Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing In Sports by Shaun Powell is a meditation that first asks, then answers, many issues concerning the intersection of race, sports, and society. Unlike some of the previous books I read surrounding this topic, this did not really give much historical background on the subject; rather, it was mainly concerned with present-day issues, although Powell does provide some historical references to offer perspective on the subject.
Some of these dilemmas include: the lack of purpose many black athletes and coaches today show in following the lead of such pioneers as Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson; the misuse of Muhammad Ali’s outspoken and fearless legacy; the me-first mindset of many African American professional athletes; the metaphorical glass ceiling confronted by many blacks in coaching and front office positions.
This book also examines the destructive nature that can often underlie sports, and in discussing how blacks are “losing” in sports, Powell reflects upon the extravagant lifestyles many professional African American athletes aspire to, and ultimately attain. Additionally, he covers a topic I have seen represented in many of my readings- the lack of true diversity in management positions. While he discusses the negative effects sports have had, he also wrote about the positives as well, a nice change from the often critical assessments I had read in previous works. Overall, this book proved an excellent addition to my research that reinforced many of the topics and arguments I had investigated in my other books and articles.
What’s My Name Fool? by Dave Zirin is a groundbreaking and somewhat controversial book detailing the relationship between activism, discrimination, and sports. Its focus on the use of sports as a platform for social change and public protest ties in perfectly with my project, and the examples it uses and history it calls upon echo many of the figures that I have studied. It even included commentary from John Carlos, the man who launched the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics alongside Tommie Smith.
Overall, this book uses historical basis as a way of challenging current athletes and sports figures to become involved in social activism to better combat the injustices of today’s society. Sound familiar? That’s because it was this ideology that spurred Muhammad Ali to protest the Vietnam War in the 60’s, that inspired Arthur Ashe to become involved in so many humanitarian aid projects, and that gave Branch Rickey the idea to challenge segregation through baseball. Ultimately, sports are a method with which athletes, coaches, and managers can promote social change, both historically and currently.
Like in 40 Million Dollar Slaves, Dave Zirin argues that today’s sports world has become so clouded with aims of profit and fame that it has begun to hurt its own players, forming a corrupt and immoral system. While this idea may be a bit dramatic, it holds some credit. With that viewpoint in mind, it is up to today’s athletes to take a stand for fundamental beliefs of equality and freedom, both on the court and off. That’s what black athletes did in the past century, and it’s what all athletes need to do now. As one former NFL linebacker said in What’s My Name, “How we do sport, how we play our games, is a window to see and a format through which to express that vision of a better world.”
“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.
Sports and the Racial Divide is a compilation of essays detailing and analyzing the relationship between ethnicity, race, and sports. These essays reflect upon the use of sports as a way of both fighting racial supremacy and protesting ethnic and racial injustices in society. This book covers racial issues from many different American sports, including basketball, football, baseball, boxing, and track and field. It is focused primarily on the role of the black athlete following World War II and examines the black power movement through professional athletics.
It also includes several essays discussing the civil rights protests made at the 1968 Olympic games, a key point that I have studied during my project, as well as the public’s perception of Muhammad Ali and his controversial stances on race matters. Another aspect of this book that makes it unique is the analysis of the Latino experience in sports and the treatment of Hispanic players in professional sports. It was very interesting to read about the same discrimination and oppression they faced for their own ethnicity. Because of the many varying topics presented and the different angles in which the essay authors approach this subject, Sports and the Racial Divide has served as an excellent resource in my project.
The Black List is a collection of autobiographical essays from prominent African Americans in various professions, including the business, entertainment, and sports worlds. Although it is not focused on sports, this book did include a significant essay by Serena Williams, the Grand Slam-winning tennis champion who has dominated women’s tennis for the past decade along with her sister Venus.
I read this essay shortly after completing Charging the Net, which examined the role of African Americans in tennis throughout the past century. This book discussed the impact the Williams’ sisters have had on tennis during their careers and mentioned a few instances of racial discrimination they had faced while on tour. By reading Serena’s personal essay, I was able to learn first hand about life as an African American on the predominately white professional tennis circuit.
In her essay, Serena discusses her early years on the professional tour. She writes about how Venus was always her rock and bulwark, and she made life as a black woman in tennis easier because she had already been playing for two years. Serena also describes difficulties in the locker room, a place in which she stood out amongst other players because of her dark skin tone. In an atmosphere that is already frosty due to the ever present competition of the sport, Serena initially felt out of place and excluded by other players during her first few years on tour.
One of the most shocking occurrences took place in Indian Wells, California, at a very prominent tournament that Serena was playing in. Despite the fact that she was one of very few Americans playing in this tournament, she was treated terribly by the fans. When she entered the court for the final against Kim Clijsters, a Belgian, the crowd began booing. This did not stop for the remainder of the match, including when she lifted the championship trophy over her head following her defeat of Clijsters. Serena talks about her bewilderment at being rejected by her fellow Americans in a tournament on her home soil and how she decided that from then on, she would no longer play in the draw there. This incident occurred in 2001, and neither Serena no Venus has yet to play at Indian Wells since then.
Serena’s personal account of the event at Indian Wells was very interesting to read because it differs from other stories I have since read about the incident. Other accounts claim that the crowd was booing because in the previous match, Venus had pulled out of her scheduled semifinal matchup against Serena only minutes before it was set to begin. This angered the crowd, who then decided to take it out on Serena and the rest of the family during the final. However, both Serena and her father have claimed that they heard the word “nigger” and believe that the jeers of the crowd were at least based partially on race. Although we may not know the exact origin of the crowds very verbal displeasure, Serena’s essay proved that it still had a profound effect on her and caused her to doubt herself and her relationship with tennis fans because of her race.
Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis
by: Cecil Harris and Larryette Kyle-DeBose
Charging the Net traces African-American participation in tennis from the founding of the American Tennis Association (a black tennis league), to Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, to the Williams sisters. Its in depth analysis of tennis throughout the past century focuses on the men and women who have defined the role of African Americans in professional tennis.
This mainly includes Althea Gibson, the first African American to win a Grand Slam, Arthur Ashe, the first African American man to win a Grand Slam, and the Williams sisters, the only Grand Slam winning African Americans currently on tour.This book also details the discrimination and segregation that many blacks faced as they broke down racial barriers and began to compete in what had previously been considered a white sport of wealth and privilege.
Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-century America
Edited by Patrick B. Miller and David K. Wiggins
This book uses sports as a way of exploring race relations in the 20th century. Its collection of articles on the subject trace to changes of the color line throughout the years due to breakthroughs and first championed by black athletes and civil right workers.
Sport and the Color Line evaluates the movement for equality in racial relations through the world of sports and athletics and focuses on the change initiated by athletes during both the Jim Crow Era and post-desegregation, a topic which essentially encompasses my entire area of study.
Race and Sport: The Struggle for Equality on and off the Field
Race and Sport is a collection of six essays discussing the role of sports in African Americans’ struggle for equality in American society. Topics vary from analysis of the role of Fritz Pollard, a black football player in the National Football League before the establishment of a color barrier to details of the integration of spring training in the MLB.
This provides background on the contributions made by various individuals in athletics to promote racial equality. Another essay analyzes the way in which media depiction shapes the public perception of modern day African American athletes, a topic that I hope to fully examine as part of my senior project.
Each essay covers a different aspect of role or African Americans in sports, which provides a broad overview of the many facets of my topic.