As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The local Doppler radar looked benign last Saturday
morning. Light rain bands passed through
D.C. and others loomed across the northern neck of Virginia, but Southern
Maryland was precipitation free. This
was a surprise, given the warnings and promised weather calamity from tropical
storm Ophelia. But the visual was
A wider perspective revealed a massive system
spreading rain from South Carolina to western Pennsylvania. When set in motion, the image suggested this day
would be best spent on the couch watching college football.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends
toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. spoke those words a long time ago.
It came to mind when considering the stark difference between Ophelia’s narrow
and expanded radar imagery. It’s fascinating
how seemingly unrelated things connect.
Very different conclusions can be drawn from a simplified,
micro or immediate consideration – a singular experience, a day or even a year
- of an issue as opposed to broad, long-term analysis. As a stock investor will tell you, growth isn’t
linear; markets rise over time, but they do occasionally fall.
The arc of social progress has encountered recent headwinds. The FBI reported a 35% increase in hate
crimes in 2021. African Americans were
the most likely to suffer from race-based crime; incidents against Asian
Americans were also disproportionately high.
Sikhism and Judaism were the most victimized religions. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation
increased sharply, and gay and transgender victims were the most likely to be
A reflective pause to consider that last paragraph is
appropriate. Sobering. Disturbing.
Infuriating. Words that come to
mind. One that didn’t: surprise. These statistics offered no revelation. For a window into society’s pre-existing fear
and consequential anger, see Bud Light.
There is, as always, hope. Sports are, despite obvious flaws, fabulously
integrated (at least on the field); performance - not appearance, race,
national origin or belief system - remains the ultimate determinant of
advancement. The best player in baseball
is Japanese (Shohei Ohtani). A Serbian
(Novak Djokovic) is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time and the
reigning NBA Finals MVP (Nikola Jokic). The
face of the NFL is biracial (Patrick Mahomes).
Women’s sports have never been better or more popular. The WNBA is having a moment and its best
player just happens to be lesbian (New York Liberty star Brianna Stewart). While typing this piece (a tip of the cap
from the universe?), news broke that Haley Van Voorhis, a safety for Shenandoah
University, had just become the first female non-kicker to appear in a college
Despite the hate crime statistics and palatable sense
of national tension, these examples indicate a progressive, increasingly
tolerant world. Another recent sports event
offered additional, macro-level evidence – a widened Doppler view, if you will
– of social progress and Dr. King’s moral arc. After Coco Gauff won the U.S. Open a few weeks
ago, Billie Jean King was among the on-court luminaries. King, after winning the 1972 U.S. Open,
demanded equal pay for the women’s champion.
A year later, the same year King beat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the
Sexes” tennis match, and 50 years before Gauff’s championship, the women’s and
men’s champions received the same prize money.
More time travel: Gauff’s victory occurred over 20
years after Serena and Venus Williams took over women’s tennis. At the time, the Williams’s were more prepared
to dominate the sport than the sport was ready for two dynamic, proud and
unique African American talents from Compton, California to dominate it. Thanks to the Williams’s, Gauff’s victory
occurred in a very different world; her U.S. Open title was less a celebration
of race and more about her being proof of the Williams’s legacy and the
opportunity Gauff now has to influence young girls around the globe.
This is all evidence of progress. Slow. Inconsistent. But undoubtedly measurable progress. That it comes from sports should not surprise; our games, while imperfect, have consistently been a leader on inclusion and acceptance, an example of our better selves and proof, even in the most challenging moments, that Dr. King’s quote is undeniable fact.