Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher

The game is not over until the playing field is level

Kudos to Managing Editor Dorothy Boulware and her dedicated hard-working team of writers and editors for another outstanding “We’re Still Here” edition – this time focusing on Black athletes and how they’re changing the game: from sneaker culture to mental well-being; from ownership to advocacy. Let me say from the outset, given the history of Blacks in sports and the monumental achievements of so many, it was challenging to narrow down the topics in one edition. However, I am thrilled that this edition also highlights the many achievements of female athletes on and off the field.

I was born into a world where women couldn’t get credit cards, serve on a jury, get an Ivy League education or experience equality in the workplace. It was a world where gender roles were very well defined. It was the era of the M.R.S. degree (going to college to get a husband) and the stay-at-home mom. However, that wasn’t the case in our family where my college-educated single mom, the youngest of five daughters of long-time AFRO publisher, Carl Murphy, raised the three of us to pursue our passions. My mother was a die-hard Baltimore Colts fan who passed her love for sports, especially football, on to us. We couldn’t even eat dinner on Sunday until after the game, which we usually listened to, was over. I still remember how hungry I was waiting for the Colts/Giants Championship Game to be over, only to have to wait much longer when the game went into sudden death overtime. Little did I know as a young girl that particular game would be dubbed the “the greatest game ever played.” Although my mother loved sports in general and especially football, she wasn’t thrilled that I wanted to not only listen or watch sports, but I was determined to play as well. I had little interest in dolls, tea parties, dressing up or the typical things that girls supposedly did. I was, however, very interested in equality for girls on and off the field. I guess I was an early proponent of a form of Title IX the federal legislation that gives women athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports in educational institutions that receive federal funds, from elementary schools to colleges and universities.

One of my favorite sports to play was baseball. There was a vacant lot behind our house in West Baltimore and neighborhood games were fiercely competitive. Our neighborhood was full of children – boys and girls of all ages who went to School #60 and then to Lemmel Junior High School together. Baseball games were played nearly every Saturday, when the weather was good. The boys would appoint a captain and begin picking sides. However, I was the only girl who wanted to play baseball with the boys. In my humble opinion, I was a good ball player. I would hold my breath hoping to be picked, even though some of the boys whispered that having a girl on the team was “weird.” One day, I was the last player standing when my brother had the final pick, which happened to be me. I played my heart out, and from that day forward, I always had a spot on one of the teams. I was still chosen near the end, but it was always before B.W. which I considered quite a coup. I went on to play outfield for Douglass High School’s girls’ softball team, and my mother held her breath hoping I wouldn’t play ball in college – which I didn’t – at least not as part of an organized team. I continued to play pick up ball, until I dislocated my elbow sliding into second base, long after I should have hung up my cleats!

But I am still an avid sports fan, as are many of our readers – male and female, young and old, players and spectators. Many studies tout the benefits of youth sports. However, Black youth are not playing all sports at the same rate as their White counterparts. The more important issue, for me, is not what’s happening on the field or on the court, but the push for greater representation of African Americans in front offices, in broadcast booths, in coaching, in team ownership, in refereeing, in medical teams, in gaming and the list goes on.

Venus Williams said she just came to play tennis. But she did much more. She threw a “justice tantrum,” demanding that women tennis players be equally compensated as the men.

As the struggle continues, the game is continually changing.

Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper
AFRO CEO and Publisher

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