Panelist Michael Wilbon discusses his views on racial discrimination in sports at the annual Shirley Povich Symposium on Nov. 11.  Photo Credit: Olin Akisoglu/ The Mitzpeh
Panelist Michael Wilbon discusses his views on racial discrimination in sports at the annual Shirley Povich Symposium on Nov. 11. Photo Credit: Olin Akisoglu/The Mitzpeh

By Ryan Connors

As probably the least known panelist at the university’s ninth annual Shirley Povich Symposium, Damian Thompson did not seem phased by the television personalities around him at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center on Nov. 11.

But Thompson, the curator of sports for the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and a former professor in the university’s kinesiology department, held his own against the likes of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” host Michael Wilbon, “Sportscenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt, “Around the Horn” contributor Kevin Blackistone and WNBA guard and ESPN college basketball analyst Kara Lawson.

The symposium, put on by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, focused on racism in sports. The panel discussed issues ranging from Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence scandal and racist statements by the former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his scandal earlier this year to the prevalence of racism toward athletes in social media.

When called upon by moderator George Solomon, Thompson didn’t just echo the other speakers. When the panel discussed the effects of the the firing of the Clippers’ owner on how the country approaches racism, he made a point to stand out.

“We need to talk about more substantive issues than Sterling, like access to housing, access to employment,” Thompson said, referring to people who don’t make millions of dollars a year playing sports.

Throughout the panel, Thompson called for an end to “systematic racism,” as opposed to overt, obvious racism that is less common in the 21st century.

Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland alumnus who serves many roles at ESPN, made light of his position as “the only white guy on the panel,” and made the most of that role.

“I always have to remind myself that my view isn’t everyone’s view,” Van Pelt said. “I have to stay aware of the fact that no matter how much hip hop music I listen to, that doesn’t make me keenly aware of the real struggles that people have lived through.”

Van Pelt told of his days as the only white player on his basketball team. But the world of professional sports is very different from this university’s sports leagues.

Sophomore business major Avi Kozlowski, who plays in almost every intramural sport offered by this university, said that because the university has such a large Jewish population, he never feels discriminated against for showing that he is Jewish while playing sports.

“I try my best to wear my yarmulke during my intramural games to show my Jewish pride,” Kozlowski said.

Thompson noted that any religious discrimination today is “not overt.” He cited outspoken Christian former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow as an example.

“It’s not a subject discussed very often,” Thompson said. He also pointed out that it was odd that a successful quarterback like Tebow doesn’t have a job in the NFL right now.


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