Arthur Ashe once said, “My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity.” For years, black athletes were judged not by their abilities on the field or the court, but rather the color of their skin. This discrimination extended to all aspects of American society, existing even still today. By using the nation’s obsession with sports as a platform, civil rights activists and athletes were able to radically change the role of African Americans in society, and move toward achieving racial equality.
When students today think about the Civil Rights Movement, they usually only call to mind prominent icons such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks; what they don’t realize is that this movement was a result of the collaboration of thousands of activists who risked their lives to achieve equality in America, and many of these included both prominent and obscure athletes.
Outstanding athletes such as Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali changed the way African Americans were viewed in society, while coaches such as Dean Smith altered the face of collegiate sports by recruiting black players. They proved that as long as race and ethnic differences were considered barriers to opportunities and recognition, the American dream would not be achieved. This idea exists even still today, as black athletes are often subject to stereotypes and arbitrary assumptions based solely on their race.
The objective of my project is to study prominent athletes and coaches who advanced the Civil Rights Movement; to examine the effectiveness of various protests and movements made through sports; to determine the effect of integration upon sports, race relations, and African American rights; and to assess the role of black athletes today and the strides made since the 1960s and the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I also hope to research the socio-economic reasons behind sports integration and the American attitude toward traditional black athletes throughout the past eighty years.
Hopefully I will be able to educate my peers and others about the true nature of the Civil Rights Movement and how it existed far beyond the words “I have a dream”.