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What sportsmanship can teach us about healing racial divides

"Winning has no color," says former NBA player Alonzo Mourning. Special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault sits down with Mourning, the former Miami Heat center who has spent the last eight years mentoring young players, to discuss what he’s observed about teamwork, diversity and using sports as an arena for both healing and protest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now a look at the intersection of race, sports, and politics.

    This morning, President Trump took to Twitter to criticize Oakland Raiders player Marshawn Lynch for sitting as the national anthem played before his game on Sunday. And it's not the first time he's butted heads with athletes.

    How does this criticism impact players on the football field, to the basketball court and beyond?

    NewsHour special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault sat down with an NBA Hall of Famer to talk about just that.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    I began by asking Alonzo about his playing days, if the diversity on the court extends into his personal life.

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    Let me tell you what. Winning has no color whatsoever.

    And if you want to be successful, you have got to have a relationship with your teammates. It's not a temporary relationship. It's a full-time relationship. So, the year that we won it, if one of our teammates' children had a birthday party, we all brought our kids to the birthday party.

    If I'm not connecting with you off the court, all right, then I can't expect to connect with you on the court. The stronger my relationship with you off the court, the better it is going to be on the court, because I'm not going to think twice about our relationship when I have got to swing that ball to you, because I know it's there already. It's together already.

    We're already together. We already have a bond just based on our friendship and the time that we spend together off the court.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    You told me several months ago that these younger players have even more of a relationship. What is it like?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    It's funny. It's amazing. You see some guys, they will be in the same room or on the bus or in the same locker room with each other, and they're communicating by text.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    To each other?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    To each other. It's ridiculous.

    These millennials are different. They're different from that perspective.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    But it's not racially based?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    But it's not — no, not at all, not at all.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    But we live in some very toxic times. How do they keep that together? What is the secret to that, you think?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    The beauty of sports is that it has an effect on all races. Globally, sports brings people of all races together in arenas together, where they cheer for one team.

    And when you think about these racial issues that — that are in our society right now, the veil has just been pulled back a little bit more than ever.

    And because of social media, you're able to magnify these issues even more, to where they're not as hidden as they were back in the '50s and '60s. A lot of those things were hidden.

    When I think about society alone, I think about how frustrated, how angry people are with the direction that our country is going in, and it's kind of disappointing to watch.

    I think about our elected officials. They're put there to do a job, OK? I guess some personal agendas get in the way or what have you of the whole process, but the long and short of it, it comes down to, we put our elected officials in office to serve us and to pass laws and to unite the country. And we just don't see that happening.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    How does that translate when you have differences of opinion about politics or about race?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    You know what? To each his own. That's the Constitution that we live by, freedom of speech and belief and religion and thought, whatever. That's your business. It's whatever you — as long as it doesn't affect us winning together.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    But that's what I'm trying to understand. Are there lessons that come out of your experience with team sports and sportsmanship that could apply in the larger society?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    When the Astros won, they had black, Latino, and white players on that Houston Astros team. Did you see the parade and the people that came out to celebrate the Astros?

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Right.

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    It was absolutely breathtaking to see all those people come together. It was an amazing celebration of success, people of all races out there having a great time.

    And it gave the city of Houston an opportunity to take their mind off of the strain and the stress of what they have had to go through. If we want to win, we want to see improvements in our different communities, we have got to support one another.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Even when you have different political positions?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    Even though you have different political beliefs and positions and what have you. It is what it is.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    If there's a lesson from the sports world, and what you know about sportsmanship…

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    Right.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    … how do you apply that to the larger society, and, I mean, particularly because you're involved in mentoring young people?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    There's so many connections to life with team sports, responsibility, accountability, hard work, dedication, sacrifice.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Tolerance.

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    There's tolerance. There's a whole lot.

    So, there's so much that goes into team sports that these young people can kind of use to help them with life, real-life experiences.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    One of the things that — you mentioned LeBron James, one of your former teammates, now in your opposition, but still a friend, I gather.

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    Yes.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    And he said that sports brings people together like no other.

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    Oh, for sure.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Do you agree that sports has a way of bringing people of different opinions together that can help create a more cohesive, less toxic society?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    I totally agree. LeBron put it perfectly.

    Without sport, I don't know where our country would be, really, because it provides an outlet, and it's a form of therapy for a lot of people.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Is the political environment from the field to the courts affected by how the sportsmen react?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    They're able to voice their opinion using sport as a platform, because people follow it so much. So they use this as a platform to voice their opinion about certain issues that go on in society that might help improve those issues.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Are you optimistic that we can get past this little moment we're in?

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    I'm optimistic about it simply because, just like anything in life, if we prioritize it, just like, in the morning, you prioritize getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, having coffee, getting your kids ready for school, what have you.

    If we prioritize something, it will get done. We're given all — every — each and every one of us is given the same 24 hours. We all have the same 24 hours. It's — what you do with those 24 hours will determine the success in what you do.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Well, Alonzo Mourning, thank you.

  • Alonzo Mourning:

    Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

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