EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for now-defunct TucsonCitizen.com and has continued to offer his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
Every now and then in this world that seems spinning out of control, something comes along that literally energizes my soul and gives me hope.
Like just a few days ago when I clicked onto Wildcat Wednesday, the update that University of Arizona Athletic Director David Heeke sends out to the school’s sports fans.
What he wrote about on 1-17-18 really resonated with me because when I was an athlete at the U of A and a member of a group called Students for Equality trying to talk to fellow students and the community-at-large about eradicating Tucson’s Jim Crow Laws we were looked at as though we were a communicable disease.
A lot of the response to what we were seeking was the same as groups like Black Lives Matter receive today, all about how we, with our colorful signs highlighting our “Blacks and Whites Together” sentiments, were going about our mission in the wrong way, with not a word about what the right way might be.
And, probably needless to say, there weren’t a lot of athletes involved, at least not openly, in such pursuits of justice and equality at the time.
So I had tears in my eyes as I read in Wildcat Wednesday about the athletic department’s partnership with RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) in an effort to advance equality, respect and understanding.
Wanting to know more about RISE I learned that its originator is Miami Dolphins owner, Stephen M. Ross, a man who grew up in Detroit and witnessed firsthand the negative aspects of racism within his community. He says regarding that experience:
“I saw a unique opportunity to harness the unifying power of sports, produce real change and create a new paradigm. Sports brings together athletes, coaches and fans of all races, uniting us with shared experiences and common goals that allow us to transcend our differences. If there is any place where there is real equality, it’s sports. The sports community is uniquely positioned and empowered to break down barriers, and provides us with a vast platform in which to begin open conversations, impact youth and be an effective catalyst for social progress.”
Statement from Miami Dolphins Owner and Founder of Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) Stephen Ross. pic.twitter.com/6W3mXwJO6M
Oh what a boost to my very well-being just knowing that my beloved school is involved in something with which I so heartily agree.
I so very much appreciate that the school’s women’s basketball team was the first collegiate partner of RISE to host a “Unity Game.” That endeavor to improve race relations and drive social progress fills me with a form of pride I’ve never felt before.
That it was all done with great fanfare, with 600 t-shirts and bracelets given to excited Wildcat sports enthusiasts wearing blue and pledging to end discrimination and challenging others to do the same, posing for pictures with signs saying “Arizona Wildcats United We Stand” and “Wildcats for Equality” – well, that’s like icing on the cake for me (not to mention that our women hoopsters beat the Colorado Buffaloes 72-63).
A loss, as far as I’m concerned, however, wouldn’t have diminished the impact this all has on the making of a better world.
There’s an old saying: “Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it,” implying that it might not be what you want.
But what my university is doing, through its athletes, was at the center of my wishes, my hopes and dreams, my prayers, when I grew up in the Old Pueblo during the 40’s and 50’s – wishes that were nowhere near being realized when I earned a degree in 1960 or when I moved to San Diego in 1962.
There’s no better feeling than seeing a wish come true via my alma mater with its colors of red and blue.
I say to that school which sits a mere ten blocks from my childhood neighborhood: “Your colors truly stand as a symbol of my love for you. To thee I’ll always be true.”
Way to go, Wildcats!