The Problems of the Past

One of the many notable features about Ritter’s brief and vague descriptions of the tensions that plagued the 1967-1968 team is how dismissive it is of the two black athletes in question. [57] The documents we have leave us no indication of whatever may have happened on the team. However, the  fact that both Torain and Waterman faced discrimination while at UD can hardly be contested (Ritter himself openly conceded hearing Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp refer to Torain with a racial slur during a game). [58] Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that they faced a fair share of racism on-campus.

The reality was, Torain and Waterman, were two of just roughly 150 African-Americans  at a university of approximately 8,000 students in a city noted for its history of racial discrimination. [59] Only a year before momentum to build the arena began to develop, the city had been torn apart by a race riot. Following a murder of a black man on Labor Day 1966 by what witnesses described as white men in a car, the largely African-American west side of Dayton exploded. Neglect by the city, economic decline, and loss of tax base due to white flight left much of the west side dilapidated and crime-ridden. The 60,000 people living there faced decades of unrelenting housing and educational segregation. For the few black students at predominantly white Ohio colleges at this time, campuses offered little respite from what the largely hostile world. When asked to describe what she felt while living through this period, Gwendolyn M. Jones, a Dayton resident and Ohio State student during these years, explained:

I understood “where” the world told me my place was supposed to be in the whole scheme of things. What I did know was that I came out [of] an environment, a very racist city, Dayton, OH, which had isolated us on one side of the city; and so none of it felt safe to me. I think, if I’d spoken out, I would have suffered retribution in the classroom, not only from the instructors, but also from other students. It may have, uh, isolated me even further. It may have caused me to get into some kind of trouble, or difficulty, that I couldn’t get myself out of. Uh, and so, I didn’t feel like I could say anything, even though I knew that there were injustices, and I knew there was racism. And I knew we weren’t all treated equally. [60]

In the case of Jones, her experience on an Ohio college campus between 1966 and 1970 ultimately led her to protest the conditions under which African-Americans were forced to live. Of course, her actions, like those of many others, were part of a broad-based, decades-old Civil Rights movement taking place across the United States. As Ritter concedes in his description of the problems on the 1967-1968 Flyers team, what took place “is explainable only in the context of the national agony of the late 1960s.” Yet rather than assuming a more sympathetic interpretation of Torain and Waterman’s growing sense of responsibility to take actions against discrimination, even though they may have felt fear to do so, Ritter dismisses their actions as a result of emotional problems and the exuberance of becoming “caught up in the militancy of the time.” Their white teammate George Hooper was undoubtedly right when he said in an interview for Ritter’s’ book, “You have to believe outside forces were working on [Waterman] that last year.”

Police with shotguns patrol the streets of Dayton during the Riot of 1966. Marshall Weiss, “Part One of Three: 50 Years Later,” The Dayton Jewish Observer, August 25, 2016. For more on the 1966 Dayton Riot and the life of African Americans in the city at that time see Daniel L. Baker and Gwen Nails, Blood in the Streets – Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America (Forensic Publications, 2014).

Perhaps, however, the “outside” forces were not a nefarious race agitator but the injuries inflicted upon Torain and Waterman due to racial prejudice. The two men may very well have decided it was time to take a stand against the everyday incidents of discrimination they had long tolerated. They may also have felt a growing sense of moral responsibility to speak-out. After all, before returning to campus that year both had witnessed the events of the “Long Hot Summer of 1967″ in which the nation had been swept by approximately 150 race riots.

Black athletes across the nation such as Muhammad Ali and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos were visibly protesting at their athletic events. In surveys taken that summer by the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University, black and white citizens reported strikingly different perceptions of what caused this violence. [61] “Moodiness” might simply have been how the internal turmoil these men were experiencing manifested itself to those who could not comprehend what it meant to be black in a “white man’s world.” Indeed, although President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission determined in 1968 that white racism was the primary cause of the riots, subsequent polls revealed that the majority of white people refused to believe the findings and preferred to blame black people for the trouble. [62] As conflict on the team came to the surface, reactions by white Daytonians certainly fit this pattern.


The City Backs Away

Whatever one decides to believe about the Flyers’ troubles in 1967-1968, the team’s horrendous start made the challenge of raising money to build the arena harder for Frericks. As shock among fans gave way to bitter disappointment, the decision to flout the city’s offer to partner with the University in a downtown facility no longer appeared as a wise choice. The battle between October and November of 1967 on whether to approve the university’s use of the land near the river had cooled interest in issuing a special bond.

That move appears to have lessened the enthusiasm of officials to work with the Frericks in creating a public financing option. Even after rejecting the city’s proposal for a multipurpose downtown complex shared by the city and university, Frericks had hoped to secure the help of local officials in financing the arena’s construction. Initially the university wanted the city to float bonds that would be paid back by the school over forty years; however, once the city’s plan was scuttled, city officials’ interest in issuing a special bond to help the university cooled. One of the first signs of trouble was the revival of concerns over such a public and private partnership. It was explained to the university that the legal questions complicated any of the conventional low interest loans that the city might provide to fund the enterprise.

Writing to the university, City Manager Graham Watt pointed out that the interest rates on industrial bonds, which the city would be able to back, were considerably higher than the financing the school had initially hoped to receive. [63] There was also another problem from the point of view of school: it would take some time, many months perhaps, to hammer-out the legal details to bypass the laws prohibiting use of municipal funds for the construction of a private facility. Construction would be delayed, making it difficult for the school to have the arena ready for the opening of the 1969-1970 season. Declining support for the team magnified the problem. Local authorities may have felt that there was no political imperative to support UD.