Back in the middle and late 1950s I was a member of the University of Chicago Track Club while sporadically attending law school and business school there. Ted Haydon, the track coach there, was a social worker from Canada and his open door policy for the club encouraged all sorts of people to participate,……and they did. One of them was a very special character named Tunlaw Sturges. He was the very proud son of a Tuskegee Airman. It was only later that I fully appreciated what his father and his fellow black  pilots did during World War II. At that time those Negroes from the North like me, who attended Eastern liberal arts colleges, did not hold historically black colleges in very high regard. But that stupidity is a topic for another time. Tunlaw was one of those people who was a walking reservoir of  facts, data and statistics. This in itself wasn’t so bad, it was the fact that he constantly used his superior information bank to dispute, refute, correct and embarrass the rest of us . We felt that he did it to make up for the fact that he was less gifted athletically than the rest of us and this was some sort of  overcompensation mechanism of his. We deeply resented this and perhaps that was the basis for us calling him “Nut”.  One day he explained to us that his first name was actually Walnut spelled in reverse. He said there was a street in Northwest Washington, D.C. ( Georgetown ) named Tunlaw and his father discovered this fact when he was briefly stationed in Washington, D.C. during World War II. His dad thought it was fitting that they would reverse and obfuscate the name of a street in Georgetown, just like the fact that Georgetown University itself was founded by a black priest, and Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, and after World War II, the capital of the world, was actually laid out and designed by Benjamin Banneker, another black man who his dad thought was being ignored and whose accomplishments were being obscured. So he named his oldest son Tunlaw as a living reminder of  what happens when blacks allow others to write and/or rewrite their history.

Now all of the historical background, social, and racial implications of Tunlaw’s name really did not register with any depth for the rest of us.  All we wanted was something to reduce and minimize him, and thus become a rejoinder of sorts to his constant nit picking  harping and correcting us. So we seized on the fact that his name was Walnut in reverse and since Walnut ended with N-U-T, that was all we needed to start calling him “Nut”.  Despite the stretch to get there, the fact that we were willing to go to that extreme is representative of two things. First was the degree and depth of irritation he caused by being right all the time. The second thing was the fact that in the days before “politically correct” and “Afro-American” , blacks were much more honest and candid in descriptions of each other. If you had a big mouth, you were “Satchelmouth” or “Gatemouth”. If you had lost a leg, you were “Pegleg”. If you liked pork you might end up as “Pigmeat” . There were famous black entertainers with these names that were shown on marques and billboards all over the country. So despite the fact that Tunlaw was “proper” and correct a sickening amount of the time, we still felt comfortable in calling him Nut because we saw him as a person who was “nuts” about getting on our cases, collectively and individually.

Now fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I got a call from Nut who is now retired and living in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The call went like this.

Brooks, this is Tunlaw.

Tunlaw ! How are you man ?

I would say I am a bit better than you.

No doubt that is what you ignorant ass would say.

Is there sarcasm is your remark ?

Is there sarcasm in yours ?

No, I just feel that after the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games, you might not be feeling as well as usual.

Nut, I feel fine. The Olympic Games are for people on the Olympic Team. If you are not an Olympian, then the Games is just another competition you missed.

Really ? I am surprised to hear that. Is that what you told that guy, David Oliver, you coach that did not make the team, even though he was American recorder at the time ?

That is exactly what I told him !

Really ? Did he see it that way as well ?

Nut, you can never be sure what someone else is thinking. All I can say is what I said to him after he did not make the damned team.

Pity. A real pity.

Hey,…. make sure that you understand we are not having any pity parties around here. He was not the only athlete  I coached who did not make the Olympic Team.

I am aware of that, but thought I would spare you the pain of bringing it up.

Like hell ! If that is what you called me about, then consider it a closed chapter.

As a matter of fact that is just a foot note . What I really called you about is the fact that I have been noticing something that is very disturbing to me.

Really ? Is it that you left Chicago where Obama will win to go to Mississippi where he is going to lose ?

No it is a bit closer and more relevant to you,.. than me.

What ?

I just noticed that the British have gotten rid of the technical director of track and field . This man Charles something, from Holland, who was supposed to substantially up their medal count in London, but they ended up with essentially the same medal count as Beijing. When you figure in the “home court” advantage that is usually an addition of one to three medals, plus the amount of money they committed, you can make a strong case that they did worse than Beijing and 2008.

Yeah, but they got more gold this time. And they got rid of Charles.

True, but that brings me to the crux of the point I am getting to. The most popular and prominent gold medals were the Ennis girl in the heptathlon and Farrah in the 5,000 and 10,000. Both were colored.

Colored ?

Yes, both colored. However, when this man Charles brought in coaching talent and support staff, he only used whites.

Ennis’ coach is white and Alberto Salazar that coached Farrah is white.

Yes, but two points, to put a finer point on it. First of all I said, of the people he BROUGHT in, not people already existing where they were. I mean the the personnel from over here. The “master” coaches who were supposed to be an integral part of the British upping their medal count. None of them were black, despite the fact that the most consistent producers of Olympic medals have been American black coaches. To make that point I offer Bob Kersee and John Smith as the most prolific producers of Olympic medals.

What about Clyde Hart ? You missed him.

Not really,…. if you take my words seriously and factually. Since 1988 Kersee and Smith have produced the most Olympic medals.

What about  Tom Tellez ?

A good name, but does not refute my point. First he is in retirement. Secondly, I stated and dated the 1988 Olympics onward. My point being that if the British were serious about getting the very best coaches to help up their Olympic medal count, they needed to recruit and attract coaches who had the best and most recent Olympic results. The two  people with those credentials were black.    To me that is simple and infallible arithmetic.

Look, John Smith and I had a very long discussion with Charles at the Birmingham Indoor meet three years ago. We pointed out what we thought was racist selections and decisions and he steadfastly maintained that what he was doing was intrinsically and irrefutably “fair”. And “fair” was the word he used time and again against our arguments. I must admit that  I was very impressed at how civil he was even as we were basically calling him a racist.

We must admit then that in one respect he was truthful,….all they got were “fair”results and returns.

Clever,……but that was Britain and we are in the U.S..

No matter. President Eisenhower put it best, ” The price of freedom and liberty is eternal vigilance.” What happened in Britain has, and will happen here,… unless black athletes and coaches here command and demand treatment and status commensurate with their contribution.

You mean we have to raise our voices and holler out loud so we will not be overlooked and Tunlawed .


Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

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