In 1973, Sports Illustrated magazine featured on its cover the photo of a 3-year-old male horse — Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. ESPN named him the 35th best athlete of the 20th century and he is still remembered fondly.
Last week, 41 years later, that magazine placed on its cover 13-year-old, female Little League player Mo’ne Davis, who pitched her team to the semifinals of the national championships at Williamsport in the World Series.
News sources announced that it was the first time Sports Illustrated had featured a Little League player on its cover, and we believe it was probably about time.
Even more exciting than her status as a Little Leaguer was the fact that she was black and female, two groups of individuals who have historically been discriminated against.
We applaud the magazine because, by this publishing act, it has made a symbolic statement that it has grown up and expanded its definition of what athletes are.
Now, we all know the scourge of discrimination extends beyond sports. It has existed in the past, and it continues into the present.
This nation is moving slowly beyond its sad history of slavery, but there are still informal pockets of racial segregation that were begat by the legacy of prejudice in hiring and real estate of the past.
We know also that women have faced uphill battles in facing glass ceilings in industry and even for recognition of athletic accomplishments.
Likewise, the fashion and modeling industry will not use females of normal size and weight to display their clothes, preferring individuals who are quite underweight.
Taking it further, people with mental and physical disabilities are not often given positions of responsibility, and woe be unto women who do not fit the stereotype of beautiful.
In sports, the media favors men who are strong, fast and attractive in big sports. A cursory survey would reveal that the most watched sporting events are football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey, followed by slower and female events.
That is unfortunate because athletes exist at every age, gender and economic level.
Here at the Avon Grove Sun and The Kennett Paper, we have recently made a commitment to expand our sports coverage to reach out to people of all ages and events.
We know, for instance, that retirement communities have water volleyball teams that never see newsprint. There are young kids who set records in their recreational leagues who are never recognized. There are dogs who win the jumping contest and deserve coverage. And there are tough old guys and gals who continue to play hockey and swim in masters meets way beyond their prime years of activities.
We want you to know about these people. We want them to be the athletes of the week.
Sure, we will bring the news of high school sports and those magnificent athletes who play.
But we believe that is too narrow a focus.
In the near future, look for features of the athletes who have been omitted or discriminated against because they are outside the norm. We want to follow the example of Sports Illustrated and go beyond big guys playing football on Friday night.
We hope it works. We are cautiously reminded of an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” long ago that involved the television station hiring a feminist sports reporter who omitted a Minnesota Vikings football game in favor of a winning high school diver. Boy, was Lou Grant furious.
Here we’ll keep up with the young and beautiful stars, but our range of coverage will reach wider still.
If you have sports news that is interesting or know someone should be featured as an Athlete of the Week, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.