August 02, 2012
By Kenneth Miller
LA Watts Times Correspondent
It has been 25 years since the late Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis made the infamous statement those Blacks lacked the buoyancy to become good swimmers during a televised Nightline interview with Ted Koppel on ABC in 1987.
African American Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones nearly drowned of a water slide incident at the age of five, two years after Campanis raciest quote which led to ouster from baseball and brought about national embarrassment to the Dodgers which had introduced us to the man who broke baseball’s color barrier---Jackie Robinson.
Twenty-three years after Jones near fatal incident, the Bronx, and NY native was chuckling about the incident as he was preparing for the 100 meter free style at the London Olympics.
“I almost drowned and now I am an Olympic swimmer,” Jones said laughing. “I can definitely appreciate the irony.”
That childhood incident subsequently led Jones to swimming lessons. He became a member of the Metro Express swim club in West Orange, New Jersey at the Jewish Community Center after the family moved to New Jersey from the Bronx.
Eventually he would switch teams and swam for the Jersey Gators Swim Club in Cranford.
Following his youth experience he attended North Carolina State University where he swam for the Wolfpack and also participated on the diving team from 2003-2006.
His 6’5, 210 stature suggest he could have excelled as either of shooting guard in basketball or tight end or linebacker in football, but undeterred by his incident at the Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in Pennsylvania he became a swimmer.
His ironic twist of fate is what makes Jones success on the world stage of the Olympics all the more fascinating.
Jones is not just splashing in the pool he is a world record holder in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay (long course and it was Jones who maintained his advantage in the event that propelled the United States men to a silver medal in London.
He was also responsible for an Olympic gold in Beijing four years ago in the same event.
Although he failed to qualify in the individual freestyle in London, the future is bright for the 28- year old who has a sponsorship deal with Nike, signed after he burst upon the scene shortly after set the meet record for the 50 meter freestyle at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in 2006.
“I love being on relays, but being in an individual event just means so much more,” he added.
Jones’ coaches say that he has always been fast, but he has never put it altogether at the right time. Coaches say his skills are tremendous and he is essential to the U.S. Team.
He is only the second African American to hold or share a world record in swimming since Anthony Ervin. He is also only the third Black to make the U.S. Olympic team since Ervin and Maritza Correia.
Rare company indeed, but even more remarkable considering he only took up the sport to prevent his fear of a child incident.
Campanis aside, it’s safe to say he not only has buoyancy to be a good swimmer, but the courage and talent to demonstrate that he is one of the best in all of the world.