Sam Lacy: without fear or fatigue

January 24, 1999|By John Steadman | John Steadman,Sun Staff

"Fighting for Fairness: The Life Story of Hall of Fame Sportswriter Sam Lacy," by Sam Lacy with Moses J. Newson. Tidewater. 240 pages. $29.95.

Energized by a sense of fair play and a typewriter that could spit fire, Sam Lacy stands as a freedom fighter, a sentinel at-the-ready, as he has fought the last 60-plus years to make the sports world a better place for humanity -- demolishing barriers and hoping to make the spirit of fun and games reflect the true ideals of life. His only objective was to press on.

The specific cause of the black man, along with a desire to gain a level field for women athletes, has constantly drawn his attention. Through six decades as a sports writer he has been one of the nation's best, even though his readership has, in the main, been confined to the Baltimore Afro-American. If you haven't read Lacy then you've missed a great one.

Lacy, now the oldest practicing sports writer in the world at age 95, joined collaborator Moses Newson, a former Afro-American executive editor, to let his life story emerge. The book describes Sam's indefatigable trip through ball parks, football stadia, indoor arenas, Olympic venues and press boxes. He was waiting to record the results but also there to create havoc, if the situation demanded, by insisting black athletes, men and women, deserved the same treatment as whites.

He spent training-camp time with Jackie Robinson as both endured the indignities of the deep south as the Brooklyn Dodgers prepared to make Robinson the first black to play major league baseball. He quotes Robinson as saying Baltimore, the southernmost city in the International League in 1946, the year he broke the color line, was the worst of all but it was in Syracuse where Jackie was taunted by the presence of a black cat thrown on the field as he suffered through indoctrination to organized baseball.

Lacy was pursuing equal opportunity for others before the rest of the world was acquianted with the phrase. Baseball was only one of many areas that drew his attention. He took up the issue of why there were few black quarterbacks and coaches in the NFL but is elated the number of black players has increased from 18.8 percent of the rosters in 1962 to 70 percent today. A far cry from 1946, when the only blacks were Willie Strode and Kenny Washington with the Los Angeles Rams and Marion Motley and Bill Willis with the Cleveland Browns.

Lacy criticized golf and tennis for early delay of game, otherwise known as foot-dragging; why there were no black coaches in the Olympics when the best athletes were black; pressuring CBS for its lack of black announcers and why ABC ignored Calvin Peete when he was in the same pairing with Jack Nicklaus.

In assessing the ongoing crusades, you are inclined to wonder why Lacy didn't grow weary of being the constant point-man in the pursuit of equality. He unselfishly denied himself the joy that sports provides by pushing towards a more important and humane objective: acting in the best interests of the black men and women athletes he was writing about.

John Steadman is a sports columnist for The Sun. Before that he was a sports reporter and sports editor of the Baltimore News-Post, later the Baltimore News American. He was an executive of the Baltimore Colts and for a season, a minor league baseball player.

Pub Date: 01/24/99

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