By David Casey
VP Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer, CVS Caremark
Having had both the ability and opportunity to participate in team sports, I learned some life lessons and principles early on that I feel have the same universal truths and applications today as they did then.
I frequently recount the story of my middle school basketball team. It was a year in which the kids in my all-black neighborhood were transported miles away to an all-white neighborhood as a mandate of court ordered desegregation. The early days of the school year were filled with tension, uncertainty, and trepidation from those of us being bused as well as those students now sharing the hallways with people unlike any they had ever been within such proximity before.
Months into the school year, the hallways were still laden with an air of unease, but it wasn’t long before the basketball season started. I remember the day I noticed that one of my team mates had a tattoo (not sure how or where an eighth grader got a tattoo) of a burning cross on his forearm. Keeping in mind I had not seen many tattoos at that point in my life, let alone tattoos of this sort, it wasn’t hard to discern what it symbolized. This kid and/or whomever exercised their artistic license on his arm, was probably in the Klu Klux Klan—at a minimum a wannabe or actual sympathizer.
How could this be? This is the kid who fist bumped or high-fived me after every successful execution of the X’s and O’s the coach had drawn up. I now had visions of this kid parading around a burning cross at night with his white-sheeted comrades. Yet none of that played out on the court. I never heard the “N” word and never felt a hesitation to make the pass to myself or one of my fellow inner-city transplants. I have no memories of our coach giving us the “We are one” speech (that inevitably results in a slow clap). At the age of 13, we somehow possessed an innate intuition that neither skin color nor neighborhood of origin mattered—on the court.
I transferred schools soon after that year so I don’t know what happened to that kid. In fact, I never heard him actually say anything about the tattoo or what it symbolized. What I do know is our court, our uniforms—for us, for that year—defined the ties that bind. The only thing that mattered on the court was what we were there to accomplish—to win and to win together. We went undefeated that year.