The Book is Here!

Sports in Black and White

Well, I have officially published a book of my research, Sports in Black and White. Here is a summary:

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.

This book traces the advancement of the civil rights movement chronologically through sports, examining the athletes and coaches who had the greatest impact upon racial attitudes in America. What results is an in depth look at the powerful effect sports can have upon society and the truly awe inspiring dedication of some of the past century’s greatest athletes.

If you’re interested, you can purchase a copy here. I’m so excited to have achieved this goal, and now I can say that I’ve seen my name in print!

The Role of Sports Upon the Civil Rights Movement

When examining the advancement of the civil rights movement through sports, one must first begin with the people who made change happen. Whether it was a conscious stand or unintentional advocacy, athletes and coaches throughout the past century used their participation in sports to change the racial atmosphere in our country. They moved our nation forward into a new way of thinking, and without them we may not enjoy the relative equality we experience today. Such work was not easy, however; these figures overcame countless obstacles and underwent much suffering to emerge as the heroes they are today. Here’s a look at how they were able to accomplish this, what impact athletes had upon societal views, and why they took these stands in the first place.

Sports are a unique environment because they capture the attention of nearly the entire country. Not to mention, in the first half of the 20th century, sports provided the primary form of national entertainment because television had yet to become a fixture in the American household. Furthermore, unlike television and movies, the men and women that participate in sports are not characters or personalities; the person seen on the court or the field is the same person off of it as well. Add to this the dedicated allegiance a fan feels for their team (a sentiment amplified to a national scale in the case of a citizen cheering on their country in the Olympics), and all of a sudden the sports world becomes a dynamic atmosphere in which citizens are able to invest their time, thoughts, and emotions. This was fine as long as it resembled society- segregated and based upon the ideas of white supremacy. Indeed, sports serves as a microcosm for society, and once civil rights activists recognized this, they were able to use sports as a platform to advocate social change and equality in the entire country.

The best example of tactic is also the most well known: Branch Rickey’s “noble experiment” and the integration of the MLB by Jackie Robinson in 1947. Prior to Robinson’s MLB debut, baseball, which was America’s pastime, was divided between the dominant all-white major leagues and the lesser negro leagues. In other words, it literally resembled American society at the time. Rickey recognized the power of sports and understood that integration in baseball could be the first step toward integration in society. It was extremely difficult to accomplish, and Robinson underwent tremendous suffering and discrimination because of his ground breaking role. But, once Jackie began playing, the stadiums were packed. Whites cheered for him. The same whites who wouldn’t let a negro drink from the same water fountain were now paying money to see a black man perform on the field and represent their team.

This was an absolutely monumental breakthrough, one that could never be underestimated. Almost twenty years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson were sowing the seeds of equality in the hearts of Americans, all under the guise of a hot bat and a few stolen bases. Without Jackie Robinson, nationwide integration doesn’t happen for at least another decade, and white’s attitudes toward blacks remains ignorant and prejudiced. But because of him, America takes one more step toward racial equality, even if it’s only on the baseball field.

Jackie Robinson Shaking Branch Rickey's Hand

Because of his role on a team in America’s most popular sport, Jackie was able to capture the hearts of Americans as a breakout athlete and racial symbol. Meanwhile, other athletes had a tremendous impact on the international stage, whether it was the Olympics or boxing championships. Take, for instance, Jesse Owens. While in Berlin, he served as a representation of American ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality competing against the Nazi ideals of racial supremacy. Because of this stand, American citizens rallied behind him, supporting their athlete from across the ocean. He wasn’t a black man; he was an American. In the end, American patriotism triumphed over discrimination, if only for a short while. Yet upon returning to the United States, Owens was once again treated in a discriminatory manner and bound by the constraints of societal segregation, thus exemplifying the hypocrisy of American attitudes and ideals at the time.

Similarly, Joe Louis was able to become an American hero on the international boxing stage, perhaps never more so than when he defeated Germany’s Max Schmeling in 1938. This boxing matchup captured the same ideals that had been present two years earlier- that of American freedom rising above the beliefs of the Nazi regime. In both cases, American citizens were able to overcome their discriminatory ideologies and view these athletes as men who represented them and their country, as  opposed to black men who should be placed below members of white society. But although they were each responsible for seismic, if fleeting, changes in American racial perceptions, I don’t believe either Owens or Louis sought to advocate racial equality through their participation in sports; rather, they each had a passion and a talent, as well as a desire to serve their country, and what emerged were two acts of American heroism that allowed citizens to step outside of their narrow mindsets of racist beliefs and look upon these two African Americans in a whole new light.

Meanwhile fellow athletes such as Althea Gibson and Fritz Pollard also had tremendous impacts in their respective sports through integration and their individual accomplishments. The more they accomplished, the more mainstream and famous an African American face became in the media, and slowly the public began to warm to these black athletes. It was a step in the right direction, although progress was slow. And as more and more African American athletes began to play professional sports, they were able to not only assimilate racial equality into the mindsets of citizens, but also challenge the fundamental ideas upon which racism was based, which is perhaps the most important influence these notable athletes had upon the civil rights movement. This is because their exceptional performance on the field and the court (examples include Jackie Robinson’s Rookie of the Year Award, Althea Gibson’s Wimbledon Championship, Jack Johnson’s heavyweight title, Wilma Rudolph’s gold medals, and more) proved that blacks were equal to whites, thus challenging the ideals of racial supremacy upon which discrimination was based. This idea- that if blacks were equal on the field, they were equal off it as well- began to infiltrate its way into society, thus beginning the subtle yet definitive shift in the American conscious and allowing civil rights activists and athletes to promote social justice in our country.

Not only did these figures begin to affect the white mindset in our country, but they also had an impact upon their fellow African Americans. Because they were willing to expose themselves to the harsh criticism and segregation of the sports world, many of these athletes became heroic figures that served as role models for blacks across the United States. In a country where few African Americans were able to achieve high profile public positions, sports provided a chance for blacks to emerge as public figures, thus inspiring the rest of the African American community to take a stand for their beliefs as well.

arthur-ashe

Later in the century, after sports had been integrated and become relatively equal, African American athletes were able to use their place in sports as a platform to speak out on racial and social inequality. This is perhaps best characterized by Muhammad Ali’s outspoken and often controversial public role, as he consistently made brash statements about social justice that gave black athletes, as well as the black community, more of a public voice. This was also exemplified by Arthur Ashe, who said, “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.” Despite a stellar tennis career that earned him a place in the Tennis Hall of Fame, Ashe’s most lasting impact has been the tireless fight he waged against discrimination and inequality throughout his life. More than any other athlete, Arthur Ashe understood the power his status as a high profile athlete gave him, and as a result, he was able to advocate the social change he believed in. In the end, Arthur Ashe was able to not only revolutionize the game of tennis, which up to that point had never seen an African American male star, but the world as well.

Ultimately, black athletes were able to serve as symbols for their fellow African Americans by representing racial equality and changing the role of the African American community in the United States. It began with initial integration, particularly in professional sports, as the greatest barriers to equality fell with the trail blazing efforts of athletes such as Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson. These athletes’ athletic performances then went on to prove to society that blacks were equal to their white counterparts, thus challenging and eventually overthrowing ideas of racial supremacy. They also familiarized the white public with the concept of aligning themselves alongside other African Americans as white fans began to unite behind the black stars of their favorite teams. Finally, athletes began to challenge societal inequalities by speaking out against discrimination and making public calls for social justice, thus changing the way African Americans were viewed both in sports and in society. Ultimately, these individual athletic figures were able to unite across decades to change the face of race relations in the United States and bring about a new atmosphere of innovation and racial equality.

42: The Jackie Robinson Story

Just a head’s up that on Friday, the movie 42 comes out. It’s a biography of Jackie Robinson’s life and his utterly game changing role in integrating baseball in America. If you know anything about this man, you’ll know that Jackie Robinson was arguably the most groundbreaking black athlete in history, and his role both on the field and off changed race relations in sports and societyHis legend continues today, and I’m so happy to see that his incredible story is being brought to the big screen. I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

42

Coming to a Close…

As the end of the school year approaches, it’s time to start wrapping up my senior project and to bring everything to a close. Because my ultimate goal was to examine the impact athletics have had upon race relations in the past century, I want to take a summary of my research and divide it into three parts: the past, present, and future. In the coming days and weeks, I plan on writing posts on each of these topics in order to summarize my yearlong findings and provide a final analysis of the various aspects of my senior project.

The Past-Part 1: This post will take a look at some of the most influential athletic figures from the past century, including both players and coaches. Examples include Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, and more. I’ll look at the atmosphere of that athlete’s particular sport before they played and after, as well as the various challenges they faced while integrating that sport. I also want to examine why and how they made an impact and whether or not it was their ultimate mission or goal to bring about change in sports and society.

The Past- Part 2: This post will examine the various games, matches, and events that had the greatest impact upon race relations in both sports and society, including Sam Cunningham’s college football performance against Alabama, Kentucky’s defeat at the hands of Texas Western in the NCAA basketball championship, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Olympic protest, and Al Campanis’ derogatory comments on live television. I will analyze the intent of participants during their involvement in these events, as well as the overall impact and lasting effects that each had upon racial equality in America.

The Present: I’ve already written one post that examines this topic, so it may be a bit repetitive, but once again I will take a look at the current race issues that exist in sports. I want to examine where the root of these problems originated and how they stemmed from past prejudice and discrimination in sports- for example, the lack of coaching diversity can be attributed to previously held beliefs that African Americans were not as smart as their white counterparts.

The Future: In this post, I will draw upon all of my research to determine the future of race problems in sports and what I feel needs to be done in order to overcome these issues. While overall ignorance and racism may never be truly conquered, I think various measures may be taken, as well as mindsets adopted, that can allow sports to become a truly equal place in which all people have the same opportunities to perform to the best of their abilities, regardless of skin color.

Sports in Black and White: The Book

Recently, I’ve been working to try and figure out how to meet one of my end of year goals- publishing a book of my research. My desire to do so stemmed from my attempts to find reading materials for my project. It seemed that although there were many books about race and sports, none traced the civil rights movement chronologically through sports. Some included essays about various topics, while others focused on the role race had played in the careers of former and current black athletes, yet I could not find a book that fully examined the civil rights movement and sports as I have attempted to throughout the year. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to be the first to accomplish this. Sure, hardly anyone may ever read it, but at least I’ll know that a book has finally been published on my topic.

As it turns out, taking articles written on a blog and formatting them to be published in a physical book is hard. I had tried out several self-publishing sites, all to no avail, when I stumbled upon a lovely little plug-in that allows me to select the posts I want to include before exporting the whole document as a pdf file. Perfect! Now, I have to find a way to turn that pdf file into a full on book with pages and covers and everything else I need. I’ve tried to use a few other publishing sites, but I’m still having some trouble with formatting and uploading. It’s all a lot more time consuming than I would have thought! Hopefully, with continued persistence, I’ll be able to figure everything out and be the first to publish a book that chronologically traces the civil rights movement through sports.

Racism and Sports in the UN and International Community

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination! What’s more, the 2013 theme for this celebration is “Racism and Sport”… how perfect! As Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon said, “We must join forces to end racism, and sport can help reach this goal. On this International Day, let us recommit to ending racial discrimination and realizing our vision of justice, equality and freedom from fear for all.” This theme was chosen in order to highlight both the ongoing racism present in sports throughout the world and the power of sports to combat racism and racial discrimination.

UN sports

Sports have played such an international role in the past century, from the Olympics to the World Cup, and now the UN is recognizing their importance in promoting peace and equality, two principles upon which sports and human rights are founded. After all, The Olympic Charter even states that the “goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Indeed, various programs instituted in countries throughout the world, especially poverty stricken countries embroiled in conflict, have been instrumental in promoting acceptance, diversity awareness, self discipline, teamwork, and conflict resolution in communities across the globe.

Ban Ki Moon

This day is being promoted by the UN in conjunction with the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is being celebrated by an event in Geneva highlighting this international theme and featuring many influential sports figures from around the world to speak on the topic of racism and sports. The Secretary General delivered this message to the international community: “This year focuses on using the power of sport to end the blight of racism. It is an opportunity to highlight the sharp contrast between the positive values of sports and the despicable incidents of racism that scar even some professional competitions.” Ultimately, the fact that the UN and international nations have recognized the power of sports and the inherent racism that still underlies competition had made me so incredibly happy, and I only wish that I were able to travel to Geneva to celebrate alongside the world’s leaders.

Current Issues in Race and Sports

In past interviews and discussions about my senior project, I’ve had many people ask me about the current status of equality in both sports and society. One woman asked me if I believed that discrimination still exists. Another man asked how power played a role. One man even told me that my historical research took an optimistic view of sports and that I may be overlooking problems that have been caused by sports and that are still part of athletics.

There’s no question that the sports world and our overall society have come a long way since the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. That being said, things aren’t perfect. They probably never will be. Discrimination and racism exist, and sometimes they rear their ugly heads and make us shudder at the ignorance some people can display. And, in response to one of the previous comments, I do think that power plays a huge role. It’s human nature to want to be the best, to feel like you’re on top. To accomplish that, you have to put someone below you. That love of power is what I believe to be the source of a lot of prejudice and racism, especially in sports. In the 1940’s, when baseball was divided between the MLB and the Negro Leagues, didn’t the white players in the MLB feel more powerful than their African American counterparts? Their subversion of black players allowed them to become the premier players in the country and ultimately gave members of the MLB a sense of control and superiority. This sentiment is echoed throughout the history of athletics, proving that this human love of power will have to be fought to establish equality in our country.

While there are still issues of race in sports today, they are of a different nature than those seen in previous decades. African Americans are no longer banned from participating in sports; an athlete won’t be ostracized for speaking out for equality. Instead, the issues are more subtle- a lack of diversity in coaching, particularly in football; the exploitation of black student athletes that has resulted in low graduation rates; an abandonment of the African American community by black athletic stars; a “plantation system” in professional sports in which black athletes work for the economic gain of white owners; the misrepresentation of African American athletes by a predominantly white media. This isn’t outright racism; people aren’t being turned away because of the color of their skin. Rather, the fault seems to partially lie in stereotypes and assumptions that define the place of African Americans in sports.

Take, for instance, the lack of diversity in NFL coaching positions. In today’s offensively minded football systems, the best way to become a head coach is to be an offensive coordinator. The best way to become an offensive coordinator is to play quarterback. However, the position of quarterback has historically been filled by white players. Why? Because it is considered a very cerebral position that requires thought and analysis, instead of pure athletic ability, a trait felt to be best embodied by white players, not black. Just look at three black quarterbacks in the NFL today- Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, and Cam Newton. All three are defined by their remarkable athleticism and running abilities and are rarely praised for their decision making on the field. Even those black quarterbacks that do play in the NFL aren’t considered “smart enough” to eventually become coaches. Ultimately, the stereotypes and prejudice that regarded African Americans as less intelligent and talented than whites has continued, however subtly, today, defining blacks’ place in the game of football and leading to a lack of diversity in coaching.

There are always going to be problems because of race, if only due to the ignorance and stupidity of some people. Sometimes, this will be manifested in sports. At times, it might even be created by sports. That being said, sports have also provided an excellent way to promote equality and acceptance- just look through the rest of this book. We’ve come along way, but there are still obstacles to overcome. As we move forward, the sports world must begin to tackle those racial issues that are more subtle, those that are only undertones to our consciousness. Given the strides we have made in the past decades, I am confident that with a collective conscious effort, we will be able to overcome the racial issues that still exist in sports today.

Project Playbook: Day 1

Wednesday was the first official day of Project Playbook at Meeting Street Academy, and I must say that it was a success! Although the weather was perhaps a bit colder than we would have preferred, the enthusiasm of the kids and our constant movement soon rendered the blustery conditions irrelevant. I decided that our first sport would be baseball, and so first I had to acquire gloves, bats, balls, and bases from the PE department at Ashley Hall. Then I had to get volunteers. I enlisted the help of both Walker Buxton and Eva Ravenel, two students from Ashley Hall who were absolutely wonderful throughout the day.

Once we arrived at Meeting Street Academy, we were matched up with about eight third graders. After introductions, I talked a little bit about Jackie Robinson before we began practicing catching, throwing, and batting with the kids. After they felt comfortable with these aspects of the game, we moved onto a full baseball game featuring the “Lightning Destroyers” vs. the “Bulldogs”. Then, at the very end, we had a short discussion about teamwork and sportsmanship, and I gave one of the students, a girl who had cheered for players on both teams and had congratulated them all day, the “Sportsmanship Award” of the day.

Overall, I had a wonderful time during our hour at Meeting Street Academy. It was just plain fun! The kids were so excited to play and maintained their enthusiasm the entire time. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks, and as of right now, I think we’re going to be playing flag football. It’s only been one session, but so far Project Playbook had been a truly great experience!

The Night Al Campanis Shocked the World

On April 6th, 1987, the biggest sports story of the night was supposed to be the highly anticipated boxing matchup between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel was set to broadcast the fight later in the evening, but needed a story to fill the time before the showdown began. Because it was the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of the MLB, Nightline decided to conduct a tribute to Robinson and his legacy. Among several guests, including Jackie’s widow, Rachel, was Al Campanis, the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a man who had been a part of Major League Baseball for decades. Prompted by previous comments from Rachel Robinson, in which she had stated that Jackie would have been disappointed in the lack of progress made in the MLB since he first began playing and the racism that still existed in management and front office positions, Ted Koppel decided to ask Campanis what he thought of the issue. Al Campanis opened his mouth, began speaking, and suddenly the Hagler-Leonard fight was the second biggest sports story of the night.

Koppel asked Campanis “to peel it away a little bit. Just tell me, why do you think it is? Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?”

Then, Campanis answered, “No, I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that [African-Americans] may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or perhaps a general manager.”

Al Campanis

Campanis then went on to suggest that there weren’t many African Americans in pitching, catching, or quarterbacking positions because those were more cerebral positions and required a level of thinking that many black players didn’t possess. He also added, quite bizarrely, this philosophy: “Why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

Ted Koppel, along with every other viewer tuning in, was quite understandably shocked by Campanis’ remarks. Koppel was so confused, in fact, that he repeatedly tried to help Campanis realize the gravity of his comments and to give him a chance to correct himself. Such efforts were in vain, and Campanis’ statements continued to be racially charged. Koppel went on to ask, “Just as a matter of curiosity, Mr. Campanis, what is the percentage now of black ballplayers, for example, in your franchise?”

Campanis replied, “I would say, I think Roger mentioned the fact that about a third of the players are black. That might be a pretty good number, and deservedly so, because they are outstanding athletes. They are gifted with great musculature and various other things, they’re fleet of foot, and this is why there are a lot of black major league ballplayers. Now, as far as having the background to become club presidents, or presidents of a bank, I don’t know. But I do know when I look at a black ballplayer, I am looking at him physically and whether he has the mental approach to play in the big leagues.”

Al Campnis 2

Unsurprisingly, Al Campanis’ ignorant and utterly insensitive remarks cost him his job in the days following the interview and have since shrouded his name in infamy. What is perhaps most confusing about his comments, however, is the fact that he had never before displayed any racist ideologies and in fact had been involved in promoting African American participation in baseball in previous years. He had even been Jackie Robinson’s teammate and roommate decades prior. Yet, when he made his comments on Nightline, he revealed something that no one wanted to acknowledge at that time: that racism still existed in baseball, and it was disgustingly ugly.

After the interview, Frank Robinson, the first black manager in the MLB, commented by saying, “Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years—that black aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors: that there is racism in baseball.” This attitude ultimately represents the problems many African Americans faced toward the end of the 20th century and the discriminatory beliefs that pervaded athletics even after all sports had been fully integrated- they were eventually considered athletically gifted enough to excel on the court or the field, but ultimately were seen as not smart or intellectual enough to hold a coaching or management position. What’s worse, we unfortunately continue to see these trends today.

It must be stated that Al Campanis was aging (at the time of the interview he was 70 years old) and for whatever reasons may not have been himself during the program. He is even said to have had a tendency to sort of bumble through interviews and mess up his speech and trains of thought. Given his previous work in the MLB, as well as accounts about his actions both before and after the interview, I have to believe that Al Campanis was not a racist or a bigot. In fact, he may have been misunderstood and wrongfully shamed following his appearance on Nightline. That being said, he exposed an underlying way of discriminatory thinking that seemed to exist throughout the MLB, one that continues to characterize the wrongful stereotypes of African American athletes that govern their roles in sports.

Al Campanis was the first person to blatantly state the racist beliefs of the sports world, but there is no denying that the discrimination behind his remarks had existed long before he spoke with Ted Koppel on Nightline. While we have since progressed beyond this ideology, it still continues to exist under the surface of sports at times, but hopefully we will eventually be able to overcome this ignorance through more diversity hirings in coaching and front office positions in all of sports.

 

Works Cited:

Zirin, Dave. “25 Years Since Al Campanis Shocked Baseball: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t | The Nation.” The Nation. The Nation, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Weinbaum, William. “The Legacy of Al Campanis.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 01 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Middle School Assembly

Last Friday, I was able to speak to the 5th and 6th grade students over in the Intermediate School to celebrate Black History Month. I started off by telling them a little bit about my senior project and how sports have impacted the civil rights movement. Then, I spoke about five different African American athletes: Arthur Ashe, Tommie Smith, Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Robinson, and Jesse Owens. The students seemed to really enjoy hearing about these figures, especially those they hadn’t heard of before, and were great about participating and answering any questions that I asked them.

I think it’s very important to teach these kids about some of the key athletes who played a role in civil rights so that they can understand the impact these brave individuals had on our country. This also allows them to understand the history of discrimination in our country and how wrong some of these prejudiced actions and beliefs really were. I’ve heard from several of the students that they really enjoyed learning about these people, and I know it was a great way for them to celebrate Black History Month.