It's been said that sports holds a mirror to society.

I believe that statement is accurate -- and much that it reflects is ugly, particularly of one of this society's most difficult subjects: Race.

The recent defacing of LeBron James' home in Los Angeles brought forth again how much racism affects people, even at the highest levels of society.

James may have said it best in his May 30 press conference.

"No matter how much money you have, how famous you are, how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. We have a long way to go until we feel equal," James said.

James is one of the richest men in America and yet the color of his skin defines him more to some than his talent or his character.

James might be a shining example of the "American Dream." Having grown up very poor in Akron, he used his incredible talents to take him to the top of the sports world, bettering his family, his school and the city of Akron along the way.

To some, however, his accomplishments do not supersede the color of his skin regarding how he is seen.

Black men who are basketball stars or great athletes -- dare I say university professors or even President of the United States? -- are still seen by some as black men, defined by their race alone.

One gets the feeling some people don't want to hear from James once his takes off his uniform.

Some people might love James when he plays, but their opinion of him drops after they leave the arena.

It's a phenomenon touched on by former University of Wisconsin basketball player Nigel Hayes. Hayes acknowledged in November 2016 that wearing university's "W" in no way protected him from racial discrimination or slurs.

Some players at the college level have used the word "plantation" to describe the atmosphere in many big-time college sports. That reference speaks to pre-Civil War slavery.

On the surface, that might seem a horrible analogy. Consider, however, that rich college presidents and their institutions are able to use the labor of their students on the field or court to raise the profile of their institutions and get paid, in some cases, huge sums of money.

The NCAA's claims of being an "amateur" organization are laughable when it comes to Division I college football. The fact is that poor, often black men are working hard -- sometimes breaking their bodies -- and getting no monetary compensation.

Suddenly, the "plantation" analogy doesn't seem so far fetched.

Taking a look at fans in American stadiums can be an exercise in realizing how diverse this country is. During the playoff run, I've seen Cavaliers fans of every race and creed going bonkers for the same thing.

Sports does that in way nothing else in this country does. For a myriad of reasons, sports sometimes feels like the only place that brings different groups of people together anymore.

But after the game is over, do we care about the people wearing our uniforms? Or, Hayes suggested, is the prevailing attitude toward athletes -- particularly black athletes -- "Shut up and play?"

The inference being that white folks will cheer for black players at their universities or pro teams, but once the game is over, you're still black and not wanted here.

I'm a 40-year-old white male and I'm no expert on the subject. But, while I've been around sports my entire life, I don't get the sense they have helped with race relations nearly as much as they should.

Because of its high profile -- and appeal to the masses -- sports have always been a flashpoint for bringing up the racial injustice.

This narrative runs from the signing (and treatment) of Jackie Robinson to the famous raised-fist protests of 1968 Olympics in Mexico City to Colin Kapernick's kneeling during the national anthem.

White anger at these protests also is nothing new.

Why does the subject of racial injustice seem so prevalent in sports? Could it be that athletics remain one of the few places where "powerful" and "black" are allowed to co-exist?

As wildly imperfect as the sports world is, in some ways, it's been ahead of the rest of society on race relations.

It's also shows us, as James noted, how far we have to go.

Racism has been a problem since before the country was founded.

Sports can't solve it, but can still show us where we are -- and how much we still need to do.


Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC