David Bruce: The Funniest People in Sports, Volume 2: 250 Anecdotes — Practical Jokes, Prejudice

Practical Jokes

• At the 2004 football game between Harvard and Yale, pranksters gave colored pieces of paper to selected Harvard fans and told them that when they all held up the pieces of paper at the same time, the pieces of paper would spell “GO HARVARD.” In fact, when held up at the same time the pieces of paper spelled “WE SUCK.”

• Rabbit Maranville once was tagged out when he fell victim to the hidden baseball trick. Later that day, some of his friends treated him to supper. Rabbit’s dessert was a huge bowl of ice cream, and when he started to eat it, he found a hidden baseball.

Prejudice

• Bill Russell experienced prejudice while starring for the Boston Celtics. After a three-day weekend, he and his family returned to their home only to discover that it had been broken into and vandalized. Many of his trophies had been smashed, and the vandals had spray-painted “NIGGA” on some walls. In addition, whenever Mr. Russell was out of Boston playing away games, someone upset his trashcans. When Mr. Russell complained to the police about the trashcans, the police told him that raccoons had created the mess. Therefore, Mr. Russell asked about getting a gun permit so he could shoot the raccoons. Apparently, the “raccoons” heard about the gun permit because they stopped upsetting Mr. Russell’s trashcans. Nevertheless, progress in civil rights was being made. Mr. Russell’s grandfather, whom Mr. Russell called the “Old Man,” lived in the Jim Crow South. When he finally attended his first professional basketball game, he was accompanied by his son, Mr. Russell’s father. The Old Man was astonished at seeing the respect Mr. Russell received as player-coach. The Old Man asked Mr. Russell’s father, “Do them white boys really have to do what William tells them to do?” He was even more astonished when he saw John Havlicek, a white man, and Sam Jones, a black man, showering and talking together. The Old Man marveled, “I never thought I’d live to see the day when the water would run off a white man onto a black man, and the water would run off a black man onto a white man.”

• When Jackie Robinson integrated modern major-league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, not all the players were happy about it, especially the players from the South. In fact, some players signed a petition saying that they didn’t want to play baseball with him. One player who refused to sign the petition was Pee Wee Reese, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Manager Leo Durocher heard about the petition, and he called a team meeting at which he told the players that he, not them, would decide who played: “I’m the manager and I’m paid to win and I’d play an elephant if he could win for me and this fellow Robinson is no elephant. … And here’s something else. He’s only the first, boys—only the first.” Mr. Durocher made it also clear that he didn’t want to see the petition, and he never did. Later, at least some of the players who had signed the petition supported Mr. Robinson. In a series against Philadelphia, the Phillies were shouting abuse against Mr. Robinson, who would not respond to the abuse because of fear of setting back African-American progress. Eventually, petition-signer Ed Stanky grew tired of the name-calling, so he shouted to the Philadelphia ballplayers, “Listen, you yellow-bellied cowards. Why don’t you shout at somebody who can answer back.”

• John Amaechi became the first player to come out of the closet in the National Basketball Association. Being black, and gay, and intelligent, and outspoken (he has spoken out against the National Rifle Association and George W. Bush’s war in Iraq), he is a target for prejudice. Tariq Abdul-Wahid, one of his teammates, told him even before he came out of the closet, “Meech, you are the only person I have ever met who is an expert at not fitting in no matter where you are.” In his native Great Britain, Mr. Amaechi says that he fits in more readily than he does in the United States, but even in Britain he runs into problems. He points out about people walking towards him on the sidewalk, “At 400 feet they see a big black man and they cross the road to avoid me. At 200 feet they cross back because they realize that I’m a professional basketball player and they want a closer look. At 50 feet they recognize me as the gay bloke who just came out and then they cross back across the road again.” While he was still in the NBA, a teammate asked him, “You gay, dude?” Mr. Amaechi replied, “You have nothing to worry about.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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