Saturday, December 21, 2013

Breaking The Barriers: the ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers

Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson; courtesy of SFPL
After soccer, tennis is the world's most popular sport.  This fact seems hard to believe, especially given the elitist reputation that the sport has never been able to quite shake.  While the emergence of black players such as Venus and Serena Williams seems like a recent phenomenon, there has been a long history of black participation in the game of tennis.  Recently, the San Francisco Public has sponsored an exhibition on this history titled Breaking The Barriers: the ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers.  It appears on the 6th floor of the Main Branch (Skylight Gallery Exhibition Area, 100 Larkin Street) through January 5th.

Highlights of the exhibition include an excellent documentary on the contributions of tennis professional Don Johnson.  He describes his own trajectory as being one from "Brooklyn to the [Tennis] Hall of Frame."  A legendary tennis instructor and mentee of Arthur Ashe, Johnson has made tennis accessible and affordable to the Northern California youth he teaches. 

Also of interest was the role of the black press in making details of matches accessible to the general public.  Newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News and Chicago Defender circulated news of local and state matches within their pages.  These facts went largely unreported in the mainstream press.

The exhibit also stresses the importance of historical context.  "Breaking the Barriers" juxtaposes visuals and factoids of African-American achievements in the sport with the more grim social reality of segregation and state violence.

We were able to talk with librarian Kai Wilson, as well as visitors to the exhibit.  Here is audio from those conversations.

Written by Toni

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Former Players File Suit Against NHL

Last week, a group of ten former NHL players filed a class-action lawsuit against the National Hockey League.  Their main claim is that the league knew of the long-term risks involved with repeated blows to the head but chose not to publicly disclose this information to players.  At least two of the plaintiffs in this case have suffered brain damage.  Laywers Steve Silverman and Mel Owens have revealed that 200 more players plan to join the suit.

This comes on the heels of the $765 million dollar lawsuit recently settled by the NFL.  

While injuries have always been a part of the game, I have become concerned with the severity of head injuries since the rule changes made to the NHL in 2005.  In a desire to make the game more high-speed and offensive-minded, the NHL instituted rules, such as the two-line pass (previously banned) and reduction of the size of the neutral zone.  While the trapezoid rule seems innocuous, it means that the goaltender has to stay in net when the puck reaches the top of the offensive zone, forcing other players to play the puck -- especially along the boards -- and risk injury.  Incidentally, these changes haven't resulted in the high goal-scoring the league desired.   Last year, teams averaged 5.31 goals per game, the lowest since 2003-2004.  While I have no qualms with the league reducing the size of goaltender pads, it's also part of an endless drive to increase goal output.  I'm not anti-offense but I believe these changes should be better evaluated.  It's up to the NHL to prove that it has been taking the right precautions to protect players from undue risk.

Written by Toni