Nov 16, 2020 in Literature

African American Athletes

Team of Resistance: The Role of African-American Athletes in the Fight against Racism

The fight against racism is a significant part of the U.S. history. In his book, Whats My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in United States, Zirin argues that the American sports undergone the same advancement stages as the U.S. civil rights movement. The main point of the author is that the struggle against racism in sports is a struggle for survival, equality recognition, and respect of the entire American nation (Zirin 20-21). Hereby, when researching the struggle against racism in sports, an explorer should first begin with its leaders because they made the change possible. Since the athletes have used the sports as a platform to appeal against racism and contribute to the equality and social change in the whole country and beyond, they are the real heroes of the American history. Thus, while supporting the principle point of Zirin, this essay aims to research and analyze the role of African American athletes in the struggle against racism.


While being a microcosm for society, sports have resembled the segregation of the society based upon the belief in the supremacy of white people (Dorinson and Warmund 4). In the nineteenth century, with the development of the American sport and its rise after the Civil War, racism immensely affected the participation of African Americans in sporting events. According to Jarvie and Reid, as a form of politics, sport has been central to the process of colonialism and imperialism (211). There were created color barriers, and African Americans were removed from all major sports. Hence, with the help of differentiation and separation, white people could rule and control the thought of black people.

However, the African-American athletes had overcome the separation. As Zirin writes, the beginning of the struggle occurred first in professional baseball in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier (31). Prior to the debut of Robinson in MLB in 1947, baseball consisted of separately major white leagues and less important black leagues, which literally represented the U.S. society of that time (Sailes 9). After Robinson had began playing in the white league, the American people cheered for him in spite of the skin color (Zirin 31). The fact that from that time the African-American team member has been first an American rather than a black man for the fans proves that Robinson has made a great impact on the prejudiced and ignorant societal views. Indeed, the change of attitude of whites toward black athletes was a breakthrough, which cannot be underestimated.

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Jackie Robinson was the right man, and Brooklyn was the right setting. Sufficient support now existed to meet potential resistance. America internally was becoming bifurcated, just as the world at large would be in the arena of ideological and political contradictions and confrontations..., and the resultant impact would be felt by generations yet to come (Dorinson and Warmund 11).

Sports have always been a favorable place for changing because sportsmen attract the attention of the whole country and beyond (Miller and Wiggins 7). There are a number of reasons for it. First, in the beginning of the 20th century, the sporting events provided the most popula form of entertainment because the movies had just begun appearing in the American life (Dorinson and Warmund 10). Furthermore, in contrast to movie stars, the athletes that participated in sports were not fictitious characters, but real people. Therefore, the fans could feel dedication and sentiments for their teams. Second, thanks to the Olympics, the sports have involved multiple countries and become the dynamic occurrence, where the citizens of all over the world are eager to invest their time, thoughts and emotions. At last, a feeling of the team and patriotism that arise during the game is able to conquer discriminations and prejudices.

The baseball integration was the first movement toward the integration of the whole society. Without the basketball integration achieved by Jackie Robinson, the Civil Rights Act could be eventually not possible in 1964 (Dorinson and Warmund 28). Because of their influential position, such athletes as Joe Louis, Althea Gibson, Mohammed Ali, and Carl Lewis moved the country forward bringing a new way of thinking to society (Zirin 17-19). As a result, they did not only introduce the belief of racial equality into the citizens mindsets, but also challenged the basic ideas that were the basement of racism (Jarvie and Reid 211-212). In particular, they demanded the sport as well as other institutions to view at all people as personalities with different characters and talents, regardless of their skin color. As Bob Marley sings in one of his songs, Until the color of a mans skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes . . . there be war, and it is true. The injustice and discrimination based on race separates people, and separation is a powerful weapon in the hands of rulers. The idea that blacks are equal not only on the field, but also outside of it began to spread in other spheres of cultural life; thus, it led to a shift in the consciousness of American people that, in turn, caused the promotion of social justice by the civil rights activists.

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Consequently, the sports have provided a chance for African Americans to possess high public positions, which they could not achieve elsewhere. However, such position was very difficult to achieve, and African-American athletes had to overcome a number of obstacles before they became the national heroes (Zirin 11-13). Zirin provides a striking example of it in the second chapter of his book when describing how Jackie Robinson experienced the constant discouragement, discrimination, and suffering. Specifically, Malcolm X said that Muhammad Ali is the finest Negro athlete he has ever known and will mean more to his people than Jackie Robinson (Zirin 49). Since Robinson had overcome all obstacles and won in the face of humiliation and pressure, he is a striking example of possibility for change.

In spite of discriminations, the African-American athletes spoke openly about political and social injustices. For example, after Ali had won twice in the Olympic Games, he was deprived of his gold medals because of his refuse to participate in the Vietnam War (Sailes 18). According to Zirin, Ali stated that the citizens of Vietnam did not stand in his way (21). Thus, despite Ali probably realized that he could be stripped from the medals, he was not afraid to declare his political position. This is a proof of the true inner freedom, which can inspire other people to take a stand for their rights as well.

Hence, the athletes have shown that attitude of millions of residents towards the history of African Americans, as well as the history in general, can be changed. The need to know the history of black sports and the heroes of racial resistance, is obvious. It forms self-consciousness of African-American people and their conscious perception of the environment (Sailes 49). Every nation must be aware about its heritage and history in order to understand how the past events have created the current situation and how it can be changed in the future.

Racism is like an infection that touches people who are narrow-minded or have little knowledge. I think that the best method to abolish racism is to educate population. The knowledge of self is an essential component for awakening the persons mind. If the mind of an individual awakes, the rulers will lose their sources of power. When people gain the proper knowledge, they can become free from the pressure of the ruling class. At last, if representatives of different nations tolerate with each other and celebrate their difference giving back to their community, the society can develop and prosper (Jarvie and Reid 216-219).

Many African American athletes became the role models for the young people across the United States. In particular, thanks to books like Whats My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in United States written by Zirin, such a tendency rises among students. I suppose this as a positive factor because unless the culture is represented only from the perspective of the major group, students acquire more knowledge and understanding of their life realities and learn to look at life from different perspectives. Furthermore, making up own teams of resistance from people who inspire the students can stimulate them not to be passive, but fight for their rights and beliefs despite all difficulties.

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Although today, the problem of racism is still the actual one, due to the fight of the racial resistance teams in the past, it has transformed into a new form, different from cruel and violent racism of the past. In the twentieth century, the resistance teams integrated the American playing fields, and in the twenty first century, the civil rights activists fight for the equality in other wider opportunities (Sailes 4). Hereby, they continue to use the sports as a platform for changing the way in which the African American community is viewed in the USA.

Therefore, the African-American athletes are the real heroes of the American history as they have brought the relative equality and freedom to people. Nevertheless, they are famous not only for their heroic achievements in the fight against injustice and racism, but also in establishing the meaning of sport as an essential part of the universal political movements, as well as a struggle of every individual. Thus, while showing racial resistance in sports, African-American athletes have contributed to creating the all-embracing resistance that shapes the future. This is crucial because without unity, fortitude, and struggle, people are just pawns, tools in the hands of the governmental power.


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