Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete

Synopsis

Jesse Owens. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. All are iconic black athletes, as are Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two African American track and field medalists who raised black-gloved fists on the victory dais at the Mexico City Olympics and brought all of the roiling American racial politics of the late 1960s to a worldwide television audience. But few of those viewers fully realized what had led to this demonstration -- vents that included the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., uprisings in American cities, student protests around the world, the rise of the Black Power movement, and decolonization and apartheid in Africa.

In this far-reaching account, Amy Bass offers nothing less than a history of the black athlete. Beginning with the racial eugenics discussions of the early twentieth century and their continuing reverberations in popular perceptions of black physical abilities, Bass explores ongoing African American attempts to challenge these stereotypes. In particular, she examines the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization that worked to mobilize black athletes in the 1960s and whose work culminated with the Mexico City protest.

Although Tommie Smith and John Carlos were reviled by Olympic officials for their demonstration, Bass traces how their protest has come to be the defining image of the 1968 Games, with lingering effects in the sports world and on American popular culture generally. She then focuses on images of black athletes in the post-civil rights era, a period characterized by a shift from the social commentary of Muhammad Ali to the entrepreneurial approach of Michael Jordan.

Ultimately Bass not only excavates the fraughthistory of black athleticism but also offers an incisive look at media coverage of athletic events -- and the way sport is intimately bound up in popular constructions of the nation.

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.