I remember a Saturday Night Live clip several years ago that I found to be very interesting. It was not one of their regular sketches, but rather a camera that panned the crowd at Madison Square Garden at a New York Knicks Game. The name of the segment was "Spot the Black People at the Knicks Game!" The camera panned long and hard over the crowd, and would make a radar-like sound when a black person was spotted. Not many black people were spotted by the camera, until the camera panned towards the court where Spike Lee and the players could be found. The point of this segment I think is that in much of our society minority groups are underrepresented, especially when there is a social class divide created by the cost of tickets to a game at Madison Square Garden.
And of course, if you were a black person there, you might feel a bit awkward in standing out from the rest of the crowd. Racial minorities (they are called that for the reason that there are fewer of them) stand out as looking different from their white counterparts, and with social class divisions a black person enjoying a game primarily attended by whites tends to stand apart from the rest of the crowd. This is an awkward feeling of trying to fit in with a different crowd. If you are white, there typically aren't many places where you can stand out for being white.
But those places of course do exist. And in Our Game, if you are white you will look different from most of the crowd when attending a MEAC or SWAC basketball game. And this is a feeling not many whites like having either. The community of the 800 Games Project, like most online communities, I would suspect is largely white. And whites do not want to experience the feeling of being different from everybody else around them, and largely do not attend games at a HBCU. That might be why the vast majority of recaps involving HBCU basketball teams have been in the form of guarantee games where the HBCU travels to a big major arena. Prior to tonight, there have been only four games that have been recapped played at a HBCU: my two previous recaps at SC State, Joshua Leggette's recap of a Hampton game, and John Willmott's recap of a Howard game. All four of these recaps the HBCU team hosted a predominantly white college (Gardner-Webb and Georgia State at SCSU, William & Mary at Hampton, and St. Francis (NY) at Howard). Today however I would go and see SC State play Coppin State, and be one of a very small number of whites to see two HBCUs play each other on a HBCU campus (Seth Hunt and Kenny Ocker recapped a North Carolina Central-Prairie View game played in Oregon).
Most of us don't like standing out, with our appearance throwing it away that we are outsiders. When I was at High Point and the Panthers were not playing, I frequently went around the area to see UNC Greensboro and Elon play. But not once did I see North Carolina A&T play nor Winston-Salem State in their ill-fated transition to Division I. HBCUs, while only historically black, still have enrollments that are still approximately 90% black today. To be a visiting white person would make me stand out as a visiting outsider, and I really did not want that feeling. And to be honest, I find it absolutely embarrassing on my part to have not once gone to see North Carolina A&T play in my four years at High Point. When doing research for a history class project at HPU, I learned that one of the leading organizers of the Greensboro sit-ins was a white man from Pittsburgh who had befriended the black community while attending A&T basketball games. Not going to see the Aggies play was one of the very few things I have done in my life where I cared about looking normal, and to make that decision in part on race is probably the worst thing I have ever done in choosing what games to attend.
There are reasons for why whites have not taken advantage of integration to attend schools once reserved for blacks. As I addressed in a previous recap from Orangeburg, HBCUs tend to lag behind their counterparts in higher education not just in athletics but academically as well. They do not have the same base of wealthy alumni that most other Division I schools have. And part of their appeal is towards African-American students who do not want to stand out like the black people in the crowd at the Knicks game in that SNL clip. These students want a place where they can keep their historical traditions and fit in with everybody else. I have seen on a message board for HBCU athletics one fan complain about Chicago State being "one of the schools taken away from us" because they have a nearly 20% white enrollment. These types of comments do not encourage whites to attend these institutions. The college my dad teaches at is Morris College, a HBCU with 1,000 students where white enrollment is usually in the single digits. Unless I go with my dad, I usually do not like going to see Morris' NAIA basketball team play because the lone entrance to campus has a security gate, with barbed wire surrounding the campus perimeter, which I find to be a bit intimidating. And similar security gates exist at most HBCUs as well. SC State has a security gate as well, but the guard at the gate is usually pretty relaxed at allowing people through as the gate mostly serves during the day as a way to check campus parking permits. High Point since I graduated put in a security gate similar to that of SCSU. I do not like the idea of non-HBCUs copying this trend of heightened security, as it limits the ability of college campuses to be opening and welcome to the public. An open campus makes it easier for community involvement as well as for recruitment of new students.
And whenever a white employee is fired from a HBCU, there are often claims of racial discrimination much like when a black employee is fired from a predominantly white institution. Whether these claims have merit depends, but this is what often happens when one group is a minority in our society unfortunately. One college that has a history of whites suing the school for discrimination is Savannah State, which I visited a couple years ago when they played Marshall. When visiting a new arena I like to take a pregame walk around the building and take pictures. This caught the attention of a Savannah State security guard, who asked if I was from Marshall. When I said no and told him what I was doing, he could not figure out why someone from South Carolina would visit Savannah to attend a game and take pictures. It's possible that this could have occurred elsewhere given how some people freak out over cameras for no reason. But the fact that I stood out may have also influenced any perception of what I was doing.
Upon graduating from High Point in 2008 and coming home to South Carolina, I decided to visit all 23 Division I or Division II basketball arenas in the state. I felt a bit uneasy at first in visiting three HBCUs, SC State as well as Division II Benedict and Claflin. I usually wore my Obama shirt that I got from doing volunteer work in the Fall of 2008 to the games to show that I had something in common with 90% of African-Americans. I tried to pick an empty section to sit in, and when visiting SC State first I chose to see the Bulldogs play Idaho, a place that would bring in white people. And over time, I lost the need to feel like I had to fit in at these games. I felt better about coming to the games, even if I did stand out. I recorded SC State's Marching 101 on my cell phone and made it my ring tone. Seeing Greek organizations dance perfectly choreographed on the balcony was fun to watch, and I began to enjoy my trips to SCSU as much as any other place in Hoops Nation.
So I had no reservations as a result about coming to Orangeburg tonight to see SC State play, the closest mid-major to where I live. The Bulldogs would play Coppin State in what on paper seemed to be a very even MEAC matchup. Both teams have good tradition, as the Bulldogs have over the years won several MEAC titles while Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell has led the Eagles to a Round of 32 berth in 1997, one of only two times a MEAC team has ever advanced that far. The women's game beforehand was not a great game to watch, as Coppin State won 57-39 in a game where the teams combined for 0.63 points per possession. The men's game started much better. There was very little fouling, and much of the play was wide open with both teams knocking down shots back-and-forth. Play stopped so seldom that the under 16, under 12, and under 8 media timeouts in the first half came on three deadballs out of four. But the game was finally slowed down by a malfunctioning scoreboard that took five minutes to fix. I have once before been to a SCSU game where the scoreboard only existed in a portable display on the scorers' table.
The crowd was what one would expect of a MEAC game. I was not the only white person there, as much like in the SNL clip you could spot people of the minority race if you looked really closely around the arena. In an announced crowd of 602, I counted approximately 20 whites in the building. Among these were two white players, Logan Wiens of Coppin State and Luka Radovic from Serbia on SC State. This may have been the opposite of a NBA game, with a higher percentage of the players being white than the fans. The other whites in the building consisted of a Coppin State assistant coach, three team staff members, the much needed building mechanic for SCSU, a Coppin women's basketball player, a local television camera man, a local newspaper reporter, a few members of the SC State tennis team, and a few other isolated white fans around the building including myself. And both white players would play big roles for their teams. Wiens hit several big shots to open up the Eagles' first half lead, while Radovic desperately tried to match up and keep the Bulldogs in the game. But in the second half Michael Harper would come on strong while SCSU faltered and Coppin would pull away for a surprisingly easy 82-61 road victory.
We still have too much division based on social class, particularly around racial lines as we look to not stand out. I went to a high school that was pretty racially balanced, but all of the white students sat on one side of the cafeteria while all of the black students would sit on the other side. The basketball team almost always did not have one white player, and the baseball team almost always never had any black players. A lot of our peer groups growing up are chosen based on fitting in with everybody else. I think this is part of the reason why such a high percentage of American basketball players are black. Outside of predominantly white areas such as Appalachia and the rural Midwest, playing basketball is considered to be an activity for blacks. High school basketball crowds in South Carolina are usually about 75 percent black with the players nearly all black. We still have too much division based upon how we look on the outside today.
So these lines need to start falling. I want to see more recaps from MEAC and SWAC games later this season. Don't go to a game because you fit in, in fact go to a game to be different. We are so used to seeing our schools play that we forget that there is a lot worth seeing elsewhere. If you live near a HBCU, go see them play and do not worry about fitting in if you are white. Likewise, if you are black then don't worry about trying to fit in elsewhere either. Nobody should be afraid to stand out. It's the only way progress can be made in this country. The Civil Rights Movement would never had succeeded if not for whites that joined them and a made equality a human issue rather than just a black issue. Maybe one day blacks will not have to worry about standing out in a crowd at most college and NBA games, and whites can fit in just as well at a HBCU. And maybe someday I can write a recap on a SC State game without bringing up race, as I have doneeverytime when seeing the Bulldogs play this season. So go out and see all of Our Game, and do not be afraid to stand out.
COPPIN STATE 82, at SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 61 01/09/2012
COPPIN STATE 7-9 (2-1) -- A. Ellis 5-11 1-3 13; M. Harper 10-14 0-1 25; L. Wiens 9-11 0-0 23; T. Gallo 2-9 0-0 4; T. Cephas 1-2 0-0 3; A. Williams 3-6 0-1 6; M. Murray 4-8 0-2 8. Totals 34-61 1-7 82. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 4-12 (0-3) -- K. Toombs 4-12 0-0 9; B. Riley 4-18 0-0 10; L. Radovic 8-12 0-0 17; A. Martin 2-12 0-0 5; J. Ikhinmwin 3-7 3-4 9; O. Sanders 4-5 1-2 9; D. Joint 0-4 0-0 0; T. Gilleylen 1-2 0-0 2; D. Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-72 4-6 61.
Three-point goals: COPP 13-25 (M. Harper 5-8; A. Ellis 2-4; T. Gallo 0-3; M. Murray 0-2; L. Wiens 5-6; T. Cephas 1-2), SCST 5-31 (K. Toombs 1-5; B. Riley 2-10; T. Gilleylen 0-1; D. Joint 0-2; A. Martin 1-10; L. Radovic 1-3); Rebounds: COPP 31 (T. Gallo 8), SCST 40 (L. Radovic 12); Assists: COPP 25 (A. Ellis 10), SCST 11 (K. Toombs 7); Total Fouls -- COPP 11, SCST 11; Fouled Out: COPP-None; SCST-None.