates, legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant realized the ramifications of fielding a segregated team for his quest for football glory:
Believing the racial situation cost him the title, Bryant took the offensive and announced that the Crimson Tide was trying to schedule regular season games against integrated, non-Southern programs—a small step, but one loaded with symbolism and significance.
“A few years ago, we had segregation problems,” he told reporters after the votes were totaled. “But now we’d like to ask the help of you fellows up North who’ve been our critics.”
The dike did burst. Armageddon did come to the South. It started with the integration of the lily-white SEC; by 1973, one-third of the starters for the Alabama Crimson Tide were Black, just two years after integration. Now, it’s exceedingly rare for any SEC team to field a starting offense and defense with more than five or six White players:
Certainly, there’s no doubt that the presence of black athletes today is a major factor in the SEC being guaranteed a sixth consecutive BCS national championship Monday when Alabama meets LSU in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. All 22 defensive starters on the two teams are African-Americans, 13 playing at their home state’s flagship universities and the rest from the states which were in the Confederacy.
“I don’t think it would have been possible for Bear Bryant to have walked up to George Wallace at the schoolhouse door with Wilbur Jackson (Bryant’s first black signee in 1970) beside him,” said [U.W} Clemon, who in 1967 filed suit to break the color line on the Alabama football team. “But he was certainly the most popular public figure in the state, and had he’d acted two or three or four years earlier than he did, there would have been considerable acceptance by the white citizenry of Alabama.
“When he did start signing and playing black players, though, it made racism less respectable, and that was important.
Sure, Alabama and LSU have both won national titles since the end of segregation. But what else has transpired?
The financial fall of Birmingham, and the impending need for the revocation of Posse Comitatus so that the National Guard can patrol the streets of New Orleans and keep Black people from killing one another, reveals that Dixie lacks all moral authority.
White people simply abandoned major cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, and New Orleans, to live in peaceful Whitopia’s in the suburbs.
But these same White people, proud alumni of schools like Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and LSU, have no problem cheering for the sons that grew up—primarily fatherless—in the cities they long-since abandoned.
Fitting that many of those Northern sports writers, to whom Bryant appealed after his all-White team got snubbed, hailed from cities that were eventually overwhelmed by Blacks from The Great Migration: Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Philadelphia are all drowning in high rates of Black crime and the continued fall in property values.
None of this can be publicly stated by anyone. Instead, we like to dwell on the great contributions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., plus the largely fictional aerial heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen, that paved the way for 2012 America.
It is sadder still that LSU and Alabama rely on the minority of White players on their respective rosters (90 percent of whom graduate) to keep their over graduation rates at non-scandalous levels.
Dunnavant ends The Missing Ring with the following:
[Martin Luther King] could not have imagined the day white Alabamians who once believed in segregation as a just institution would cheer the descendents of slaves and take them to their hearts, because being an Alabama football hero ultimately was a stronger force than the legacy of hate and division.
Far from the glare of the national media, hearts and minds were changed on the subject of integration, and slowly, a whole new Alabama emerged—an Alabama that owed every bit as much to young men like Leonard “Rabitt” Thomas, Wilbur Jackson (first Black player at BAMA), and John Mitchell as to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
These words cut to the heart of the concept of college football as the Opiate of America. It's worth noting that this very word, “opium,” was once used to describe the sport of choice of the Afrikaners of South Africa—rugby. This violent game, a grandfather of American football, would be integral in sugar-coating the end of White-rule on the Dark Continent.
CNN relates the heart-warming tale, which would later become the plot of heart-warming Hollywood epic, directed by Clint Eastwood:
Francois Pienaar was the "big blonde son of apartheid," a white South African who grew up dreaming of glory on the rugby field.
He became a star and the captain of South Africa's national rugby team—a sport hated by many black South Africans as the game of their oppressors.
But on June 12, 1994, Nelson Mandela summoned Pienaar to his office to ask him to play a more dramatic role.
John Carlin, author of "Playing the Enemy," said Mandela used the World Cup final to win the allegiance of a group of people who had largely applauded his 27-year imprisonment, and threatened to push South Africa into a civil war.
"It was on that day [the day of the Rugby World Cup final] that white South Africa finally, categorically accepted him as their rightful president, the president of all South Africans," Carlin said.
"I left that first meeting with the feeling that we were in good hands in South Africa," Pienaar said. "I felt safe with him."
What happened after Pienaar's meeting with Mandela was so magical that it seemed to unfold like a movie. Now, 15 years later, it is. "Invictus," a Clint Eastwood-directed film on Mandela, opens nationally this Friday. Morgan Freeman stars as Mandela and Matt Damon plays Pienaar.
In his book, Carlin described Pienaar as the "big blonde son of apartheid," a 6-foot-4, 240-pound man who grew up worshipping the violent sport of rugby, an obsession for many Afrikaners. Rugby is known as "the opium of the Afrikaner," says Carlin.
When the final history of White Dispossession is written, a chapter should be dedicated to football. Put in symbolic terms, Southern Whites have witnessed the destruction of their cities, their schools, and their way of life; in return, they have been given the opportunity to root for all-Black football squads.
Roll Tide!—Geaux Tigers! Don't think too hard about the consequences.