Did Wrestling Escape Sports Racism of 50s & 60s?
This evening on ABC's World News Tonight, there was a story about the 1958 University of Buffalo football team declining an appearance in the Tangerine Bowl because the bowl sponsor told the school it would have to leave its two African-American starters at home, because, they could not have a race-mixed football game in Florida 50 years ago.
It reminded me of some of the elements of racism apparently presented in this fall's movie "The Express" about Syracuse's Eddie Davis, the first black to win the Heisman, in 1960... along with the movie a few years ago about the all-black basketball team in Texas, going up against the all-white U of Kentucky team for the national title in the mid 1960s. (I believe the first black to play basketball for UK was in the late 1960s.)
On the other hand, the first African-American to wrestle at the NCAAs was Harold Henson of San Diego State, in 1949. The first black national champ was Simon Roberts of Iowa, in 1957. I've interviewed both men. Neither claimed to be the victim of any racism in their wrestling -- no opponents they know of forfeited because of race, no opponents said or did anything inappropriate during matches, they were not the victims of blatantly racist calls on the part of officials.* Many major wrestling programs such as Iowa, Iowa State, Kent State, Penn State and Syracuse had at least one African-American starter in the mid to late 50s; Oklahoma State's first black varsity wrestler was Joe James, in 1961.
Throughout the 1950s, a number of states -- including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa -- crowned their first African-American HS state champs.
I would think that wrestling would have been even more subject to open racism, given the one-on-one nature of the sport, and issues of individual physical prowess that could make white supremists upset.
Any thoughts on this?
* This is not to say wrestling completely escaped allegations of racism. In the early 1970s, the Des Moines Register ran a long story with quotes of top college wrestlers of that era, alleging bias in college recruiting and officiating. And Jamie Moffatt's excellent 2008 book "Wrestlers at the Trials" also has some stories where some black wrestlers believe got the short end of the stick in terms of opportunities to make the US Olympic team.