The Influence of the Black Athlete on Our Children.


Who is the Black Athlete, and why is he/she such a phenomenon in American society?

From Jack Johnson to Terrell Owens the Black athlete has been a mystery. Unable to be deciphered by his White counterparts – he is often ridiculed, but in more cases than not, he has become the measuring stick for greatness – as in the cases of Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.

When I speak to the Baby Boomer generation and those born prior to it, they recall the atrocities many of the groundbreaking athletes faced. The Civil Rights Movement had not reached its peak so there was little resistance in the form of demonstrations, marches, etc. All those athletes had to fall back on was the support of one another.

However, the 21st Century edition of the Black athlete comes out the blast furnace of urban America, politically conscious and consumed in the hip-hop culture. While circumstance forges an unrelenting desire for greatness, the developmental tools needed to survive in today’s world are lost somewhere in their formative years. This can be the case in any individual but it is most prominent in the Black communities.

Despite the media portrayal of most of today’s Black athletes as selfish, highlight seeking enigmas; they are undoubtedly some of the most gifted and popular athletes in the world.

With that in mind, let us look at the Black Athlete Past, Present and Future and how they have influenced our children.

Jack Johnson was boxing’s first Black Heavyweight champion, Johnson carried himself with such a swagger that Whites went as far as to put out a call for a “Great White Hope” in an effort to dethrone Johnson. That handle was placed upon former champion Jim Jeffries, who retired three years earlier. Jack London, author and journalist wrote that, “Jim Jeffries must come out of retirement…the white man must be saved.” If the fate of the White race was in Jeffries hands, he failed miserably in his defeat to Johnson. The fallout from this event was nothing less than barbaric, riots ensued as Blacks were attacked and killed because Whites were outraged that a Black man had defeated a White man in the boxing ring.

Johnson continued with rub White Americas nose in it, Johnson went as far as to date white women openly, something that did not go over too well in a segregated America. Again, Johnson would come away unscathed. At this point, Johnson is unstoppable in and out of the ring; so what happens next? You guessed it; the FBI launched an investigation into Johnson’s activities and found him guilty of transporting white women across state lines for immoral purposes. Did he open a bordello? Or did I miss something? Johnson was an excellent athlete who dated White women and took them on the road with him. Where is the crime in that? Jim Crow was the unwritten law then. History would later prove the charges against Johnson were bogus.

Joe Louis was probably the most embraced Black athlete of the first half of the 20th century.

He became heavyweight champion of the world at age 23. Louis was the anti-Johnson, humble and approachable; many view Louis as the greatest heavyweight champion of all time.

Louis would have public support during his two bouts with German boxer Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938. These fights carried a political overtone due to Schmeling’s association with the German Nazi Party.

Jesse Owens found himself in a similar position during the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. Owens and the rest of the world heard Adolf Hitler’s proclamation that the Arian nation was a “superior race”. Owens would go on to win four gold medals in track and field, silencing Hitler in the process to the point where Hitler refused to award Owens his medals. Owens returned to the United States a hero, but was later stripped of his amateur status for refusal to run exhibition meets in Europe.

Joe Louis served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945. During this period, he traveled through Europe fighting in exhibitions, giving back the money awarded to him during this time, demonstrating his faith in the war effort.

Upon retirement in 1949, the tables of good fortune would turn on Louis, placing a blemish on his legacy.

In 1950, Louis was harassed by the I.R.S. (they took away his children’s trust funds and money left to him from his deceased mother) forcing him to come out of retirement. Louis, a shell of his former self, would retire after a knockout loss to Rocky Marciano.

In his later years, Joe Louis became a fixture in the Las Vegas circuit. Broke and working as a greeter at Caesar’s Palace, Louis lived his last days in poverty. Longtime friend Frank Sinatra paid for a couple of operations that Louis needed and even supported him financially. In April of 1981, Louis succumbed to heart failure; buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, Max Schmeling funded Louis’ funeral. Schmeling and Louis developed a bond outside of the ring the ring that lasted until Louis’ death.

The plight of Joe Louis’ life after boxing is infuriating to many of us. It illustrates how the United States used Louis and many other prominent Blacks to their benefit. Once these individuals were no longer seen as assets, they were shown the door.

The true irony is that at the time the United States was no better than Hitler’s Germany; both practiced racial separation and used Black Athletes as major tools in their hypocrisy to give the world the impression that racial harmony was alive and well in the States.

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, America’s pastime represents a direct correlation between baseball and the Black experience in America. Segregation, Degradation and Humiliation have followed the Black athlete from day one. Robinson endured all three as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In ballparks across America Robinson was the object of taunts, slurs and anything else derogatory that can be hurled at someone. Rarely drawing a complaint, Robinson’s decision to go about his business in this manner spoke volumes about Jackie Robinson as a man.

Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson are examples of the Segregation, Degradation and Humiliation that they faced and ultimately overcame.

However in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a new generation of Black athlete was born. They came ready and willing to resist, even if it meant sacrificing their livelihoods for their beliefs. These men and women were conscious of the social climate they were living in and were determined to make a change.

Althea Gibson had to deal with the discrimination of being a Black woman trying to break into a sport that was lily white. Tennis was an openly segregated sport Gibson could only participate in leagues governed for Blacks only. In 1950, Gibson would receive the opportunity to play in the U.S Championships in New York, but not without humiliation. Gibson was forced to undergo tests to confirm that she was a woman.

Another example of how Whites of that day continued to humiliate Blacks, who just wanted equal treatment. Gibson would compete for six years without winning a tournament. However, in 1957 she would win Wimbledon, becoming the first Black, male or female to do so. Gibson would also integrate the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) in 1964; too far along in age to be competitive she only played for four years.

Muhammad Ali may be the most beloved individual on a worldwide scale this side of Jesus Christ. The most charismatic athlete of our lifetime entered the American conscious as Cassius Marcellus Clay. After winning a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, he returned to his native Louisville, Kentucky. There he was refused service at soda shops and any other place where integration exists today. Confused and hurt, Clay wondered how he could fight for a country that did not give him equal rights. The gold medal at point seemed tarnished and he tossed it into the river.

Following his stunning knockout of Sonny Liston on March 5, 1964, Clay confirmed rumors that he was joining the Nation of Islam. Joined by Malcolm X, Clay revealed that he would be known as Cassius X, which would later be changed to Muhammad Ali.

The fallout from this event was great; many wondered how the new young champion could associate himself with a “hate group”. The answer was simple, once anyone becomes conscious of injustice of any kind, there is going to be resistance. Moreover, Ali was pushing back with a weapon far more powerful than his hands… his mouth.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Viet Cong; no Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”

Upon selection for the military draft, Ali unabashedly let the world know where he stood on the Viet Nam Conflict. It was not about dodging the draft, it was about conviction and his would not allow him to travel half a world away to kill a people at as much at a disadvantage as his own.

Therefore, he had no beef with the Viet Cong; his beef was with the United States.

The same United States that he won a gold medal for; the same United States that at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, allowed police to sic dogs on men, women and children of color and those of no color who chose to stand with them. Finally, the same United States that stripped him of his World Heavyweight Championship for refusal to play by their rules.

Ali would not fight for three years, but upon his return to the ring, he would defeat then champion George Foreman, win the two of three epic battles with Joe Frazier while winning the world title twice more. Displaying the power to lay down his career and resurrect it again claiming that he was “The Greatest” along the way.

Ali would come full circle. In the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games the same man who was considered a traitor and a hatemonger stood at the Olympic cauldron, representing world unity. Around his neck was his gold medal from the 1960 Rome games replaced by the IOC.

Who would’ve thought this back in 1965.

If Muhammad Ali was responsible for introducing us to self-awareness, then Jim Brown is given credit for restoring pride to the Black man. Jim Brown was part Jack Johnson, part Muhammad Ali, and all man.

As a member of the Cleveland Browns, Brown would set the standard for NFL running backs. He was a force out of the backfield that the NFL has not seen before or since. Considered by many to be the greatest player in NFL history, Jim Brown represented a coolness that drew admiration from men….and women. Brown is recalled many as being a man’s man; he would not allow himself to be dictated to. His very retirement was the result of his refusal to be dictated to. Brown was in London wrapping up filming the Dirty Dozen in July of 1966, when Browns owner Art Modell insisted that he come to training camp, Brown refused, Modell countered with the threat of daily fines. Brown called Modell’s bluff and announced his retirement.

If you grew up in the 1960’s Jim Brown was the man that many young Black men grew to idolize. He carried himself in a way that you he would not allow himself to be disrespected. He stood up to the system as a player in the NFL and in society. Brown played an integral part in uniting Black athletes in the sports world during the Civil Rights Movement. He would go on to become cinema’s first Black action film star. He shared a kissing scene with 1960’s bombshell Raquel Welsh, which caused quite a stir.

If men wanted to be Jim Brown, women just wanted him. Brown dated Black women, white women; any woman that appealed to him was his.

There is the fabled story of Brown shoving his European companion off a balcony, that story has been denied by Brown and the alleged victim, but the stigma of being a womanizer sticks to Brown better than most tacklers did.

After football, Brown became founder of the Amer I Can foundation. This organization seeks to stop violence in the South Central Los Angeles community. Brown has been at the forefront of several truce meetings between the rival Crips and Bloods gangs. Brown remains an activist in Black communities across America.

These are just some of the examples of what the Black athlete has contributed to sports and to society. There are many more to be mentioned, Fritz Pollard, Marion Motley, Larry Doby, Bill Willis, Dr. Harry Edwards, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Curt Flood, Dick Allen, Joe Frazier, Arthur Ashe, Wilma Rudolph, Tommy Smith and John Carlos.

In the 1960s and 1970’s, the Black athlete stepped to the forefront and laid the groundwork for much of what you see today in sports. Free Agency, Black coaches in professional sports and multi- million dollar contracts.

However, to gain the notoriety of millions there was a price to be paid. It was paid in the form of fire hoses, German sheppards, billy clubs, lynchings and a government that could care less. Progress has been made; but there are still areas in sports and society that have not been touched by our hands.

The question brought to me was how Black athletes have influenced our children. It is easy to point to a crossover dribble or an end zone dance. There is more to the Black athlete than just entertainment value and they need to shown respect in that manner.

Before there was the Black Athlete, there was the Black Man and the Black Woman, who have suffered through many injustices that Others could never imagine or comprehend.

Therefore, if I had to sit down in front of a class and explain this I would talk about the resiliency of the Black Athlete to push forward despite roadblocks along the way. The Black Athlete is strong mentally as well as physically; ask Bill Russell which was tougher, facing Wilt Chamberlain or explaining to his children why their White “neighbors” vandalized their home? The Black Athlete holds his/her head high regardless the circumstances. Althea Gibson faced humiliating tests to prove that she was a woman, because she was such a dominant tennis player. Through it all, she was able to face the world and win her sport’s ultimate prize. Pride is an attribute that Jim Brown displayed when he told owner Art Modell that losing him would hurt more than his attempts to fine him. The Black Athlete is a defiant individual; Jesse Owens proved to Adolf Hitler and the world that there is no “superior race”, only the human race.

In closing, if you want to know the influence the Black Athlete has on our children, realize first that these are men and women, with extraordinary talent, place in unordinary situations displaying the proper character needed to achieve success.

Therefore, when you look at LeBron James, Ryan Howard, LaDanian Tomlinson, and others; understand that they may not have gone through some of the same trials and tribulations as those before them but believe me, at some point in their lives, they have encountered something that made them dig a little deeper inside themselves.

“We drink from wells that we did not dig. ” – Fritz Pollard


32 Responses to “The Influence of the Black Athlete on Our Children.”

  1. HarveyDent Says:

    Great article…shout to John Mackey as well for the work he did in forming the NFLPA back in the 60’s which kept him out of the HOF far longer than it should have and is now suffering from dementia attributable to the hits he took during his playing days…another shout to Paul Robeson who I call Black Superman because he did it all, exceptional athlete, renowned actor, Ivy League graduate, and freedom fighter for not just his/our people but all people who were/are oppressed.

  2. thebrotherreport Says:

    Thanks, Mackey is still considered my many to be the greatest tight end to play the game he revolutionized the position. When I think of a renaissance man I think of Robeson scholar, athlete, actor and activist.

    One individual that I should’ve added looking back on the piece was Rube Foster, his vision was one in which he saw empowerment in the Black community. The Negro Leagues was just one of his tools.

  3. HarveyDent Says:

    Good one about Rube Foster because the first time I heard of him was when I read ’40 Million Dollar Slaves’ by Bill Rhoden. The guy was definitely a mover and a shaker.

  4. thebrotherreport Says:

    Finished it two months ago, one of the best books that I’ve read, ever. I wrote this story close to a year ago for a magazine, but it was never published. I was glad to see the similarities, it validated much of what I was saying. To be on the same page as someone like William C. Rhoden did alot for my confidence as a writer.

  5. Nice article. I hope that our youth is aware of and appreciates these athletes. The black athlete of today doesn’t seem to care about the racism that the average minority american still faces. There a few that I am aware of like Grant Hill, Chris Webber, and Eton Thomas who care and have charities that support education. I would love to know if there are other athletes that are doing positive things in our community other than writing a check for a tax write off or handing out toys at christmas time.

  6. Michelle, unfortunately the White Supremacy mechanism latches on to these prospects as soon as they leave the womb. Guiding and dictating their actions and that of their parents and other family influences. That’s one sure way to wrest control of our young minds from the grasp of well meaning community members and family.

    With the way they control us across the nine areas of human activity, we will always see the machine as benevelant and godlike, to be worshipped and followed as the truth. The conditioning has and continues to be me first, money, me second, fame, me third, self gratification, me fourth, seperation from the unwashed masses.

    And if one decides not to leave the hood to far behind – that is if they are from the Neighbiourhood- they are pit bulled and pimped slapped across ESPN, CNN, and every other media propaganda outlet, before the Piggis Interogation Goon Squads (PIGS) decide to move in and arrest them for being black anywhere at anby time.

    Unfortunatel most of the organizations out there that could and can slow that roll are to busy getting theres as well.

  7. Sankofa,
    Im gonna have to steal that 3rd paragraph and repeat it!

  8. That’s cool Miranda, family share!

  9. Sankofa,

    You truly broke it down. Is everyone aware of the National blackout day on Nov. 2nd? In protest of the Jena 6 and a whole lot of other disrespect and injustice against minorities, we are asking for NO MONEY to be spent on the 2nd and no major purchases made on Nov. 1st or 3rd. If you can stand it just stay home all weekend. Since we are treated like we don’t matter, on the days mentioned, we will keep our money in our pockets.

  10. Michelle,
    Yep, I heard it on both Warren Ballintine’s show and Michael Baisden.

  11. Brotha Sankofa award winning post. Sista Michelle yes I know about it and will take part. Also sista Michelle I say take it one step further………make sure to spend money only at black owned businesses on those 3 days.

  12. Jut like in Selma back in the days, witholding your money and buying power, better still redirecting it, will have those disprespecting us on their knees.
    As Bob marley said…”one, one cocoa full a basket”.

  13. […] here This entry was posted on Sunday, October 21st, 2007 at 9:59 am and is filed under nfl europe. You […]

  14. Dear Mr. Glover,

    I think this is an amazing post. Very informative and very real.

    What strikes out to me is your discussion of Ali. In a great class I took, we discussed how Ali was viewed in the past, and how he is viewed now. We talked about how the Ali who is beloved now is very different than the Ali that was vilified years ago (because of his sickness). I have been wondering since then, would Ali be as popular as he is if he still had all his mental and physical abilities? It’s an interesting thought to ponder.

    Thanks for reading.


  15. thebrotherreport Says:

    Parkinson’s, from what I’ve been told has only affected Ali physically. Mentally he still has his wit and is able to speak just at a slower rate.

    I believe that he would still be as loved today because as time moved on in his boxing career he like Malcolm X moved from under the teachings of Elijah Muhammad (Ali did so after his death in 1975) he acknowledged that Islam was for all who wanted to accept it.

    As an athlete he was second to none; his three wars with Joe Frazier were epic
    For me his defining moment was beating George Foreman, it gave you a glimpse into how he was accepted on a worldwide scale and it returned him to a place that he never should have left.

    I also believe that the more people saw that the Viet Nam Conflict was a lost cause, the more people saw Ali’s point of view. Whether they want to admit it or not.

  16. TBR,

    Here we go with the McNabb circus. Another brother gettin the shaft.

  17. thebrotherreport Says:

    I was tellin Mizzo last night that the lines in the sand are being drawn and it goes back to last season, Andy didn’t want McNabb to really discuss the injury and when he would be back. Donovan was supposed to have a press conference at the NovaCare complex back in early spring but Reid postponed it. Donovan went and had one on his own at a place that he rented, media spread the whole nine, talked about how he would be ready etc, etc.

    Now Donovan says that this isn’t all his fault, and he’s correct if you look at his number through 8 games the only dropoff is in touchdowns and passer rating here are his numbers 172/287 2,044 yds., 60% com pct. 9 TDs. 4 INT
    86.3 passer rating. Barring injury or benching, he’s on pace for a 4,000 yd season something he’s never done. His receivers are better than what they’ve shown but dropped passed and a 3-5 record hardly makes that convincing. And yes McNabb’s accuracy is still an issue.

    A bulk of the blame has to go to the offensive line (28 sacks), I’m surprised McNabb is still able to stand, he’s been running in self-defense there is no protection for him and the Eagles have yet to get a fullback able to take on a linebacker of chip a lineman, asking B. Westbrook to do that is suicide.

    The defensive secondary was torched last week and the gameplan to focus on J. Witten and leave T.O. open the way they did was foolish. The linebackers are terrible, if Takeo Spikes talks a better game than he plays Gaither and Gocong are too inexperienced. I would try this next season; I would look into moving Jevon Kearse to linebacker and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. He can still rush off of the end and he can be an asset in coverage (he played some safety at Florida) Trent Cole is the only lineman that could start for another team in the league right now. I like Bunkley and Patterson but I’ve always wanted a guy like Grady Jackson, that it takes two men to block.

    The silver lining in the Reid family saga is that it’s the only reason he still has a job.

    This reminds me of when things began to breakdown with A.I. and the 76’ers last season. As of Sunday the Donovan McNabb auditions for his next employer begins.

    FYI; Be prepared to hear from Donovan’s Mom and/or Dad as this thing winds down.

  18. Wow what a great article. I wrote a little something yesterday about Billy King. My thing is this…at the end of the day he takes orders and while he may have not been the best GM/President, I’m not going to kick a person while they are down.

  19. this was a good story but i need to know how jack johnson effected the ways of blacks like martin luther king junior got specific rights.if you got this message please contact me by 3/5/08 by e-mail or if you want to contact me by phone my #is 618-664-0494.

    thank you
    i’ll probally won’t be around till 3:15 on weekdays
    and on sundays i’ll be avaible at 1.and on saturdays i’ll be avaible at noon most likely.

  20. yeah sports…that’ll move mankind forward. before the blacks pat themselves on the backs for being good athletes, they may want to check out their lack of positive contributions to our society (one’s that don’t consist of throwing a ball or running). it’s very amusing to see our american society so obsessed with something like sports. something which has NOT moved mankind forward, requires very little or no mental strengths and does/will not solve any of the problems that really matter. i guess they’ll leave that kind of brain-busting stuff to the caucasians (or European-Americans). enjoy the game. and for any hating responses…you know it’s true. HA

    • rjg I would rather watch sports any day than to watch the corruption and wars that white men are starting throughout the world. Some of the most avid minds today come from minority women. Sports has elevated more men and women to go to college and become intellectual, so don’t be a hater if you cannot run or throw a ball.

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