America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
Not so long ago, black athletes were segregated from participating with white athletes due to the Jim Crow Laws established after the Plessy V. Ferguson (1896) Supreme Court case.
Black athletes, as were their non-athletic brothers and sisters, were seen as racially inferior and not worthy of socially mixing with whites.
However, these purely promoted brave athletes slowly but positive social change against the racism and later racial prejudice in this country by their heroic example both in and out of the athletic arena.
Jackie Robinson didn’t choose baseball. Baseball chose him — and in more ways than the mere fact that Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey plucked Robinson from obscurity in the mid-’40s, making him the first African American major league baseball player.
Robinson tried his hand at several sports before eventually stumbling upon an opportunity to play pro baseball.
Robinson met a former player for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League as his military tour was coming to an end. (After he refused to sit at the back of an Army bus, Robinson was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he became an athletics coach. Shortly thereafter he was honorably discharged.) Robinson was convinced by the former pro athlete to try out and wrote to Monarchs’ co-owner Thomas Baird. A few months later, in early 1945,
Robinson accepted a contract, paying him $400 per month — a good amount of money for him at that time.
“He just happened to be playing for the Monarchs when the Dodgers just happened to be looking for a guy,” Dodgers team historian Mark Langill told Yahoo! Movies of Robinson’s good fortune. “It’s not like he dreamed of being in the majors. They found him instead of the other way around,” Langill added.
Langill contends Robinson chose that contract with the Monarchs because he was about to get married and simply needed the money. And when he got recruited to the Brooklyn Dodgers soon afterward, Negro league players grumbled: Robinson wasn’t considered as good as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, who were deemed the best pure ball players of the time.
In the United States since World War II, the world of sport has undergone dramatic changes. The first decade after the war witnessed the resurgence of baseball as the national sport, particularly with the return of hero-athletes, the formation and development of the National Basketball Association, and the transformation of professional football into a powerhouse organization vying with baseball as the national sport. That competition continues to this day, with the profound irony that in some quarters the Black athlete is now seen as “saving” baseball1.* In the pre-World War II years, the Black athlete was restricted from competition in all the professional sports. Only in the Olympics, because of its international nature, were Black athletes allowed to compete unrestricted.
This situation reversed the mores of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, where in football, basketball, and horse racing, for example, black and white athletes competed against each other. But as Black athletes increasingly began to dominate their sports, as was clearly the case in bicycling and horse racing, white athletes and managers decided to ban interracial competition. The contemptuous posture and defiance of superb Black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson only fanned the flames of fear and resentment among whites. After his defeat in 1915, white champion boxers refused to fight a Black man until 1936 when Joe Louis defeated Jimmy Braddock to become boxing’s world champion.
To mask the real fear of loss to Black competitors in sports and elsewhere, the white population fabricated a number of myths about Black people, claiming Blacks suffered from low intelligence, criminal tendencies, and inferior physicality. These sick myths that served white skin privilege began to explode when Eddie Tolan and Ralph Metcalfe, distinguished themselves in the 1932 Olympics, as did Jesse Owens (most famously), and Metcalfe, among other Black athletes were to in the 1936 Berlin games, where Nazis were, like many White Americans, claiming to be of a superior race.
It was bitterly ironic, perhaps even farcical, that these Negroes should disprove abroad the very theories that confined and oppressed them at home. Yet nothing at home changed upon their return — except that no longer could the myth of Black people’s laziness and lack of ambition be promoted unimpeachably, since the historical record was clear internationally.
Consequently, when Joe Louis defeated Primo Carnera in 1935, a reporter wrote, “Something sly and sinister and, perhaps, not quite human, came out of the African jungle, last night, to strike down and utterly demolish the huge hulk that had been Primo Carnera, the giant.”.2*
In addition, the New York Sun noted that the “American Negro was “a natural athlete.”.3*
It is perhaps symptomatic of the times that a syndicated newspaper columnist, Hugh S. Johnson wrote, in 1938 , “The average of white intelligence is above the average of Black intelligence, probably because the white race, is several thousand years farther away from jungle savagery. But, for the same reason, the average of white physical equipment, is lower. .4*
Similarly, in the Atlanta Journal, commenting on Jessie Owens’ exploits at the Berlin Olympics, O.B. Keeler wrote, “Our fastest runners are colored boys, and our longest jumpers and highest leapers. And now, our champion fighting men with the fists is Joseph Louis Barrow.”.5*
It is testimony to the pervasive view of the Black athlete as somehow subhuman, that both Northern and Southern U.S. newspapers and commentators shared the view that the “new” strong Black athlete was now so because of his jungle ancestry. That view is still largely held, but perhaps better concealed amidst intonations that Black athletes are simply, naturally “athletic,” as opposed to being intelligent, critically astute practitioners of an intense work ethic which makes possible their excellence in the aesthetics of athletic play and competition.
Even as recently as September, 1995, Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four minute mile barrier, was reported to have said that Black sprinters “have certain natural anatomical advantages.”.6*
While the position of Black athletes at the college ranks is not as well studied and documented as that of professional athletes, the most cursory inspection shows that all colleges and universities, except for marginal, and perhaps, denominational schools have to some degree integrated since 1960. In all these areas, Black college athletes have excelled in tandem with their counterparts in professional sports. There are more Black quarterbacks in college football than ever before. Although there is a prejudice in the professional ranks against Black quarterbacks, many argue that the greater numbers of them in the National Football league draft will increase pressure to change the current, fearful attitude toward Black men in leadership roles. Significantly then, in this year’s championships of college basketball, the majority of the players there who reached the Sweet Sixteen and the Final Four, were overwhelmingly Black. The Most Outstanding Player in the final game between the University of Kentucky and Syracuse University, Tony Delk, is a Black player. In track and field, particularly in the coming Olympics, the overwhelming number of Black American athletes in proportion to white Olympians is radically disproportionate to the Black population in overall U.S. society.
Apart from numbers in the professional leagues, one index of the changing status of Black professional athletes is their income. In the 60s and 70s, the case could be argued that the Black athlete was financially and otherwise undervalued to a point that made arbitration and serious salary negotiations impossible. The dean of American sports writers, Sam Lacy, sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, noted in 1967 that “the African American player was much quicker to sign a contract than white players, and in comparison, was woefully under paid.”.14*. During the 1980s and 1990s, the situation changed dramatically. In 1991, for example, Sports Illustrated noted that Eric Dickerson of football’s Indianapolis Colts had just signed a $10.65 million dollar contract over a four year period, making him one of the highest paid players in football..15*In 1990, the twelve highest paid players in National Basketball Association were all Black. In baseball another story has unfolded in the 1980s and 90s.
In 1990, the number of Black professional baseball players continued to decline, reaching only 17% in 1992 while Black attendance also declined. But of the remaining Black players, a significant number commanded more than ordinary salaries. In 1991, Dwight Gooden signed a contract with the New York Mets for three years and $15.4 million to become baseball’s second-highest paid player. Since 1991, at least 4 Black players have exceeded Gooden’s salaries. For example, Cecil Fielder, Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, and now Ken Griffey, Jr. all earn in excess of $7 million annually in multi-year contracts. The average of Griffey’s salary earnings, spread over his 4 year current contract, is $8.5 million per year, making him the single highest paid baseball player in history..16*
Salaries alone do not tell the entire story. Increasingly, an expanding group of African American athletes receive additional income far in excess of their salaries for endorsing products from breakfast cereals to automobiles. This was not always the case. In fact, the first Black athlete of the football Chicago Bears, Walter Payton, did not appear on the Wheaties box until 1986. Now, in 1996, Michael Jordan of basketball’s Chicago Bulls and sports’ highest paid athlete is expected to earn 90% of his $40 million through endorsements. While this situation does not characterize the majority of Black athletes, it does include a significant number, and is in happy contrast to the 1960s and before, when the picture of an African American on a breakfast cereal box was simply unthinkable.
Today the United States observes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to honour the life and work of the great civil rights leader.
King is most famously remembered for his legendary “I have a dream” speech, and his leadership in the non-violent civil disobedience for civil rights for African Americans.
And rightly so. King was a transformative figure and a once-in-a-generation kind of leader. King deservingly holds the distinction of being the only individual American with a current U.S. holiday named after him.
But what’s often forgotten when most think of King — and certainly isn’t taught to my generation or portrayed in the mainstream media’s depiction of him — is that he was a champion not only of civil rights and racial equality, but also of labour rights and economic equality.
By the end of his life, King came to the belief that mere legal equality between black and white Americans was inadequate.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged America, American Civil Liberties Union, baseball, compromise practices, courage, Culture, disciplined thinking, disenfranchisement, faith, Human Rights Campaign, humanity, humility, jim crow laws, kansas city monarchs, plessy v ferguson 1896, social issues, social justice, Society, sports, suffering, super-bowl, transformation.