Black colleges should lighten up over white golfers

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Tuesday was the final day of the National Minority College Golf Championship, an event for historically black universities. Bethune-Cookman College finished in second place, but if it had won, it would have made a lot of people madder than Bobby Knight at a Neil Reed family reunion.

It's not that B-CC wouldn't have been a worthy black college champion. It's that its team was virtually all white.

Is that ridiculous or what?

This is Pandora's box soaked in lighter fluid and dangling above an open flame. There's nothing like race and fairness to make folks have a hissy fit, right?

The tournament's beef is that the event was started specifically to promote minority golf. The event is one of the few times minority golfers get exposed to representatives from companies like Nike and Titleist.

Coaches like Bethune-Cookman's Gary Freeman, though, say they have every right to recruit the best players regardless of race. All the major universities do it, they say, so why should we be different?

''The tournament is for the college, not the players,'' said Freeman, who has one minority player each on his men's and women's teams. ''When you're a coach, you want the best people you can get, irrespective of color.''

Freeman's critics, of course, will argue that black college coaches should be different, that they should place a higher premium on giving golf scholarships to minority students instead of on winning tournaments. After all, if a pro career doesn't pan out, a minority golfer is more likely to become an advocate for promoting other minority golfers.

That's what happened with Craig Bowen. He played golf for historically black Southern University and now serves as executive director of the National Minority College Golf Scholarship Fund, which runs the Port St. Lucie tournament.

''This may cost me a little something, but I'm going to go ahead and say it. I think some of the black colleges have lost the mission of why black colleges were developed,'' Bowen said. ''I can name 12 guys who work in the golf business now and have made a difference (in developing minority golfers) that never would have had an opportunity if it weren't for a black college.''

Good point. But here's a news flash: It's going to take a lot more - I mean, a lot more - than a handful of dedicated blacks to noticeably improve the pool of minority golfers.

This whole controversy probably wouldn't exist if this country did more to promote golf - and tennis and baseball and hockey, for that matter - among minorities. And not just among inner-city minorities, but middle-class ones, too.

Does anyone really think Tiger Woods is the only minority who can carry a 250-yard lake with a 2-iron from behind a tree? Or that Venus and Serena Williams are the only women with braids who can blast a serve 120 mph?

They're out there. We just haven't found them all.

''The pool is so shallow every year,'' said Jackson State golf coach Eddie Payton, who has pulled his mostly white men's team from the Port St. Lucie event, ''it's not sufficient enough to field one complete team if we got them all together.''

So what should everyone do the next time a virtually all-white team makes a run at the title?

We should shake their hands and congratulate them as we would any winner. They will have earned it fair and square.

Look, black colleges ought to be about developing minority student-athletes in addition to winning, not at the expense of it.

That's the way just about every other university operates. UCLA and North Carolina have predominantly black men's basketball teams, but nobody has a hissy fit about that. Is it okay for predominantly white institutions but not for predominantly black ones?

Of course not.

Besides, the landscape of black college athletics appears to be changing. Has anybody taken a look at Hampton University's tennis teams? Or Lincoln University's softball team? They're about as black as David Duke.

The emphasis in all of this should be on the golf, not the color of the people playing it. If we develop more minority golfers and raise even more funds for black colleges, trust me, plenty of minorities will be playing for schools like Tennessee State, Florida A&M and Hampton.

''Remember, at Jackson State,'' Payton says on his answering machine message, ''we come to win or we don't come at all.''

Who in their right mind would want it any other way?


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