The Revolution of the Black Athlete

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jesse owens olympics photo

Jesse Owens destroys Hitler’s ‘supermen’ in Berlin

On the eve of the Second World War, Germany, in 1936, hosted the Olympics, giving Adolf Hitler the chance to put on display what he called his “Supermen of the Aryan Race.” However, at the premier event, the 100 meter dash, African American Jesse Owens came out on top in a stunning victory for Americans in general, and for African Americans in particular. Nonetheless, when Jesse Owens came home, he could not find work and ended up racing against horses for a living.

One year later, in 1938, the “Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis, soundly defeated Max Schmelling the German heavyweight boxing champ. During WWII, which America entered in 1941, Joe Louis joined the army and putt on a series of exhibition boxing matches to raise money for the war and thereby provide an example for other Black men to join the service. Years later, however, the US government claimed that Joe Louis owed them back taxes, which he then had trouble paying. In order to do so, he became a professional wrestler and was badly hurt in the ring. He ended up in near poverty at the end of his life. In 1965, heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali refused the call when told to serve.

Two years after WWII, in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league sports when he donned the Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. Branch Rickey was the owner of the team at the time. Robinson had been a member of the all Black Negro Leagues, and a number of players from the Negro League entered soon after. In time the Negro Leagues were disbanded. Robinson had served as an officer in the army during World War II. He was not necessarily the best player in the Negro Leagues, but it was felt that he had the temperament best suited to the name calling and abuse which he was expected to, and did, receive. He became the most effective player on the Dodgers and won the Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and was named Rookie of the Year in 1947. He led the Dodgers to the World Championship in 1955.

AL CAMPANIS, who had been a teammate of Jackie Robinson, was the general manager of the Dodgers when, in 1987, on the fortieth anniversary of the entrance of Jackie Robinson into major league baseball, he made a series of derogatory comments on television about African Americans. He was fired soon after. SEE HERE 

MUHAMMAD ALI was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. One day when he was 12 someone stole his bike. He became enraged and swore that he would beat up whoever did it. A policeman overheard him and took him down to the local gym where he soon became an excellent young boxer. (I clearly remember when I was growing up police took an active role in mentoring inner city youth through such organizations as The Police Athletic League, the PAL.) Ali went on to win the Olympic light heavyweight boxing crown in 1960 and to defeat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship in 1964, after which he announced to the world that he was a Muslim and his name was Muhammad Ali. He was a close friend of Malcolm X who was a leader of the Nation of Islam in America, a group founded in America by Elijah Muhammad. They were Black nationalists who encouraged Black sefl-sufficiency. Together Ali and Malcolm helped raise Black awareness in the 1960s. Ali was threatened with jail and stripped of his title when he refused to join the army when he was drafted in 1965. He took his case to the Supreme Court which eventually ruled in his favor, but he was not restored to the championship. He had to fight his way back to the top.

GREAT WHITE HOPE is the great cry in boxing amongst many white fans, ever since Jack Johnson first became heavyweight champion early in the twentieth century. Ever since, there have been few white heavyweight champs. The most famous of which was Rocky Marciano. (Is it just a coincidence that the white heavyweight champ in the Sylvester Stallone films is named Rocky?) Larry Byrd was seen as a Great White Hope for basketball, that is, the symbol of whites triumphing over Blacks in basketball. In the film clip we played from the Spike Lee Film, Do the Right Thing, this is one of the themes. SEE HERE                                          

BLACK ICE is the book about the key contributions to the game of modern hockey made by Black players, things like the slap shot and aggressive goal defense, which are falsely attributed to white playesrs. SEE HERE

KURT FLOOD was a Black baseball player who in the late sixties sacrificed his career to bring about free agency, that is, the ability of athletes in any major sport to freely bargain for their services amongst the various teams. Before Flood took major league baseball to court, players were bought and sold by the owners without any say in the matter. As a result, they did not make very much money.

40 MILLION DOLLAR SLAVES is the title of a book about Black Athletes that claims that no matter how much money they make Black athletes are still being manipulated and taken advantage of. In class last time we discussed why there is only one major league team in all three major sports that is owned by a Black man. Some wondered if racism was responsible. Our guest speaker, Louis Albanese, suggested that it was not necessarily racism, but an “Old Boys Club” that kept out outsiders. The instructor wondered why, if Blacks are the main attraction in football and basketball and Latinos are the main attraction in baseball, why Blacks and Latinos do not go out and form their own teams.

MEXICO CITY BOYCOTT . They were stripped of their medals and their athletic careers were terminated. The Black power salute, the raised fist that some Black men greet each other with today, originated with their protest. Harry Edwards a Black college professor from California instigated their protest. His most famous book was The Revolution of the Black Athlete.

 

By: Dr. Arthur Lewin, author of Africa Is Not A Country: It’s A Continent.