Sunday, April 5, 2009

Geno Auriemma is right

The never-at-a-loss-for-words Connecticut women's coach kept it real Saturday when he basically said that the perception is teams with mostly white players are soft and disciplined and teams with majority black players are perceived to be tough and undisciplined. The Lady Huskies, who are 36-0, take on Stanford on Sunday night in the National Semifinal in St. Louis. While the Huskies are filled with talented African American players, including the brilliant Maya Moore, Stanford's team has mostly white players.

In past years, Stanford has featured an African American playmaking guard such as Nicole Powell or Candice Wiggins, who as a Cal grad I was glad to see graduate after four years of absolutely embarrassing my Bears. This year's team doesn't have that dominant African American player. Redshirt junior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and freshman Nnemkadi Ogwumike (a future star) are compliments to standout players Jayne Appel and Jeanette Pohlen.

Stanford is hardly a soft team. While Appel has a girl-next-door look, she is treacherous in the paint and an intense competitor. Stanford, because of its high academic standards, has to recruit a different type of student athlete. Just because an athlete is smart or from an affluent area doesn't mean they are soft, however. Auriemma was right. The perception is that Stanford has a bunch of private school girls who hardly like to break a sweat while his crew of African American players are rugged and undisciplined.

While coaches don't like to talk race or acknowledge that stereotypes even exist in recruiting and how teams are perceived, Auriemma did an admirable job of taking on a difficult topic. We don't live in a race-free America nor do we understand completely other environments and communities that are not ours. We live off perceptions. We stereotype. We assume kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are tougher and have more desire while kids from upper class backgrounds should flourish because they have had it easy. We assume black kids from big cities grew up in poverty while white kids from suburbs were reared with two parents, two siblings, a housekeeper and a dog named Sparky.

We assume that every Stanford player has the same monolithic story, as does every player from UConn. Let's hope Auriemma's comments will allow us to look at the Final Four a little differently and force us to do our homework when it comes to learning about those who are different from ourselves.