BRISTOL, CONN---In a year where we marveled over the continued brilliance of Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams, the sports year of 2002 offered many contrasting changes ... BRISTOL, CONN---In a year where we marveled over the continued brilliance of Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams, the sports year of 2002 offered many contrasting changes for black athletes and fans on and off the field.
We began the year with Notre Dame's hiring of Tyrone Willingham as its first black head football coach. Mike Davis overcame the overwhelming shadow of Bob Knight at Indiana University and led the Hoosiers back to the Final Four.
We also saw Bonds' manager, Dusty Baker, become only the second black manager (joining Toronto's Cito Gaston) to reach the World Series with the San Francisco Giants.
Off the field, we saw the Milwaukee Brewers hire Ulrice Payne, Jr., a member of Marquette's 1977 NCAA basketball championship team, as the team's president. Payne, 47, became the first black club president in Major League history.
Ironically, both of the Brewers managers this past season (Davey Lopes and Jerry Royster) were African Americans as well.
Now as the year comes to a close, Robert Johnson became the first black to be the majority owner of a U.S. sports franchise.
The 56-year-old founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) purchased the NBA's Charlotte expansion franchise earlier this month.
And where does all that fit in the long run?
While there still exists severe double standards in hiring and unbalanced reporting of such events, these and other actions let us know that some social change is becoming prevalent in the sports world.
Granted for every Doug Williams (winner of 3 SWAC football championships at Grambling State University), there's also a Lloyd McClendon (consecutive sub .500 finishes as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates).
Despite being at opposite ends of the winning and losing spectrum, both Williams and McClendon have been given an opportunity that was severely lacking not too long ago.
Some sports entities (Division I-A football) are still trapped in the middle ages, while others have slowly progressed.
As always, we've seen the emergence of several black athletes in the traditional sports like football, baseball, and basketball.
But even more, black athletes are making even signifigant marks in "non-traditional" sports. For every Shaquille O'Neal, Torii Hunter, and Michael Vick, there's forward Jerome Iginla, bobsledder Vonetta Flowers and goalie LaKeysia Beene.
A right winger for the Calgary Flames, Iginla was the NHL's lone 50-goal scorer during the 2001-02 season and became the first black to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer.
Flowers was part of the U.S. women's bobsled team and became the first black (male or female) to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics. What made the feat all the more inspiring, Ms. Flowers was two months pregnant with twins at the time.
As for Beene, the Notre Dame product has been an All-Star the last two seasons for the WUSA's San Jose Cyberrays.
Just one year removed from a WUSA championship campaign in 2001, Beene was 8-7-5 season in last year. She holds the league's mark for career victories with 19 and her 72 saves in 2002 have placed Beene 2nd all-time in saves (167).
Beene and Brianna Scurry will form a solid 1-2 punch in goal as the U.S. Women's National team looks to regain their World Cup crown they won in 1999.
Other black athletes who pushed themselves to the forefront during 2002 were Sacramento Kings guard Mike Bibby, boxers Vernon Forrest and Laila Ali, and Carolina Hurricanes goalie Kevin Weekes.
While we look back at 2002, we must also remember the many sports folks who left us in 2002 as well. Here is a brief list of the people we lost:
The only man to win an Olympic Gold Medal and a Super Bowl Ring. Nam