Straight from the Lip
Certainly one of the foremost social challenges in our society during my lifetime has been striving to achieve better ethnic harmony.
Drawing a line between people due to the color of their skin or their religious views has been going on for centuries, but recent generations have blurred that line, and I’m proud to say some of the blurring is due to sports.
Using the Olympics as a paradigm, I marveled at a young age how political differences could often be put aside in the interest of spirited competition.
There have been anomalies, like Adolf Hitler’s racial profiling in the 1930s, the terrorist strike against the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich and the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But for the most part, sports have softened tension between potential belligerents. Take President Richard M. Nixon’s Ping Pong Diplomacy in 1971 when the U.S. team accepted an invitation from Mainland China as a cutting-edge example.
To think globally, we have to act locally, which is why I was so excited to bring you the tale of Nick Taylor, the talented football lineman from Avon. Young Taylor, with the guidance of his parents Rich and Christina, bridged a regional gap when he opted to play for the New Britain PAL Raiders this past season.
To a 13-year-old, it’s more about football than it is about being a central Connecticut social icon, but the change wasn’t easy. Would the New Britain players accept an out-of-towner? Would their cultural differences be divisive?
Nick was well-accepted by city kids whom he now calls friends. He witnessed how some of his teammates weren’t blessed with the gifts he may have previously taken for granted. He discovered how he and his parents could sometimes extend a hand and the ramifications from their random act of kindness.
The vision of team unity can help overcome any prejudices or misconceptions if we just let them be kids. Project Concern, which enabled inner-city youth to attend suburban schools, taught me now sports can mollify racial tension when I began covering Farmington High back in the early 1990s.
The broader picture generated by the Taylors’ desire to have Nick play with the Raiders and how the Raiders accepted him with open arms lies in why youth and scholastic team sports can be viable vehicles toward better understanding between Americans.
In more towns than I care to tally, critics of school budgets are quick to consider sports more of a privilege than a powerful mechanism to alleviate social, racial, religious and cultural differences. We all know that economic times are rough but sports cannot be brushed aside as conduits for cultural improvement.
Former NBHS athletes like Raiders coach Joey Miano and assistant Aaron Boddie personify the spirit of sports as a unifier. Their contributions were immeasurable in helping Nick feel welcome.
Miano, Boddie, NBHS baseball coach Roberto Mercado, City Alderman David DeFronzo, sports broadcaster Randy Brochu and too many more to list are products of the New Britain sports scene who understand the concept and are making it work. We can all learn from what the Taylors and the PAL football program have achieved here.