Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union deplored the treatment of African Americans by the U.S. government as proof of hypocrisy in the American promises of freedom and equality. This probing history examines government attempts to manipulate international perceptions of U.S. race relations during the Cold War by sending African American athletes abroad on goodwill tours and in international competitions as cultural ambassadors and visible symbols of American values. Damion L. Thomas follows the State Department's efforts from 1945 to 1968 to showcase prosperous African American athletes including Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and the Harlem Globetrotters as the preeminent citizens of the African Diaspora rather than as victims of racial oppression. With athletes in baseball, track and field, and basketball, the government relied on figures whose fame carried the desired message to countries where English was little understood. However, eventually African American athletes began to provide counter-narratives to State Department claims of American exceptionalism, most notably with Tommie Smith and John Carlos's famous black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Even the most casual sports fans celebrate the achievements of professional athletes, among them Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Louis. Yet before and after these heroes staked a claim for African Americans in professional sports, dozens of college athletes asserted their own civil rights on the amateur playing field, and continue to do so today.
Integrating the Gridiron, the first book devoted to exploring the racial politics of college athletics, examines the history of African Americans on predominantly white college football teams from the nineteenth century through today. Lane Demas compares the acceptance and treatment of black student athletes by presenting compelling stories of those who integrated teams nationwide, and illuminates race relations in a number of regions, including the South, Midwest, West Coast, and Northeast. Focused case studies examine the University of California, Los Angeles in the late 1930s; integrated football in the Midwest and the 1951 Johnny Bright incident; the southern response to black players and the 1955 integration of the Sugar Bowl; and black protest in college football and the 1969 University of Wyoming "Black 14." Each of these issues drew national media attention and transcended the world of sports, revealing how fans—and non-fans—used college football to shape their understanding of the larger civil rights movement.
The recent flashpoint of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee renews a long tradition of athlete-activists speaking out against racism, injustice, and oppression. Like Kaepernick, Jackie Robinson, Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos—among many others, of all races, male and female, pro and amateur—all made the choice to take a side to command public awareness and attention rather than “shut up and play,” as O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods did. Using their celebrity to demand change, these activists inspired fans but faced great personal and professional risks in doing so. It Was Always a Choice traces the history and impact of these decisive moments throughout the history of U.S. sports.
David Steele identifies the resonances and antecedents throughout the twentieth century of the choices faced by athletes in the post-Kaepernick era, including the advance of athletes’ political organizing in the era of activism following the death of George Floyd. He shows which athletes chose silence instead of action—“dropping the baton,” as it were—in the movement to end racial inequities and violence against Black Americans. The examples of courageous athletes multiply as LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe and the activist-athletes of the NBA, WNBA, and NFL remain committed to fighting daily and vibrantly for social change.
As Americans, we believe there ought to be a level playing field for everyone. Even if we don’t expect to finish first, we do expect a fair start. Only in sports have African Americans actually found that elusive level ground. But at the same time, black players offer an ironic perspective on the athlete-hero, for they represent a group historically held to be without social honor.
In his first new collection of sports essays since Tuxedo Junction (1989), the noted cultural critic Gerald Early investigates these contradictions as they play out in the sports world and in our deeper attitudes toward the athletes we glorify. Early addresses a half-century of heated cultural issues ranging from integration to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Writing about Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood, he reconstructs pivotal moments in their lives and explains how the culture, politics, and economics of sport turned with them. Taking on the subtexts, racial and otherwise, of the controversy over remarks Rush Limbaugh made about quarterback Donovan McNabb, Early restores the political consequence to an event most commentators at the time approached with predictable bluster.
The essays in this book circle around two perennial questions: What other, invisible contests unfold when we watch a sporting event? What desires and anxieties are encoded in our worship of (or disdain for) high-performance athletes?
These essays are based on the Alain Locke lectures at Harvard University’s Du Bois Institute.
College sports have provided a compelling means to discuss issues regarding racial equality and fairness in American life. As previously-white institutions of higher learning gradually (and grudgingly) opened their playing fields to African-American athletes in men's basketball and football, black and white spectators interpreted mixed-race team sports in often contradictory ways. In Men's College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality, Gregory Kaliss offers stunning insights into Americans' contested visions of equality, fairness, black manhood, citizenship, and an equal opportunity society.
Kaliss looks at Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Charlie Scott, John Mitchell, Wilbur Marshall, and Bear Bryant to show how Americans responded to racial integration over time. Men's College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality reveals that as fans, media members, university students, faculty, and administration—black and white—discussed the achievements and struggles of these athletes, they inevitably talked about much more than what occurred on the field.
The original essays in this comprehensive collection examine the lives and sports of famous and not-so-famous African American male and female athletes from the nineteenth century to today. Here are twenty insightful biographies that furnish perspectives on the changing status of these athletes and how these changes mirrored the transformation of sports, American society, and civil rights legislation. Some of the athletes discussed include Marshall Taylor (bicycling), William Henry Lewis (football), Jack Johnson, Satchel Paige, Jesse Owens, Joe Lewis, Alice Coachman (track and field), Althea Gibson (tennis), Wilma Rudolph, Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Venus and Serena Williams.
Ever since 1968 a single iconic image of race in American sport has remained indelibly etched on our collective memory: sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos accepting medals at the Mexico City Olympics with their black-gloved fists raised and heads bowed. But what inspired their protest? What happened after they stepped down from the podium? And how did their gesture impact racial inequalities?
Drawing on extensive archival research and newly gathered oral histories, Douglas Hartmann sets out to answer these questions, reconsidering this pivotal event in the history of American sport. He places Smith and Carlos within the broader context of the civil rights movement and the controversial revolt of the black athlete. Although the movement drew widespread criticism, it also led to fundamental reforms in the organizational structure of American amateur athletics. Moving from historical narrative to cultural analysis, Hartmann explores what we can learn about the complex relations between race and sport in contemporary America from this episode and its aftermath.
The Revolt of the Black Athlete hit sport and society like an Ali combination. This Fiftieth Anniversary edition of Harry Edwards's classic of activist scholarship arrives even as a new generation engages with the issues he explored. Edwards's new introduction and afterword revisit the revolts by athletes like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos. At the same time, he engages with the struggles of a present still rife with racism, double-standards, and economic injustice. Again relating the rebellion of black athletes to a larger spirit of revolt among black citizens, Edwards moves his story forward to our era of protests, boycotts, and the dramatic politicization of athletes by Black Lives Matter. Incisive yet ultimately hopeful, The Revolt of the Black Athlete is the still-essential study of the conflicts at the interface of sport, race, and society.
Winner of the 2017 NASSH Book Award for best edited collection.
The hardening of racial lines during the first half of the twentieth century eliminated almost all African Americans from white organized sports, forcing black athletes to form their own teams, organizations, and events. This separate sporting culture, explored in the twelve essays included here, comprised much more than athletic competition; these “separate games” provided examples of black enterprise and black self-help and showed the importance of agency and the quest for racial uplift in a country fraught with racialist thinking and discrimination.
The significance of this sporting culture is vividly showcased in the stories of the Cuban Giants baseball team, basketball’s New York Renaissance Five, the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track-and-field team, black college football’s Turkey Bowl Classic, car racing’s Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, Negro League Baseball’s East-West All-Star game, and many more. These teams, organizations, and events made up a vibrant national sporting complex that remained in existence until the integration of sports beginning in the late 1940s. Separate Games explores the fascinating ways sports helped bind the black community and illuminate race pride, business acumen, and organizational abilities.
n 1968, Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos won the gold and silver medals, respectively, for the 200 meter dash. Receiving their medals on the dais, they raised their fists and froze a moment in time that will forever be remembered as a powerful day of protest. In this, his autobiography, Smith tells the story of that moment, and of his life before and after it, to explain what that moment meant to him.
In Silent Gesture, Smith recounts his life before and after the 1968 Olympics: his life-long commitment to athletics, education, and human rights. He dispels some of the myths surrounding his and Carlos' act on the dais -- contrary to legend, Smith wasn't a member of the Black Panthers, but a member of the US Olympic Project for Human Rights -- and describes in detail the planning and risks involved in his protest. Smith also details his many years after Mexico City of devotion to human rights, athletics, and education. A unique resource for anyone concerned with international sports, history, and the African American experience, Silent Gesture contributes a complete picture of one of the most famous moments in sports history, and of a man whose actions always matched his words.
The Unlevel Playing Field offers a rich compendium of more than 100 primary sources that chart the intertwining history of African Americans and sport. Introductions and head-notes provided by David K. Wiggins and Patrick B. Miller place each document in context, shaping an unrivaled narrative.
Readers will find dozens of accounts by Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, A. S. “Doc” Young, Eldredge Cleaver, Nikki Giovanni, John Edgar Wideman, bell hooks, James Baldwin, Roy Wilkins, Henry Louis Gates, Gerald Early, and many others.
The documents range from discussions of the color line in organized baseball during the Jim Crow era and portraits of turn-of-the-century figures like the champion sprint cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor and boxer Jack Johnson. Writers also look at modern-day issues like the participation of black athletes in the 1968 Olympics, the place of African American women in sport, and examine pioneering figures like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Venus and Serena Williams.