Sports Aren’t Exempt from Racism
This invisible line that often divides race and that some people deem okay doesn’t exist solely in towns; Tillman and Caldwell have both felt the boiled blood when they are suited up in game day gear. They admit some high school games were frightening to be a part of because they didn’t know what would take place following the game, whether their team won or lost.
Tillman spent his freshman year of high school in Detroit where he was a part of what’s known as the “East side vs. West side” game.
“That’s always a big deal in Detroit,” Tillman said. “You score something, you can’t be talking because some of those dudes come out with guns, this and that — you’ll get hurt after the game. That’s why you have security walk you to the bus. The police is always there checking pockets. It’s scary, but I’ve always been a quiet kid. I never really say too much to the refs or the crowd; I say it to myself.”
Caldwell also felt uneasy walking to the bus after games because of the uncertainty of what others might do to him, but it’s the name-calling during games he had to learn to ignore. During Caldwell’s freshman year, he was already traveling with the varsity team, and by the time his senior year rolled around, he knew what to expect from the home fans when he and his team were the visiting opponents.
He dealt with the crowd’s comments in high school, and those negative words didn’t disappear when he came to Utah. He said it doesn’t happen as much as it use to, but when the Runnin’ Utes played in-state rival BYU, the crowd reminded him of what he heard on the road in high school.
“It’s rough, but it’s sad, actually. I can’t help the way I am. It’s just the way God made me,” Caldwell said. “When people judge me about that, I just think they’re narrow-minded. I feel bad for them.”
Tillman moved to Las Vegas for his sophomore year where he played basketball at Findlay Prep. He learned then that people would take the time to dig into his life simply to try to bring him down. Against one team in particular, he remembers hearing during that game everything from “You’re not supposed to be here,” to “You’re just another Detroit goon.”
And insults like that have creeped into their everyday lives now.