Recently, I was working on my sermon for Easter and I was drawn to a verse in The Gospel of Mark where it described how a black man by the name of Simon went from being a spectator watching Jesus carry his cross, to stepping in and carrying the cross himself. The story explains how Simon went from a spectator to a game changer.
In almost every field of endeavor whether it's music, dance, business or sports, we, as a people, have gone in and changed the way the game has been played.
We changed the standards by which excellence was judged and we changed the style by which the game is played. Jackie Robinson, the first major league black baseball player came in and changed "base stealing." Who had ever heard of someone stealing from third to home plate? Robison did it.
Oscar Robinson and Elgin Baylor, turned basketball upside down with their unusual ball handling and jump-shooting skills. Baylor, born and raised in the District of Columbia, was described as being able to "hang in mid-air." When it came to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, they had to raise the hoop and not because of his height of 7 feet 2 inches. His ability to dunk the ball with such authority and his patented skyhook made watching basketball an event all by himself.
Gail Sayers, Walter Payton, and Jim Brown's running skills so changed the game of football that we no longer even see white running backs in the NFL. It's even humorous to look at films of the game of basketball and baseball back when it was all white players.
Blacks changed sports in other ways, too.
Carlos Smith and others turned an Olympic track meet awards ceremony into a stage on which they, with raised fists, protested against racial discrimination in America. Needless to say, the Olympic games have never been the same.
And let us not forget about our women. Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, Flo Jo, Venus and Serena Williams, Dominique Dawes, and many more, shattered records and perceptions.
Black athletes didn't just change the face and complexion of these sports, they brought a different rhythm, a different swagger and style to the game. They changed things so much that someone might as well have put a sign over the clubhouse door that read: UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.
The same can be said of music, literature, and art. It seems, as a people, it has been our lot to have always had to go from being just "spectators" to eventually overcoming and finally getting in only to become "game changers"
There is, it seems, a pattern that we as black folks have had to follow in our journey from being disrespected as people to becoming respected for our unique gifts and character. It seems we always had to go from being an "outsider" to becoming "outstanding," from being a "nobody" to becoming "Mr. or Ms. Somebody," from being "dishonored" to becoming "honored" and from being just a "spectator" to becoming the "game changer." More on that later.
Rev. Paul M. Graves has served as the Chief Diversity Officer for Delta Air Lines and Schering Plough Corporation (MERCK). He currently serves as pastor at Clear-Way Missionary Baptist Church in Newark, NJ.