At a time when we recognize CVS's Diversity Chief, David Casey and Tuskegee Airman Roscoe Brown for African American History Month, it is fitting that we honor another man who served our nation in the air and strove to bring racial equality to the sports world.
You may have heard about the passing of North Carolina men's basketball coaching legend Dean Smith earlier this month. His "Tar Heel" teams posted an extraordinary record, winning nearly 80% of its games and two NCAA National Championships over 30+ years.
These are grand achievements for any coach at any level, but the lesser-known postscript is that Smith was an Air Force veteran who, after his service, worked hard to bring racial equality to the game.
"My father said, 'Value each human being,' "Smith wrote in "A Coach's Life" (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. "Racial justice wasn't preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity." His father, Alfred Smith, was a high school basketball coach who took a bold stand to put a black player on his own team in 1933.
Citing his view on race relations, President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
"He graduated more than 96 percent of his players and taught his teams to point to the teammate who passed them the ball after a basket. He pushed forward the Civil Rights movement, recruiting the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helping to integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
And in his final years, Coach Smith showed us how to fight an illness with courage and dignity. For all of that, I couldn't have been prouder to honor Coach Smith with The Medal of Freedom in 2013," President Obama said.