The New York Knicks on Martin Luther King Jr. day takes center stage, this time with a little help from Allan Houston and a lesson.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is here and it is a great day to sit and reflect on how a great man changed America for the better.
Whenever I think of this holiday, I think about the time, years ago, when I was doing a piece for ESPN before a New York Knicks game at MSG. The great Allan Houston said, “Rich, I will tell you that because of his (MLK) hard work, you and I can have a conversation and totally respect each other the way we do and learn from each other. And that is what he brought out in all of us.”
Truer words were never spoken about MLK Day. Sports do a great job of connecting all of us, but even in the sports world, racism exists, and we must use all of our powers in the sports media to expose those issues on a regular basis.
I will share with you a personal story early in my life:
I went to Cardinal Spellman High School, which was the premier high school in the Bronx, and remains such to this day. It was located in an area that personified the racial changes going on and each day I would take a bus to and from school.
One afternoon when I was on the bus, I was blindsided by a black youth who nailed me with a cross to the face, cutting the bridge of my nose and sending blood everywhere. I threw a punch on the way down but it harmlessly connected with nothing but air as my attacker exited the back door of the bus.
The driver stopped the bus and, although I was feeling the impact of the punch, all I wanted to do was to get home. One of my close friends walked me all the way home as my white dress shirt was covered in blood. My parents were very calm and took me to the hospital to stitch up the bridge of my nose, and when I got home, I had a conversation with my parents that I will never forget.
I was only a teenager and my dad knew the worst thing I could do was retaliate for this act—even though he saw his son covered in blood.
He said, “Rich, you have every right to be angry as this was a terrible thing that happened to you. Don’t overreact to this as this is just a sick person and you need to get it out of your mind especially if you are thinking of retaliating on an innocent black person just to even things out, that would make you as bad as him.”
His words resonated with me during my entire career as our world has become a diverse one and the sports world is certainly very symbolic of that concept. And it has allowed me to spot “closet racism” even in the people closest to me in my life. My spirituality as a Christian allowed me to forgive the person that assaulted me. but in a sense. I also understood if it never happened to me, those words from my dad might never have been uttered.
The entire experience made me realize that we just can’t understand what the non-white person feels every single day.
The guy who nailed me with a punch might have come from a broken family or been abused or possibly a white person had done the same to him that he did to me. It would never excuse what he did to me, but retaliating against anybody just to even the score was pointless.
No one individual can walk in any other individual’s shoes, ever.
That event shaped my life, helping me understand that despite what happened to me, if I allowed it to enter my soul, the hatred would never leave me. It also gave me a very small taste of what black people had to deal with every single day.
Later that week, my dad bought me a book on MLK’s life and I began to fully understand that, as an American, I had to be committed to fighting racism, which is why I try to do just that in my sports reporting.
The way the Georgetown Basketball team was treated by the media in this town was my first exposure to it as a reporter, but not the last time. Darryl Strawberry, Willie Randolph, Patrick Ewing and so many others have been treated badly for that reason and I will continue to fight it every day of my life.
And thank you Martin Luther King Jr., Allan Houston and, yes, my Dad, for pointing it out in such vivid fashion. And that is what Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to do until his life ended because a racist murdered him. America loves you, MLK, and will forever walk hand in hand with you to fight racism.