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Tuesday, March 27, 2007
UCLA's Dynasty

Last night, I watched the HBO Sports documentary The UCLA Dynasty, which recaps (in a too-short 60 minutes) UCLA's run of 10 NCAA titles in 12 years under Coach John Wooden. Definitely worth a look when it re-airs (if you have not TiVoed it).

The show does a great job showing how the program played against the backdrop of the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s on issues of civil rights and Viet Nam. And it shows how activist and politically involved many of the players (including star players such as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton were. For example, I never knew that Walton was arrested at an anti-war rally while in school.

Interestingly, Coach Wooden comes across as having been somewhat supportive of his players' activism, at least out of season. Wooden had strict short-hair/no-facial-hair rules during the season, but, for example, allowed the African-American players to express identity growing it away from the season. Similarly, in the recap to the incident where Walton was arrested, Wooden expresses support of the player's right to speak out, but only asks him to "keep an open mind" and to think through the consequences of his actions.

Perhaps this all is a product of its time in three senses.
First, athletes (especially college athletes) today are, as a whole, far less politically involved than they were--but so are college students generally.
Second, whereas the activism of the late 60s/early 70s came on the political left, most athletes' activism today comes from the political right, especially among the many devoutly Christian athletes.
Third, the activism never made its way onto the floor, probably because Wooden would not have allowed it. On the other hand, those athletes today who do take a political stand--Carlos Delgado and "God Bless America," Toni Smith and the national anthem, the role of God and Christ in a player's victory--all are on display on the playing field.


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