Recent surveys of college students have noted that, unlike the '60s when their aims were somewhat altruistic, young people today go to college with a view toward getting a job that will bring them money and success. As debatable as that goal may be, what is not debatable is that, by these standards, one college student who is well on his way to attaining those goals is Georgetown's 7-foot sophomore basketball center Patrick Ewing.
Why then, you might ask, are some students at colleges Georgetown has played jeering him with such signs as "Ewing is an Ape" and "Ewing Kant Read Dis" and tossing banana peels on the court as he trots out to give yet another dazzling performance?
One can only conclude it is because he is successful at what he set out to do. And, as usual when blacks succeed, outstrip others and receive special privileges, it becomes a big issue and, in some people, raises great resentment.
"It is cheap, racist stuff," said Rev. Timothy S. Healy, S.J., Georgetown's president. "No on on the face of the earth can tell me if Patrick were a seven-foot high white man that people would still carry these signs around." EE ven the University of Virginia's E basketball star Ralph Sampson has run into his share of "light-bulb head" signs and "welfare case" jeers, although none apparently as vicious as those Ewing has been facing.
All this is part of the same mentality that helped prompt the new NCAA minimum requirement standards aimed at black athletes: A lot of people perceive black athletes as being in institutions over their heads.
Ewing may have had some early learning problems when he came to this country from Jamaica, but great success makes people focus on that issue in a cruel way.
There's really nothing new about this phenomenon in athletics. It happened at the turn of the century with legendary boxer Jack Johnson; it happened with two-time All-American Paul Robeson when he went on the road for Rutgers University in l9l6; it happened when Jackie Robinson became the first black to play in major league baseball. It even happened with Muhammad Ali and with tennis star Leslie Allen.
Still, reading about Patrick Ewing's ordeals gives you new respect for the "firsts." If Ewing is playing under siege in l983, imagine what Robinson went through in l947. This situation also highlights the other side of what other black athletes go through today. While so many fans are focusing with outrage about their big salaries, their cars, the cocaine they are alleged to snort, one can only wonder what else happens to them that is never written about. PP at Ewing's prominence is a reminder P of where basketball has come from. This glamorous, dazzling sport of the superstars did not let blacks leap to its upper circles without putting up a fight. People with long memories won't forget those concerns about "too many black players" or such organizations as the Celtics who have built many teams with star white players.
Lay this distaste at black success at the door of jealousy or whatever, but it still is a heck of a price for Ewing to have to pay. His teammate Bill Martin has been quoted as saying the signs and jeers "don't bother Pat. They only make him play harder. Nothing bothers Pat. The more people yell at him and holler at him, the better he plays." But people tend to equate physical size and toughness with an emotional toughness and I suspect that imagery is part of these statements that all of these insults merely roll off Ewing's back.
Meanwhile, however he is suffering now, it is clearly recognized that Pat Ewing is going to be a strong contender for professional basketball, is already a dominant figure in college ball and will one day be very rich.
I have a feeling that Pat Ewing will pause soon on his sprint to superstardom to teach the jeering fans some English and math everybody can understand . . . ."This is a S-i-x m-i-l-l-i-o-n dollar contract . . . . "