Viking Reflections: Basketball great Clark Kellogg ’79
In this time of COVID-19, death, disruption, economic suffering, racial turmoil, social distancing and uncertainty, I’ve spent plenty of time praying and thinking about the state of our communities and country and how might I “be” better while “doing” better for others.
These are disturbing and disheartening times indeed … for all of us. Yet I remain hopeful because of the great capacity and spirit that we all have to care for each other and to do good. I’m confident that faith-inspired spirit, coupled with our common humanity, will win the day over time.
My hopefulness is primarily borne of my faith in God through Jesus Christ. I became a Christian in the winter of 1986, surrendering my heart and life to the lordship of Christ, and since then, I’ve sought to be guided in word and deed by the word of God as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.
But my hope is also borne of my upbringing, formal education, and experience as an accomplished high school, college and pro basketball player.
My parents (now deceased) provided a stable, loving home for me and my four younger siblings. By example and through words, it was impressed upon us that treating all others with care, compassion and respect was expected and mandatory.
As a black man, my dad, Clark (a Cleveland police officer) encountered racism as one of the few black police officers on the West Side during the mid-1960s. He impressed upon us that some folks in the world would view and treat us differently because we were black, but that we were to always treat others based on their humanity and individuality.
When I matriculated to VASJ in 1975, I was one of a very small percentage of black young men in a predominantly white, Catholic high school. Being both black and non-Catholic, standing 6 feet 3 inches as a freshman and having a budding reputation as a basketball player made me a bit of a curiosity to my new classmates — and perhaps to my teachers as well.
I don’t recall feeling any racial tension from anyone, just the normal awkwardness and “feeling out” process that accompanies being new to a school and different in race and religion. Having attended predominantly black public elementary and junior high schools added to my reticence as well.
From the time I was 9 years old, sports captivated me, especially basketball. By the time I was 11, basketball and I started a love affair that has energized and fulfilled me as a player for close to 20 years and a broadcaster for more than 30. Basketball has been a blessed and constant companion throughout my life. As a matter of fact, until coming to faith in Christ in 1986, basketball was on the throne of my life. Clearly out of place, until my repentance.
I’m deeply indebted to the game, as so many good things in my life are the fruit of my experiences, lessons learned and relationships made in basketball, for which I thank God.
Reflecting back on my time at VASJ, the demonstrated, practiced and taught values of fairness, justice, love and service to others helped me to minimize differences in others and myself while elevating our common humanity. Doing to others what you would have them do to you, as Jesus states in the Gospel of Matthew, comes to mind.
Sports in general is a powerful yet imperfect example of how the values of care, commitment, effort, love, sacrifice, service and teamwork can bridge socio-economic and racial gaps.
It’s powerful because in my experience in the game of basketball at every level, folks from diverse backgrounds and races have coalesced around the game and a common goal, embracing the work of “the many becoming united as one,” and bearing the fruit of enriched lives through shared personal experiences and relationships.
Sports is imperfect in that we know coaching, management and ownership positions are devoid of the type of diversity we see on courts and fields of play for myriad reasons. Issues of systemic structures that are barriers to advancement for blacks and other minorities and racial stereotypes that exist are just a couple examples.
Nevertheless, sports at every level provides an instructive template for racial harmony. Its status and esteem in our country and the world provides athletes, coaches, leaders, owners and fans a unique platform. A platform that can — and has been — catalyzed and leveraged for lasting change in the fight for justice, racial equality and bringing people together in unity while embracing our differences.
I experienced that at VASJ in the late ’70s and throughout my basketball career in the days since. I thank God for my education and experience as a Viking.
In closing, there are “many branches” on the tree of justice and racial equality in our country, and sports is just one of those. Let’s all resolve to do what we can in producing the fruit that we’re made to bring forth: equality, fairness, justice, love, righteousness and unity.