The Morning Swim Show, Feb. 10, 2012: Detailing the History of Blacks in Swimming with ISHOF and Lee Pitts

PHOENIX, Arizona, February 10. THE Morning Swim Show celebrates Black History Month with the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which presents an interview with pioneer Lee Pitts.

ISHOF CEO Bruce Wigo spoke with Pitts, who works as a nationally-recognized swim instructor, about some of the history of African-Americans in swimming, from the days of slavery to today. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.

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Morning Swim Show Transcripts
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(Note: This is an automated service where some typos and grammatical errors may occur.)

Peter Busch: This is The Morning Swim Show for Friday, February 10th 2012. I'm your host Peter Busch. In the FINIS monitor today we're talking once again with Bruce Wigo, the CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The past two days we've been doing a series of shows to highlight a handful of the new videos in their archives. Bruce joins us right now once again in the FINIS monitor from Fort Lauderdale. Bruce welcome back to the show. How are you doing?

Bruce Wigo: I'm doing great Peter. Thanks for having me back.

Peter Busch: It's good to have you back. So today we're going to talk about ISHOF celebrating African-American history in swimming.

Bruce Wigo: Yes, this is really to me, coming into the Hall of Fame five or six years ago, I really knew nothing about this and going through the Hall of Fame to find out the absolutely most incredible untold story about the great tradition of swimming in Africa really blew me away. When I read in the Thevenot book which was published in 1697 and it was the book that Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself how to swim. When I read in the introduction that basically, this is almost an exact quote, that in the ancient days the Romans and Greeks were the great practitioners of swimming and diving but in modern times it's the Africans and the Indians who excel all others in the arts of swimming and diving. It's to them their ladies or their pearls, it's to them that all the merchandise that is recovered from the sea has been brought up by these people and all the great maritime wealth of the world for hundreds of years was there and actually the Europeans and white Americans did not really swim or take up swimming until the middle of the 1800's and then the African-Americans and the native Americans were either relocated to places where you couldn't swim or kept out of every safe swimming hall and when swimming pools were built to address the great issue of drowning in the white population African-Americans were excluded from swimming places so over the last 150 years or so we went from 80% of African-Americans being swimmers and other minorities to 80% that cannot swim now and from a point of 20% of white Americans swimming to now 80%. This is really one of the most incredible untold stories of cultural history in the United States and the tragedy of course is that today the drowning statistics are way out of proportion for minorities.

Peter Busch: And in the video we're about to see you interview Lee Pitts.

Bruce Wigo: Yes, Lee Pitts is really a pioneer in swimming instruction. He's maybe today the only African-American that has a swim instructional video for teaching kids to swim. He was a lifeguard and a swimmer growing up in the south and really didn't have a lot of opportunities and that's why he did this. He was a banker and now he has a TV show down in the west side of Florida and he's won a lot of black Emmy Awards for his shows. He's really been very positive and outspoken on the need to get more black kids swimming and the stereotype that blacks can't swim is absolutely ridiculous not only because it's not true but historically the exact reverse was true.

Peter Busch: All right, let's take a look.

Peter Busch: And Bruce now bringing it full circle to today when you were saying more African-Americans not only learning to swim but excelling even on a national and international level.

Bruce Wigo: You know but still when you go to the nationals, Peter, you can count on one hand the number of African-Americans that are there. Now you see some brave ones – Cullen Jones, Maritza, Anthon Ervin – but you tell me, the Y Nationals or Nationals I've gone out to these things and counted them and you've got a handful, certainly less than 1% are there and when you look at their dominance in other sports it's ridiculous.

Peter Busch: Well you're right, I think USA Swimming would be smart to definitely focus a lot of resources in getting some of those great athletes in the pool.

Bruce Wigo: Yes, well I think that really education – the perception in both black and white communities are that – well I think the problem is the people look at swimming as a sport and if you see it on TV what sport are you going to go into, you've got one Michael Phelps but you've got hundreds of basketball and football players that are making millions of dollars. But I think the mistake that we do is to try and pitch swimming as a sport rather than a life skill that can save your life and give you access to the world of recreational activities that swimming gives you. But once kids get in and you motivate the parents to take them to swim lessons if the kid's good he's going to go along and he's going to like it so we're going to get the numbers that way but to try and sell it as a sport I think is a big mistake at least initially. First we've got to tell them that look, it wasn't a sport back in those days but black people owned the water, they were in the water all the time, they were in constantly. When you look at the history of Africa and you see these guys and explorer after explorer marveling that African kids were brought up from the time they could walk as swimmers and their skills were so outstanding. This has to go back centuries, not just the time that white explorers reached Sub-Saharan Africa so this is every bit as much a part of African tradition as it is anybody's tradition but why aren't they swimming.

Peter Busch: Well Bruce, thank you very much again for joining us and giving us some great perspective, appreciate it. All right, that's Bruce Wigo joining us in the FINIS monitor today. That's it for today's show, I'm Peter Busch reminding you to keep your head down at the finish.

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