Let me give you a list of names and let’s see if you can figure out what they have in common. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Arthur Ashe. Can you figure it out? The answer is that all of these people are black athletes who were some of the first black athletes in each of their sports and had to fight to try and fully break the race boundary line. They paved the way for some of the great athletes we’ve gotten to know and love like Hank Aaron, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Jerry Rice. And the question that still remains is, how much more improvement is there still to be done?
When I first learned about this project I wanted to do my research around the subject of racism in sports because in the world that I’ve grown up in, a lot black athletes have spoken out about this issue loads of times and now that I’m older and more knowledgeable I’m curious to learn more. Recently black athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James, and most notably Colin Kaepernick have either protested or spoken out about the issue that is racism. These athletes are great role models for younger kids to look up to because these athletes are not only amazing at what they do, but they’re willing to sacrifice their career for others to have a better shot. Racism in sports has made great progress compared to what it was in the early and mid 1900’s. Athletes like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods and others all becoming some of the best athletes in their sports. In Isaac Chotiner’s article “Politics in Sports is as American as Racism” Chotiner states, “You could look back to, of course, Muhammad Ali is the most obvious figure. But you could look at a figure like Curt Flood in baseball. You could look at a figure like Joe Louis, you could look at Jackie Robinson, you could look at an earlier figure like Jack Johnson. You could look at a number of instances in American sports where the crisis with politics and sports in this country frequently has been over the business of race”(Chotiner). All of the athletes listed are people who went through tougher times than now despite the odds against them. This concept intrigued me because I wanted to familiarize myself more with black athletes from before my time and understand more about what they went through. And researching this topic was a great way to do that.
Link to my full Personal Interest Essay:
Racism against African Americans in sports has been an issue since the early to mid 1900’s and although it has gotten better in recent years with things like less explicit name calling and segregation, those changes don’t take away from what the African American athletes that were the pioneers of their sports in the early to mid 1900’s went through. An exceptional example from early on in this issue’s history also has something to do with the Civil Rights Movement. And that is the 1968 Olympics. More specifically the Men’s 200m dash. US sprinters Tommie Smith (gold medalist) and John Carlos (bronze medalist) did the unthinkable while on the podium with the US National Anthem playing. They stood in silence with their heads down and each raised a closed fist with a black glove on. This gesture was a reminder of the Civil Rights Movement that was just done on arguably the biggest sports stage possible. “Although they won the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter dash, their athletic accomplishments were overshadowed by their silent protest during the medal ceremony”(Peterson). Although both of these athletes accomplished something amazing, winning a medal for their country at the Olympic Games, that was completely overshadowed by the fact that they had just done a protest during the National Anthem. But this moment stands out because it reminded the millions of people about one of the biggest problems in our country, racism.
One of the best examples of this issue is with Jackie Robinson. Robinson was the first African American baseball player to ever play in the Major League in the modern era. Obviously since Robinson was the first African American to play in the Major League, there was a lot of outrage when he stepped on the field. Jackie Robinson played from 1947 to 1956 which was a time where segregation and racism were both still big in America, not just in sports. But Robinson’s manager, Clay Hopper didn’t care. He described Robinson as “the greatest competitor I ever saw”(191). Hopper looked beyond just skin color and found an absolute gem of a baseball player. Before Robinson had crossed the boundary line, black baseball players were forced to play in the “Negro Leagues”, so Robinson taking the leap was very important and ended up making him a legend and idol for black athletes everywhere. In fact, his impact on sports was so big, that the MLB introduced a day called “Jackie Robinson Day” where all of the players in the league who play on that day wear number 42 to honor the late great Jackie Robinson.
Link to my full Historical Problem Essay:
Although racism in sports has become less of a problem in recent years compared to what it has been throughout its history, both the athletes and most fans think that there is still a lot more room to grow. Some examples of athletes/groups of athletes who have either spoken out about the problem in modern day America or protested about the problem are Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Raheem Sterling. And because of the positions and platforms that these current and former athletes have, whatever they choose to say is actually heard by the people.
Raheem Sterling has spoken out about this issue, very recently as a matter of fact. Sterling is one of the most talented English Soccer players in the world and he plays for the club, Manchester City. In December of 2018, Manchester City played Chelsea in a Premier League match at Chelsea’s stadium, Stamford Bridge. While the match was taking place Sterling and all the other Manchester City players were being yelled at by fans, which is common at these games, but Sterling saw something different about the fans. “It looked, to him, like hatred”(Smith) is how Sterling described the Chelsea fanbase. Along with this Sterling stated, “‘I was listening in to hear what they were saying.’ What he picked up, he said, he dismissed immediately: ‘Nah, that can’t be what I heard’”(Smith). Although we are not explicitly told by Sterling what the fan(s) actually said to him, we know that it was some sort of racially abusive comment. That kind of behavior from fans is disgraceful and absolutely unacceptable to do to a player. Also, it is proof that people need to listen more to the athletes and not always protect the fans.
A more recent event that involved racism in sports is the incident with NBA superstar Russell Westbrook and two Utah Jazz fans. Westbrook was on the bench when a man and his wife allegedly heckled him with “racial and inappropriate comments”(Golliver). Westbrook later said in an interview “A young man and his wife in the stands told me to get down on my knees like you used to”. And in a form of self defense (sorry for the explicit words coming up) Westbrook yelled back at the fan saying, “I’ll fuck you up. You and your wife.” That is horrible behavior on the fan’s part and as a punishment, the NBA put a lifetime ban on the fan. The act done by this man and woman is proof that there is still a lot more change that needs to be done not just in the NBA, but in all sports whether it be professional, collegiate, casual, or anything in between.
Lastly, what better example is there of a black athlete fighting against racism than Colin Kaepernick? If you haven’t heard of Colin Kaepernick, he is a NFL quarterback who sacrificed everything, even his own career, to speak up about and act on the issue of racism. In an interview with NFL Media reporter Steve Wyche, Kaepernick said “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” And although Kaepernick doesn’t talk about sports, Steve Wyche later wrote in the article, “By taking a stand for civil rights, Kaepernick, 28, joins other athletes, like the NBA’s Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and several WNBA players in using their platform and status to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the U.S.”(Wyche) and that does talk about sports. What Kaepernick did is incredible, and his image is going to be remembered for a long time because of his actions and his words.
Link to my full personal Present Day Problem Essay:
Link to my full Solutions Essay: