Planning Project Playbook

The time has come to begin expanding my project out into the community. Having been inspired by the many programs and sessions run by organizations such as the NCAS and Sport in Society, I have decided to begin an after school club at nearby Meeting Street Academy called “Project Playbook”, which will use sports as a way of facilitating teamwork and leadership in young students.

If everything goes according to plan, this will be held once a month after school at either Ashley Hall or Meeting Street. We will play a different sport each month, and I will be able to tell the kids about a particular athlete who made a difference through that sport. Then, we can have a discussion afterwards in which the student will be able to talk about what they learned by participating in the sport, whether it be teamwork, problem solving, or leadership.

I’ve already submitted my proposal to Meeting Street Academy, and I’m set to meet next week with Ms. Lori LaFevre, the Director of Special Programs at the school, to discuss logistics and planning for the club. Hopefully, everything will get worked out and I’ll be able to get Project Playbook underway next month. In the meantime, I’ll need to start nailing down some more aspects of the club, such as volunteers, a set curriculum, and more. Fingers crossed that it all goes according to plan!

Meet… Wilma Rudolph

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

Wilma Rudolph knew a thing or two about adversity. Throughout her life, she had to overcome being crippled at a young age, poverty in her youth, the discrimination of being a woman, and the prejudice she faced as an African American. Yet through it all, she remained strong and steadfast, eventually rising above her challenges to become a celebrated Olympic athlete and a role model to young girls across the nation, both black and white.

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was born in rural Tennessee in 1940, one of 22 children (from two of her father’s marriages). As a young child, she suffered from pneumonia, scarlet fever, and eventually polio, leaving her without the use of her left leg by the age of 6. Because of this affliction, she was forced to wear leg braces, although she spent most of her time trying to take them off. Every day, one of her many siblings would massage her leg, and she travelled 90 miles round trip each week to receive treatment for her crippled limb. Although she went on to suffer from whooping cough, the measles, and chicken pox, she eventually gained enough use of her leg to discard the braces and wear a special shoe instead. Wilma was determined to live life as a regular kid, however, and within a few years she had discarded the shoe as well.

Such persistence and determination manifested itself throughout her athletic career. Rudolph took up the game of basketball and emerged as a star on the girls’ team at the all-black Burt High School. Her exemplary play and remarkable athletic ability eventually led the Tennessee State track coach, Ed Temple, to take an interest in her as a track athlete. Rudolph began attending the college practices while still in high school, then went on to enroll at Tennessee State in 1957. Wilma fell in love with running and began gaining national attention for her performances on the track. She qualified for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and it was there that she would finally burst forward onto the world track scene and emerge as an international athlete.

Wilma Rudolph 2

In Rome, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in an Olympics. There, she earned a gold medal in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4×100 meter relay, earning the title of “World’s Fastest Woman” along the way. Almost immediately, she became a media darling. Dubbed “The Black Pearl”, fans and press alike flocked to her in Rome, and subsequent competitions across Europe brought hoards of fans to watch her perform. That year, she was also named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, as well as the United Press Athlete of the Year. Rudolph’s immense international popularity paved the way for other African American athletes, especially minority women, as she inspired young girls across the US to play sports and break into the world of track and field.

Pres. John F. Kennedy and Wilma Rudolph meet at the White House

Pres. John F. Kennedy and Wilma Rudolph meet at the White House

When she returned home to Tennessee following her legendary performance in Rome, Wilma Rudolph was invited to a celebration headed by Governor Buford Ellington, a prominent segregationist. Rudolph refused, saying she would not attend a segregated event. Later, a parade and celebration of her accomplishments in her hometown of Clarksville would become the first integrated event the city had ever seen. By establishing herself as  a universal hero and champion athletic figure, Rudolph was able to unite her fans behind her in ways that had not previously been accomplished, whether they were white or black, male or female. She set a new precedent for not only the black athlete, but the female as well, allowing those who had previously suffered from prejudice and discrimination in the world of sports to emerge in their own ways.

The most notable of these was Florence Griffith Joyner, an African American track star who would also go on to win three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics. Rudolph recognized her influence and was extremely proud of the accomplishments made by Joyner. “It was a great thrill for me to see,” Rudolph said. “I thought I’d never get to see that. Florence Griffith Joyner — every time she ran, I ran.” Ultimately, Rudolph’s exemplary grace, calm, and courage would establish her as one of the most prominent and influential African American athletes of the 60’s, one who set a new precedent for minority female athletes and inspired girls across America to pursue their goals in the face of discrimination.


Works Cited:

Roberts, M.B. “Rudolph Ran and World Went Wild.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.


NFL Coaching Diversity… Or Lack Thereof

This past offseason in the NFL resulted in eight open coaching positions, prompting owners and GM’s across the league to interview dozens of candidates to fill these jobs. Last week, the final spot was filled when Bruce Arians was hired as the coach of the Arizona Cardinals. This would’t be too notable, except for one overarching fact- all eight positions were filled by white men, leading many journalists and sports analysts across the country to question the NFL’s diversity in management and upper office positions.

About a decade ago, the NFL passed the Rooney Rule, a league wide requirement that teams must interview at least one minority candidate to fill an open coaching gig. This rule has been in effect for nearly ten years and initially served its purpose by allowing black head coaches to finally secure interviews with owners, a practice that itself had previously been difficult in a league still run by ideas of the “old boys’ club”. But, as evidenced by these recent hirings, coaching diversity has yet to truly change. Now that all eight positions have been filled, only 3 out of 32 head coaches in the NFL are minorities. This is in a league in which 68% of players are African American. So why do coaching statistics not reflect these demographics?

Lovie Smith- One of two minority head coaches fired this offseason

Lovie Smith- One of two minority head coaches fired this offseason

I don’t believe that blatant racism is to be blamed here. Rather, it is a more subtle and underlying atmosphere that governs the positions of African American coaches and coordinators in the league. The NFL has evolved to focus more on an offensive minded game. Therefore, GM’s are looking to fill coaching positions with offensive masterminds. The best way to become one? Play quarterback, a position that has historically been filled by mostly white players. Indeed, nearly all minority coaches in the past few years have defensive backgrounds. That being said, seven of the eight men hired this offseason were offensively-minded. Therefore, it is clear that there is a gap between what owners want in a coach and what minority candidates are capable of providing.

Ultimately, owners are going to hire whichever person they feel is best suited for the job, as well they should. Whether that person is black or white should have no impact on the decision. However, it is important that each candidate has an equal shot at being hired, which is why I feel that the Rooney Rule is important to make sure that head coaching positions remain an equal opportunity for all races and ethnicities. Meanwhile, I hope that future years will see the hiring of more minority head coaches, so that the number of African Americans in coaching and management positions can more accurately reflect and represent the demographics of the sport in which they have spent their entire lives.


Works Cited:

Chadiha, Jeffri. “Progress for Minority Coaches stalls.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Woodfork, Rob. “NFL Recap: More Diversity Needed in Coaching Ranks –” WTOP Sports. WTOP, 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

In Honor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

On this national holiday, I would like to take a moment to commemorate Dr. King, one of the greatest leaders our country has ever seen. While I have spent the past five months studying athletes and other sports figures who championed civil rights, none of them would have been able to have the impact they did without the tireless dedication and perseverance displayed by Dr. King throughout his life. He stood with courage in the face of adversity and challenged our country to overcome the prejudice and bigotry that gripped the members of our nation for centuries. He inspired thousands of men and women to take a stand for the rights of humans, to sacrifice their own comfort and safety for the sake of justice in our world. He dreamed a dreamed that still lives on today, one that is carried in the hearts of Americans as we continue to toil toward a society that is equal, fair, and just.


Martin Luther King Jr. represented the struggle and hardship of so many civil rights workers throughout the years. He stood for Jesse Owens’ triumph at the Berlin Olympics, Jackie Robinson’s boundary shattering performances on the baseball field, Althea Gibson’s breakthrough on the lawns of the All England Club, and so much more. Every athlete who promoted change, every coach who recruited black players, every GM who hired with diversity in mind- all of them exemplified Dr. King’s inherent beliefs when he said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” The past century has certainly been full of the sacrifice, suffering, and struggle of countless sports figures, all of whom strove alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to make our country a better and more equal place.

Statistics from a Black Athlete Survey

In light of the approaching celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, ESPN the Magazine recently conducted a survey of black athletes in a multitude of different sports about current race issues in athletics. Some statistics were quite surprising, and many of the responses provided ideas and viewpoints that I hadn’t otherwise thought about.

For instance, Michael Jordan was ranked as the third more important African American athlete ever. When I first saw this, I thought that wasn’t a good decision, because he never seemed to make his race a big deal or stand up for lots of African American causes, especially in the community or press. Then, I read one of the athlete’s responses, in which an Olympic athlete said that Jordan was an important athlete because people didn’t even think about what color his skin was. Additionally, there seemed to be quite a disconnect between the image and media depiction of black athletes, one that prompted almost 25% of athletes to respond that the image of the black athlete was either somewhat or extremely negative. Furthermore, over 50% of participants responded that the media was the least colorblind in reception of African American athletes. With the recent comments made about Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick’s arrest a few years ago, this is clearly this is a persistent problem that many African American athletes feel should be addressed.

The following are some of the statistics from the survey as well as various comments made by the polled athletes.

Who are the three most important African-American athletes ever?

Totals (Please note that because this question asked for three responses, the totals add up to more than 100 percent):
1. Jackie Robinson: 74 percent
2. Muhammad Ali: 60.5 percent
3. Michael Jordan: 48.1 percent
4. Magic Johnson: 16 percent
5. Jesse Owens: 14.8 percent
6. Arthur Ashe: 13.6 percent
T7. Wilma Rudolph, Tiger Woods: 7.4 percent
9. Jim Brown: 6.2 percent
10. Tommie Smith: 4.9 percent

Olympic athlete: “Michael Jordan. He’s probably the first athlete that people didn’t even think about what color his skin was.”

NBA player: “Muhammad Ali stood up for everything he believed in. He was a confident African-American athlete at a time when it was hard to be confident. Imagine if we had a draft today, and a guy like LeBron refused to go to war. Ali persevered through that. Incredible.

What is the image of the black athlete?

Very positive: 8.8 percent
Somewhat positive: 42.5 percent
Neither positive nor negative: 25 percent
Somewhat negative: 17.5 percent
Extremely negative: 6.2 percent

NFL player: “Extremely negative. Everybody thinks that we spend all our money on cars, rims, etc., and that we are outspoken and not really hard workers. None of that is true.”

WNBA player: “It’s sad. I hate talking about it, really. The image is terrible, and to be honest, I think people and the media in general just look at the negative too much. There are a lot of strong, hard-working black athletes who do great things. But that’s lost in the news.”

MMA fighter: “It’s D, somewhat negative. But over the last decade, it has gotten better. Our image still suffers with some of the preconceived ideas of selfishness, overextravagance, unfaithfulness.”

True or false: Black athletes should take a more active role in the black community.

True: 90.2 percent
False: 9.8 percent

NFL player: “True, but I wouldn’t just say the black community. I try to work with all kids, I don’t try to discriminate. You have a lot of kids out there who need help that aren’t only African-American kids.”

Boxer: “True. If you’re in a situation where you’ve been blessed athletically and financially, you didn’t get there by yourself. I think you’re obligated to help pick up some who were left behind.”

How does the image of the black athlete compare with reality?

Image is the same as reality: 28.8 percent
Image is better than reality: 25 percent
Image is worse than reality: 46.2 percent

NBA player: “C, worse than reality. White people think we’re not smart. Not true. I know a lot of smart black athletes like Andre Iguodala, who’s one of the smartest guys I know. People expect us just to be athletes. All throughout college and high school, I was a good athlete, and people looked at me as being a dumb athlete, a dumb jock.”

Who is the most color-blind: Fans, coaches, owners or the media?

Fans: 37.5 percent
Coaches: 36.3 percent
Owners: 20 percent
Media: 6.2 percent

WNBA player: “I’ve been playing sports at a high level for a long time now, and it’s been pretty cool to watch the change in fans. I don’t think coaches or owners have cared for a long time if you’re white, black, whatever, as long as you can play. But fan attitudes and acceptance, just in the last 20 years or so, have changed a lot in that time.”

Who is the least color-blind: Fans, coaches, owners or the media?

Media: 52.5 percent
Fans: 31.3 percent
Owners: 9.3 percent
Coaches: 6.9 percent

NFL player: “You guys, the media. You’re always factoring in race. You’re always covering race in your stories. Every time I look up, you’re talking about African-American this and that. I mean, look at this survey right here — there you go again with African-Americans. Where’s your Asian-American survey?”


Meet… Arthur Ashe

“My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity.”

Arthur Ashe may very well be one of the greatest men to ever live, and it is his enduring spirit and unwavering courage that truly embodies the very essence of my senior project. Simply read some of his most famous quotes, and you will understand the wisdom and integrity that he displayed throughout the course of his life. Best known for becoming the first African American to win a men’s Grand Slam title, he used his success in the game of tennis to advocate civil rights and equality not just in the United States, but throughout the world. He worked tirelessly to bring about the end of injustice and inequality, so much so that many criticized him for abandoning his tennis game to champion his causes. In the end, however, he would say, “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments”, and he hasn’t been. He has instead been remembered first and foremost as a conscience leader, humanitarian, educator and, lastly, an incredibly gifted athlete.

Arthur Ashe 2

Born in 1943 in segregated Virginia, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. began learning tennis at a young age. His tennis prowess was evident early on, and soon he came under the tutelage of Dr. Walter Johnson, the same man who coached the great Althea Gibson. After success in many junior tournaments as a teenager, Ashe was offered a full tennis scholarship to UCLA, one of the best college tennis programs in the country. While at UCLA, his tennis career flourished, and in 1963, he was selected as a member of the United States Davis Cup team, becoming the first African American ever to achieve this honor and represent his country on the international stage. Ashe took great pride in this achievement and would continue to play on the team for many years, a testament to his patriotism and national pride. His prestigious college career ultimately culminated with both an individual and team NCAA Championship in 1965.

Upon graduating, Ashe went on to serve in the military, joining the US Army from 1966-68. While stationed in West Point, New York, Ashe continued his tennis, participating in the Davis Cup and other national tournaments. He even went on to win the US Open in 1968, becoming the first African American man to do so and solidifying his place at the top of the tennis world. It was in 1969, following his military service, that he truly began to establish himself as both a powerful and diligent activist. After noticing that tournament prize money was dwindling significantly in proportion with the rising popularity of the game of tennis, Arthus Ashe, along with several other players, partnered to form what is today known as the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), essentially the men’s professional tennis circuit. Later in the year, Ashe also cofounded the National Junior Tennis League with Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder, a program that sought to give children the chance to play tennis that might otherwise not have had the opportunity, while also promoting an attention to academics and discipline.

Arthur Ashe 4

That year, Arthur Ashe also expanded his activism beyond the United States’ borders when he applied for a visa to South Africa to play in the South African Open, a prominent tournament. At the time the #1 ranked American player in the world, Ashe was denied entry into South Africa due to racial discrimination laws under Apartheid. In response, he used his denial to take a stand against the racism of South Africa and called for the expulsion of the country from the international tennis tour and Davis Cup play. He continually applied for visas, and was continually rejected, until 1973, when he was finally allowed entry and became the first black tennis player to participate in a South African event. His fight against the injustice of Apartheid would continue for the next two decades, remaining a cause dear to his heart until the end of his life.

Meanwhile, on the court, Arthur’s tennis game continued to thrive. He won the 1970 Australian Open, the second of his three majors, before going on to upset the heavily favored Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final to become the first and only African American to win the men’s championship on the lawns of All England Club. His unprecedented victory would go on to propel him to the #1 ranking in the world, and he remains the only African American man to ever achieve this accomplishment. After enjoying this profound success, Ashe would later go on to suffer from an unexpected heart attack and undergo subsequent heart surgery. It was these heart complications that would prompt him to retire from the game in 1980 with a career record of 818 wins, 260 losses and 51 titles, a career that would eventually put him in the Tennis Hall of Fame.

Arthur Ashe 1

Although he may have ended his playing career, Arthur Ashe’s off-court career and humanitarian efforts flourished. He served as a columnist for the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and Tennis Magazine, a commentator for HBO Sports and ABC Sports, and author of a three volume body of work about African Americans in sports entitled “A Hard Road to Glory”. Additionally, he was appointed captain of the US Davis Cup team, leading the team to two titles in 1981 and 1982, and served as the president of the American Heart Association. Furthermore, he founded numerous charitable organizations, including the National Junior Tennis League, the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Athlete-Career Connection, and the Safe Passage Foundation. All the while, he continued his hard work in fighting prejudice and inequality in America, as well as Apartheid in South Africa. He was even arrested outside the South African embassy in Washington DC during an anti-apartheid protest in 1985.


It was in 1988, however, the Arthur Ashe’s life was forever changed. While in the hospital for brain surgery, it was revealed that he was HIV-positive, having contracted the virus from a tainted blood transfusion during a second heart surgery in 1983. Wary of public scrutiny and paranoia surrounding the disease at the time, Ashe and his wife chose to keep the diagnosis private, seeking to retain a sense of normalcy and privacy in their lives. He did not publicly announce his diagnosis until 1992, when USA Today contacted him to say that they had on record that he was HIV-positive. Rather than let the newspaper break the story, Ashe held a preemptive press conference on April 8th, 1992, to announce to the world that he had contracted AIDS.

Suddenly, Arthur Ashe had a new cause to champion, and in the final year of his life, he worked tirelessly for AIDS awareness and research. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, which raised money for research into treating, curing and preventing AIDS. He spoke before the U.N. General Assembly on World AIDS day to raise international awareness of the disease, begging delegates for increased funding in research and hoping to prompt them to address AIDS as an important global issue. Ashe continued his dedication to other causes as well, being arrested for protesting outside the White House against US policy toward Haitian refugees and founding the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which was dedicated to solving medical problems in urban, low income, minority populations. Lastly, he competed his memoir, “Days of Grace”, only days before his death. Then, on February 6th, 1993, only ten months after announcing to the world that he suffered from the AIDS virus, Arthur Ashe died from AIDS related pneumonia at the age of 49, leaving behind his beloved wife and daughter.


The legacy that Arthur Ashe has left behind is one of courage and perseverance. Throughout his life, he remained dedicated to causes of social justice and humanitarian aid, undaunted by the segregation and oppression he faced as an African American. He lived with the utmost compassion for his fellow humans and spent his life working to implement change in a broken world, from apartheid in South Africa to segregation in the United States. Arthur Ashe was a truly great man, one who left the world a better place than he found it and who accomplished so much in his short life that we can only stand it awe at his incredible dedication and perseverance.


Works Cited:

“Biography – Arthur Ashe Official Website.” Biography – Arthur Ashe Official Website. The Estate of Arthur Ashe, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

“Life Story of Arthur Ashe.” Arthur Ashe Learning Center, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

Moving Forward with the NCAS

Now that Ashley Hall is officially an affiliate member of the NCAS, we have access to so many wonderful resources that are a part of this organization, and I hope that we will be able to take advantage of these unique opportunities throughout the year. I particularly want to bring one of the NCAS’s diversity and leadership programs to our campus in the coming months. I have been in contact with Jennifer Schneider, the Director of Communications, and I recently spoke with her about the logistics of accomplishing this. She told me that they would love to hold a session at Ashley Hall, and that they are excited about expanding their work into high schools, as we are one of the only high schools in the country that are involved with this organization.

Because the NCAS is accustomed to working with colleges and universities, the logistics of bringing a program here are a bit complicated. Due to our lack of budget, it’s going to be somewhat difficult to bring a trainer to Charleston to work with us. In order to accomplish this, Ms. Schneider told me that they may be able to access grant funding or simply stop here on the way to another session nearby in South Carolina. This process is new to both Ashley Hall and the NCAS, but I know that both sides are excited to be working together to help each other meet their goals. In the meantime, we still have access to webinar sessions covering various topics concerning diversity and sports, and we can use those to start conversations about the goals and ideas behind the NCAS.

If we are able to get a program here, we’ll be able to customize it to our school; for instance, we’ll cover topics about female participation in sports and gender diversity. Additionally, we will probably break up into a smaller group to perform the session, one that consists of student athletes in higher grade levels. That way, it’ll be easier for the NCAS trainer and will be relevant information for participating students. Lastly, Ms. Schneider informed me of a second type of program that would most likely deal exclusively with the seniors in which we are trained ourselves and taught how to run the NCAS programs for other students, so that when we go to college next year we can spread these principles and reach out to peers and other high schoolers. It’ll take some work and maybe a little bit of luck to get a program here in the coming months, but hopefully all of the logistics will work out and we’ll be able to hold a session at Ashley Hall in the near future.

40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete

40 Million Dollar Slaves“Now that they occupy a position where they can be more than symbols of achievement, where they can actually serve their communities in vital and tangible ways, while also addressing the power imbalance within their own from a position of greater strength, they seem most at a loss, lacking purpose and drive….The Black Athlete has abdicated their responsibility to the community with treasonous vigor.” — William C. Rhoden, 40 Million Dollar Slaves

William Rhoden’s 40 Million Dollar Slaves is a daring and provocative look at the sports industry and its negative impact on black athletes. Rhoden continually compares the sports world to the plantation systems of the 19th century, asserting that white owners remain in control of their black “slaves” and derive profit from their labor. In doing so, he also traces the history of the black athlete, beginning with plantation-born boxers and jockeys and continuing through Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, and Muhammad Ali. He even goes on to discuss the legendary Michael Jordan, claiming that Jordan “sold out” and abandoned his role as an African American advocate in order to avoid alienating fans.

One interesting point that Rhoden makes is that although current black athletes are hindered from playing a more vocal or political role in society due to the existence of metaphorical shackles, these shackles are partially of their own making. He claims that African American professional athletes are no longer connected to their roots or communities, and thus are ignorant of the social problems faced by many blacks across the country. Thus, they are unable to give back to the greater African American community because they have left it behind in pursuit of greater wealth and success.

I found this book to be full of very interesting and original points that opened my eyes to some of the greater problems felt by African Americans in today’s professional sports. Additionally, the history of the black athlete proved illuminating and covered many of the figures I have already studied throughout the year. However, some of Rhoden’s views seemed a bit extreme and broad; for instance, he made many assumptions about all black athletes, whereas I don’t feel that these circumstances can be said to exist for every single African American sports figure in America. Furthermore, his negative depiction of young black athletes’ transitions from low-income neighborhoods to million dollar professional contracts contained valid arguments, although it also seemed to ignore the overwhelming benefits of these accomplishments as well.

Overall, 40 Million Dollar Slaves was an extremely frank and illuminating book that helped me to understand the transition from the black athlete of the 60’s to the black athlete of today, as well as the problems faced by current black professional athletes and the greater African American community.

Meet… Bill Russell

“We foolishly lionize athletes and make them heroes because they can hit a ball or catch one. The only athletes we should bother with attaching any particular importance to are those like [Muhammad] Ali, whom we can admire for themselves and not for their incidental athletic abilities.”

Bill Russell not only revolutionized the game of basketball with his height and shot blocking abilities, but he also drastically altered the role of the black athlete before going on to become the NBA’s first black head coach. When Russell first entered the league, there were only 15 other African Americans playing professional basketball. Racism and prejudice still existed in organizations, and often logistics such as lodging and food were made difficult due to segregated establishments. Throughout his career, Russell remained outspoken and opinionated, attacking these issues and becoming a vocal role model for black athletes in America. Ultimately, he would become one of the NBA’s greatest champions, as well as one of its greatest men.

Bill Russell

Like so many African Americans of his generation, Bill Russell was born into poor financial circumstances in the rural South, although his family eventually moved west to California in pursuit of better jobs and opportunities. As he grew older and taller, Russell began playing basketball, a game in which he showed initial promise despite his awkward height on the court. He would go on to play college basketball at the University of San Francisco, the only school that offered him a scholarship. Bill didn’t care though; he was just excited to go to college and have the opportunity to escape the racism and poverty of his childhood. While at USF, Russell emerged as a dominant force on the court, averaging over 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. He also introduced vertical defense and smothering shot blocking to the game of basketball, two aspects that define the game today. Eventually, he would go on to lead his school to two NCAA national championships, becoming a first team All-American and Final Four MVP along the way.

Bill Russell 3

Russell’s success in college basketball was not without its dark moments, however. Racism still existed throughout the country, and it manifested itself several times throughout his collegiate career. Notable instances include a game in Oklahoma City in which none of the city’s hotels would put up Russell and his fellow black teammates, as well as the time before a tournament game in which the fans yelled “Globetrotters” at the players and threw coins at them. Russell didn’t let this deter him, however, and he continued to work hard to become the best player he could. He eventually was drafted by the Boston Celtics, where he would go on to become a forceful player and champion.

Russell entered the NBA in 1956, a time in which black athletes were being thrust into the political spotlight amidst the chaos of the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Bill didn’t underestimate this significance, either. “It is the first time in four centuries that the American Negro can create his own history,” Russell wrote in the 1960s. “To be part of this is one of the most significant things that can happen.” He was never afraid to speak his mind, and did what no one else had previously dared to do when he called out the league on its lack of diversity. He also travelled to Africa several times throughout his career, seeking to reestablish his roots and form a connection to his heritage. Perhaps most notable, however, was the fact that Russell and his fellow black Celtics teammates boycotted an exhibition game in Kentucky after a local restaurant refused to seat them. This bold and unprecedented move was one of the first times that black athletes had called attention to the discrimination they faced and marked a change in the role of the black athlete.


Russell went on to lead his Celtics to 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons, establishing a dominant league dynasty. He also became the player-coach of the Celtics in 1966, thus marking the first time an African American had been named the head coach of an NBA team. This accomplishment occurred nearly 16 years after the league had first integrated its players, a remarkably long time given the nature of integration in society and other sports. Russell led his team to a final title in 1969 before retiring from the game, leaving behind a legacy of greatness in which he redefined the nature of basketball with his height and shot blocking strategies. His most important contribution, however, was the role he played in giving African Americans power and a voice in professional sports, as well as the strides he made in finally breaking the color barrier of NBA management and coaching.


Works Cited:

Merlino, Doug. “Bill Russell, Civil Rights Hero and Inventor of Airborne BasketballCeltics.” Bleacher Report. N.p., 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.