Galatians 3:28

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

C.M. Newton died yesterday.

For those who are unfamiliar with C.M. Newton, he played on Adolph Rupp’s third national championship team, was a head coach at Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt and an athletic director at UK. He was on the NCAA selection committee to choose teams for the NCAA tournament and was Bobby Knight’s assistant, coaching the United States dream team in the Olympics.

You might think this Journal is about basketball and it is, but only secondarily. Rather I am holding up before you a man of character, integrity, courage and a man who was an agent for social change in the 1960’s – a decision which could have cost him his life.

C.M. didn’t make speeches like Dr. King saying he had “been to the mountaintop” and “mine eyes have seen the glory,” and yet you could say he was a “general” in the army for racial justice, at work on the battlefield to correct hundreds of years of racial injustice.

While he was coach at Transylvania he recruited Jim Hurley from Paris to be one of the first two black basketball player in school history. Jim Hurley single handedly re-wrote the Transy record book. Keep in mind this is the school where Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy was educated and a number of former slave owners were benefactors of the college. There was a fraternity that proudly flew the “stars and bars” (the Confederate flag) and on occasion dressed in Confederate battle uniforms.  While I am sure the administration, faculty and athletic department supported the move, he received harassment and disapproval from many in the community.

When Dr. Rose left Transy to become president of the University of Alabama and the position of head basketball coach became open, he recruited C.M. to be head coach.

C.M. visited the office of Bear Bryant to ask him a question. There were no black athletes on campus at Alabama at the time. None. His question was, “Will I be able to recruit whoever I want to recruit?” The Bear knew what he was asking. The answer was, “yes,” as long as the athlete can do the academic work.

C.M. brought Wendell Hudson to Alabama as the first black athlete in school history. This was just five or six years after Governor George Wallace stood in the door of a university building and pronounced, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He was the first coach to start five black athletes in the Southeastern Conference. They won three straight SEC championships.

You and I will never know the threats, vulgarities, harassment and discrimination C.M., Wendell and the whole Alabama team endured, simply for doing the right thing. Let’s just say, C.M. Newton was lucky to survive his decision to integrate Alabama athletics.

I never met him other than to shake his hand at a Transy alumni function in Cincinnati, but he was widely respected in college basketball. Perhaps, as some have said, he may have provided NCAA basketball a standard by which to measure itself.

We could go on to say that he resurrected UK basketball by bringing hiring Rick Pitino to coach in the nineties, hired UK’s first two African American coaches – Bernadette Locke Mattox and Tubby Smith. He would brush aside those decisions as “pragmatic,” rather than prophetic. Smith not only won a national championship in his first year, but in 2003, was the only coach in 25 years to receive every national coach of the year award that is given. Before every game, Smith would greet and shake hands with every person at the scorer’s table. Character begets character.

When UK needed someone to right the ship in a time of scandal and do it with class and integrity, they called on C.M. Newton to come home and be that man.

What I saw, from a distance, is a man whose character and integrity came from following the One who went before him to show the way.

Moving to the deeper places,
Jeff