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The Zebra

by Mickey Charles

The age old question is whether the Zebra is, black with white stripes or white with black stripes. Experts have attempted to solve this riddle for decades, controversial and unfounded opinions have been offered from one end of the Serengeti to the other, jokes have riddled the Internet about it and it has been the basis for a reference to anyone with a whistle in an athletic contest, primarily basketball and football.

Frankly, does anyone care? The Zebra is an equine member of the animal populace of our planet and its alternate coloring was the basis for the uniforms of jailed prisoners for decades until someone probably asked Ralph Lauren what would look better and be more recognizable. His response, ?Orange, of course!?

Politically and socially, in what we have erroneously believed is an enlightened age, where people are judged for their talents, and not the color of their skin, slant of their eyes, height, weight, gender, financial standing or genealogy, the media of this great nation of ours has seen fit to carry on the insulting tradition of profiling and categorizing as though it were a badge of courage and accomplishment.

This past week, a headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer sports section blared, ?Two coaches are breaking a big barrier.? Really? What might that be? It certainly was not scaling Mt. Everest, for that has been done before. Swimming the English Channel? Nah. A hot air balloon ride around the globe? Nope, that is the province of {Sir} Richard Branson and a few other zillionaires. Perhaps giving birth? I would find that hard to believe presently.

Lovie Smith
Lovie Smith has a career record of 29-19 in three seasons as head coach of the NFC Champion Chicago Bears.

Got it. The Super Bowl. Coaches whose breeding, bloodline and lineage have them as members of the masses and multitude that are black, as others of us are white, tan, as red as early Indians and yellow as misconceived Japanese. Am I, are we, supposed to applaud their respective teams being in the NFL extravaganza because Messrs Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are black or because they are talented men? A ?first? is for special events, not that these men are the first to use the bathrooms at a Super Bowl game, and they are black or, as is preferred today, African American.

Nancy Pelosi is a first. Jackie Robinson was a first. There has to be an end to it when it has already had a beginning. It is not, contrary to the point attempted to be made in the feature referred to, a big deal. What is a big deal is that they are there, that Peyton Manning is there, that Rex Grossman will have the most exciting two weeks of his life.

Ethnic pride is one thing but shoving it in our faces over and over is, frankly, insulting to the men about whom we are speaking. Dungy and Smith have done a great job with the Colts and the Bears. They are men, coaches, experts at what they do and have achieved a lofty plateau. Does anyone really care if they were tri-colored? They are not there because of their color; they are there because of their talents. I do not recall Marv Levy being hailed as the first Jewish American coach to reach the Super Bowl. Sandy Koufax was regaled as fantastic but not because he was Jewish. As for Hank Greenberg, the writer of that feature, probably too young to remember, forgets that pitchers stopped pitching to Greenberg when he got close to Ruth?s record because he was Jewish.

Tony Dungy
In five seasons with the Colts, Tony Dungy has a career playoff record of 6-4.

Joe DiMaggio was The Clipper. He was not the Italian center fielder for the New York Yankees. Hispanic Americans were likely thrilled when Jim Plunkett led the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XV but he was Jim Plunkett, quarterback. What we remember was that his father had progressive blindness and supported a blind wife and three children. In other words, self-esteem and self-respect are wonderful traits when justified, as is the case with Dungy and Smith. But, their being on the field next week is not a barrier-breaker, not when the majority of the players on the field will be black. They, the players, are there because they are better; they have the talent, not because of their color. That is why these coaches will be there and promulgating, perpetuating and fostering anything else is counter productive, detrimental and insulting to the men about whom you are speaking.

Hillary Clinton might be a first soon but that is a true first and we cannot continue to classify every event that comes our way as a first. This is not landing on the moon. It is not giving birth (perish the thought!) to sextuplets, to a litter as a human.

The rest of us are not Japanese American, Italian American, Polish American, Jewish American, Latin American, Irish American?.we are American. The color of our skin should not differentiate us and the consistent mentioning of it does just that. To what end? Hollywood has more than its share of black stars and I, for one, go to see a movie because Denzel Washington is in it, because Sidney Poitier is in it, not because they are African American actors.

It is the media that continues to create the barriers when they think that they are simply writing about ethnic pride. Wrong. The order of things has been perverted. Jackie Robinson broke a barrier. Dungy and Smith have been coaching for a long time and where they will be next week is just another step in their careers, as men. They were not left out of the big dance due to color, as Jackie Robinson was by MLB.

The NCAA, the colleges and universities of our country, might have some bigotry here and there?blacks, Jews?but, by far, you make it as a player, teacher, coach because you earned it, not because someone says, ?We need more [fill in the space] coaches these days.? To put Bill Russell in that category, as this writer of The Inquirer piece did, was ridiculous. He was a star in college, drafted in the NBA and a star for the Celtics. John Chaney worked his way up the ranks and, when he got to Temple, proved he belonged there?because he had the talent, not the color.

You want to do something about bigotry, intolerance, prejudice, sexism, racism and the narrow minded, stop bringing it to their attention and propagating the problem. Respect the men [or women] and their achievements as members of the human race, not the race. They already won that and deserve to be applauded for doing so, for being who they are as people.

Will the media change when they have a chance to continue to separate us, instead of uniting us? You gotta be kidding!