Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Basketball and racism. Stirring up the pot
A new professional basketball league boasting rosters made up exclusively of white Americans has its eyes set on Augusta, but the team isn't receiving a warm welcome.
The All-American Basketball Alliance announced in a news release Sunday evening that it intends to start its inaugural season in June and hopes Augusta will be one of 12 cities with a team.
"Only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league," the statement said.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who has publicly expressed his support for minor league teams in the past, said he would not do the same for this team.
"As a sports enthusiast, I have always supported bringing more sporting activities to Augusta," he said. "However, in this instance I could not support in good conscience bringing in a team that did not fit with the spirit of inclusiveness that I, along with many others, have worked so hard to foster in our city."
Clint Bryant, athletic director at Augusta State University, laughed when he heard the news.
"It's so absurd, it's funny, but it gives you an idea of the sickness of our society" he said. "It shows you what lengths people will go to just to be mean-spirited. I think at any basketball level, no matter if it's all black, all white, all Hispanic, all Asian or anyone else, the players should just be a basketball team."
Don "Moose" Lewis, the commissioner of the AABA, said the reasoning behind the league's roster restrictions is not racism.
"There's nothing hatred about what we're doing," he said. "I don't hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here's a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like."
Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of "street-ball" played by "people of color." He pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas' indefinite suspension after bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room, as examples of fans' dissatisfaction with the way current professional sports are run.
"Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?" he said. "That's the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction."
The Atlanta-based league, which will operate as a single-entity owning all of its teams, is looking for local contacts to pay $10,000 to become a "licensee" in one of 12 cities throughout the Southeast. Lewis said he has already received threats from people opposed to the roster restrictions and several cities have told him to stay out of town. Lewis said he has yet to hear from any one in Augusta.
"We need a local person ingrained into the community to make this successful," he said.
Lewis said he expects to eventually find support in every town with a team.
"People will come out and support a product they can identify with. I'm the spoken minority right now, but if people will give us a chance, it'll work... The white game of basketball, which is essentially a fundamental game, works."
Lewis said he wasn't sure where the team will play.
Augusta has had problems with minor league basketball teams in the past, but the issues never centered around race. The Augusta Drive lasted less than a month before folding in 1995, citing financial reasons. The Augusta Groove made it through a full, 20-game schedule in 2009, but accusations from players and local businesses that the team wasn't paying its bills surrounded the team during the second half of the season. The team later shut down in the offseason.
By Billy Byler | Staff Writer| Augusta Chronicle