Lately ESPNU, the cable sports channel focusing on college athletics, has been running a special program on Bill McCartney, the founder of the Promise Keepers evangelical men’s ministry and former football coach at the University of Colorado.
What set McCartney apart from many evangelicals, however, was his strong stance against racism, even bringing it up at PK events — to the chagrin of many; he himself said that attendance at events dropped when he decided to address the issue. In fact, in an article in Time magazine he was quoted as saying, “The Spirit of the LORD said clearly to my spirit, ‘You can fill a stadium, but if men of other races aren’t there, I won‘t be there, either.’ ”
I wonder how he would look at the present situation at the University of Missouri, whose president and chancellor both stepped down this week as the result of student protests, especially when the school’s football team threatened to go on strike if the president didn’t leave — and not simply because of McCartney’s avowed stance. See, he himself played for Mizzou.
And in that same article, McCartney mentioned that he got opportunities that his black high-school teammates didn’t and knew just why. That understanding that he received “white privilege” has certainly colored his thinking over the years.
Unfortunately, if you try to bring that up in certain circles it would be ignored or denigrated, certain folks not even wanting to bring it up; in this case, however, it would drive history and the truth underground. Missouri was a slave state, after all; MU didn’t admit its first black student until 1950; and — remember this — Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb that suffered racial trouble last year, lies just two hours east.
So perhaps it would behoove us evangelicals not to believe that racism is simply in the past; for many people of color it’s still a daily reality. I would suspect that McCartney, who saw it first-hand as a college coach, would have a handle on it, and if he did speak about it I would listen.
And by the way, fans of the band Chicago, of which I am one, would recognize the title of this entry as the first line from the song “Harry Truman,” an ode to the late president who integrated the Armed Forces — and, ironically, was a native of Missouri.