"What ironical tricks are played on the poor unsuspecting Nordics!"
October 31, 2013 1:49 PM   Subscribe

76 Years Later, Maryland Tries To Right A College Football Wrong (SLDeadspin) In October 1937, Maryland administrators threatened to cancel a game with Syracuse unless the then-Orangemen benched their offensive star, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh. The problem, as Maryland saw it, was that he wasn't the right type of colored boy.
posted by MCMikeNamara (15 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Wow! This is an amazing story — thank you for this, MCMikeNamara.
posted by grubi at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2013

It's easy to forget sometimes not only how horrible racism is, but how self-defeating it can get:

But in Sidat-Singh's day, Maryland administrators were so keen on segregation that they prohibited Terps athletic teams from scheduling any school that allowed blacks to play.

Seems like a terrible way to run a sports program, if you would restrict your potential competitors in this way.
posted by Cash4Lead at 2:20 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a great story, and thank you for posting it.

What strikes me about stories like this is how brazen the prejudice is in them. How normal it must have seemed to just have a rule that a black athlete couldn't compete in your stadium.

It makes me think what kind of prejudices I'm carrying around with me that just seem totally normal. And how we've made a lot of progress at shifting the old prejudices into the shadows, but have made a lot less progress at living together as equals. As a white person living in a "challenged" minority-majority city in the Northeast, surrounded by wealthy, overwhelmingly white suburbs, I can tell you that de jure segregation is a thing of the past, but de facto segregation is alive and well.
posted by gauche at 2:30 PM on October 31, 2013

An amazing piece, and not safe for not crying at work.
posted by kmz at 2:36 PM on October 31, 2013

If you ever think the entertainment industry isn't stupidly, self-harmingly racist, remember that the story of Wilmeth Sidat-Singh -- 1930s "fake Hindu" college football and basketball star, professional Negro-league basketball barnstormer, eventual Washington D.C. police officer who died training with the Tuskegee Airmen -- has never been made into any sort of movie, when it sounds like there are easily 3 or 4 waiting to be made from his too short life.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:38 PM on October 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

"You'll be disappointed to know that Sing is only technically Hindu; although his father, who's been practicing medicine in New York for the past dozen years, was born in India, Sing himself has an American mother, his birthplace is Washington, D.C., and he's a Christian."

I would have thought that being a Christian would make him technically Christian but I think my decoder ring is having trouble decrypting the mash-up of religious, cultural and racial prejudices in that sentence.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was going to say that you can't read that paragraph with modern eyes, but sadly that isn't wholly accurate either when you consider that Muslim president.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:42 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

blacks weren't welcome in the NFL at the time, so he wasn't invited by any pro team to sign on and join them at the next level.

This is the part of racism that I can't wrap my head around and what males most stories from this time feel like a fairy tale. From the story Sidat-Singh was a significantly better than average player in a skilled position and yet team owners wouldn't even consider taking that advantage because of racism. I just can't put myself in their shoes to see their viewpoint. Didn't they want to win?
posted by Mitheral at 3:47 PM on October 31, 2013

Didn't they want to win?

It helps to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of any sports franchise isn't to win games; it's to make money. Winning is important only insofar as it increases the number of people who will buy tickets and licensed merchandise and such. If a given staffing decision seems likely to decrease that number of people (because, y'know, the fanbase is racist), it would defeat the goal of the franchise.
posted by Shmuel510 at 3:53 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Didn't they want to win?

Sportsmanship is connected to sense of self. Most athletes and coaches don't want to win at any price. They wouldn't cheat even if they thought they could get away with it because the victory would be hollow for them. Likewise, segregated teams would rather lose than win a "contaminated" victory.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:56 PM on October 31, 2013

Most athletes and coaches don't want to win at any price. They wouldn't cheat even if they thought they could get away with it because the victory would be hollow for them.

What world are you living in? I can cite a dozen cheating cases from the last 10 years without even trying or doing a search. It is about winning at any price and making money. This isn't even arguable.
posted by Xurando at 4:52 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can cite a dozen cheating cases from the last 10 years

We're not talking about the last 10 years, we're talking about 76 years ago, when, apparently, it was more important for sports teams to be white than to win. Presumably because winning with a non-white star player would actually limit how much money could be made, and also because they were super racist.
posted by misfish at 5:00 PM on October 31, 2013

It always surprises me when I hear about Maryland/DC fighting tooth and nail against segregation, long after the point where most of their northern contemporaries had given up the fight. It's especially pernicious in sports--remember that the Washington Redskins were the last team in the NFL to allow black players, and only did so under threat of a federal civil rights case. Which of course means I have to trot out my all-time favorite sportswriting line, by Shirley Povich in the Washington Post in 1960, and apropos of Mr. Sidat-Singh:
Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday
posted by Mayor West at 5:12 PM on October 31, 2013 [13 favorites]

The point of not allowing black players isn't about winning. It's about not allowing the possibility that a white player might lose to a black player. Racism is a systemic lie that has to supported everywhere or it, very gradually, falls apart.
posted by rdr at 5:28 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Didn't they want to win?"

Ask black college quarterbacks in the 70's and 80's in the south. There were plenty of rich alumni boosters who held rein over coaches and would not allow the better QB to take snaps if there was a nearly-as-good white kid.
posted by surplus at 8:01 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

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