50 Years of Blacks in Sports

By Rashad, Ahmad | Ebony, November 1995 | Go to article overview

50 Years of Blacks in Sports


Rashad, Ahmad, Ebony


Since Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league affiliate Montreal Royals on October 23, 1945, African-American athletes have raised the level of competition, revolutionized the games and changed the general perception of what can be accomplished in the athletic arena.

Aside from the memorable performances of Blacks over the past 50 years, one of the major that stands out in my mind is the fact that media coverage has so steadily and dramatically increased that you now see African-Americans excelling in all different kinds of athletic arenas. But just as dramatic as what you see on the play the sidelines African-American

If you back 50 years, in some sports, there has been very little change. Fifty years ago, for there were no Black coaches in the Football League. And 50 years later there are only two--Dennis Green in Minnesota and Ray Rhodes in Philadelphia. Major League Baseball only has three Black managers. But the NBA's record has been much better, as the league currently has five Black head coaches and seven Black general managers.

Every time there is an opening for a head coach, you hear about people who are on "the short list of potential coaches. Tony Dunge, defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, has been on that list for about 10 years. Several White coaches, who have far less expertise and experience than Dungy, have head coaching jobs. And the name Of Tony Dungy is still on that "short list. In 50 years, African-Americans have gone from no coaches in football to two coaches to a "short list."

This situation is not going to change unless more pressure is mobilized. Kellen Winslow used the platform at this year's Hall of Fame induction to ceremonies to challenge high-profile Black athletes to use their influence in support of affirmative action and a level playing field. Fifty years ago there weren't many athlete like Kellen--athletes who were involved in the mainstream of society and yet involved in things that have a chance to make changes.

Muhammad AR never hesitated to voice his opinion about important issues. His outspokeness became a part of his colorful persona, and because of his international popularity and influence, he would have to rank among those who made the biggest impact in sports. But when you think about athletes making an impact, it's just incredible what Jackie Robinson did. In fact, it's hard to imagine where sports would be today without Jackie being able to break Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947. The more you learn about Jackie Robinson, the more you realize how much preservance he has, how much had to go through. Because he put up with the racial insults, the taunts, the indignities, he created an avenue for more Blacks in all aspects of society. We have to understand that he wasn't some Uncle Tom who just bowed his head and went along. It took as much personal restraint as he could muster just so he could make a statement to the world--not just about baseball but about the in general. And in spite of all he had to put up with, he was still able to perform well enough under all the pressure to be named Rookie of the Year.

In another sense, Michael Jordan has made an impact that's incredible in its own right. For a long fame, Black athletes were respected for their prowess on the playing fields or courts, but were not respected in general for their intelligence off the field. Michael, certainly one of the greatest athletes in history, is well-spoken, a gentleman and a major businessman. When you start seeing African-American athletes portrayed in that light, it helps Blacks in all fields, because it contradicts the stereotype of a Black player who can ran and catch the bah but can't put a sentence together. In Michael, you have an athlete who's known around the world, and who lives his life at a high level of sophistication and intelligence.

In sports, as in life in general the most important stimuli are the things that make you think, things that make you see your brain. …

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