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The racial angle

National | Some sports journalists seek to create a racial and ethnic rift between McGwire-Sosa in their home-run chase

Issue: "Life is not a party," Oct. 3, 1998

Stirring up animosity?
As Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire went down to the wire in their friendly competition for first place in the home-run record books, a few journalists tried to turn a good news story into ethnic and racial conflict. Why wasn't Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig sitting in the stands when Mr. Sosa hit his 62nd home run? What about the Maris family? Why were more fans paying attention to Mark McGwire, rather than the darker-skinned slugger from the Dominican Republic? Each question had a logical answer. Commissioner Selig assured fans that the festivities-streamers falling, a phone call from President Clinton-were planned for whoever broke the Maris record first. Officials and Maris family members were not planning to travel from town to town, like a traveling circus, for each key home run. Big Mark McGwire, having hit more than 50 home runs each of the past two years, has for a long time been spoken of as the most likely record-breaker; Mr. Sosa, with all his charm, is (relatively) a Sammy-come-lately. Critics, such as Tony Cox of Fox Sports' The Last Word, do not deny this, but feel newspapers, magazines, and sports shows still displayed bias. ESPN had a Sosa special on Sept. 16, partly in response to cries that not enough was being done. Providentially, Mr. Sosa was having none of the dispute. If Americans do favor Mr. McGwire, he said, no problem: "I'm the man in the Dominican Republic. He's the man in the United States. That's the way it should be." Upon hearing someone wonder if racism affected coverage, Sammy Sosa replied, "What? Come on, man. It's 1998."
-Erin Hill Overcoming structural decay
Before this fall's football season began, on a bright, weather-perfect Sunday afternoon even by Southern California's standards, many college students were out catching some rays, roller-blading by the beach-or recovering from the previous night's hangover. But not UCLA's Cade McNown, a prime candidate for the Heisman Trophy this year. Mr. McNown was spending his afternoon talking to a church congregation. "Cade's a good-living, high-morals guy," UCLA coach Bob Toledo told Sports Illustrated. "I've never heard him swear and I know he doesn't drink or carouse." And the basis of those high morals is a faith in Christ, the 6'1", 214-pound quarterback proclaims. It wasn't always that way. Through Mr. McNown's junior year in high school he lived in Hollister, Calif., and was known as somewhat of a bully, but a family break-up left him heading to West Linn, Ore., to live with Linda and Dale Ebel, in-laws of his older brother, Jeff; Mr. Ebel is also pastor of Rolling Hills Community Church. Inspired by brother Jeff's newfound devotion to Christianity and the church teaching he received, Mr. McNown crossed over. Looking back recently to his baptism in the spring of his senior year in high school, he said, "I had lived my whole life not being accountable to anyone or anything, and I realized there was something missing.... Fatherless kids reach out for guidance. Some find it in MTV, some in gangs. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by godly, Christian men." During that year of spiritual change he also blossomed as an athlete. He flourished in West Linn High's pro-style offense, erasing the forgettable performances of his past three years at Hollister, and the college coaches came calling. Through the first several weeks of this season Mr. McNown has led UCLA to 12 straight victories and a top-five ranking. More than that, at a time when any athlete who can tie his own shoes and score a few touchdowns is considered a role model, Cade McNown actually fits the description. "What makes him a good athlete is the way he practices, and it's the same with people," his mother, Vicki, says: "Cade knows that to be the man he wants to be, it takes practice. That means surrounding himself with the right kind of people, participating in the right kind of activities, even listening to the right kind of music." Sports Illustrated's Alan Shipnuck summed up what the quarterback does best in football-and the same talent is needed in American life today: "McNown's genius is in his ability to scramble, to create something beautiful once the structure has broken down."
-Mario Zavala

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