Sports Playing A Role In The Civil Rights Movement
It has been heavily documented and without a doubt that sports have had an impact on the Civil Rights Movement. There has been plenty of evidence that links sports being one of the major keys in favor of making the Civil Rights Movement effective, especially the non- violent protests aspect of the movement. Documents and studies have shown that athletes and coaches have used their pedestal in a positive way to show non- violent protests. For African-American athletes, overcoming the color barrier in pro sports was only the beginning of their success. By the 1950s all major pro sports were integrated and television brought the integration home. ("PBS" par. 1). The role sports has played in America's civil rights struggle, especially with black athletes, has been well documented. For many the movement started with Jackie Robinson crossing the color line in baseball. ("Philpott" par.1). Heero's like Jackie Robinson have really changed the traditional views of African Americans whether they participated in sports or not.
To start off, unfortunately the athletes that started the movement were never recognized and praised like they should have been in their moments of greatness. As successful as they were in their respective sports they never got to truly shine because of racism. For example Jim Brown is often called the greatest running back in the history of pro football, But he was never the most popular player. All the records he had broke and he still did not get the recognition like he should have being not only one of the greatest running backs of his time but also one of the greatest running backs ever. When he decided to use his pedestal and become an activist he helped push African Americans in a positive way towards equality. During a speech that he held he told the crowd in Austin he attributes that to his role in pushing for civil rights and equality for himself and other black athletes.("Philpott" par.3). Jim Brown said standing up and advocating for any and all benefits that any other American citizen should have received was a simple choice.This statement was quoted by Brown himself ; "freedom, equality and justice is what I pursued. And I pursued it at all costs. Because nothing else would substitute for that, no trophy, no form of popularity".("Philpott" par.5).
Sports have helped African American athletes overcome color barriers in and outside of sports, and that was only the start of the success that played a role in swinging Americas mindset on this controversial topic. One thing that helped the movement in a tremendously positive way was the technological advancement and the invention of the television which broadcasted African American athletes. By the 1950s all major pro sports were integrated and television brought the integration home. Suddenly Americans could see Althea Gibson win the 1958 Wimbledon Cup and Wilma Rudolph take home three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics. As the civil rights movement grew, African-Americans were not content to just play sports. At the 1968 Olympics, track stars John Carlos and Tommy Smith used their very public victories to take a stand for black power.("PBS" par. 1).
The athlete known as "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali, had a tremendous impact not only on the world of sport, but on politics and society at large. In 1967, he was stripped of his heavyweight championship title because he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Three years later, the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor and Ali boxed again. Today black athletes have moved beyond mere integration to become integral to the world of professional sports.("PBS" par. 1)
Next off, The Civil Rights movement was without a doubt a success in tearing apart the
mindset in America dealing with racism. The most progress was done in the non violent acts of protest and the fact that most athletes did not result to violence is very humbling and something that should appraised.
Changing the social structure of racial segregation, especially in the South, was also fraught with the potential for explosive violence and economic retaliation, because the subordination of blacks was a deeply held emotional tenet in the white community. Nevertheless, in retrospect, we know that the Civil Rights Movement was a sterling success in dismantling legal apartheid in America.("Clark",par. 2). The relationship of Jackie Robinson to American civil rights legislation has been rarely addressed. While his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the fall of 1945 was a landmark event in the history of the civil rights movement, it was a development that appeared to come completely outside of the context of the NAACP-inspired movement to attack racial segregation in the courts and legislatures.("Hylton" par.1).
Now let's face it, not only has it been documented in history of the discrimination of athletes in professional sports, it has also been documented in intercollegiate sports as well. Documents and personal statements have been put out that athletes deserving of rewards and accolades have been discriminated against and not have rightly been awarded to a certain athlete based off his race and or skin color. Also it has been documented that a certain athlete based off race or skin color could not compete in a certain game or event because of that same reason.
The failure of the scholarly community to look seriously at the history of Blacks in big time intercollegiate sports is a huge missed opportunity to understand an important dimension of African American intellectual history, the nature and development of the modern civil rights struggle, and the Black protest movement.("spivey" par.1).
Although overlooked by scholars in their examinations of the civil rights movement, big time intercollegiate sport- as represented the Big Ten, Big Eight, Pac Ten, Southeast, Southwest, and Ivy league conferences for example- was an important arena for protest in the pre-war years. Black athletes at predominantly White universities had been both segregated and despised, yet cheered at game time.("Spivey "pgs.116-17).
There have been many historic athletes play intercollegiate sports and I will expand on more examples of discrimination shown toward these world class athletes. The famous trilogy of UCLA football; Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, and Jackie Robinson were the few of many that suffered racial abuse and discrimination at the hands of opponents, teammates, fans, coaches, the student body, and the wider establishment of sports and bowl committees. ('Spivey" pg.117).
Another example would be Kenny Washington, he should have been everyone's All-American in 1939. Despite being the leading rush leader in collegiate football that year with over 1,000 yards he was not selected as the All- American team, nor was he invited to play in the college All- star game. Washington's protest- one statement " it's unfair. It's because I am a negro that is why they don't want me to play" Other athletes suffered similar fates of Jim Crowism in collegiate sports, and reacted in a fashion of resembling that of Kenny Washington.("Spivey"pgs.117-18).
To conclude, discrimination is one of the ugly parts of American history. Non violent protests have shown to be one of the most effective ways in getting change as we have seen in the past. Sports have definitely had a role in the Civil Rights Movement. Athletes, and coaches have taken the role and ran with it to protest against racism and hate on the African American race. The heroes who have set their mark in professional sports and intercollegiate sports should always be identified as some of the strongest people to ever live. They shall always be appreciated and have paved the way for African Americans to perform in any sport now a days without racism on the level it was in the Civil Rights era coming from fans, coaches, teammates, peers, and so on.
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"African American Athletes." African American Athletes, PBS, 2003
Clark, Leroy D. "New Directions for the Civil Rights Movement: College Athletics as a Civil Rights Issue." The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law CUA Law Scholarship Repository
Henderson, Simon. Sidelined: How American Sports Challenged the Black Freedom Struggle (Civil Rights and Struggle). Lexington, University press of Kentucky,
Hylton, Gordon J. "American Civil Rights Laws and the Legacy of Jackie Robinson." Marquette Sports Law Review
Philpott, Ben. "How Sports Played a Role in the Civil Rights Movement."
Spivey, Donald. The Black Athlete in Big-Time Intercollegiate Sports, 1941-1968. Vol. 44, Clark Atlanta University