Earlier this week I woke up to the sad news that legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith had died at the age of 83. As a sports fan my whole life, I've lived through many sad sports stories, witnessed the deaths of many sports heroes. But no sports figure has ever affected me as personally as the loss of "The Coach," "Michaelangelo," Dean Smith.
|Michael Jordan and Dean Smith|
THIS SHORT VIDEO ALSO OFFERS a few highlights:
- Smith was a star on his high school team, or I should say ONE of his teams since his school had a white team and a black team. In 1949, recognizing the injustice, Smith used his status as a star athlete to pressure the principal to integrate the school. One of the black players was Oliver BROWN -- as in the 1954 landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. Slate's Jason Zengle" puts it this way: "To Smith, racial justice was about much more than winning and losing. It was simply the correct thing to do." Smith, he continues, "understood this far sooner than many other white Americans." As a teenager in Topeka, Kansas, he’d persuaded his high school principal—five years before the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education -- to integrate the school’s basketball team.
- Nine years later, as a mere assistant basketball coach at UNC, he integrated Chapel Hill when he invited a black divinity student to eat at the town's finest restaurant, which was then still segregated. Since the Tar Heels ate many meals there, Smith gambled that the restaurant wouldn't want to lose their business, saying he would not eat there if they wouldn't serve people of color. They were promptly served and the restaurant ended its practice of segregation.
- Shortly thereafter he integrated the ACC, recruiting its first black player, Charlie Scott (below, right). That it took three years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act for this southeastern conference to allow a black player on court speaks volumes about the kind of environment in which "The Coach" set up shop.
- In an age where celebrities and ordinary citizens alike are often afraid to speak up since it might hurt their reputation, their "brand," Smith exercised his First Amendment rights, speaking out against the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, and capital punishment (starts at 2:40 on the video). Can you imagine another major basketball coach taking on the Prison-Industrial complex? At the state capitol, as the video relates, Smith pointed his finger at the governor and said, "if you support capital punishment you are a murderer." Then, since he was never holier than thou, he pointed at himself and said, "And I am a murderer. Capital punishment makes murderers of us all." Would John Calipari risk his "brand" by taking a political stand? No chance!
|Dean Smith and Charlie Scott|
For these reasons Smith gets my vote for being an American hero. Whom would you nominate and why?