If Duke wins, let's play politics and not sports

JOHN EISENBERG

November 16, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

As yet the NCAA is not saying what it might do if the people of Louisiana elect David Duke governor today.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is hinting about acting, but as yet: nothing.

The NFL? Mum.

Too bad. In my perfect world, all of them would already have the word out on the street.

Voters would go to the polls knowing a Duke victory would lead to the NCAA's pulling the 1993 Final Four out of New Orleans.

Same for the Olympic track and field trials next spring.

And Super Bowls? Well, in my perfect world, voters would go to the polls knowing the NFL would never bring the Supe back to New Orleans.

"There are certain things that transcend sports and politics," Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams was saying yesterday, "and I think this is over the line. It merits a response."

Understand, I'm lukewarm at best on the matter of mixing sports and politics. I can see the other side. Pulling the Olympic trials and Final Four out of Louisiana wouldn't make David Duke anything other than what he already is.

"You're throwing pebbles when you need to throw stones," Morgan State track coach Leonard Braxton said.

Can't argue with that. But there are extreme cases that just can't be ignored. This is one. This is just a matter of decency.

In no good conscience should an event such as the Final Four, which so celebrates black athletes, be held in front of a people who elected David Duke.

"I really wouldn't have any interest in going to a Final Four there in 1993," Towson State basketball coach Terry Truax said, "and understand, I love New Orleans."

So do a lot of people. A lot of people who won't be going back if Duke is elected. You can see it coming. I only wish the NCAA and others had trusted their gut and spoken out beforehand. No decent person would have blamed them.

"In this instance I don't think people would have minded [sports] getting politicized on this issue," Truax said. "The guy just stands for such overwhelming injustice."

Of course, it's no secret why the NCAA and others stayed quiet. The NFL was accused of meddling when it threatened to pull the 1993 Super Bowl before a vote on affirming a Martin Luther King holiday in Arizona. The people got mad. The holiday was not affirmed.

The important point is this: The people of Louisiana should understand fully that, even if more than some of them are happy with Duke, the rest of the country finds him as disgusting as a week's worth of garbage stacked high in July.

Taking away sports would help accomplish that. It wouldn't just be a symbolic gesture, either. We're talking about hundreds of millions of lost revenue.

There can't be too much censure. Fay Vincent should say Duke's election kills New Orleans' chances of getting a baseball team. Saints owner Tom Benson should start talking about what a beautiful, new -- and very empty -- dome they're building over in San Antonio.

Granted, mixing sports and politics raises nettlesome questions. For instance, what is the line of odiousness beyond which event-pulling is warranted? Who decides? Who plays God? Duke's opponent, Edwin Edwards, has been indicted many times. Why is he OK? Black athletes have it rough in Boston, Utah, Phoenix, all over the place. Why is that OK and this not?

"Why this issue when racism does, and will continue to, exist on a daily basis?" Leonard Braxton said. "I obviously wouldn't vote for the guy, but how is a sports boycott going to change the mind of the little white boy down there who doesn't like me because I'm black?"

The only answer I have is that to me, you're not making progress by sitting idly as a David Duke gets elected.

"When I look at what we try to do as coaches and teachers, and when I look at what David Duke stands for, they do not go together," Gary Williams said. "If you're trying to teach kids to see people as individuals, you can't affirm what this man stands for. And keeping the Final Four there is an affirmation."

Yes, sports is just sports; it can't change the world or an election. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with taking a stand -- and applying some economic pressure.

"As I see it," Terry Truax said, "this relates perfectly to something Martin Luther King said. 'Injustice to anyone anywhere is injustice to everyone everywhere.' So what do you do? If you can, you act."

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