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Finneran: America The Backward…………

Friday, April 21, 2017


The memory of it all is startling. The year was 1967……….

A woman wanted to run the Boston Marathon. That simple fact, a perfectly understandable desire for human achievement, was deemed by some troglodyte men to be an unpardonable sin. To those of us who have either run or observed recent Marathons it seems utterly inconceivable that such a desire was seen as tantamount to treason.

Such were the times. Such was America.

The Boston Marathon back then was an exclusively male event. The controversial running pioneer was Kathrine Switzer. The forever notorious troglodyte was Jock Semple, President of the Boston Athletic Association. Ms. Switzer, now age 70 and very much alive and well, ran the Marathon again last week, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her first run. Mr. Semple is long dead………as is his view that marathons were a for-men-only event.

I pray that Mr. Semple is properly mourned by his friends and family. Not so his view that there was no place for women in Boston’s premier running event. Pity today’s troglodytes as those dashing Kenyan women come sprinting over the hills and dales of Boston. Pity still more the trogs when the stunning Uta Pippig won three Boston races in a row. 

Today, America’s major institutions and events are, as often as not led by women as by men. That obvious and utterly routine fact was not always the case. Consider education, healthcare, transportation, banking, government, finance and industry as just a few of the arenas which women have entered and in which they have excelled.

And America is the better for it. We no longer deprive ourselves of the collective skill and ability of half the population. That we ever did so deprive ourselves of such talent is indeed startling to consider.

Equally sad, equally stupid, and especially criminal was the outrageous treatment of black Americans. As if slavery itself was not one of the cruelest crimes of all time, the original sin was compounded by the viciousness of Jim Crow and the indifference of many.

A poignant story is told about Lee Elder, a highly skilled African American professional golfer. Having endured every slight, every insult, and every indignity that twisted minds could imagine and impose on his career, he trembled as a young Tiger Woods came to Augusta and dominated the Masters in historic fashion. Up until Elder himself had won a qualifying tournament, the only black folks allowed at the Masters were caddies.

Upon the occasion of Woods’ fabulous win, Elder wept. Certainly there was joy in Elder’s heart for the racial breakthrough he had witnessed. But there was also a deep sadness, an eternal regret about what might have been for countless others who were never given a chance. His tears were not the tears of a child. His tears were tears of a hard and cold wisdom, bearing the bitter knowledge of daily discrimination as practiced by a depraved chunk of humanity.

Such were the times. Such was America.

Demographers inform us that black Americans make up about twelve percent of America’s population. Common sense would tell us that the exclusion of one of every eight Americans was depriving us of a lot of talent.

Consider baseball as a fair indicator. As great as Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb were, their statistics were inflated by the relative inferiority of their opponents. They faced no Bob Gibson, no Don Newcombe, no Pedro Martinez in the days of their domination. Just a quick scan of the post-season black barnstorming teams of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s is like a private tour of Cooperstown. Willie Mays. Ernie Banks. Newcombe. Roy Campanella. Stellar talent up and down the lineup. Oh what might have been……..

America, land of the free and home of the brave, has grown up. No longer backward and now eagerly  looking for talent, we scoff at the class and caste systems of old. Long overdue no doubt, but be you man or woman, black or white, young or old, should you bring talent to the table today, America will bring its many gifts to you.

Such are the times. Such is the nation.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.


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