Sports

James Burns: Let's face the facts -- racism exists in the Valley

James Burns

Calendar check: Thanksgiving is Thursday.

So among the other holiday chores like folding napkins and ironing curtains, I guess we should also be brushing up on saying "Thanks" -- plus perfecting those hugging skills.

Right?

Uh...

Maybe not.

During these surprisingly warm November days, there's been an even hotter issue brewing.

A great many of us have spent the last week or so at each other's proverbial throats, waging what has become an intense dialogue.

Instead of shining Grandma's china, we've been too busy sharpening metaphorical knives and forks.

The issue that has us all riled up, cocked forward and growling like hungry dogs ready to attack, has to deal with racism.

That nasty six-letter word.

Racism in sports.

Racism in our communities.

Racism here in the 21st century.

Former Sun-Star editor Steve Cameron dropped a bombshell on the readership last week, suggesting that the Merced football team -- a roster loaded with minority players -- has been the victim of racism.

Not just tiny doses, either -- but unabashed racism from some game officials down to a few opposing players.

Cameron mentioned specific incidents involving Pitman and Turlock high schools -- though pointing out there were events involving other teams -- and stated that at various times, he'd heard game officials making racist or biased comments directed at Merced.

I can't support or refute the claims.

He witnessed it.

I did not.

I will, however, ask this of those up in arms about Cameron's column: Did you at least see his point?

Say what you will about Cameron's opinions and his first-hand accounts.

You might believe the claims were out of proportion or unfounded, or perhaps the last shot fired by a retiring columnist.

Just don't say the Sun-Star didn't shine a light on an issue that has been widely ignored for some time now.

Racism still exists.

In our sports.

In our communities.

It lurks in the cracks of our very imperfect world, hiding underground, waiting like a geyser to blow sky-high at any time.

The fact that we have to deal with this at all is a travesty.

That it's still being used as a weapon by our kids and has a place in their sporting venues is, well...

A tragedy.

An absolute tragedy.

Let me a share a story with you -- one of the saddest I can recall.

Not too long ago, maybe four or five winters back, I was working for a small publication here in the Valley.

We covered a basketball team that was among the best in the southern region of the Sac-Joaquin Section -- East Union High in Manteca.

Back then, the team was led by Michael Nunnally, an imposing African-American player who could win games simply by showing up.

Nunnally was that gifted -- tall and long, with the athleticism of a player half his size.

However, not everyone was a fan.

And on one occasion, a set of parents from the opposing school was caught bad-mouthing Nunnally in the stands.

Their hate manifested itself in the worst possible way.

Instead of booing Nunnally's buckets or rebounds -- which we can all agree is fair and commonplace -- they resorted to attacks on his skin color and heritage.

Like it was the 1960s in Alabama.

Like history hasn't taught us enough already.

See, whether or not you believe unsavory events took place during a Merced football game, the fact of the matter is that racism still exists.

And that's the point.

That should be the message.

Did you catch it?

I suspect you did, because there's another factor at play here, which might be the only bit of sunshine in all of this.

That would be your dialogue -- all the e-mails, posts, phone calls and comments.

Keep 'em coming.

The more we talk and the more we raise awareness, episodes like these are less likely to occur.

And that would be reason enough to give thanks. .

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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