Ohio State men's basketball: Big Ten puts focus on Martin Luther King Jr.

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Charlie Scott (33) was the first black athlete to play at North Carolina. Scott, the father of Ohio State guard Shannon Scott, knows full well the racism that has existed in this country.

When the Ohio State men’s basketball team left for Nebraska yesterday, it traveled there on a chartered jet before checking into its comfortable hotel and enjoying a nice dinner together.

It’s a routine the players are used to and probably don’t think twice about. But it wasn’t always like this, as junior guard Shannon Scott’s father well knows.

Charlie Scott grew up in New York as a child of the ’60s and became an NBA star. But before he did, he spent three years of high school at Laurinburg Institute, an all-black school in North Carolina, before becoming the first black athlete at the University of North Carolina.

“There are so many things taken for granted today by black Americans who were not around to understand the situation,” said Scott, 65. “When I went to the movies (in North Carolina), I had to go upstairs and couldn’t sit downstairs. I had to play at an all-black school that couldn’t play against white schools. I went to a restaurant one time (with a white coach), and the woman told me she didn’t serve niggers on that side.”

America has advanced from that time in large part because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pushed it to change. His leadership of the civil-rights movement before his assassination in 1968 led to a federal holiday being established in his name on the third Monday of January.

The NBA for years has commemorated Martin Luther King Day with a full schedule of games. When the Big Ten and its television network saw an opportunity to do something similar this year, they did, and they hope the Buckeyes’ game at Nebraska tonight is the first of many such MLK Day games.

The game was one of two originally scheduled for yesterday. But the Big Ten Network did not want to compete for viewers with the NFL’s two conference championship games and could not fit both of its games into an afternoon window before the football.

With Nebraska and Ohio State not scheduled to play again this week until Thursday, it was easy to move the game back a day if the schools agreed.

“I was apprehensive,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “I wanted our guys to be home in Columbus on a day off from school and give them a chance to be part of whatever was occurring on campus or in the community” to honor King.

“But after reflection, and talking with BTN about what they were trying to do, I thought it would be nice to be a part of the first one.”

Smith and Charlie Scott were among those interviewed for an hour-long special on King that airs on the Big Ten Network at 6 p.m. The game will immediately follow.

Smith, who is black, is younger than Scott and grew up in Cleveland, but he understood racism early in life. He recalled his parents warning him not to cross a street into another area of town, and of taking a train to Florida with them to visit his mother’s family and, at some stops, having to find a restaurant in the “black area” of town to get a drink of water.

King, Smith said, “was kind of a bright light for people like me during that time frame. I loved his approach to the issue. He was someone you always admired for the way he led during a very challenging time in our society.”

Scott won a gold medal in Mexico City as a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, but not before thinking of joining others in boycotting the Games after King was assassinated that April. Scott had been a junior-high classmate in New York of sprinter John Carlos, one of two black Americans who, after winning track medals, raised their fists during The Star Spangled Banner to protest the plight of blacks in this country.

“Society has come a long way. Things have continually gotten better,” said Scott, who played professionally for

10 years and later worked in sports marketing for an athletic-apparel manufacturer.

“But if we believe we are a society of equality, we’re being hypocritical because there are things still going on. There is still an us vs. them mentality in certain segments of society.”

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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