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Vol. 57, No. 4 • June 2020 • .pdf version
Especially now, reporters need to listen
By MIKE WATERS / Syracuse Post-Standard
This is a story about taking a knee; about taking a stand or taking a seat.
It's a story that Marty Glickman, the famed radio voice of the New York Giants and New York Knicks, told many times in the years before his death in 2001.
See, before he embarked an his illustrious broadcasting career, Glickman enjoyed an incredible athletic career as a running back at Syracuse and member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team as a sprinter.
As Glickman recounted, the Syracuse football team went to play a game against Maryland in College Park, Md., in the fall of 1937.
Syracuse's star quarterback was a man named Wilmeth Sidat-Singh. In a time of racial segregation, Sidat-Singh was often passed off with a wink and nod as a Hindu rather than African-American. But Sidat-Singh was the name of his stepfather. Sidat-Singh, who grew in New York City and attended DeWitt Clinton High School, was born in Washington, D.C.
In the days leading up to Syracuse's game against Maryland, Sam Lacy, the great black journalist, broke a story that told the truth of Sidat-Singh's race.
Maryland administrators, who were willing to buy into the myth that Sidat-Singh was Hindu, refused to play the game if Sidat-Singh took the field.
Glickman was sitting right next to Sidat-Singh when Syracuse's athletic director, along with head coach Ossie Solem, walked into the locker room and broke the news to the team. Maryland would not play against a black man.
Sidat-Singh was going to have to remain on the bench.
Glickman thought of saying something, defending his teammate, standing up for a cause. But he didn't. In his words, he stared at the floor and told himself that he would be labeled a troublemaker.
"A trouble-making Jew-boy."
And the worst part was Glickman was in Sidat- Singh's shoes just one year earlier.
In 1936, Glickman, then just 18 years old, had qualified as a sprinter for the United States' 4x400 relay team. He went to the Olympics. The Berlin Olympics. Hitler's Olympics. On the morning of the 400-meter relays, the U.S. coaches had informed Glickman and another Jewish member of the team, Sam Stoller, that they were being replaced. The decision was seen as an obvious move to avoid further embarrassing Hitler.
No one stood up for Glickman in Berlin and, to his everlasting regret, Glickman did not stand up for Sidat- Singh in College Park.
Syracuse lost 13-0. One season later, Maryland traveled to Syracuse. This time, Sidat-Singh played and Syracuse won, 53-17.
The story remains relevant today.
All across the nation, people are standing up against police brutality and racial inequality.
In the wake of George Floyd's death while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, there have been protests, demonstrations and rallies in major cities and small towns.
Many of these events have included the voices of young athletes. Even more athletes have found their voices through social media, reaching out to hundreds and thousands of followers.
These young men are the Marty Glickmans and Wilmeth Sidat-Singhs of their time. They have finally discovered their power.
They are speaking up despite the fact that Glickman's fears of being labeled a troublemaker still ring true. Glickman's fears in 1937 played out as recently as four years ago when the NFL blackballed Colin Kaepernick right out of the league after he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality toward blacks.
As for those of us in the media? I was recently a guest on a former Syracuse center Etan Thomas' Twitch show "Center of Attention." Thomas is a well-known author and social activist.
Thomas asked me about my role as a sports journalist in covering the stories of racial inequality. Now, I'm not a columnist. During my J-school years, it was ingrained in me to be objective. The old "No cheering in the press box'" philosophy.
However, these times are different for many of us. How do we not stand up for racial equality? How do we fail to recognize the mistreatment of blacks by law enforcement?
This is what I told Thomas:
"As a reporter, your job is to listen. On a college basketball beat, I listen to players and coaches, whether it's a matter of race or a matter of basketball. As a white guy in his 50s, I don't know what's like to be a black man of any age, but I know how to listen.
"Then, I can amplify their voices. I can give them a way to express themselves. They have to trust me with that. I appreciate their experiences and I want to hear them. That's my job as a beat writer. I'm not a 'stick to sports' or a 'shut up and dribble' guy. Sports and society overlap all the time and they have for decades."
None of us have covered a game in well over three months now, but many of us have written some of the most important stories in our careers.
As athletes stand up, let's make sure we listen.
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