While not a big fan of Cee Lo Green’s musical output, he said something that caught my attention. Commenting on diversity, Green said, “If we’re all sittin’ in a room with the lights out, we’re all the same color.”
I quoted him in my acceptance speech when I was inducted into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame this spring along with Bob St. Clair (USF and NFL) and Craig Morton (Caland NFL).
In my home we were always taught not to think of color, but of personality defined as the manner and disposition of a person.
The genesis of this philosophy came from my father and his involvement in sports. While Dad played on all-white teams throughout school, he taught and coached at diverse Lincoln High School in Los Angeles. His star player was Kenny Washington, who my Dad helped matriculate to UCLA.
When Washington was signed by the L.A. Rams in 1946, he broke the NFL’s color barrier. I would accompany Dad when he refereed college games. At halftime during a game Dad said to me, “Watch this halfback, he’s really going to be something.”
That athlete was Pasadena City College’s Jackie Robinson, pre- UCLA and well before his historic journey with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Sports have been a great equalizer in race relationships. As coaches, Dad and I played the player who had the most talent coupled with a manner and disposition that would help our team succeed. But it took a long time for blacks to play or officiate regularly.
Burl Toler Sr. was the first black official in the NFL. Toler, now deceased, was an earlier inductee into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame. He and I were on the same officiating crew for eleven years.
It may be difficult for some to imagine what it was like to be a black man in the 1960s, putting on an NFL official’s uniform that no other of his race had worn.
Much like Washington and Robinson, Toler handled prejudice with grace and dignity. Toler, a middle school principal, had his former campus named after him in 2006. In 2011 Lincoln High School named its football field “Kenny Washington Field”. Progress took far too long.
Will you regard others with the same honor and dignity with which you would enjoy?