Taking a new look at history can be a difficult task

We have to expose the horrors of racism, but we also must be careful about erasing the past.

SHARE Taking a new look at history can be a difficult task
Many people simply did not want to hear Colin Kaepernick’s message.

Many people simply did not want to hear Colin Kaepernick’s message.


How far do we go?

Where do we stop?

These are turbulent times — for the world and for that little moon that circles the world, the sphere I have made my working life: planet sports.

George Floyd, COVID-19, protests . . . 

The old racist views in this country — many unchanged since the days of slavery — are being held up to the light. The video of the white Minneapolis cop kneeling on Floyd’s neck, left hand casually in pocket, until the Black man is dead — well, that blew everything to pieces.

Statues are literally being torn down.

Down go Robert E. Lee, Andrew Jackson, all the Confederate ‘‘heroes’’ erected during Jim Crow and Ku Klux Klan resurrection days as salve to the damaged pride of Southerners unable to process the fact they were guilty of treason.

Gone, too, is Aunt Jemima on pancakes, likely Uncle Ben on rice boxes and even Teddy Roosevelt on his horse in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

I have looked at that magnificent statue many times, met people under it, wondered about the Black man and Native American standing alongside Roosevelt’s mighty steed, thought: Hmm, kinda subservient, aren’t they?

But the movement has sports in its crosshairs, too. Colin Kaepernick, the original kneeling protester, helped focus it four years ago, to much fury.

So the statue of former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in front of the team’s stadium in Charlotte has been removed. The man was allegedly a racist and sexist.

But how far do we go with this purification, this expunging of history, ugly as it may be?

Take Christopher Columbus.

Everybody now knows he didn’t discover America. How can you discover a place inhabited for centuries by the population that was already there?  

Columbus actually never set foot in what is now the United States. He was after gold and slaves. Simple fact. 

But his statue here in Chicago remains, shrouded for protection but still up, fiercely guarded by some Italian Americans and others who see him as a proud cultural figure.

It’s telling that Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Black woman very sensitive to racial issues, says the statue should remain up as a teaching tool for young people.

She says we should ‘‘not try to erase history, but to embrace it full-on.’’


Is it possible Native Americans, slaughtered and wiped out by disease courtesy of European settlers post-Columbus, don’t have nearly the voice that Blacks and Italian Americans do?

Where do ‘‘teaching’’ moments end and genuine affronts to dignity begin?

A movement is afoot to change the name of the Texas Rangers. You probably never knew that the actual Rangers, a historic law-enforcement agency praised as frontier tough guys but also known as the Gestapo of the Southwest, tortured, lynched and murdered thousands of Mexicans and indigenous people in an early form of ethnic cleansing.

The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins are almost no-brainers. 

Chief Wahoo may not be on the Indians’ caps or sleeves, but his grotesque imagery and legacy live on. The sports teams from Dartmouth and Stanford used to be called Indians, but the schools long ago picked new names. And the world kept spinning.

Redskins? There is nothing left to say about this pejorative other than how do any Black players, or all athletes concerned about racism, even don that uniform?

Still, symbolic problems and insults continue to arise as society changes. Not all are obvious or even clearly hurtful. They certainly didn’t offend in olden days. But time is fluid.

Consider Yankees. Vikings. Fighting Irish.

All have, in a certain viewing, negative connotations. But, again, where does the cleanup stop?

People want to get rid of the much-decorated movie ‘‘Gone With the Wind’’ and Disney’s cartoon movie ‘‘Song of the South.’’ University of Texas athletes say they will no longer sing the traditional and race-tinged victory anthem, ‘‘The Eyes of Texas.’’

But what about the crows in ‘‘Dumbo,’’ Jack Benny and his black sidekick, Rochester, the white supremacy of recent movies such as ‘‘The Help’’ and 2019 Oscar winner ‘‘Green Book’’?

Imagine, more than three dozen of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners. Our founder, George Washington, owned slaves.

Our country was not created for all people being equal. It was made for prominent white males. 

We have been troubled by this ever since. We need freedom from oppression. But we need freedom of speech and thought, too.

How we resolve this conflict, in sports and elsewhere, will determine the course of our angry nation.

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